Eve Adams is the subject of a recent New York Times “Overlooked” obituary by Emily Palmer, in the series featuring people who should have been remembered in the obituary section, but were not. (Of course, the obit is behind the Times’ paywall.)
The article frames her, accurately enough, as
“an outspoken gay writer and Polish Jew in an often homophobic, anti-Semitic, anti-immigrant America in the 1920sand ’30s, one who published an early example of American lesbian literature written by a lesbian.Her “Lesbian Love,” a collection of short stories and illustrations, was published in February 1925. Written under the pseudonym Evelyn Addams, it explores the sexual awakenings and gender-defying nature of several dozen women of varying social pedigrees whom Adams had met in Greenwich Village and in her travels around the country as a roving saleswoman of revolutionary multilingual periodicals.
She had quite a biography:
Preferring men’s clothes and women’s company, Adams lived her life boldly at a time when the world considered the only decent way to live it was to keep it behind closed doors. She counted among her friends the anarchists and revolutionaries Emma Goldman and Alexander Berkman as well as the taboos-shattering author Henry Miller.The United States government considered Adams an “agitator,” records show. Headed by J. Edgar Hoover, the “Radical Division” of the agency that would become the F.B.I. had been charged with spying on her since at least 1919.She was arrested in 1927 by an undercover police officer, Margaret M. Leonard, who had walked into Eve’s Hangout and obtained a copy of “Lesbian Love.” The book was deemed indecent, and Adams was held on several charges, including disorderly conduct. She was convicted and spent 18 months in jail before being deported to Poland on Dec. 7, 1927.
Jewish. Lesbian. Deported. To Poland. In 1927.
The rest of the story gruesomely writes itself.
By June 1940, as German troops were approaching Paris, [Adams and her partner Hella Oldstein Soldner] fled to the south of France. There are suggestions in the research about them that they may have aided the Resistance. The women were arrested while living in Nice and hauled to the Drancy internment camp in Paris in December 1943.Later that month they were crammed, with about 850 Jews, onto cattle cars headed for Auschwitz, according to Nazi police records. The journey took three days. Just 31 of the group lived to see liberation, in 1945, and though there is no record of their deaths at the camp, Adams and Soldner were not among them.
Palmer chose in her obituary to focus on Adams as a gay pioneer, a worldly trailblazer, and to end the article on an inspirational note. She doesn’t paper over Adams’ fate, but neither does she give it much attention.
When we look at this obituary, we see the story of a talented, committed, radical woman who was made unwelcome in her adopted country and sent back to a world where Jews had always been under siege and in danger. She was unwelcome anywhere, and despite everything she did to make a good life for herself, she was eventually destroyed for some combination of her religious/ethnic background and her sexual preference.
As a culture, we are almost unwaveringly committed to telling stories with hopeful conclusions, to turning our eyes away from the torture, the genocide, the abuse. We find some “inspiration” to hang onto, leaving the people who experience the unspeakable horrors to be forever alone with their memories — if they live to have memories at all. And when people do survive, we insist that their survival is enough to constitute a happy ending.
Eve Adams is worth remembering both for her accomplishments and for her fate. In the end, in the hell of the camps, who she was, what she wrote, who she loved, and what she believed was dissolved and erased. Everyone who died in the camps, everyone who dies at the hands of the police, everyone who is deported today to a dangerous homeland, everyone who dies of abuse of any sort should be remembered both for their individuality and for their common experience. The celebrated and deported Lesbian activist writer dies next to the housewife who never left her home village, and nothing about any of their deaths is inspirational, or hopeful.
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