Sunday, August 19, 2007
Check me out!
I stumbled upon something yesterday night,
when I was researching Trotsky. I found a tribute
he wrote about Yakov Sverdlov, which I've seen
before. He dedicated it specifically to my grandfather,
Benjamin, and his sister Sara, written in 1925, six years
after Yakov's death.
I'm quite familliar with the essay, but, I never
asked myself why Trotsky addressed it to
my grandfather, who by 1925, was no longer
living the life of the arms-dealing double cross
spy, but, had a furniture shop in Philadelphia.
By all appearances, he was a typical immigrant,
with six kids, who was building the American dream.
He once showed my cousin Natalie a bankbook
with $800,000, from 1929, the year of the
great crash, but, he certainly wasn't living
like an aristocrat in Philly. He lived in a
middle-class Jewish neighborhood, had
a modest business, and was even a cantor
in the synagogue. Did he get that money
from arms-dealing? Was that Bolshevik
funds he kept for them? He sure wasn't
spending it on luxuries, as he lived a
very mundane existence, raising his
By the mid-1930s, his beautiful young wife,
Mary, was dead at 37, from poisoning.
The story went that she killed herself,
but, why would she? She was a beautiful
woman, and had six children, a business
she helped run, and a great life. While
Benny was a philanderer, and had
a girlfriend that he ended up marrying
after his wife died, was he a Scott Peterson?
He left his kids, and my mom, who was
a child, was sent to live with her oldest
sister. He left for California, just like that.
He abandoned the family, completely,
leaving six children orphaned. It was the
depression, and the kids, struggling to eat,
were in desperate poverty.
They all had to leave school, and my poor
mom barely had any education. She never
had parents, other than her oldest sister,
Eva, who raised her. To make matters worse,
Benny had constantly changed their birthdates
on official papers. None of them knew their
real birthdates, or years. It was sad. But,
was he trying to protect their identies?
Was he concerned that they would be
executed as a retaliation for the Romanov
children being killed?
We've always wondered if Mary was murdered.
Did Benny do it? The orphaned kids had their
own family belief in something they spoke of
as the "curse of Rasputin."
This was how I learned about my grandfather,
and his brother....
When I was around 10, I told my uncle about
some weird paranormal things going on in
our lives. We had seen UFOs, My brother kept
having these prophetic dreams. Uncle Jules
said that our family was cursed by Rasputin.
I had no idea what he was talking about, but,
I took note of how his eyes grew big, and
he actually believed this curse. He said we
were cursed by dreams and other tragedies.
For instance, my grandfather named his
first born child, Jacob, after his brother
Yakov, and he was hit by a trolly, rendered
deaf and mute, when he was a child. The
curse of Rasputin. I sort of got it...
For the next thirty years, I tried to extract
as much information about this as I could
from my uncle. My mom didn't know anything
at all about her family, since she was orphaned
and barely knew her parents, let alone
her bolshevik roots in Russia.
Benny disappeared from his children's
lives until the 1950s. Suddenly, he turned
up, and began trying to bond with his grown
children. He brought Zinovy Pechkov to my
parent's wedding. My dad hated Benny from
the first time he laid eyes on him, and when
Benny returned to Philly wanting to move
in to bond with his kids, my dad sent him
on his way. Benny ended up in Cleveland
where he bonded with my Uncle Charles
and his kids. That's when he told my
cousins about his life in Russia, and his
brother Yakov Sverdlov. He never told
anyone about his life as a covert arms
dealer, or spy.
Even knowing about Yakov Sverdlov
didn't explain to me why our family
was cursed by Rasputin. The first
connection that I found was in my
grandfather's associate, Sidney Reilly,
having dealings with Rasputin. I
can't put it together past that, yet...
It was a carrot on a stick for me, and
from the time I was 12, I've studied
everything I could on the Romanovs,
and Russian Revolution trying to figure
out why Rasputin cursed us, but, in
the meantime, learning about my own
family. What's amazing is how well
Stalin whited them out, and it's only
recently that newly discovered archives
have yielded more and more of Sverdlov's
secrets. Now, I feel like there's more
to history than previously relied upon
historians have cared to report.
In 1925, Trotsky wrote a tribute to
Yakov Sverdlov :
In the Brazilian archives, I found an unredacted
version, with the salutation to my grandfather,
and his sister Sara.
**Translated from Portuguese**
"To his brothers, Benjamin and Sara, to my brother,
Asdrúbal Barbosa, to the Brazilian proletariat and
of all the countries of the world, in its fight for the
definitive victory of World-wide the Socialist Revolution,
To the Shkola Agitatorov i Instruktorov "Kommunistitcheskaia
imia Universitiet J. M. Sverlov" (School of Agitation and
Instruction "COMMUNIST UNIVERSITY REVOLUTIONARY
J. M. Sverdlov"), perennial and crepitante spirit to know
practical marxist-revolutionary, in greeting and memory
CONCEPTION And ORGANIZATION, COMPILATION
And TRANSLATION, BIOGRAPHICAL and LITERARY
REFERENCES OF JAKOB MIKHAILOVITCH SVERDLOV"
*(I love the sound of School of Agitation!) Haha. I wish
I had known about that when I was in High School
and my teachers called me an agitator.
Yakov Sverdlov had a large family. His mother Elizaveta
had at least 5 children, possibly 7, and his dad remarried
and had more children, as well as a combined Soviet
Why did Trotsky write this to his only one brother and
sister, who lived in America, not his large family, or his
son Andrew and daughter Vera and wife, all living in the
Kremlin, in Moscow, all involved in the Soviet government?
Wouldn't a tribute to Sverdlov be appropriately
dedicated to them?
No, he wrote to the two Americans, and his Brazilian
comrades. I think he was mobilizing them to help
with an insurgency to overthrow Stalin.
By 1925, Lenin was dead, and Trotsky was kicked
out of the Central Government by Stalin. The
Bolshevik leadership had taken a huge shift
to the left/right, whichever way you see it...
but, the old guard was gone, and Stalin was
the perpetrator of the ultimate red terror,
commencing at this time.
Prior to 1917, pre-revolution, my grandfather
was in London with Sidney Reilly. They
were dealing arms and doing some nefarious
things. Yet, my grandfather's relationship with
Yakov was always tight, so, it wasn't like with
Zinovy, who emigrated to Canada, then
joined the French Foreign legion, ostensibly
to fight against the Germans.
By 1918, my grandfather helped the British
government get their agent into Russia for
a failed attempt to kill Lenin. Yet, neither
that spy, or my grandfather were punished
for it. Fanya Kaplan who shot Lenin two
weeks later, was executed by Sverdlov's
That's when he said, "Better for 9 innocent
men to die than one guilty man to go free."
(I have not been able to get past that quote
since I read it again this week.)
His brother, along with Lockhart did go free,
and competely unscathed, and with impunity
did they continue to enjoy privileges as
double **( or triple) agents....
In 1917, my grandfather emigrated to NY.
Free as a bird, hanging out with nefarious
people, like Sidney Reilly, and his unsavory
crew in NYC ... He should have had a red mark
on his head, for the plot against Lenin and Stalin,
but, why then did he go back to Russia, in 1920,
definitely because Lenin wanted him there?
In fact, ironically, even though there's a
good body of evidence against him, he went
back to Russia in 1920 to become temporary
Minister of Transportation. That year there
were some significant events connected
to that, with international consequence,
which I'm learning about. But, in trying to
stay focused, (which is difficult), I'll keep
it out of this discussion right now.
Yakov was dead in 1919 at 33. Lenin was dead
by 1924, and by 1925 Stalin's star was risen.
He turned on Trotsky. Sidney Reilly returned
to Moscow, for an inexplicable mission, and
was captured and executed in 1925.
This tribute by Trotsky was written in 1925,
and sent to my grandfather, living in Philly.
I was trying to explain to my dad why this is
curious and puzzling.
Trotsky was a Menshevik (meaning minority)
and Yakov, along with Stalin and Lenin, were
Bolshevik (meaning majority)... So, even
though both were represented in the fledgling
revolutionary government in 1917, by 1919,
there was an increasing animosity between
factions. It is analogous in some ways to our
own government, with the widening gap between
Democrats and Republican ideologies and
So, in 1925, for Trotsky to write a tribute to
Sverdlov, who died in 1919, and send it
specifically to his brother Benjamin, it would
be like Al Gore praising George Bush, in
memorium, and sending it to Jeb Bush.
That's what I realized waking up today,
after dreaming I was back in NYC in
the 1920s. It was very cool dreaming
back in time. While it's not exactly like
a time machine, because I think i still had
the Internet on my blackberry, it was
still interesting meeting my grandfather
and seeing some of these characters I
only can read about. I've been studying
this so much lately, that it's no mystery
how I ended up dreaming about it. It's
hardly paranormal... hehe..
When I was in college, studying for my
final exams in parasitology, I dreamt of talking
Yet, I did wake up with this epiphany that
Trotsky was reaching out to Benjamin and
Sara, as well as the South Americans, hoping
for material war support to throw out the
Bolsheviks, emerging as monsters that
eclipsed the worse Imperialistic Tsar .
It's still a puzzle to me if Benny was out of the
espionage and arms trade, or if the furniture
business was a cover? I think it's looking better
for him, as far as why he left his orphaned kids after
mary died, though. If Mary was killed, he
may have wanted to protect them, and
left Philadelphia for the left coast.
It's curious that he came back to his
kids, in the 1950s however, just around the
time that the McCarthy paranoia was gaining
momentum. Was this man always running from
those Hollywood Commie cells, and hiding out,
this time in Philly? He had faked his death once,
in 1940, but, who knows why? By the 1950s,
he's obviously still alive and kicking.
Why was Trotsky was reaching out to him?
I didn't get the impression that Yakov and
Trotsky were necessarily very close, but,
that may have been exaggerated since
of their subtle differences in affiliating
with Bolshevik v. Menshevik...
But, I suspect Yakov was a mason, like
Trotsky, and their brotherhood was through
that channel. I know my grandfather was a mason,
and his father was a mason, because the
uncle who told me about Rasputin's curse,
was a 32nd degree mason, and he spoke to
me about it... as much as he could, anyway. He
wouldn't tell me about the 33rd degree,
and it spooked him, let me say.
So many historians muse how different
the history of the 20th Century would
have been if Stalin didn't seize the reins
OK, even writing it out fresh from my brain
hasn't illuminated me all the way, but, I
can see a little clearer....