Netherlands > Internationaal Instituut voor Sociale Geschiedenis


Boris Yelensky Papers

International Institute of Social History
( Cruquiusweg 31 , 1019 AT Amsterdam , The Netherlands )
Finding aid is in English
Collection Summary

Scope and content


Documents received and drawn up in his functions as secretary and some private letters, mainly from the period 1946-1973. Minutes of the FSG 1931-1932; cashbooks 1925-1957 of the FSG, ABAF and other organizations; appeals and financial reports of the Relief Fund of the IWMA and ABAF 1926-1958; files consisting of correspondence and some other documents, in English, Russian and Yiddish, relating to: L'Adunata dei refrattari New York 1948-1958, Delo Truda/Probuždenie 1947-1963, Jacques Doubinsky (also on behalf of the Paris Section of the ABAF) 1931-1935, 1945-1960, Joseph Cohen (also on behalf of La Pensée Libre Paris), Fraye Arbeter Shtime New York 1947-1963, Senya and Mollie Steimer 1943-1957, Francisco Ferrer Modern School 1947-1958, Freedom Press 1938-1959, Alexander Berkman 1925-1935, Emma Goldman 1936-1937, 1940, Rudolf Rocker 1931-1957, George Woodcock 1948-1957, etc., and correspondence with Jewish anarchists in Argentina and anarchist organizations in Japan; file of letters from Russian exiles 1923-1927; file on financial support for the Confederación Nacional del Trabajo (CNT)/Federación Anarquista Ibérica (FAI) 1937-1938; files of letters from Spanish refugees and French, Italians and Germans, etc. confirming the receipt of CARE (Cooperative for American Remittances to Europe) packages 1946-1949; file on relief for Bulgarian political refugees c. 1948-1959; files on the publication of translations of works by Grigorij Maksimov; typescripts of books and articles by Yelensky, including one on the Russian Revolution in Novorossijsk; autobiographical note, n.d. and biographical note on his wife `Bessie Yelensky (1891-1968)'; some handwritten manuscripts of articles by Max Nettlau and typescripts by others, including two different works (one in photocopy) on the Sunrise Cooperative Farm Community; clippings of articles by Yelensky.

Records creator's history

Biographical Note

Born in Krasnodar, Russia 1889, died in 1974; anarchist propagandist; secretary of the Anarchist Red Cross, Chicago c. 1913-1917; went to Russia after the October Revolution, active in the factory committee movement in Novorossijsk; left Russia in 1922; secretary of the Russian Political Relief Committee 1924-1925, the Chicago Aid Fund 1925-1936 (from 1932 forming a section of the Relief Fund of the International Working Men's Association (IWMA) for Anarchists and Anarcho-Syndicalists Imprisoned and Exiled in Russia) and the Alexander Berkman Aid Fund (ABAF) 1936-1957; founder and secretary of the Free Society Group (FSG) Chicago c. 1923-1957 and of many committees and funds initiated by both the FSG and the relief funds, e.g. the Maximoff Memorial Publication Committee; published in Golos Truženika Chicago, Golos Truda New York, the Yiddish Fraye Arbeter Shtime New York/Philadelphia and Freier-Gedank.

Processing information

Processing Information

Inventory made by Rena Fuks-Mansfeld in 2008

Conditions governing access


Not restricted

Related material

Related Material

Labadie Collection, University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, USA.

Preferred citation

Preferred Citation

Boris Yelensky Papers , inventory number ..., International Institute of Social History, Amsterdam


1.87 m. meter

Other descriptive information


Boris Yelensky was born in Krasnodar, Region of Kuban, Russia, in 1889 and died in the USA in 1974. His parents were secular Jews, his father was a cap-maker, and did not receive a religious education and could not speak Yiddish. He only received two years of primary school in his youth. In 1904, when he was fifteen, he became a member of the Russian revolutionary movement, and helped to bring food to the political prisoners in the local prison. He was arrested in Bialystok in 1906, but was soon released and arrived in the US in 1907, and settled in Philadelphia. In 1909, he became an active member of the Radical Library in Philadelphia, a center of radical intellectuals. Its leader, Joseph J. Cohen, became his teacher of Yiddish and introduced him to anarchism. From that moment onward Yelensky dedicated his life to the anarchist movement and started to play an important role in the Anarchist Red Cross, an international movement for the support of anarchists prisoners in Tsarist Russia which was founded around 1905. In New York a branch was organized in 1907, and in Chicago in 1909. Yelensky started to work for the organization in 1913. In the same year he met and married his wife Bessie, who was deeply involved in the anarchist movement and remained his lifelong helpmate. When the Russian Revolution broke out in 1917, all political prisoners were freed and Boris and Bessie and their two-year old child, returned to Russia. When the Bolsheviks had taken over absolute power in Russia, Boris was imprisoned twice, but thanks to his American passport was soon released. The couple left for the United States in 1923. In 1924 Yelensky became secretary of the Russian Political Relief Committee which was later called the Chicago Aid Fund. At the same time he was an active member of the Free Society Group in Chicago, which was founded in 1923.
In the period between the two World Wars, the Russian Political Relief Committee helped Russian anarchists in distress in several countries. During the Spanish Civil War (1936-1939) help was extended to Spanish syndicalist fugitives in several European and Latin-American countries. In 1936 the name of the organization was changed into Alexander Berkman Aid Fund in honour of the the well-known anarchist leader who had died in that year.
The Fund organized and financed the publication of The Guillotine at Work by G.P. Maximoff, the history of the persecution of anarchists, syndicalists and other non-Bolshevik leftist groups in Russia. The book appeared in 1940.
During World War II contacts with the comrades in Nazi-occupied Europe broke off. Immediately after the liberation of France in 1944, Yelensky contacted his comrades in France and started to send food parcels and other aid to them. After the fall of Nazi Germany, in 1945, Yelensky started to locate his old comrades and by the way of the American relief organization C.A.R.E. send parcels to needy comrades, fugitives and survivors of the Holocaust who waited in Displaced Persons camps in occupied Germany for emigration to a new homeland.
From 1948 onward, the activities of the Alexander Berkman Aid Fund focused mostly on the financing of important publications on the history of the anarchist movement, like The World Scene from the Libertarian Point of View which was issued in 1951 by the Free Society Group of Chicago, The Political Philosophy of Bakunin: Scientific Anarchism compiled and edited by G.P. Maximoff in 1953, and Yelensky's In the Struggle for Equality, a history of the Anarchist Red Cross in 1958.

In the fifties of the 20th century Yelensky was also chairman of the Workman's Circle, Chicago, a branch of a well-known Jewish social and educational society which was founded by East-European Jewish emigrants in the U.S. at the end of the 19th century. In 1957 Yelensky retired and moved to Miami, Florida.
There he started to work as a secretary for the Simon Farber Memorial Fund, which was founded to keep the memory alive of Simon Farber, a well-known anarchist worker. In spite of many contributions to the fund, of which Nicolas Kirtzman of the Ohio-Kentucky Regional Office of the International Ladies' Garment Workers' Union was chairman, a biography of Farber never appeared, because Farber's widow frustrated every effort.
He also wrote a autobiographical novel: In the shadow of death, love and life in which he depicts his life in Russia from 1919 until 1923 of which a typescript copy can be found in the collection.
Yelensky, inspired by the example of Rudolf Rocker, who he revered, offered his archive to be kept in the IISG in 1959, and the material started to arrive in the years to come, up to his death in 1974.




Anarchist movements

Workers movements/Workers councils/Workers International organizations

Political prisoners/Political trials

Culture, media and arts
Geographic names:

United States

Personal names:Nettlau, Max Goldman, Emma
Corporate names: International Working Men's Association Alexander Berkman Aid Fund
Genre of the material:

Archival material
Titles of related works:

The Guillotine at Work

The World Scene from the Libertarian Point of View

The Political Philosophy of Bakunin: Scientific Anarchism

In the Struggle for Equality, a history of the Anarchist Red Cross
Titles of related works:

In the shadow of death, love and life

Language of the material

English , Russian , Yiddish

Records creator


Yelensky, Boris

Content provider

International Institute of Social History

( Cruquiusweg 31 , 1019 AT Amsterdam , The Netherlands )