Gesya Gelfman

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Jump to navigation Jump to search
Gesya Gelfman
G Gelfman.jpg
Born 1852 (1852)
Mazyr, Russia Minsk Governorate now Homiel Voblast of Belarus
Died 1882 (1883)
Saint Petersburg, Russia

Gesya Mirokhovna Gelfman (Gesia Gelfman or Helfmann); (Гельфман, Геся Мироховна in Russian) (her name is often incorrectly spelled Gesya Mironovna and she sometimes gave an abbreviated "Mirovna"; she is sometimes referred to as Gesia, Hesse,[1] Hessy[2] or Jessie) (between 1852 and 1855, Mazyr — 2.1(13).1882, Saint Petersburg), Russian revolutionary, member of Narodnaya Volya, implicated in the assassination of Tsar Alexander II of Russia.

Early life[edit]

Born into a Jewish family, Gelfman left it at the age of 16 or 17, allegedly to avoid an arranged marriage, and moved to Kiev, where she found employment in a sewing factory.

Revolutionary activities[edit]

In the early 1870s, she was an active member of several revolutionary clubs in Kiev. In 1877, during the Trial of the Fifty, Gelfman was sentenced to two years in the Litovsky Castle. On 14 March 1879, she was sent into exile to the province of Novgorod, from where she escaped and joined Narodnaya Volya in Saint Petersburg in 1879.

At a personal level, she also practiced then-revolutionary free love.[3]

In 1881 she was part of the group that assassinated Alexander II, along with her then lover, Nikolai Sablin. When the police raided their apartment, Sablin shot himself.


During the Pervomartovtsi trial in March 1881, Gelfman refused to admit her guilt,[4] but she was nevertheless sentenced to death by hanging for her alleged part in the assassination of the Tsar. However, a few hours after being convicted, she made a statement reading in part that "in view of the ... sentence I have received, I consider it my moral duty to declare that I am in the fourth month of pregnancy". According to contemporary law execution of pregnant women was banned as the fetus was considered innocent. Therefore, Gelfman's execution was officially postponed until forty days after childbirth, and in the meantime she would stay in the harsh Peter and Paul Fortress prison. Three months later, thanks to the campaign against her execution by Socialists in Western Europe[5] and in the foreign press, her sentence was exchanged for an indefinite period of katorga and she was transferred back to the remand prison where she had been held before. On 5 July [NS], whilst still in the Peter and Paul Fortress and by permission of the Minister of the Interior, Count Ignatiev, she was granted an interview (which lasted almost an hour and a half) with a journalist from the newspaper Golos who was accompanied by her defence counsel at her trial, a lawyer named Goerke.[6] During the course of this interview, she complained about the lack of "proper medical and female attendance".

Gelfman gave birth in detention in October 1881. Upon the request of the Department of Police, her childbirth was assisted by a gynaecologist who was also employed by the Imperial court, something unprecedented. She had a severe maternal complication, as her perineum was torn. It was rumoured that the gynaecologist had refused the prison doctor's suggestion to sew the wound together; in any case, it never healed. She remained delirious during some of the postnatal period. By 24 November, she had developed peritonitis, which became acute on 17 January 1882. She nevertheless nursed her daughter from her birth in October until 25 January, when the baby was taken away from her, placed in an orphanage and registered as a child of unknown parents. According to the subsequent medical report, the peritonitis became general and caused fever on the same day. Six days later, Gelfman died. Her child soon died of an unknown disease as well.[7][8][9]


The importance of Gelfman's role in the assassination was undetermined, and her Jewish origins stressed during the pogroms that followed the assassination.[10] Another conspirator, Ignacy Hryniewiecki, was also rumored to be Jewish, though there seems to have been no basis for this.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ The Times (London), Wednesday 11 May 1881, p. 7
  2. ^ The Times (London), Saturday 26 March 1881, p. 7
  3. ^ Robert H. McNeal, "Women in the Russian Radical Movement," Journal of Social History, Vol. 5, No. 2. (Winter, 1971-1972), p.155
  4. ^ The Times (London), Thursday 7 April 1881, p. 5
  5. ^ Re protests in Belgium, see The Times (London), Wednesday 11 May 1881, p. 7. There were also demonstrations in Marseilles, which resulted in some of the participants being fined and/or imprisoned - see The Times, Wednesday 1 June 1881, p. 7.
  6. ^ The Times (London), Thursday 7 July 1881, p. 5
  7. ^ Ребенок № А-824. ЛЕХАИМ ИЮНЬ 1999
  8. ^ Народная воля: Геся Мировна Гельфман Archived 2005-11-01 at the Wayback Machine.
  9. ^ Народная воля: Трубецкой бастион
  10. ^ Jewish Chronicle, May 6, 1881 quoted in Benjamin Blech, Eyewitness to Jewish History
  • Spartacus Educational
  • W. Bruce Lincoln (2000), Sunlight at Midnight: St. Petersburg and the Rise of Modern Russia. New York NY, Basic Books, pp. 181–182.
  • Croft, Lee B. Nikolai Ivanovich Kibalchich: Terrorist Rocket Pioneer. IIHS. 2006. ISBN 978-1-4116-2381-1. Content on Gelfman and on her child, born in prison.