Leon Trotsky

Correspondence on the Custody of His Grandson


Source: Gérard Rosenthal, Avocat de Trotsky. Paris, Robert Laffont, 1975.
Translated: for marxists.org by Mitchell Abidor.
CopyLeft: Creative Commons (Attribute & ShareAlike) marxists.org 2009.

Trotsky had had four children by his two wives. He had two daughters with his first wife, Alexandra Lvovna, Nina and Zina. Nina, whose husband was deported after Trotsky was exiled from the USSR, died of tuberculosis. Zina, whose husband was also deported, left the Soviet Union in 1931, a woman weakened both physically and morally by the family’s traumas. Stripped of Soviet citizenship, threatened with expulsion from Germany, where she was living in exile,, she committed suicide in 1933.

Trotsky had two sons by his second wife, Natalia, Leon Sedov and Sergei. If Leon was the most faithful of his father’s disciples, Sergei had nothing to do with politics. This didn’t save him however, and he was arrested in 1935 and was apparently executed in 1936 after participating in a hunger strike in the penal camp in Vorkuta. When Leon Sedov died in 1938 only Zina’s son Sieva was alive and at liberty. After Sedov’s death Sieva was in the custody of Seov’s companion, Jeanne Martin de Pallières, also known as Jeanne Molinier, wife of the French Oppositionist Raymond Molinier, who Trotsky was to break with.

Trotsky hoped to have Jeanne bring his grandson to him in Mexico, but Jeanne was reluctant to do so. Trotsky wrote his grandson the following letter, care of his Jeanne Martin:

Coyoacan, September 19, 1938

My dear little Sieva:

I am writing you for the first time. Our poor little Leon had always kept us up to date, Natalia and I, on your life, your growth, and your health. Today Uncle Leon is no more. My little one, we must establish direct relations.

There are things that concern me a great deal, beginning with your language. You have completely forgotten Russian. It’s not your fault, my little Sieva, but it is an unfortunate fact. I don’t know where your father is now or if he’s still alive. But in the last letter he wrote me more than four years ago he insistently asked me if you hadn’t forgotten the Russian language. Even though your father is very intelligent and well-educated, he doesn’t speak any foreign languages. It would be a terrible blow to him that if it were to happen that upon seeing you again he wouldn’t be able to speak to you. The same goes for your sister. I hope she is in good health and that one day you will see each other again. You yourself can imagine how sad this meeting would be if you couldn’t talk to tour sister in your mother tongue. For myself as well and for Natalia, who loves you very much, the question of language is very important.

But this is not the only question. We want to speak to you about Uncle Leon, your current life after his death, and your future.

After Uncle Leon’s death I proposed to Jeanne that you all come here. She answered that she couldn’t do it. Naturally she must have her reasons. But my decision is firm: you must come here for a certain time with Jeanne if she agrees, without Jeanne if she can’t. Here we could have a discussion with you and Jeanne (if she comes) on the questions concerning your future, and also arrange things concerning the Russian language.

You’re a big boy now. I must speak to you about something important, about the ideas that were and remain common to your mother, your father, to Uncle Leon and to me and Natalia. I very much want to talk to you directly about the great value of the ideas and objectives that made and make our whole family, which is also yours, suffer.

I bear full responsibility for you, my grandson, before myself, before your father if he’s alive, and before you. This is why my decision concerning your voyage is irrevocable.

I embrace you tenderly, my little Sieva, as does Natalia.

We say to you: see you soon.

(The letter having had no success, and not even having been given to Sieva, Trostsky decided to put his lawyers on the case)

Coyoacan December 8, 1938

Dear Sir and Friend:

This letter represents power of attorney to allow you to occupy yourself in my name in the affair of my grandson Vsievolod (Sieva), who is currently with Mme Jeanne Martin des Pallières. I would like to briefly lay out for you the background of the affair.

After the death of my daughter Zinaida, Sieva’s mother, in Berlin in January 1933 Sieva was retrieved by my son Leon Sedov, currently deceased (February 16, 1938), who was then living as man and wife with Mme Jeanne Martin des Pallières in Berlin. After various vicissitudes connected to the arrival of the Nazi regime in Germany, during which Sieva found himself momentarily separated from my son, he met up with him again in Paris in 1934. Since my son’s death the question has naturally been posed as to where Sieva would live.

Mme Martin wrote to me on March 17 on the subject of Sieva:

I have no legal right over him, but perhaps much moral right. However, if you ask for him I will give him to you. But know one thing: I can be quite tough when I have to be, and you have to know that I have a heart and you shouldn’t needlessly play on it or with it. If you take Sieva from me it will be forever.

And she insisted that my answer be quick and definitive.

In response I invited Mme Martin de Pallières to come to Mexico to discuss with my wife and myself all the pending questions, and eventually to live together with us and Sieva. I saw no other way of settling the question. She was quite capable of writing with that slightly exaggerated exalted brutality that is hers: “You give him to me or you take him from me, but immediately and forever.” I don’t know Mme Martin de Pallières very well, and the little I know of her doesn’t inspire in me the unlimited confidence that she asks of me. It’s a question of a child whose father, who disappeared five years ago and who is perhaps still living in some prison of Stalin’s, could one day put forth his rights. In his absence all formal rights are in my hands. Mme Martin herself incidentally recognizes them. I was disposed to recognize her moral rights, which, by the way, she only possesses as my son’s companion, but I can in no way consider my grandson, the sole being left to me of my entire family, as an object I can make a gift of “immediately and forever,” to Mme Martin who, since the moment she wrote the letter, has done everything to inspire in me the greatest mistrust concerning her character and her attitude.

On September 19 I sent a letter to Sieva through the intermediary of Mme Martin. She told my friends Alfred and Marguerite Rosmer that she didn’t receive it. This isn’t true. The registered letter was never returned. What is more, the copy sent to Mme Martin by Mme Marguerite Rosmer suffered the same fate. I never received a response.

While my son was alive we always had regular information on Sieva and letters from him. Now it is practically a question of a sequestration of the child by Mme Martin, who has as she herself said, “no legal right” over the child. All my attempts to settle the question amicably, my repeated proposals to come to Mexico, my more pressing insistence to come here with the little boy or to send him with my friends, none of this has had the least results.

Despite it all I am ready even now to do everything possible to satisfy Mme Martin’s moral rights alongside my legal and moral rights. But I am not “giving” her the child, less now than ever. If Mme Martin comes here with the little boy she will have over him the rights of a family member, no less but no more. If not, Sieva must come here as soon as possible, that is, as soon as you will have settled the judicial formalities.


Yours truly

(Jeanne Martin did not give up the child easily. She fled Paris with Sieva, who was hidden by her in a village in the Alsace. He was found there by Marguerite Rosmer, who brought him back to Paris. Jeanne Martin still fought to keep the child, invoking a law protecting “mistreated and abandoned children.” In her suit she alleged that Trotsky had no right to Sieva’s custody, since he had not been legally married to either Zinaida’s mother or Leon Sedov’s. Trotsky won the case, and in August 1939 Sieva was taken by Marguerite Rosmer to Mexico.)

return return return return return

Last updated on: 12 September 2015