I’m starting a new series of articles about Red Rebel personalities in history. The aim is to tell about lives of those whose names have been largely forgotten. Nonetheless they all lived unique, interesting and at times curious lives. I came across most of these personalities while writing my book, a biography of Angelica Balabanoff, due to be published by McFarland in September. During her life, Angelica met many people, who wanted to make a difference, change society and leave a mark in history. Due to the lack of space many of them are not mentioned in my book. Nevertheless their breathtaking life-stories are worth to be told.
The heroine of my first article is Louise Berger. I do not know whether Angelica knew her personally but she must have heard about Louise and they certainly had a few friends in common.
Louise Berger was born in Latvia, at that time a part of Russia. The exact dates of her birth and death are unknown. The official sources say that she has been born at the beginning of 1890s. But it might have been earlier. Around 1905 she moved to Western Europe and eventually to the US where she became friends with a renowned anarchist Emma Goldman. A member of the Anarchist Red Cross, Louise was one of the founders of Latvian Anarchist Group. Not much is known about her life in the US until 1914 when a self-made bomb had prematurely exploded in her apartment in New York. It killed 4 people and destroyed a part of the building. The bomb was destined to kill John D. Rockfeller, the owner of Ludlow mines in Colorado. To do it, Louise together with her friends, and her stepbrother Carl Hanson, collected and stored dynamite in her apartment. They planned to plant a bomb at Rockefeller’s home in Tarrytown. The plot was scheduled for July 3, 1914, but the plan was called off at the last moment. The three members of the group who participated in it returned to Louise’s apartment with the bomb.
The next day at 9 a.m. Louise left her apartment and walked to the office of the Anarchist newspaper Mother Earth Bulletin where she worked as an editor. At 9:15 a.m. explosion occurred from Berger’s apartment at 1626 Lexington Avenue. The explosion was dreadful. Passers-by witnessed a shower of parts of bodies, pieces of furniture and debris of the building falling out of the windows and covering neighbor streets. Louise’ friends including her stepbrother who remained in the apartment were killed.
Louise continued her life unharmed in the US until 1917. After the October Revolution in Russia, she decided to return to her homeland, thinking as many other rebels and adventurers that she will assist revolution and birth of new society. She went to Russia on the same ship as a well-known journalist John Reed and another anarchist Senya Fleshin with whom she became lovers, and who a few years later became a good friend of Angelica.
Back in Russia, Berger and Fleshin joined other anarchists. Eventually she parted with Fleshin and traveled to Odessa. There Louise reportedly participated in dubious dealings like carrying out “bank expropriations” as an armed robber (naletchiza) during the chaos of the Revolution.
Louise must have died between 1920 and 1921. Her date and causes of death are uncertain. Some said that fell ill and died during the typhus epidemic others claimed that she was liquidated along with other anarchists by Bolshevik Cheka security forces during the Trotskyist campaign against dissident movements.
*Featured image – from the cover page of Soviet Posters: Pull Out Edition, by Maria Lafont, Prestel, 2014