Trotsky’s ship, the Spanish steamer Montserrat, landed at pier 8 at the bottom tip of Manhattan at about 3am on Sunday, January 14, 1917, a cold winter morning. Still, the ship’s landing attracted a carnival atmosphere, with at least six newspapers covering the event including the English-language the New York Times, Tribune, and Call.
But the most poignant coverage came from the foreign-language socialist press. Trotsky was already a celebrity in these circles, and they treated him well. Here are some selections:
N.Y. Volkszeitung, Jan 14, 1917 (translated from original Germain)
Leon Trotsky is arriving today!
He is arriving at 9am at Pier 8 from Cadiz.
Our much persecuted comrade Leon Trotsky at will arrive in New York this morning at 9am aboard the Spanish vessel “Montserrat”. For at least the time of the war he will find a home here.
Comrade Trotsky belongs to the internationally minded Russian Social Democrats. He is also an editor at the Russian Social Democratic Daily in Paris. He was persecuted by the Russian government throughout all of Europe and he finally found his last resort in the United States.
The “New York Volkszeitung” is welcoming their courageous fellow combatant in the name of the internationally minded German-Speaking Socialists of the United States.
N.Y. Volkszeitung, Jan 15, 1917 (from original German)
Trotzky is here.
At least one country that still is free of Csarism. United States the only refuge.
The Russian Internationalist is giving credit to the “Volkszeitung” and the “German-Language Group”.
On schedule, in good health and in excellent spirits the four members of the Trotsky family arrived in New York yesterday. Out of circumstances they will take their home here for the time being. The genuine surprise of comrade Leon Trotsky, the renowned Russian socialist theorist, writer and speaker, to be able to land in the United States is revealing a lot about the upheavals that occurred in Europe since the beginning of the unfortunate year of 1914. “In fact” he repeatedly told the reporter of the “N.Y. Volkszeitung” there were no difficulties imposed upon me and my family whatsoever. Your immigration officers were as friendly and polite as if they wanted you to feel at home here right away, very different to Old Europe.”
And then he pointed out that all of Europe, no matter if part of the Entente or neutral, belonged to the area of influence of the Csar.
“You know”, the seasoned comrade said, “I made myself impossible in France as an editor of “Nashe Slovo”. Honestly, this isn’t surprising in light of the fierce opposition we were imposing on the “socialist” and the “capitalist” war mongers. Worse, truly democratic and neutral Switzerland didn’t dare to take me in for fear of Russian reprimands. As well as neutral Spain arrested and deported me on Russian demand. I am truly a ‘fatherland-less’ chap and I am grateful to have found a country that is accepting me within its boundaries.”
After, Trotsky gave friendly credit to the “Volkszeitung” and he explained that the paper is received in Europe as a reliable and accountable part of the Internationale. “I read the Volkszeitung every day in Paris as well as in Vienna and I do not want to let the opportunity pass to thank you for your loyal and brave attitude. Likewise, there are many European comrades who appreciate the high amount of socialist sense of duty and clear insight of the New Yorker voice of the German speaking socialist workers.” And then Trotsky cited several articles that he especially recalled.
Thanks to the German language Group
I’d like to thank as well the German language Group of the local Socialist Party for their financial donation to support of the international socialists that were left by all good patriots. Although it wasn’t a big amount it was still a sign of solidarity that was highly encouraging and pleasing. It were those times when we were berated by “friends” and enemies as “vassals of the Hohenzollern”, when we were suspected to be German spies. When your letter with the money wire arrived we published it in the newspaper and let everybody know how proud we were ….. to save us we get the support of the international proletariat who are defamed and suspected by their fellow patriots as “friends of Russians” and “mercenaries of England”. Many letters to the editor of our newspaper expressed the joy about this demonstration of solidarity.”
An Episode from Spain
In relation to the above comrade Trotsky told in fluent German a little episode from Spain. As he was interrogated by the Spanish police prefect it turned out that this high official was unable to speak any other language than Spanish. A translator was called, a German who was supposed to translate the questions as well as the response. In addition it turned out that the translator was also the secretary of the German consul……”The nationalist defamation is truly international” added our comrade with a smile “and it uses the same dirty tricks everywhere”.
What plans does our friend have for his future. ….The socialist movement in this country can only be thankful that the war sent this fellow combatant and teacher to its shores.
And here’s the front page of the next morning’s Jewish Forward. The Forward’s 200,267 circulation made it one of the most widely-ready daily newspapers in the city and country, competing even with the New York Times. The caption under Trotsky’s photo says “This is Comrade Trotsky” and introduces him as Russian revolutionary par excellence. The Forward would carry interviews with Trotsky for the next several days.