Two Sisters of Coyoacán
by Roberta Satow
Lilly and Gertie Abramovitz unknowingly gave access to a Stalinist assassin to plunge an ice pick into the back of Leon Trotsky's neck. Based on a true story, Two Sisters of Coyoacán takes place in the 1930's when antisemitism, economic insecurity, and restrictive immigration laws were barriers to Jewish refugees seeking safe haven in the United States. It explores an early example of the degree to which Russian leaders (Stalin, Putin) will go to control their enemies through the use of naïve “collaborators”.
Two Sisters of Coyoacán follows the life of two Jewish sisters who unknowingly become entangled in a plot conceived by Stalin to eliminate a powerful enemy. What happens to these two well-meaning young women from Brooklyn when Trotsky is assassinated?
Brownsville at the Beginning of the 20th Century
Between 1900 and 1920 Brownsville grew from a small rural hamlet to a teeming ghetto. The population doubled from 37,934 in 1905 to 77,936 five years later. By 1920, 100,854 people called Brownsville home.
Many of the residents came from the Lower East Side which lost 60 percent of its population between 1905 and 1915--much of it due to the construction of the Williamsburg Bridge in 1903 and the Manhattan Bridge in 1909 which uprooted thousands of residents on the Lower East Side and in Williamsburg. The expansion of the subway system through Brooklyn also supported the growth of the Brownsville area, both by dislocating people living near the subway construction and by providing a convenient means of transportation to the neighborhood.
Better transportation and increased immigration caused a speculative boom in Brownsville--lots that sold for $50 in 1907 were flipped for $3,000 in 1909. In a decade of dramatic expansion, Brownsville’s developers re-created the Lower East Side in Brooklyn, erecting cramped, high-density, multifamily tenements on narrow, congested streets without trees or any greenery. Ninety-six percent of the dwellings in Brownsville were three- or four-story structures housing four of five families apiece. Generally some type of commercial activity occupied the first floor.
About the Characters
Ruth Ageloff Poulos, the daughter of Russian immigrants, is the model for Lilly.
Sylvia Ageloff, the model for Gertie, was a Brooklyn social worker, Trotskyist sympathizer and sister of Ruth Ageloff
Samuel Ageloff, the model for Tateh, immigrated to the US when he was sixteen.