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Gelfman, Gesia (d. 1882)

Gelfman, Gesia (d. 1882)

Russian revolutionary. Name variations: Guessia or Jessie Helfman or Helfmann. Grew up in Mozyr (Minsk province), Russia; died of peritonitis on February 1, 1882; children: one daughter (born on October 12, 1881).

To avoid an arranged marriage, at age 17, Gesia Gelfman fled her parents' home in Mozyr and moved to Kiev; there she enrolled in midwifery courses, the only courses available to women in Kiev, intent on making a living. She also joined a group known as the Fritsche, which advocated socialism and class warfare. Vera Figner was a prominent member of the group. In 1875, Gelfman was imprisoned for serving as an intermediary for those engaged in propagandizing against the government. Four years later, she escaped. Her freedom was brief. Because the apartment she was sharing was used for preparatory meetings by those involved with the March 1, 1881, assassination Alexander II, tsar of Russia, Gesia Gelfman was again arrested. Weeks later, she was condemned to death. But Gelfman was pregnant, and, after demonstrations in Russia and abroad, authorities relented. Though her sentence was commuted, she was held in a large cell at the House of Preliminary Detention, with around the clock sentries, where she gave birth to a daughter on October 12, 1881. Under Russian law, her rights to keep the child were protected. Even so, authorities took the child away from her in the night and left it at a foundling home. Three months later, Gelfman died.

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