Spring Issue of The Paris Review
On the morning of March 2, 1908, a young Jewish immigrant named Lazarus Averbuch knocked at the door of the Shippy residence on Chicago’s North Side. George Shippy was Chicago’s chief of police and the young man demanded to see him. The maid told him to come back later that morning, and so he did, whereupon a shoot-out took place in which Averbuch was killed with seven shots, as in a fairy tale. Chief Shippy claimed that he had shot Averbuch to protect himself from an assassination attempt as soon as he saw the visitor, he said, he knew he was an anarchist because he looked ‘Armenian or Jewish.’ According to Shippy’s version, Averbuch arrived equipped with a gun, which Chief Shippy wrestled away. During the struggle Shippy’s son Harry, along with his driver, Foley, both sustained bullet wounds. The chief’s version does not add up, but the excited mainstream press was quick to believe him, and a slew of stories about the anarchist menace rearing its foreign head covered the front pages, frequently illustrated with pictures of the dead Averbuch. His violent nature was supposed to be manifest in his face and the shape of his head: The public marveled over his ‘low forehead,’ ‘large mouth,’ and ‘simian ears,’ all presumably markers of his anarchist proclivities.
While looking for a ‘curly-haired’ man someone had seen with Averbuch before the shooting, the Chicago police quickly started rounding up reputed anarchists, those resembling anarchists, as well as random foreigners who could one day turn into anarchists. Assistant Chief of Police Schuettler, in vigorous charge of the investigation, asserted: ‘It is almost impossible to pick up a man and determine whether or not he is an anarchist. We must follow them and learn their associates and habits from the moment they enter this country.’
It’s rather depressing to note how little has changed since 1908–the press is still quick to relate action with national origin, and law enforcement is still focused on immigrants or people of color as the source of the country’s problems. Hemon writes of the hysteria that surrounded the death of Averbuch, and describes how he got involved in researching this particular case as well as the larger context surrounding it, travelling to Poland, Ukraine, Romania, and finally, to Hemon’s native Bosnia. The essay also includes arresting black-and-white photographs taken by Velibor Bozovic, a friend of Hemon’s.