I met Audrey Goodchild about ten years ago, at a conference on anarchists and Jews in Venice. She was just in her 80s then. She has died this month in her 93rd year. She was a wonderful character, a great raconteur, and full of human warmth and fun.
Born into an immigrant Jewish anarchist family in New York in 1920, she was a lifelong anarchist. She was a pioneer in the libertarian education movement and involved in the beatnik scene.
Like my Communist grandparents, she was ambivalent about her Jewish identity, seeing ethnicity, race and religion as so many illusions that we will throw off come the revolution, in the proletarian dawn when all difference is dissolved. She saw herself (after Voltairine de Cleyre) as an “anarchist without adjectives“. While my grandparents, in their old age, came to embrace again the Jewish culture and tradition they had rejected in their youth (without giving up their commitment to the left, or indeed their atheism), Audrey never did. Even though she joked and sometimes (she told me) dreamt in Yiddish, she saw her Jewishness as a dead skin to shake off.
Audrey and her close comrades in the Why? group found themselves at odds with many of the more Jewish-identified anarchists in the Yiddish scene, who mainly came from the immigrant generation, as World War II approached. Most Jewish anarchists saw themselves as anti-fascists. Many therefore supported the Allied war effort, seeing WWII as sharply different from WWI – not just imperialist rivalry between the big powers, but also a fight to save European Jewry from Naziism. Audrey had no time for this line of thinking. When some of her comrades, such as Irving Sterling, joined the American army, Audrey broke off relations with him. In my view, history has vindicated Irving and not Audrey, but she remained convinced that she had been on the right side when I met her.
Like my grandfather, who refused any memorial after he passed on, I am sure Audrey believed that there is nothing left of us but ashes and dust after we die. I will not pray for her, but I will think of her next year as I light my grandfather’s candle.