Tea with Kropotkin – The search for Jacob

How do you find someone who doesn’t want to be found? Especially after over a century has passed? 

For over a decade now I’ve been on the hunt for information about my great great grandfather and turning up very little. So we have a handful of facts and a lot of conjecture. But from what little we have he was a truly interesting fellow. 

Jacob front and centre at his grandson’s wedding. He was extremely ill but determined to be there. He died the next day.


We know he liked to lie on censuses, in fact he keeps adding extra years to his age in order to seem more authoritative. 

We know that he came from an azkenezi jewish family in eastern Europe, although some suggestions have been Russia the only place we can track him down is a Shetl near Kovno in Lithuania. One of the reasons tracking him down before his move to the UK is that the place was targeted by the einsatzgruppen who most likely killed any remaining relatives and records about Jews were destroyed. 

We know he was a revolutionary, a bolshevik and an anarchist. The family story is that he fled the pogroms and being forced into the tsars army. This story never changed so is most likely true. 

We know he lived in the east end of London where he raised a family and lost his first “wife”. 

The family story was that his first wife Polly died of a botched abortion. Thanks to old Bailey court records we know that this is true and that the midwife who performed the abortion was prosecuted and found not guilty. 

We know Jacob was a very active trade unionist, he was one of the founders of the Jewish Tailors Union (which was one of the founding unions of the Labour Party). He got blacklisted in London, moved to Manchester for a while and eventually emigrated to America because he was unable to get work in the UK. 

We also know that he was close to Pytor Kropotkin. He took his children to have tea with him and also introduced them to Maxim Litvinov. 
We also have written evidence of him sharing a platform with Emma Goldman in London and the two of them came from the same Shetl, because of the propensity for jewish people at the time to only marry other jewish people there is a good chance the two were related. 
Here is where the conjecture gets interesting. 

Jacob was a regular attendee at the Whitechapel Anarchist tearooms set up by Rudolf Rocker. Other regular attendees (when in London) were Lenin, Stalin and Trotsky. As Jacob was close to Kropotkin and Litvinov it is unlikely he wouldn’t have known the movers and shakers in the Russian Revolution.

However the tearoom was not purely an eastern European thing. Amongst those who took tea and debated there were Keir Hardie and Ramsey  Mcdonald as well as other high ranking members of the Labour movement. As Jacob was an active trade unionist and his union was one which formed the Labour Party it can be assumed that he at least had a passing acquaintance with early Labour MPS. 

Jacob seems to have been mixing with some of the key figures in left wing history. 

We also know that his son Louis was deeply involved with the Labour party and had a fair amount of influence with the Attlee government.  The question is how far this was due to Jacob. 

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