Trotsky’s grandson recalls ice pick killing
It’s 75 years since Trotsky, already expelled from the Soviet Communist Party and exiled, went to start a new life in Mexico. But he was hunted down in Mexico City by Stalinist assassins, as his grandson, who was living with him when he died, recalls.
To some people Leon Trotsky was the true hero of the Bolshevik revolution. To others he was one of the most dangerous men of his era.
But to his grandson, Esteban Volkov, he was a father figure who brought the young boy rare moments of happiness and stability at a time of family turmoil and political persecution.
"I was constantly changing father and mother figures," says Volkov, 86. With "the Old Man", as he affectionately calls his grandfather, "I finally found something stable, though it did not last very long."
Speaking from the house in Mexico City where he lived with the exiled revolutionary and his second wife, Natalia, for more than a year before Trotsky’s assassination on 20 August 1940, Volkov recalls his excitement at arriving in the Americas from Europe.
He was just 13 years old and had spent most of his childhood moving from one country to the next with his mother Zinaida, Trotsky’s daughter, seeking refuge from Stalin’s persecution.
"Mexico was an absolute change, it was full of colour, full of sun, so unlike Europe," he says. "I began going to school by myself, on foot. No-one at school knew who my family was."
Life in his grandfather’s large and well-guarded home in the leafy Coyoacan neighbourhood was "full of excitement," he says.
Trotsky would spend his days writing at his desk, being interviewed by visiting journalists, or debating politics with the foreign activists and bodyguards who lived with the family.
At meal times, the young boy would listen keenly to the jokes and the heated discussions around the table. But his grandfather would sternly warn the others - do not talk politics in front of the boy.
"All his family had been assassinated, or died because of politics, and I think he wanted his grandson to survive." Volkov’s father, Trotsky’s son-in-law, had been sent to the gulag in the 1930s. Zinaida had committed suicide when they lived in exile in Paris.
For Volkov, these were days of relative normality, and of a family life that he had previously not known. But it would soon come to an abrupt end.
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