2021, August 16: But why does an anarchist need citizenship? by Eran Zahavy

1925 Adams, Eve PHOTO 300 dpi; 997 × 1543 pixels; 1.6 MB.TIF

Eve, center, with her brother Yerachmiel Zloczewer (later Zahavy) and, probably, her sister Tobe, during a 1925 visit with her family in Poland. Note Eve’s pantsuit, daring for its time.

Published in Haaretz (Tel Aviv, Israel), August 16, 2021. Translated and adapted from the Hebrew with the permission of the author.

Chawa Zloczewer, or Eve Adams, was a Jewish immigrant from Poland, a lesbian, who because of her radical activities, was expelled from the United States in 1927 and, with her partner, murdered in Auschwitz. My grandfather, who was her brother, tried to trace her fate. Jonathan Ned Katz has now written her biography, reclaiming her as a pioneering figure in the LGBT community. The Daring Life and Dangerous Times of Eve Adams (Chicago Review Press, 2021). 

In May of this year, Jonathan Ned Katz published a biography of the life and work of Chawa Zloczewer, a lesbian, anarchist Jewish immigrant from Poland who emigrated to New York in 1912 and later called herself Eve Adams.

Through the life story of Zloczewer, Katz illuminates one of the most turbulent periods in U.S. history, in which anarchist activists and socialists were persecuted by the authorities. Detailing the life of his subject, he also describes the oppression of the LGBT community at the time. The book documents the fate of a lesbian who refused to surrender to the dominant standards of her time and paid the highest price for it: imprisonment and deportation from the United States and, ultimately, deportation to the death camp in Auschwitz.

I first heard about Eve from my grandfather Yerachmiel when I was eleven years old while traveling with him from his home in Tel Aviv, in one of the trips around the country to try to find out the fate of his sister. On that journey, we reached his friends at the Holocaust Museum in Kibbutz Lohamei Hagetaot (the Ghetto Fighters Museum). At that time they could provide no information about Eve, my grandfather's older, beloved, and admired sister. As was the custom with many Jewish families, he and Eve had kept in touch via letters after he immigrated to Israel, while she was living in Europe in the 1930s.

Weeks before his death in December 1982, my grandfather passed on to me the task of finding out what had happened to Eve during WW II. Years later, in 2004, in a search of the Yad Vashem Archives, I found Serge Klarsfeld's book on the fate of French Jewry during the Holocaust. I discovered there that Eve had been captured by the Gestapo and on December 12, 1943, sent to Auschwitz on Transport 63 and murdered.

I discovered researchers of Eve's life that included several in the U.S.: Martha Reiss, found a letter Eve wrote to Ben Reitman; Steven Siegel, a genealogist, studied her life, and tracked me down; Barbara Kahn produced three researched plays about Eve’s life. Jonathan Ned Katz joined the research effort in 2016 and came up with a series of fascinating sources about her life: documents produced by the FBI agents spying on her, and texts referring to her travels across the U.S., and her life in Chicago, New York, and Paris. Livia Parnes and Suzette Robichon, in Paris, did excellent work to preserve Eve’s memory in France, including the naming of a street and school after Eve in the 18th quarter of Paris.

Eve’s arrived in New York at the age of twenty-one and got a job in one of the local textile factories where many women, including Jewish immigrants, were employed under horrific conditions. She then abandoned her factory job and teamed up with members of Emma Goldman's anarchist movement, including Alexander Berkman and Dr. Ben Reitman. 

Seeking a new form of employment Eve traveled across the US, spreading movement ideas and selling left-radical periodicals such as the socialist Liberator. This activity drew the attention of the FBI, whose agents stopped and questioned her, and listed her in their files for her “Radical activities.”

But Eve did not give up on the American dream, and in 1922 opened a tearoom in Chicago with Ruth Norlander. Eve then returned to New York, where, in the heart of Manhattan, near Washington Square, in Greenwich Village, in the basement of 129 McDougall Street, she opened another tearoom, “Eve’s Hangout” that welcomed lesbians and gay men and bohemians.  Eve also privately published a small book, titled Lesbian Love, which presented short studies of women she had known. Fortunately, one copy of this rare book was found, discarded, and saved by an interested woman. Eventually, it reached Katz, who republished it at the end of his biography.

Unfortunately for Eve, an undercover policewoman lured her into a romantic encounter that ended with an indictment for sexual misconduct and for publishing an obscene book. Those charges led to Eve being arrested, tried, and sentenced to eighteen months in prison. The hostility towards a lesbian Jewish immigrant was enough to convict her and eventually led to her deportation back to Poland in 1927.

Eve’s life in New York was described in several testimonies appearing in the local press. The heterosexual writer David Plotkin, in his sensational book on lesbian life in Greenwich Village, recalled his experiences visiting Eve’s club, and finding himself amorously ogled by a man.

A particularly fascinating testimony came from Eve's cousin, Zachy, who had emigrated to New York in 1914. In a letter I found in my grandfather's collection, he recalls “Khavtshe” as “a mercurial girl, red curly hair, actually wearing pants. Short hair, aggressive, learned English very quickly.” Zachy called Eve “a suffragist, a bit of an anarchist, a bohemian.” She had not become a citizen, he noted: “What does an anarchist need citizenship for?” Eve was expelled from the United States, Zachy stated, “because she had opened a sort of teahouse in a bohemian hub, where homosexuals used to gather . . . and she herself had actually written a pamphlet in English about lesbian love.” From this letter, we learned that Grandpa Yerachmiel probably knew more about Eve than he was ever willing to tell us.

After her expulsion from the US to Poland, Eve continued on to Paris, where she sold erotic books to American tourists that were banned for sale in the U.S., books by D.H. Lawrence, Henry Miller, Anais Nin, and James Joyce. Nin and Miller were friends with Eve, and Miller’s biographer records that Eve’s selling his books and painting were important to his existence in those days. Eve also wrote her own stories. Her experiences in jail were scheduled for publication in The New Review, but that journal was shut down before her works were published.

In Paris, Eve was well-known among American bohemian expatriates as was her partner Hella Olstein, who sang as Nora Waren in French cabarets. Nevertheless, Eve always dreamed of returning to the U.S. She responded to her brother's urging her to visit him in Tel Aviv, by citing the cost and difficulty. In June 1940, when the Nazis invaded Paris, Hella and Eve fled to the south of France and managed to reach Nice, where they survived three years at two addresses until they were captured in 1943 and deported to Drancy in December, and then to Auschwitz.

Katz's book restores Eve's life to history and documents the oppression of LGBT people in the early decades of the twentieth century, today perceived as deplorable. He does this through in-depth, thorough research and eloquent writing. Katz shows how difficult it was for a radical Jewish lesbian to live in the U.S. in the early decades of the 20th century. He suggests that Eve may not have realized the degree of danger she was in for selling leftist papers and leading the openly lesbian lifestyle that led to her deportation. After she escaped from Nazi-occupied Paris in June 1940 she did recognize the danger she was in and would have liked to flee to Palestine, as she wrote to my grandfather. But all efforts by Hella and Eve to escape the Nazis were unsuccessful.

Despite its tragic ending, Eve's story is inspiring, for she chose courageously to live an extraordinary life, loyal to her deepest feelings. She chose a different life than the vast majority of Eastern European Jews who traveled to America in her time, but in the end, she was no different from the Jews of France and the rest of Europe, transported by Nazi trains to their deaths.