Ida Pilat Isca (April 28, 1896 – November 5, 1980) was a New York and Mohegan Colony anarchist, a professional translator and a member of the Libertarian Book Club; she married Valerio Isca. Ida Pilat and Valerio Isca met quite by accident during the campaign for Sacco and Vanzetti, at a meeting in the local of the Spanish New York comrades’ Cultural Centre. She had by then already been involved for several years in the campaign to free those two martyrs. She had been arrested twice in Boston with other comrades, demonstrating outside Governor Fuller’s home. They bought a cabin on a lake near the Mohegan Colony where Milly and Rudolf Rocker and many other comrades lived.
Ida Pilat was born in Odessa on the Black Sea on 28 April 1896. From a well-to-do Jewish family, her house was visited every morning by the German governess who taught that language to her and her sister, and in the afternoons the teacher who would teach her French. When playing with other neighbourhood children she would speak Russian. She had no recollection of ever having spoken less than three languages.
In 1905, following the pogroms unleashed by the tsarist government after Russia’s defeat at the hands of Japan – and after drunken mobs had twice destroyed his business – Ida’s father made up his mind to move to America along with the entire family and they settled in Brooklyn. There young Ida attended the public schools; then found work as a secretary and translator. A lifelong enthusiast for study, she attended night classes in Latin and Greek at Hunter College for two years, but she had to give these up because, being of fragile constitution and living far from the College, the effort was more than she could bear. Her doctor recommended that she take walks to build herself up and this turned her into a tireless walker.
Two years after the first encounter with Isca, in April 1929, they decided to enter into a free union, a union that survived for over half a century, for 51 years, up until she died.
As a student, she researched the ideas of the Socialist Party and then libertarian ideas but her preferred study was always philology and art history. She loved reading the classics in the original language. It was her knowledge of languages that set her apart and made her of service to the libertarian movement. Back in the days when they were publishing the weekly Cultura Proletaria in New York, Ida used to translate articles from English for the Spanish comrades. Later she did the same for the bulletin supporting the political victims in Spain. On behalf of Jewish comrades she translated articles for the Freie Arbeiter Stimme as well as letters in foreign languages that came into the Libertarian Book Club. She also translated many chapters of Sam Dolgoff’s anthology of Bakunin’s writings.
Her last work as a translator was to translate Max Nettlau’s Short History of Anarchy from the Spanish and Italian editions, the German original manuscript having been lost during the civil war in Spain.
She was also active in the ‘Francisco Ferrer’ Modern School Association in Stelton and for several years was secretary of the New York support committee. She was among the earliest members of the Mutual Aid League set up by Harry Kelly to aid victims of labour disputes. She was among the founders of the Libertarian Book Club and after the death of its treasurer Joseph Arostan she took up his post until her sight failed her. Ida was robbed of her mind by Alzheimer's. That did not stop Ida and Valerio from attending to Libertarian Book Club business and meetings. As Ida and Valerio had no children, Valerio became Ida's care giver until her final days.
After the death and religious funeral for her father in 1955, she wrote down and signed a document declaring: ‘On my death I want no ritual, religious or otherwise.’ She died on 5 November 1980. At her very plain funeral comrade Abe Bluestein who had known her since her teenage years said a few words of farewell.
The booklet Ida Pilat Isca, Translator, Writer, Activist, Friend, contains two of Ida’s poems and an article she wrote for Fragments magazine.
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