Within the early 1930s, the Bremen docked frequently on the Hudson River by West 46th Road — and it was a surprise.
The size of three soccer fields, the ship was constructed for luxurious. Outfitted to host 2,200 passengers and 950 crew, with all the pieces from Turkish baths to a library stocked with the world’s best literature, it was the best vacation-ready ocean liner.
The one downside was the swastika flag flying excessive aboard its bow.
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Because the Bremen routinely sailed between Germany and New York, ferrying dignitaries and different rich revelers, the horrors of the Nazi regime have been leaking out to the world. However too many — together with President Franklin Roosevelt — selected to disregard or deny the atrocities at the moment.
But service provider marine Invoice Bailey knew the reality, and his protest in opposition to the Bremen would make him the primary American to take a public stand in opposition to Nazi aggression, writes Peter Duffy within the new guide, “The Agitator” (PublicAffairs), out now.
Bailey was born in 1915 in Jersey Metropolis. Dwelling in dire poverty together with his mom and 5 siblings, his drunken lout of a father having run off, he sensed early on that the ocean can be his escape.
When he was 14, he visited each pier on the Hudson River till the captain of an previous freighter agreed to take him on.
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“I stood there mendacity like hell,” Bailey later mentioned. “Advised him I used to be an skilled seaman, been on all seven seas together with the Lifeless Sea. I may do something on a ship, blah, blah, and I’m 21 years previous … And the man simply mentioned, ‘Yeah, OK.’ And from then on, I had a job as an odd seaman.”
Engaged on varied ships all through the years, Bailey noticed the world for actual. In 1932, he ended up in Germany, the place he acquired a uncommon up-close look, for an American, on the encroaching Nazi horror.
“Bailey was impressed by the combating spirit of the Communist longshoremen … and outraged by the brutality of Nazi storm troopers, who have been already operating throughout Germany, punching folks out, kicking home windows in, attacking Jews,” Duffy writes.
These experiences overseas coloured Bailey’s politics. In 1933, he was 18 and between jobs in New York, when he joined the Marine Staff Industrial Union. He started talking publicly, recruiting union members among the many dockworkers. He additionally turned a member of the Communist Celebration.
By 1935, the Bremen was a preferred attraction within the metropolis. Each time it docked to discharge passengers from Germany and tackle new ones for the return journey, a number of thousand New Yorkers have been allowed on board for a payment to celebration for one night time. At night time’s finish, a horn would blow, urging guests off the ship.
By then, many New Yorkers have been conscious of Germany’s atrocities, and the Bremen was more and more met with 1000’s of protestors who felt Hitler’s prized vessel shouldn’t be welcomed to our shores, a lot much less be used to dine and dance. As authorities continued to permit it to dock, Bailey and his fellow celebration members determined to do one thing to “wake this goddamn United States up,” Bailey later wrote.
With the Bremen due in New York once more on July 26, 1935, the leaders of Bailey’s Communist Celebration department got here up with a plan. As protests have been already anticipated on the road under, a number of dozen celebration members — female and male — would gown of their best eveningwear and board the boat like revelers. When the horn blasted, telling non-passengers to go away the boat, a number of of the ladies would handcuff themselves to the ship’s mast and create a distraction. Then, the boys would seize the swastika flag and march it off the boat to the celebration chairman, who would set fireplace to it on the street.
At first, the position of capturing the flag fell to one of many celebration’s longest-serving members, 36-year-old Service provider Marine Edward Drolette.
However Drolette “couldn’t maintain his mouth shut,” and the plan acquired leaked to the NYPD. When Drolette boarded the Bremen someday after 10:30 p.m., police have been on his tail. By that time, the ship was in full-on celebration mode, with passengers together with Henry S. Morgan, grandson of J.P. Morgan and future founding father of Morgan Stanley, and William Donner Roosevelt, “the 2-year-old grandson of the president of the USA.”
In the meantime, Bailey and two fellow Communists, Mac Blair and Paddy Gavin, wandered the deck towards the flag, “often barking out a ‘Sieg Heil’ for look’s sake.”
By 11:15 p.m., the NYPD notified the Bremen’s homeowners that infiltrators had breached their safety, and the ship’s commander “issued an order searching for the removing of all guests.” However the four,800 folks on board made that inconceivable whereas additionally blocking Drolette’s starboard path to the flag.
So the infiltrators modified their plan, and agreed that Bailey, Blair and Gavin would seize the flag from port facet as a substitute.
At 11:45 p.m., the ship’s horn blew, encouraging guests to go away. Within the melee, the handcuff plan was deserted, however one lone Communist protestor marched towards a restricted portion of the deck.
When a Bremen crew member barked a rebuke, the insurgent wound up his fist and “lobbed a haymaker that knocked the person flat on his again.”
Chaos took maintain, and Blair and Bailey seized their second.
Bailey slipped previous the authorities, however Blair felt a hand on his neck. Seeing it belonged to a Nazi crew member, he turned and stabbed him within the face with a fountain pen. Bailey paused to assist, however Blair urged him on.
“Hold going!” he yelled. “Rise up there!”
Leaping aboard the ship’s gunwale with police nightsticks swinging round him, Bailey started to climb a flimsy ladder.
With “a roar of triumph” rising round him from the 1000’s of protestors on the road, Bailey reached for his goal.
“Feeling ‘nearly stage fright,’ Bailey took a second to look down,” Duffy writes. “With no rail to brace himself, he understood that the slightest misstep would put him within the drink. He tugged on the swastika, which ripped alongside the highest seam.” However he couldn’t get the underside half of the flag to maneuver.
As he struggled, one among his comrades pulled out a switchblade and lower the rope holding the flag. Out of the blue the swastika fell unfastened and was now totally in Bailey’s fingers.
It was now or by no means.
“Invoice Bailey hurled Hitler’s treasure into the Hudson River,” Duffy writes. “The swastika got here sliding down, disappeared a second, ballooned up and went skimming by means of the air dropping into the water under.”
Mentioned Bailey later of his triumph: “It was a second price all the pieces … simply to see that sonofab***h within the water and the Germans going stark mad! And the gang on the dock stark mad with delight.”
Afterwards, a State Division spokesperson issued an apology to Germany earlier than one was even requested, saying, “It’s unlucky that two or three individuals ought to mistreat the flag of any nation with which the USA is at peace.”
Bailey, Blair, Drolette and three of their co-conspirators have been arrested and dubbed “The Bremen Six” within the press, which on the time firmly took the facet of the Nazis. They have been charged with felonious assault on a police officer and intent to breach the peace, however after lengthy, high-profile trials, all six have been acquitted.
The Bremen, in the meantime, continued its New York to Germany route, with a brand new swastika flag flying excessive till September 1939, when Nice Britain declared conflict on Germany and it returned residence for good. The ship was destroyed in an assault by the British Royal Air Drive and bought off for scrap steel.
Within the postwar years, Bailey was destroyed as nicely, getting caught within the Purple Scare of the time, blacklisted and kicked out of the Marine Staff union for being a Communist in 1950. Six years later, Bailey stop the Communist Celebration himself, as a result of he realized that Stalin was a “paranoid, sick SOB.”
He spent the following few many years as a longshoreman and activist in San Francisco the place he gave radical strolling excursions of the town and reemerged as a father determine to different liberal organizers. Robert De Niro even relied on Bailey’s expertise on the blacklist for his 1991 movie “Responsible by Suspicion,” wherein the previous seaman had a walk-on position as a safety guard.
Bailey suffered from a lung situation brought on by asbestos publicity from his work on the excessive seas. However even that didn’t dim his ardour till his dying in 1995, age 79.
“To witness an injustice and do nothing,” he as soon as mentioned. “That’s the largest crime.”
This story initially appeared within the New York Submit.