Within the early 1930s, the Bremen docked often on the Hudson River by West 46th Avenue — and it was a marvel.
The size of three soccer fields, the ship was constructed for luxurious. Geared up to host 2,200 passengers and 950 crew, with all the things from Turkish baths to a library stocked with the world’s most interesting literature, it was the perfect vacation-ready ocean liner.
The one downside was the swastika flag flying excessive aboard its bow.
Because the Bremen routinely sailed between Germany and New York, ferrying dignitaries and different rich revelers, the horrors of the Nazi regime had 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 towards the Bremen would make him the primary American to take a public stand towards Nazi aggression, writes Peter Duffy within the new e-book, “The Agitator” (PublicAffairs), out now.
Bailey was born in 1915 in Jersey Metropolis. Dwelling in dire poverty along with his mom and 5 siblings, his drunken lout of a father having run off, he sensed early on that the ocean could 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.
“I stood there mendacity like hell,” Bailey later stated. “Informed him I used to be an skilled seaman, been on all seven seas together with the Lifeless Sea. I might do something on a ship, blah, blah, and I’m 21 years previous … And the man simply stated, ‘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 received 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 had been already operating throughout Germany, punching individuals 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 well-liked attraction within the metropolis. Every time it docked to discharge passengers from Germany and tackle new ones for the return journey, a number of thousand New Yorkers had been allowed on board for a price to social gathering for one evening. At evening’s finish, a horn would blow, urging guests off the ship.
By then, many New Yorkers had been conscious of Germany’s atrocities, and the Bremen was more and more met with hundreds 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 social gathering 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 had been already anticipated on the road beneath, a number of dozen social gathering members — female and male — would costume of their most interesting 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 social gathering chairman, who would set fireplace to it on the street.
At first, the position of capturing the flag fell to one of many social gathering’s longest-serving members, 36-year-old Service provider Marine Edward Drolette.
However Drolette “couldn’t maintain his mouth shut,” and the plan received leaked to the NYPD. When Drolette boarded the Bremen someday after 10:30 p.m., police had been on his tail. By that time, the ship was in full-on social gathering 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 elimination of all guests.” However the 4,800 individuals on board made that unattainable 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 an alternative.
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.
“Maintain 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 hundreds 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 in all his comrades pulled out a switchblade and lower the rope holding the flag. Out of the blue the swastika fell free and was now totally in Bailey’s arms.
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 way of the air dropping into the water beneath.”
Mentioned Bailey later of his triumph: “It was a second price all the things . . . simply to see that sonofabitch within the water and the Germans going stark mad! And the group on the dock stark mad with delight.”
‘It was a second price all the things . . . simply to see that sonofabitch within the water and the Germans going stark mad!’
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 had been arrested and dubbed “The Bremen Six” within the press, which on the time firmly took the facet of the Nazis. They had been charged with felonious assault on a police officer and intent to breach the peace, however after lengthy, high-profile trials, all six had 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 dwelling for good. The ship was destroyed in an assault by the British Royal Air Drive and offered off for scrap metallic.
Within the postwar years, Bailey was destroyed as effectively, 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 subsequent few many years as a longshoreman and activist in San Francisco the place he gave radical strolling excursions of 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,” through which 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 loss of life in 1995 at 84.
“To witness an injustice and do nothing,” he as soon as stated. “That’s the greatest crime.”