from "THE DOWNTOWN JEWS: Portraits of an Immigrant Generation." by Ronald Sanders
1969, Publisher: Harper & Row, Publishers

Cahan
Abraham Cahan in 1883, aged
twenty-three, a year after his
arrival in the US.

(pp. 34-36) Specifically, [Abraham] Cahan was now beginning to have inklings of the activities of students who were involved in the revolutionary movement. "Near the railroad tracks... I used to see several young men and a few barishnyas [in Russian: a young lady, a girl of refinement, a girl gymnasium student] whom I suspected to be members of an underground group.... They were dressed like anyone else, they talked like anyone else... but a certain manner, a certain expression on their faces, and the special intimacy with which they behaved toward one another - all this was testimony that they belonged to another world. Among them were a few gymnasium graduates, two or three boys still in gymnasium, a few from the trade school, and some gymnasium girls. These were all Jews. But together with them was always a young Christian, a very handsome, blond young man who wore the uniform of the Vilna Railroad School." ...

But Cahan was soon to become a part of this world. "At the beginning of the summer of 1880, when I was between my third and my fourth year at school, I made my first acquaintance with the secret literature [of the revolutionary movement]. It turned out that two of my friends belonged to the Vilna underground kruzhok ("circle," in Russian), and they gave me socialist writings, the first I had ever read. Afterwards, they introduced me to other members, and I was admitted into the revolutionary family. This brought about a transformation in me that influenced my entire life." Cahan was soon regularly attending the meetings of the Vilna revolutionary kruzhuk, which was affiliated with Narodnaya Volya.

These meetings took place in the apartment of a young Gentile named Vladimir Sokolov, a bachelor who earned enough money to provide for his simple personal needs by giving private lessons in various subjects. Though only in his early thirties, Sokolov was a good ten years older than most of the members of the kruzhok over which he presided, and he represented to them a figure of maturity and wisdom, from whom they received their first lessons in the principles of socialism. The blond young man in the uniform of the railroad school, a Pole named Anton Gnatowski, was a boarder in Sokolov's apartment; he looked upon his host as an elder brother and teacher.

(pp. 148-154) In August, 1891, ... Abraham Cahan went to Europe as a delegate of the United Hebrew Trades to the Second Congress of the Second International [which was held in Brussels].... He had first stopped in London on his way to the Congress, ...crossed the Channel and landed in France,... In Paris, as it happened, the comrade at whose house he was to stay was a Jew from Vilna, a former gymnasium student and member of Cahan's revolutionary kruzhok, named David Gordon.

Yeva [David Gordon's sister] assumed the role of Cahan's guide during his stay in Paris. Together they walked the streets, visited the great open squares and boulevards.... One day, Yeva took Cahan to a cafe where they met an exiled young Polish revolutionary who turned out to be none other than Anton Gnatowski, the blond-haired railroad-school student from the Vilna kruzhok. Since that time, as Cahan learned in their conversation, Gnatowski had taken part in a plot to kill Alexander III in the same way his father had been killed before him, by a dynamite bomb. The assassination had been planned for the early part of 1887, but on March 1 - six years to the day after the death of Alexander II - the plot was discovered and fifteen of the conspirators were arrested. Gnatowski had been among the few who escaped. Of those who were arrested, ten were sentenced to various terms and five were executed; among those who went to the scaffold was a twenty-one-year-old chemistry student named Alexander Ulyanov. Neither Gnatowski nor Cahan, at the moment they discussed this incident, could know that the death of Ulyanov would prove to have had major historical significance; for it was mainly this event that converted Ulyanov's younger brother, Vladimir, to the revolutionary cause, in which he would become known under the pseudonym of Lenin.

The conversation turned to old friends and associates, and Gnatowski informed Cahan that their old mentor from the Vilna kruzhok, Vladimir Sokolov, was now living in Paris too, and was married to Gnatowski's sister.... "What made the strongest impression upon me was what I heard [from Gnatowski] about Vilna. It seemed to me that everything had changed in the ten years I'd been away, that it was now a completely different city with different people in it. I have never had such a strong feeling of life passing me by as I did at that moment." Cahan took his leave of Gnatowski in a somber frame of mind.

(pp. 416-417) In the summer of the following year [1912] Cahan went on a three-month trip to Europe with his wife, during which he had ample opportunity to observe the ways in which the gap between the European and the American experiences that obseese him in his youth now seemed considerably smaller and less consequential.... "In sum," he wrote of this trip, "when I thought about the various changes that had taken place in twenty years, I felt strongly that the different parts of the civilized world were becoming more like one another, that all countries were becoming one." This seemed even more to be the case when, in Paris, he visited his old friend and fellow revolutionist Anton Gnatowski, and discovered him to be living the life of a happy, mellow - and somewhat bourgeois - family man.

from "Lenin: The Practice and Theory of Revolution" by James D. White
ISBN: 0333721578, Publisher: Palgrave Macmillan

...Another zemlyachestvo (associations of people from the same locality) inclined towards radical politics was the Polish society, the Koło (Circle), to which many Poles and Polish speaking Lithuanians from the Vilna area belonged. Among these was Jozef Lukasiewicz, several of whose family members had taken part in the Polish uprising of 1863. Even as a schoolboy in Vilna Lukasiewicz read the banned publications of the Polish and Russian revolutionary organisations. He entered St Petersburg University in 1883 to study mathematics and physics, and soon joined a study group composed of Polish students who had contacts with the Polish socialist party 'Proletariat'. He recalls that he would have joined the Russian terrorist group People's Will, but was unable do so because its organisation had been destroyed. Lukasiewicz was to be one of the driving forces behind the assassination attempt of 1887 and the designer of the bomb to be used in the enterprise.

Polish students were the first organisers of workers' circles in St Petersburg which began to be formed in 1887. Bronisław Lelewel, Gabriel Rodziewicz and his wife Julia were the organisers of an influential workers' circle which was taken over by the Russian Mikhail Brusnev, one of the pioneers of Social Democracy in the St Petersburg labour movement. Brusnev recalls that in 1887 in preparation for the assassination of Alexander III he held in his apartment for safe keeping a complete laboratory designed for the manufacture of nitric acid.

Lukasiewicz had connections not only with the Polish student radicals in St Petersburg, but also with a revolutionary group in his native Vilna led by Antoni Gnatowski and Isaak Dembo. It was the Gnatowski group that was to supply the essential bomb-making materials. The group is also significant because some of its members would later become prominent in the Russian revolutionary movement. Among these were Charles Rappoport, later to be a leading figure in the French socialist movement, Lyubov Akselrod-Ortodoks, who became a Marxist philosopher, Leo Jogiches, a pioneer of Polish Social Democracy and lifelong associate of Rosa Luxemburg, and Timofei Kopelzon, later a founder member of the Jewish socialist party, the Bund. The group also included Bronisław Piłsudski and his more famous brother Józef, later to be the Polish head of state.

According to Akselrod-Ortodoks, the group's two leaders Gnatowski and Dembo were followers of People's Will. But the ideological outlook of the membership as a whole was less strictly defined. The group was familiar with Plekhanov's two main works of the period, Socialism and the Political Struggle and Our Differences. These were regarded with general disdain in the Gnatowski circle, since the views developed in them were held to be a betrayal of the revolutionary cause. The members of the group tended to agree with the criticism of Plekhanov's ideas which had been voiced by Lev Tikhomirov. Nevertheless, Akselrod could discern a movement towards Social Democracy in the group, and a gradual abandonment of the tactics associated with People's Will.

In Akselrod-Ortodoks's view, this transformation was dictated not so much by theoretical as by practical considerations. While continuing to believe in the efficacy of terrorism, the members of the Gnatowski circle began to organise study groups for the workers in Vilna, and this activity led to the acceptance in practice of the kind of Social Democratic principles which Plekhanov and his Liberation of Labour group propounded....

from "Die Gnatowskis. Die Geschichte einer masowischen Familie" by Alfred von der Lehr
ISBN-Nr: 3-00-005311-5

 

Gnatowski, Antoni, born 1863 as a son of Dominik in Wilna, noble descent, Polish revolutionary1).

He graduated from the railway school in Wilna. He participated in the organized revolutionary circle of Appelberg and was arrested in 1882. After serving his sentence he stood under police surveillance until 1885. In the years 1886 to 1887, he was an activist in the political circle "Narodnaya Volya" under the leadership of the functionary Dembo.

On A.J. Ulianow's2) (Aleksandr Ulyanov) instruction, in the year 1887 he met with M. Kanczer, B. Piłsudski, and T. Passkowski to prepare a bomb attack on the Czar. After the attack on 01 March 1887 he fled abroad on 04 March 1887 out of fear of an arrest.

In the years 1888 to 1889 he stayed in Switzerland in Geneva and Zurich under the name Prekker. In Zurich, together with a group around Dembo, he installed a laboratory for explosives. Under the influence of A. Gnatowski and his friends, the Russian groups "Rosyjska Czytelnia" (Russian Library) and "Kasa Samopomocowa" (Cashier's office of self-help) took a revolutionary direction.

On 06 March 1889, a bomb exploded during work at the laboratory. Dembo was killed. The Russian government in the years 1887 and 1889 to 1890 carried out investigations that yielded that Gnatowski participated in the attempt on the czar's life in March 1887 and that he is staying in Switzerland in Zurich. Both investigations were interrupted until an arrest. Since 1890, Gnatowski was under permanent surveillance by agents of the Russian secret police3).

After he was obliged to leave Switzerland, Gnatowski traveled to Paris. There he also worked further with explosives. In the year 1897 he came in close contact with Burzew and to the participation in the work in the Russian revolution committee. Antoni Gnatowski became a member of this committee and worked abroad. He was also one of the editors of the magazine "Russkij Robocij" (Russian Worker). In the year 1901, Gnatowski tried to entrust J. Rubanowicz, L. Szyszko, J. Nachamski, N. Rusanow - he was a member of the special-committee - with the task of coordinating all the revolution groups which were active abroad. The date of Gnatowski's death is unknown.


1) The failure of the so-called Polish rebellion in the birth year of the future revolutionary already marks the star, under which his further life stood. See in addition dtv-Atlas of the world history, Book. 2, Munich 1976 (11th Edition), P. 51 and P. 69. See again: Poland, a Historical Panorama, Warsaw 1983, here: P. 102 FF. To the place of birth Vilnius see the references in section 1 and 2.3. See also the report over the negotiations by Andreas Gnadcovius: Chapter 3.

2) A.J. Ulianow should be Alexander, the brother of Vladimir Iljitch Lenin, who was executed 1887.

3) The political police "Ochrana" (Protection), founded in 1881 was in charge of a wide network of agents and denunciators. Like its younger follower, for example "Stasi" this organization not only spied on their own people but also used its knowledge for the cause of agitation and propaganda. See dtv-Atlas of the World History, book 2. Munich 1976 (11th Edition), p. 111.