Henry Schnautz Trotsky Guard 1940 - 1943

All Rights Reserved, All Material Copyright 2008-2022 by Henry Schnautz and Terry Priest

at right - Henry Schnautz, Natalia Trotsky, and Grandizo Munis, taken on Henry's return visit to the Trotsky compound May 1946

Henry Schnautz, Natalia Trotsky and Grandizo Munis

Henry told me sometime in the 1980s that when he read the story of the first attempt on Trotsky's life May 24, 1940, he was astonished that the attackers could get off so many shots into the buildings without anyone returning fire. He wrote the New York office of the Socialist Workers Party, told them he was a marksman and offered his service.

I found a short letter from SWP attorney Albert Goldman from June 15, 1940 that said "I have communicated with people in Mexico City and told them you will arrive within 6 to 8 weeks." Let us know and "we will write a letter of introduction. We might be able to use you down there." Henry crossed the border two weeks later. He either hitchhiked or took a bus to Laredo, then took a bus arriving in Mexico City on July 1. His first stay was at the Danky hotel in Mexico City. On July 14, 1940, the 29-year old writes home, says his address has changed, and doesn't mention Trotsky or the compound. Later he says July 12th is the day he became a guard for Leon Trotsky. His father writes him a letter talking about the university in Mexico. I wish I had the letter where he broke the news to his Indiana parents that he was a bodyguard for the world's most famous communist-in-exile. But they seemed to take it in stride. Henry had been active for several years in the Socialist Workers Party, and with other causes before that. The leaders in New York knew who he was well enough. It was the SWP that sent other American guards to Mexico. An author on Trotsky, Bert Patenaude, who has studied the SWP archives, told me that the office was upset Henry had gone to Mexico prematurely. Joseph Hansen, Trotsky's top aide at the time in Mexico, remembers that it was Trotsky who insisted on putting him into the guard. He wanted to get to know this real live American fresh off the farm. They hired him, about 5 weeks before the fatal attack on Leon Trotsky. On Aug 4, 1940, he continues his journal he started on the bus trip down, and writes about being guard on the night shift.

As far as I know Henry never wrote any retrospective accounts of his Trotsky days. The only letter I have is a brief account to the son of a friend who had asked him if he could tell him about Trotsky. Henry wrote a few sentences about the day of the attack. There was a letter - the family called it "the letter" - that he was writing to his sister Marie when he heard Trotsky scream. He came back hours later and finished the letter and mailed it. Marie suggested years ago it should be in the newspaper. I was never able to find it. I found "the envelope" but it was empty. If anyone in the family ever sees it, send a photocopy my way. Aug 20, 1940 is the date. His journal accounts are written during moments of calm. After the attack, he stayed at the compound employed as guard, chauffeur, handy man, gardener, rabbit and chicken keeper, dishwasher, for Natalia Trotsky, until Feb 1943, when he returned to the states and was inducted into the army.

Henry standing with suit and suitcase in farmyard ready to travel

Photos of Trotsky Compound

The Trotsky Compound 1940

Tour Inside the Compound

Trotsky Compound Photos 1959

Photos of Trotsky Guards and a Duty Roster from 1940

The Duty Roster - found wadded up in the bottom of an old box of Mexico memorabilia


Henry Schnautz letter to the editor - 1937 June 9

in response to a speech by a Salvation Army Colonel

Albert Goldman letter - 1937 Aug 25

tells Henry to prepare the rest of the membership in Evansville that they will be expelled from the Socialist party.

Against a proposal to exclude Negroes from the CLU bar

between 1938-1940

Sylvia Caldwell letter - 1939 Jan 26

Secretary for the SWP leader

James Burnham letter - 1939 March 14

tells Henry to hang in there. Burnham was the leader of the faction that would leave the Socialist party the next year after a public fight with Trotsky.

John Malone letter - 1939 Aug 28

detailed letter about experience and conditions in Evansville

news headline hitler-stalin pact

Henry Schnautz letter - 1940 Feb

"I'm just a working stiff and those who imagine the revolution must be postponed until American proletariat learn Hegel are nuts...
Sticking label 'petty bourgeois' on an opponent is no proof at all that his ideas are wrong. If I could get whole petty bourgeois population of U.S. to accept our program I believe party would be glad to recruit them - since almost no other converts are available."

This is a local viewpoint of the grand problem that plagued Trotsky the last year of his life, precipitated by the Hitler-Stalin pact, the issue that caused the rift in the American followers, the issue that Frank Jacson used to get alone with Trotsky in his study.

Albert Goldman letter - 1940 June 15

"I have communicated with people in Mexico and told them you would arrive..."


Henry kept a short-lived journal starting on the bus ride down, and ending about the time of the attack on Trotsky

1940 June 30 - Bus Trip to Mexico

On the way to Mexico City, Henry starts a journal

1940 Aug 4 - NightShift Guard

I stroll thru the patio. Here they're adding another story to the guard's quarters, expecting to put on about 3 or 4 more men. I pass Seva's, Charley's and Walter's doors - each doorway has white patches at waist height where recent repairs have been made. One side of Walter's isn't complete. Here a whole corner 8" high and 6" wide was shot off by a burst of machine gun fire. The tower over Jake's room is a recent addition. It was right in front of his door, behind the huge eucalyptus tree, that one machine gunner stood.

1940 Aug 5

Otto prefers to stay below so I go to the main central tower. From this tower you can communicate with the other three towers, the gate and all the rooms either by telephone or buzzers. The lights and alarm are controlled from here. Most of the guns are stored here in the daytime. The tower controls the gate electrically. A trap door connects it with the library underneath.

1940 Aug 6

The laborers were all busy putting the roof on the 2nd floor that was added to the guard's quarters, so I was given the job of setting a marble plaque in the inner door facing, in memory of Robt. S. Harte, the young guard who was murdered when the assault on Trotsky's life occurred last May 24. We were done before the newspapermen arrived

1940 Aug 10

Flashes apparently miles in length cause the mts. to suddenly jump into full view, towering high over the city and then as suddenly vanish.

1940 Aug 21

From where I'm standing guard the world seems bright and spring-like... My voice chokes... My heart is being squeezed...

Henry Schnautz letter - 1940 Aug 6

Henry meets Chavez, one of the world's greatest pistol shots, on the Mexico City police pistol range, and shows him his National Rifle Association membership card.

The Newspaper

newspaper from Aug 20, 1940 in Trotsky's study

Aug 20, 1940

Sylvia Ageloff

Ruby Weil and Rev Joseph Moore letter - 1940 Sept 9

Rev. Moore, also mentioned in the 1939 Malone letter, writes Henry after the assassination, apparently at Henry's request, and tells him what he knows of the Weil sisters

Joe Hansen (book scan) - 1940 Sept 4

letter from a book, Joe Hansen, Trotsky aide, and the American consul

Joseph Hansen remembers Hank Schnautz in "Healy's Big Lie"

"Unlike the other guards, Trotsky pointed out, Schnautz had a farm background. I recognized that Trotsky really wanted to get acquainted with a live American fresh off the farm. He was a dead shot with a rifle, his preferred firearm."

Letter to Emmanuel Jr. - Last day

A draft of a letter Henry sent to the son of a friend in Belgium who had asked about Trotsky. He gives a brief account of the last day.

Jake Cooper

Jake was a guard from Minnesota who had arrived shortly before the first attack, and went back home shortly after the second attack

Munis - Manuel Grandizo - 1912-1989

Henry's 1961 Painting of Trotsky

taken from a photo from the 1920's

Letters - after Aug 1940

Henry Schnautz - 1940 Sept 20

the compound after the attack

Driving Natalia - 1940 Nov 14

Henry is the new driver in Mexico City

1940 Dec 5

Henry met two sisters at the opera. They invite him to play poker

1940 Dec 9

Henrys long letter to M. de la Luz and Rebecca - sisters met at the opera - saying who he is and what he is doing in Mexico. They had a friend call him to say they would not see him again.

Henry Schnautz - 1941 Sept 8

Describing the tense scene between the guards and the Mexican police when they bring Jacson back to the compound to reenact the crime. Appears to be Sept. 8 1941, a year after the attack, during the trial.

Hoover memo mentioning Henry Schnautz

J Edgar Hoover mentions Henry Schnautz in a memo in 1942, but I think it says more about the Soviets handling Hoover than it does Henry Schnautz.