Alexander "Sascha" Schapiro (Russian: Александр Шапиро; c. 1890 – 1942), also known by the noms de guerre Alexander Tanarov, Sascha Piotr, and Sergei, was an anarchist revolutionary and father of eminent 20th century mathematician Alexander Grothendieck.
Early years and Russian revolutions
Born into a Hasidic family in the predominantly Jewish border town of Novozybkov, Russia in 1889 or 1890, Alexander Schapiro grew up identifying more with the impoverished proletariat than with his own bourgeois family. In 1904 at the age of fourteen he left the town and joined an anarchist militant group (akin to the Chernoznamentsy) who were rounded up by the authorities in 1905 after an unsuccessful attempt to murder Czar Nicholas II. All were executed, save Schapiro who was spared on account of his youth, sentenced to life imprisonment and sent to rot in a dungeon in Moscow. He was spared a lingering death there by the intercession of an influential friend who secured his transfer to Yaroslavl, where he stayed for twelve years. It was here that Schapiro was shot in his left arm whilst trying to escape, resulting in its amputation. After an attempted suicide, he spent the year 1914 in solitary confinement.
With the collapse of the Czarist regime in Russia in 1917, Schapiro was released, and hailed as a national hero. He was one of a number of anarchists who spoke out against the representative system for electing the Constituent Assembly proposed by Alexander Kerensky's Russian Provisional Government, writing that "no parliament can break the path toward liberty, that the good society can be realized only through 'the abolition of all power'". He befriended the anarchist revolutionaries Lev Chernyi and Maria Nikiforova and became a leading figure in a cadre of heavily armed anarchists fighting in Ukraine associated with Nestor Makhno's Black Army. Schapiro lead a tempestuous life in Russia between 1917 and 1921 in an atmosphere of increasing repression of anarchists by the Bolshevik regime, marrying a Jewish woman named Rachil, with whom he had a son, Dodek. In an attempt to evade the Bolsheviks searching for him, he fled in 1921 to Minsk, where he encountered and was financially supported by Alexander Berkman. With the assistance of a Jewish woman named Leah, Schapiro then crossed the Russian-Polish border using forged papers bearing the name of Alexander Tanarov.
Life in Europe, family and death
By 1922, Schapiro had reached Berlin, where he remained save for spells in Paris and Belgium until 1924. There, he assumed the name Sacha Piotr and throughout the 1920s was an active participant in the anarchist movement, in 1928 becoming friends with prominent Spanish anarcho-syndicalists Francisco Ascaso and Buenaventura Durruti, Italian anarchist Francesco Ghezzi and German author Theodor Plievier, who dedicated his 1927 novel Stienka Rasin to Schapiro. In Paris, he was a regular at the artist's hangout Café Dome, and befriended journalist and artist Aron Brzezinski, who made a bronze bust of him, as well as the novelist Scholem Asch. During this period he was in infrequent contact with Makhno and his platformist Dielo Truda group, who were based in Paris. Schapiro was one of the founding members, alongside Sébastien Faure, Ugo Fedeli and Henryk Walecki, of the Paris-based Œuvres Internationales Des Editions Anarchistes (International Works of Anarchist Editions). He contributed at least two articles to the publication, run at that time by the anarchist Severin Ferandel.
Schapiro met anarchist journalist Hanka Grothendieck, who was then married to left wing journalist Alf Raddatz, through the movement in Berlin while working as a street photographer. Due to the increasingly anti-Semitic environment in Europe at the time, the couple decided to give their son Alexander the surname of Grothendieck's well-established Hamburg middle-class family. Forced to flee Germany after the rise to power of Adolf Hitler, and intent on fighting in the coming Spanish Civil War, the couple sent Alexander to live with the Heydorns, a middle-class family with anarchist sympathies, in 1933. In Spain, under the name Sacha Pietra, Schapiro fought the fascists until the defeat of the Second Spanish Republic, after which he and his wife crossed the French border and he was interned at Camp Vernet with his comrades. The Heydorns had cared for Alexander in Berlin for seven years, but decided in May 1939, shortly before France entered the Second World War, that it had become too dangerous to keep him and he was put on a train to Paris to his parents. In Occupied Paris, Schapiro was free for a short time, constantly active in the anarchist movement, until he was arrested and deported to Auschwitz concentration camp in 1942, where he was afterward murdered by the Nazis.
- Lisker, Roy (June 1988). "Grothendieck Quest". Ferment Magazine. Retrieved March 20, 2009.
- Heath, Nick (September 3, 2008). "Sacha Piotr (Sascha Pjotr) aka Alexander Shapiro aka Sergei 1889/1890-1942(?)". Libcom.org. Retrieved March 20, 2009.
- Watner, Carl. "Voluntaryism In The European Anarchist Tradition". The Voluntaryist. Retrieved March 20, 2009.
- Rehmeyer, Julie (May 9, 2008). "Sensitivity to the harmony of things". Science News. Retrieved March 20, 2009.