Tuesday, 16 April 2013

The Houndsditch Murders

Continuing on my theme about how Jews from the former Eastern Bloc countries were treated in this country over 100 years ago.  Many fled persecution from Germany, Russia and Poland simply due to their Jewry, only to find it here, albeit not as severe as in their old countries.  In London, they settled mainly in the East End, particularly in Whitechapel.  But anti-semitism truly reared it`s head after a couple of incidents involving foreign radicals.  The Houndsditch murders became a national incident in which three cold-blooded murders escalated into the infamous "Siege of Sidney Street" and the personal involvement of then Home Secretary Winston Churchill.

    It was on December 16th 1910, that a gang, comprising of as mant as seven tried to smash their way into a Jewellers shop that had plenty of stock inside.  However, the noise they made brought a number of Police Officers to premises at the rear of the shop that the gang had rented.  Shots were fired.  Two Sergeants, Bob Bentley & Charlie Tucker fell dead.  Sergeant Bryant fell badly wounded, and Constable Wally Choate ignoring the serious danger he was in, fought with the gunman.  The gunman was believed to be George Gardstein, a man who fled Tsarist Russia.  Another Constable, Woodhams, was shot and badly wounded before Choate fought with Gardstein, who managed to shoot Choate a couple of times and he fell, bringing Gardstein to the floor with him.  One of Gardstein`s confederates accidentally shot him in the back, seriously wounding him.  The gang fled, taking Gardstein with them.  Amongst the group was Jacob Peters, a man later to become notorious, as a high ranking member of the "Cheka", Lenin`s Secret Police and forerunner of the KGB.  Also with them was another anarchist and revolutionary, Peter Piatkov, who became known as "Peter the Painter".

    They took Gardstein to an address in Grove Street in Whitechapel, then left, leaving Gardstein with two women, Rose Trassjonsky and Luba Milstein.  Gardstein refused to visit a hospital and so a doctor was brought to the house.  The doctor was shocked at what he could see in the house, weapons, anarchistic pamphlets, and a badly wounded man.  The doctor was only able to help stem the pain until he died.  The Police were summoned and the women arrested.  The manhunt for the gang intensified.  An informer helped the Police arrest Peters and two other men, but Piatkov and a couple others were holed up in a house in Sidney Street, which was quickly surrounded.  But the gang were heavily armed and opened fire, backing the Police off.

    Home Secretary Winston Churchill rushed to Sidney Street to see for himself thearmed resistance.  Churchill ordered an army unit in to assist. Churchill had earlier sent troops and Police into South Wales to quell rioting and later in the year(1911) had troops sent into Liverpool during the Transport Strike, and had two gunboats moored in the River Mersey.  During exchanges, smoke started billowing out of the house but Churchill refused to allow the Fire Brigade to tackle the blaze.  A couple of bodies were found but Piatkov was gone.

    The arrested people were put on trial but it turned into a huge failure as some were acquitted and the others had their sentences quashed.  What must not be forgotten is that three Police Officers were ruthlessly shot dead, and two others seriously wounded.  Feelings about foreigners and Jews were whipped up by the press in a fit of xenophobia and anti-semitism.  Yes, the good old days that people still like to view through rose-tinted glasses.