A fourteen-year-old Yiddish-speaking boy, born in a shtetl outside of Kiev, forced to work since the age of ten, is shot during the 1905 Russian revolution. Wounded, he spends six months in jail. Three years later he moves to Argentina to join his brother. Within a few months he leaves the Jewish neighborhood of Once, learns Spanish, finds non-Jewish roommates, and gets a job as a machinist in an Italian-owned metal shop. He frequents the Biblioteca Rusa where he absorbs the vigorous discussions promoting anarchism.

Barely a year after his arrival, this teenager witnesses the mayhem of the 1909 May Day demonstrations. The police fire upon the protesters. Anarchists shoot back. At least five dead and dozens wounded. The days that follow are a week of violent reprisals and protests. Semana Roja. Sixty thousand people march to the funerals for those who died on May 1. Riots continue along with demands for the removal of police chief Ramón Falcón.

Tensions continue throughout the year. The 17th of October 1909 starts a month of unparalleled anarchist activity in Buenos Aires. Two immigrants from Barcelona, a twenty-two year-old bricklayer and a bookbinder of the same age, place a bomb in front of the Spanish embassy. Two weeks later another young Russian immigrant attempts to detonate a bomb in the church outside Recoleta cemetery. Meanwhile, our teenager, Simon Radowitzky, closely follows the movements of the police chief.

14 November 1909, Colonel Falcón and his aide twenty-year-old Alberto Lartigau ride through Recoleta. As their car approaches the corner of Callao and Quintana, a bomb is thrown inside. The explosion follows. Neither man is killed instantly. Their injuries are severe. Both will die before nightfall.

Massive arrests follow, mostly Russians and Jews. Simon Radowitzky identified as the assasin. Confusion about his age. Confusion about his name, Radowitzky, Radowitsky, Radowisky. Citing the criminology of the day, the prosecution asserts that the defendant’s physical features, his forehead, his jawline, clearly indicate that he possesses criminal capabilities. Too young for the death penalty. Instead, Simon Radowitzsky is sentenced to life imprisonment.

The anarchist press idealizes Radowitzky, casting him as an icon who avenged the deaths of the workers. He becomes “el juisticiero,” the one who gives justice to the working class. Supporters plan bold attempts for his escape. January 1911 a tunnel is dug under the prison. Thirteen escape, including two would-be presidential assasins, but Radowitzky is delayed and misses the opportunity. Radowitzky is transferred to the prison in Ushuaia to forestall any other escape efforts.

Yet, seven years later, on the eve of the end of the first World War, he goes over the wall and catches a waiting schooner. Freedom is short, three weeks till Chilean authorities capture Radowitzky and return him to prison.

The iconography of Radowitzky continues through the 1920s. Leading anarchist writer Diego Abad de Santillan publishes a book in 1927 titled Simon Radowitzky, el vengador y el mártir. In 1930 Radowitzky is pardoned by Argentine president Hipólito Yrigoyen, a few months before the president is overthrown by a military coup.

Eventually making his way back to Europe, Radowitzky fights in the Spanish civil war. Simon Radowitzky spends the last years of his life, ill and poor, in Mexico where he dies in 1956.

(Further online reading includes Simón Radowitzky ¿mártir o asesino? by Osvaldo Bayer and a brief bio of Simon Radowitzky by Nick Heath).