Trotsky guard 1940 - 1943

All Rights Reserved, All Material Copyright 2008-2018 by Henry Schnautz and Terry Priest

Henry told me that when he read the story of the first attempt on Trotsky's life May 24, 1940, he was astounded. How could they get off so many shots into the buildings without anyone returning fire? He wrote either the compound, or more likely the NewYork office of the Socialist Workers Party, told them he was a marksman, offered his service, and got no reply. So he went to Mexico

Henry Schnautz, Natalia Trotsky, Manuel Grandizo Munis

May 1946 in the Trotsky courtyard in Mexico. Standing is Henry Schnautz. The woman is Natalia Trotsky. Facing the camera is "Munis" - Manuel Grandizo, a veteran of the Spanish Civil War, a longtime aide to Natalia Trotsky, writer and publisher. He and Henry wrote each other all their lives.


I found a short letter from SWP attorney Albert Goldman that said before you leave in 6 to 8 weeks, let us know and we will write a letter of introduction. Henry crossed the border two weeks later. He probably either hitchhiked or took a bus to Laredo, and took a bus from Laredo, 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. It was this party 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 without warning. 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 account I have of the attack is a short letter to the son of a friend who had asked him if he could tell him about Trotsky. His notebook accounts are written during moments of calm. After the attack, he stayed at the compound employed as guard, chauffeur, handy man, for Natalia Trotsky, until Feb 1943, when he returned to the states and was inducted into the army.


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Trotsky Compound Photos from 1940

Tour Inside the Compound

Letters - 1937-1940

Henry Schnautz letter to the editor - 1937-6-9 - in response to a speech by a Salvation Army Colonel
Albert Goldman letter - 1937-8-25 - 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 - 1939-1-26 - Secretary for the SWP leader

James Burnham letter - 1939-3-14 - 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 - 1939-8-28 - detailed letter about experience and conditions in Evansville

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 few years of his life, the issues that caused the rift in the American followers.

Albert Goldman letter - 1940-6-15 - "I have communicated with people in Mexico and told them you would arrive..."


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

1940_6_30 - Bus Trip to Mexico - On the way to Mexico City, Henry starts a journal
1940_8_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_8_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 & 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_8_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_8_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 ? - From where I'm standing guard the world seems bright and spring-like... My voice chokes... My heart is being squeezed...


click the newspaper


Tour inside the Trotsky compound-1940

Henry takes pictures inside the compound, writes notes on the back, and sends them home to his parents. Most of these were taken in the days leading up to the assassination.

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Tour outside the Trotsky compound
Pictures of people in the compound
The Guard List - and Duty Roster from 1940- found wadded up in the bottom of an old box of Mexico memorabilia


Henry Schnautz letter - (about) 1940-8-1 - 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.
Rev Joseph Moore letter - 1940-9-9 - 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
Ruby Weil - census data
Joe Hansen (book scan) - 1940-9-4 - 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 - This is a letter Henry sent to the son of a friend in Belgium who had asked about Trotsky. He gives his only account we have of the last day. See the link below - Trotsky Compound Photos 1959 - for some of the pictures Henry sent with the letter.

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

Trotsky Compound Photos 1959 - These were taken by Henry's brother John on his way back from an extended stay in Honduras
Henry's 1961 Painting of Trotsky - taken from a photo from the 1920's


Letters - after Aug 1940
Henry Schnautz - 1940-9-20 - the compound after the attack
Driving Natalia - 1940-11-14 - Henry is the new driver in Mexico City
1940_12_5 Henry met two sisters at the opera. They invite him to play poker
1940_12_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 - 1941-9-8 - 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.


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