Books by Walter Roth

AN ACCIDENTAL ANARCHIST by Walter Roth
HISTORY
Released: Nov. 1, 1997

A sober analysis of the case, now little more than a historical footnote, that came to be known as the Averbuch Affair. On March 2, 1908, a Russian immigrant named Lazarus Averbuch, recently settled with his sister, Olga, in the Jewish ghetto of Chicago's West Side, traveled to Chief of Police George Shippy's North Side home for reasons that remain unknown. Shippy met Averbuch in the front entryway, and a struggle ensued that left the Russian dead. The event made front-page news. In a statement printed in that afternoon's newspaper, Shippy, ``a hardened foe of labor and social unrest,'' claimed to have shot Averbuch—who was quickly labeled an ``anarchist''—in self-defense after Shippy was knifed and his son wounded by a bullet. The Chicago police initially announced that they would not investigate the killing. ``In other words,'' write Roth and Kraus, ``the government would not police its own''—an attitude that might have reminded Olga Averbuch and her kin of the Russian-style policing from which they had fled. The officials' attempt to link Averbuch to an anarchist conspiracy was unsuccessful, but a coroner's inquest did validate Shippy's original story. The authors (Roth is president of the Chicago Jewish Historical Society, Kraus the editor of the society's journal) don't dare proclaim Averbuch's innocence. (One theory favoring this is that he'd gone to Shippy's hoping to obtain, per Russian custom, a certificate of good behavior that might allow him to find employment outside Chicago.) But they do conclude that he should be seen in a more benign light than he was. They substantiate their position with facts, unearthed from published and unpublished sources, that suggest there's not enough evidence to support the police chief's contention that he acted in self-defense. The authors have skillfully removed the dust from an obscure but troubling episode. Read full book review >