Rose Cohen (feminist)

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Rose Cohen
Rose Cohen IMG 0437 1024.jpg
Born
Rose Cohen

(1894-05-20)May 20, 1894
DiedNovember 28, 1937(1937-11-28) (aged 43)
Cause of deathExecution
CitizenshipGreat Britain
Occupationjournalist, employee of the Comintern, newspaper editor, suffragist
Spouse(s)David Petrovsky
ChildrenAlexey D. Petrovsky

Rose Cohen (born May 20, 1894, in London, United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland – November 28, 1937, Moscow, Soviet Union) was a feminist and suffragist. She was a founding member of the Communist Party of Great Britain, and worked for Communist International (Comintern) from 1920 to 1929. Between 1931 and 1937, Cohen served as a foreign editor of The Moscow News. She was executed during the Great Purge in the Soviet Union, and posthumously rehabilitated in the Soviet Union in 1956.

Biography[edit]

Early life[edit]

Rose Cohen was born in 1894 in London's East End to a family of Jewish immigrants from Lodz, Poland. Her father Maurice Cohen was a tailor, but later opened his own business and prospered.[1] Through Workers' Educational Association Cohen became well versed in economics and politics, and fluent in three languages. It was a great achievement for the daughter of immigrants.[2] Cohen joined a suffragette movement in Great Britain in the 1910s.[3] By 1916, British intelligence had placed her under surveillance. Transcripts of intercepted letters and phone calls became publicly available in 2003.[4]

Her education allowed Cohen to get a job in the London County Council, where she worked until 1917, and later in the Labour Research Department. She served a secretary to Beatrice Webb and Sidney Webb.[5] She left the Labour Research Department in 1920. Towards the end of the First World War the department became the centre of the young leftist intellectuals.[2] In his memoirs Maurice Reckitt wrote that Cohen "had great vivacity and charm... and was probably the most popular individual in our little movement... ."[6] In 1920 she became a founding member of the Communist Party of Great Britain.

Contemporaries described Cohen as lively, intelligent, educated and beautiful.[7] All the men who knew her talked of her smile, but said that "she was unaware of its magical quality."[7] Among Cohen's admirers, Harry Pollitt was the most persistent. A photograph of Cohen at the People's History Museum in Great Britain was inscribed by Pollitt: "Rose Cohen – who I am in love with, and who has rejected me 14 times."[8]

Work in the Comintern[edit]

In early 1920s Cohen travelled the world as a Comintern agent. She was assigned secret missions, which included delivering messages and transferring money to Communist parties. In 1922–1923 she spent long periods in the Soviet Union, and also travelled to Finland, Germany, Lithuania, Estonia, Latvia, Turkey, France, Norway, Sweden and Denmark. As Comintern's courier, Cohen transferred large sums of money to the Communist parties of these countries.[4][9]

In 1925, Cohen worked in the Soviet embassy in London and also spent several months in Paris on a secret mission for the Comintern, and handled large sums of money to the Communist Party of France. That year, she met David Petrovsky, whom she later married.[10]

Life in Moscow[edit]

In 1927 following instructions of the Central Committee of the Communist Party of Great Britain, Cohen arrived to work in Moscow, and in the same year she joined the Russian Communist Party.[10]

In the beginning of 1929 Cohen married David Petrovsky, and in December 1929 she gave birth to their son Alexey (Alyosha). She spent six months that year overseas, travelling to China, Japan, Poland and Germany on Comintern business.[4]

Rose and her son Alyosha. London, 1932

In 1930, Cohen enrolled at the International Lenin School of the Comintern, and from 1931 she was an employee and later chief of the Foreign Department and the editor of the Moscow Daily News.[4] Cohen and Petrovsky were considered the "golden couple of the expatriate community in Moscow",[11] and their apartment became a salon for the foreign community.

The victim of Stalin’s terror[edit]

David Petrovsky was aware of the danger emerging in the Soviet Union following the murder of Sergei Kirov in 1934, the assassination that functioned as the catalyst for the Great Purge.[12]

David Petrovsky (a prison photo), 1937

In the summer of 1936 Cohen went to London but was not permitted to make the trip with her son Alyosha, so he stayed behind. Her sister Nellie thought that Rose was "unhappy, and had it not been for Alyosha might not have returned".[13]

At that time David Petrovsky planned on a business trip to America and got a permission to travel abroad from his supervisor Sergo Ordzhonikidze - the head of the Supreme Soviet of the National Economy and the head of the People's Commissariat of Heavy Industry of the Soviet Union. Sergo Ordzhonikidze, who knew Stalin closely, more than anyone else, saw what was happening in the country. Anticipating his fate, he wanted to save D. Petrovsky from Stalin’s terror and understood that he most likely would not return from a business trip. It seems that Rosa and David hoped to use their travels as an opportunity to leave almost simultaneously from the country and be saved. However, they had failed to acquire an exit visa for their son, and unwilling to leave without him, they remained in the Soviet Union.[14]

In February 1937, Sergo Ordzhonikidze died. In March 1937, David Petrovsky was arrested, and Cohen was expelled from the Russian Communist Party. On August 13, she was arrested in Moscow. Cohen was accused of being: “a member of the anti-Soviet organization in the Comintern, spying for Great Britain, and the resident of British intelligence”.[10][15]

She denied all charges until October 29, 1937.[10] A closed court hearing started at 2:20 pm on November 28. Cohen was not given access to defence attorneys or witnesses, "in accordance with the Law of December 1, 1934". She "pleaded not guilty, denied all charges, and refused to confirm her testimony given during the preliminary investigation, claiming it was false."[16] In her final statement she again pleaded not guilty.[16] However, the ruling handed down twenty minutes after the start of legal proceedings, declared Cohen guilty.[16] That same day, Cohen was shot.

David Petrovsky was shot on September 10, 1937 (rehabilitated in the Soviet Union in 1958). Their seven-year-old son Alexey Petrovsky (Alyosha) was placed in an orphanage with the label "son of the enemies of the people." Rose’s sister and brothers told everyone that Rose and her son Alyosha died in Russia of pneumonia and forgot about him for 50 years.[17]

The reaction from Great Britain[edit]

Having learned of Cohen's arrest, the communist leaders of Great Britain Harry Pollitt and Willie Gallacher appealed to the Secretary General of the Executive Committee of the Communist International, Georgi Dimitrov and his deputy Dmitry Manuilsky, and were advised "do not interfere".[18][19] As a result, the Communist Party of Great Britain did not file a protest, and was not supportive of the protest launched by the Left Socialists, via a letter written by Maurice Reckitt.[18] The inquiries of Beatrice Webb and Sidney Webb about Rose Cohen remained unanswered.[20]

The British government did not deny rumours that Cohen took Soviet citizenship, and had been a citizen of the Soviet Union at the time of her arrest.[21][22] Records show that Cohen did not naturalise and remained a British citizen until her death.[10] The protest of the British Embassy was late and was officially expressed only in April 1938.[23]

Political rehabilitation and family[edit]

After the 20th Congress of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union (February 1956), Cohen's only son filed an appeal to review her case. On July 18 1956, the General Secretary of the Communist Party of Great Britain, Harry Pollitt sent a letter to the First Secretary of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union, Nikita Khrushchev with a request to clarify the situation with the arrest of Rose Cohen in 1937 and asking what had happened with her after the arrest.[24] On August 8, 1956 the Military Collegium of the Soviet Union Supreme Court invalidated the November 28, 1937 ruling against Cohen. All charges were dropped and the case was dismissed for lack of corpus delicti. Cohen was posthumously rehabilitated as a victim of political repressions.[25]

Cohen and David Petrovsky's son – Alexey Petrovsky (Alyosha), spent three years living in the orphanage after his parents execution in 1937. In 1940 he was adopted from the orphanage by David Petrovsky’s cousin Rebecca Belkina, a doctor, and a major of armed forces medical service during the Second World War. She succeeded in getting a permission for Alyosha’s adoption when she lived with her family in a political exile in Tobolsk, Siberia under the Article 58 of the Soviet Penal Code. Alexey spent the rest of his childhood living in Siberia with her and her family. Afterwards, many years later, Alexey D. Petrovsky (1929–2010)[26] earned a Ph.D.in geological and mineralogical sciences, and became an academician of Russian Academy of Natural Sciences. Their grandson, Michael A. Petrovsky[26] – holds a doctorate in physics and mathematics. Their great-grandchildren are Maria Petrovskaya (an artist, USA) and Alexey M. Petrovsky.[27]

References[edit]

  1. ^ Francis Beckett: Stalin's British victims, United Kingdom, 2004, p.18
  2. ^ a b Francis Beckett: Stalin's British victims, United Kingdom, 2004, p.17
  3. ^ Maurice Casey “The Suffragettes Who Became Communists.” February 04, 2018. https://www.historytoday.com/miscellanies/suffragettes-who-became-communists
  4. ^ a b c d Francis Beckett: Stalin's British victims, United Kingdom, 2004, p.21
  5. ^ Russian State Archive of Socio-Political History (RGASPI) - fond 495, opis’ 198, delo 733
  6. ^ Maurice Reckitt: As it happened, London, 1941
  7. ^ a b Francis Beckett: Stalin's British victims, United Kingdom, 2004, p.19
  8. ^ Francis Beckett: Stalin's British victims, United Kingdom, 2004, p.p.84-85
  9. ^ PRO KV2/1397, file references from the Public Record Office, London, England
  10. ^ a b c d e Investigation materials. The Central Archive. Federal Security Service, Russia
  11. ^ Francis Beckett: Stalin's British victims, United Kingdom, 2004, p.22
  12. ^ Joshua Meyers, “A Portrait of Transition: From the Bund to Bolshevism in the Russian Revolution,” Jewish Social Studies: History, Culture, Society n.s. 24, no. 2 (Winter 2019): 107–134. Copyright © 2019 The Trustees of Indiana University. doi: 10.2979/jewisocistud.24.2.09.
  13. ^ Francis Beckett: Stalin's British victims, United Kingdom, 2004, p.55
  14. ^ Joshua Meyers, “A Portrait of Transition: From the Bund to Bolshevism in the Russian Revolution,” Jewish Social Studies: History, Culture, Society n.s. 24, no. 2 (Winter 2019): 107–134. Copyright © 2019 The Trustees of Indiana University. doi: 10.2979/jewisocistud.24.2.09.
  15. ^ Russian State Archive of Socio-Political History (RGASPI) - fond 495, opis’ 198, delo 733
  16. ^ a b c Judicial records. The Central Archive. Federal Security Service, Russia
  17. ^ Petrovsky Family Archive
  18. ^ a b Francis Beckett: Rose between thorns, The Guardian, United Kingdom, 24 June 2004
  19. ^ Russian State Archive of Socio-Political History (RGASPI) - fond 495, opis’ 198, delo 733
  20. ^ Russian State Archive of Socio-Political History (RGASPI) - fond 495, opis’ 198, delo 733
  21. ^ The Guardian, United Kingdom, 26 April 1938
  22. ^ The Tribune, United Kingdom, 26 April 1938
  23. ^ The Tribune, United Kingdom, 29 April 1938
  24. ^ Russian State Archive of Socio-Political History (RGASPI) - fond 495, opis’ 198, delo 733
  25. ^ The Determination of the Military Collegium of the Supreme Court of the Soviet Union number 4N-012577/56. The Central Archive. Federal Security Service, Russia
  26. ^ a b Francis Beckett: Stalin's British victims, United Kingdom, 2004, p.184
  27. ^ Francis Beckett: Stalin's British victims, United Kingdom, 2004, p.185