Rudolf Klement was born in Germany in 1908. As a student in Hamburg he joined the German Communist Party. However, he became disillusioned with the rule of Joseph Stalin in the Soviet Union and became active in the Left Opposition. In 1933 offered to work for Leon Trotsky.
In May 1933 he joined Trotsky at his home in Büyükada, where he was living in exile in Turkey. and became his secretary. He also helped him to translate his works into German. According to Pierre Broué: "Klement could already speak five languages and immediately started to learn Russian: six months later he could do German translations from the Russian, including particularly difficult pieces....He then stayed with him for the whole of the latter’s legal residence in France, first in the village of Saint-Palais and afterwards in the villa Ker-Monique at Barbizon.... At Barbizon he often drove into Paris to make contacts and to meet the courier who arrived with the mail at the office in the Rue de Louvre. We know that on 17 April his motorbike lights failed. The Police at Ponthierry arrested him and then discovered that he had not got proper documentation for his motorbike - unaware of Trotsky’s presence, they had been watching the house full of suspicious foreigners whom they feared were about to disturb the peace of the good people of Barbizon. It was this incident that revealed to the press and the public the presence of Trotsky at Barbizon and this then served as the pretext for his expulsion from France, which was ordered on 18 April but which was only put into effect when he left for Norway on 18 June 1935."
Georges Vereeken described him as: “Tall and pale, slightly stooped, an unexpressive face, impenetrable, with dull, half closed eyes.” Gérard Rosenthal added: “A large man, sharp featured, rather pale, a little bent… with a short-sighted gaze behind his glasses … like his smile a little forced. He spoke little and when he did it was slowly and with an effort. He put up with discomfort without complaint. He was reserved and withdrawn, so much so that this revolutionary seemed rather timid. He was precise and tidy.” Trotsky found him an excellent worker and planned for him to be secretary of the Fourth International.
Trotsky's son. Lev Sedov, was the leader of the Left Opposition, a group that broadly supported the ideas of Trotsky. He was also the editor of the Bulletin of the Opposition, the journal "which fought against Stalinist reaction for the continuity of Marxism in the Communist International". He upset Joseph Stalin when he published, The Red Book (1936), that attempted to expose the crimes of Stalinism.
Victor Serge has pointed out that towards the end of 1937 Sedov suffered from ill health. "For several months Sedov had been complaining of various indispositions, in particular of a rather high temperature in the evenings. He wasn’t able to stand up to such ill-health. He had been leading a hard life, every hour taken up by resistance to the most extensive and sinister intrigues of contemporary history – those of a regime of foul terror born out of the dictatorship of the proletariat. It was obvious that his physical strength was exhausted. His spirits were good, the indestructible spirits of a young revolutionary for whom socialist activity is not an optional extra but his very reason for living, and who has committed himself in an age of defeat and demoralisation, without illusions and like a man."
On 9th February, 1938, Lev Sedov complained of severe stomach pains and was taken by Mark Zborowski to the Bergere Clinic, a small establishment run by Russian émigrés connected with the Union for Repatriation of Russians Abroad in Paris. Sedov had a operation for appendicitis that evening. It was claimed that the operation was successful and was making a good recovery. However, according to Bertrand M. Patenaude, the author of Stalin's Nemesis: The Exile and Murder of Leon Trotsky (2009): "The patient appeared to be recuperating well, until the night of 13-14 February, when he was seen wandering the unattended corridors, half-naked and raving in Russian. He was discovered in the morning lying on a bed in a nearby office, critically ill. His bed and his room were soiled with excrement. A second operation was performed on the evening of 15 February, but after enduring hours of agonizing pain, the patient died the following morning."
Edward P. Gazur, the author of Alexander Orlov: The FBI's KGB General (2001) has argued that Alexander Orlov, a former NKVD agent, believed he was murdered: "What concerned Orlov greatly was the fact that the hospital Sedov had been taken to, and where he expired, was the small clinic of Professor Bergere in Paris. Exactly a year earlier, Orlov had been in the same clinic because of his car accident while at the front. He had been cared for at the Bergere Clinic because it was a hospital that was trusted by the KGB to take care of high-ranking Soviet officials. Professor Bergere and his staff were sympathetic towards the Communist cause and under the influence of the KGB. Orlov was in Spain at the time of Sedov's death and was unable to ascertain the complete facts, but speculated that at the moment the KGB Centre had been apprised of the circumstances by Mark, the decision had been made to take advantage of the situation and eliminate Sedov. The autopsy performed by the KGB hirelings had to have been bogus to conceal the true cause of death."
Leon Trotsky was devastated by the death of his eldest son. In a press release on 18th February he stated: "He was not only my son but my best friend." Trotsky received information from several sources that Mark Zborowski was an NKVD agent. He asked Rudolf Klement to carry out an investigation of Zborowski. According to Gary Kern "Klement put together a file and planned to take it to Brussels on July 14, where he would circulate it among various branches of the Opposition. But no one in Brussels ever saw him."
Trotsky and several other members of the Left Opposition received a typewritten letter announcing that Klement had broken with the organization because of "Trotsky's Nazi connections". The Trotskyists concluded that the letters had been written under compulsion and that he was a captive of the NKVD. About a week later his headless body was discovered floating in the Seine. As a result of peculiar scars and marks on the body, it was identified as that of Klement.
Walter Krivitsky an NKVD agent, told Trotsky that both Klement and Lev Sedov had been murdered by the Russian Secret Police. Edward P. Gazur, interviewed Alexander Orlov about the case. He later pointed out: "According to Orlov, the Klement letter to Trotsky was a KGB forgery designed to make it appear that, after the denunciation, Klement had disappeared for his own reasons. Years later, Orlov would learn that... the letter was a KGB forgery and that the KGB was responsible for kidnapping and then assassinating Klement."
Within five months of Sedov's mysterious death, Orlov was to learn that yet another of Trotsky's leaders had been eliminated. Rudolf Klement was a former German Communist, who had turned against Stalin and strongly supported the Trotskyites in both words and deeds. He had become a trusted member of Trotsky's proletariat and at the time was organising the founding conference of the Fourth International, the vehicle that Trotsky expected would propel his views to the world. Klement had disappeared from his Paris residence in the middle of July 1938. Within a week of his disappearance, Trotsky had received a letter from Klement addressed to him in Mexico and bearing a New York City postmark. The letter chastised Trotsky for allegedly aligning himself with the Fascists. A copy of the same letter was also received by other Trotsky luminaries. By the end of the month, a headless body was found floating in the River Seine. Because of peculiar scars and marks on the body, it was identified as that of Klement. According to Orlov, the Klement letter to Trotsky was a KGB forgery designed to make it appear that, after the denunciation, Klement had disappeared for his own reasons.Years later, Orlov would learn that when Trotsky received Klement's denunciation letter, he had been positive that the letter was a KGB forgery and that the KGB was responsible for kidnapping and then assassinating Klement.
Zborowski and his family lived in a comfortable apartment building in Paris, courtesy of the GPU, and in his spare time he was able to pursue his studies in ethnology. It is hard to imagine him going to much trouble to exchange all this for an uncertain future in Mexico alongside the ultimate outlaw.
Then came the Klement murder in July 1938. About two weeks later Trotsky received a letter purporting to be from the victim, writing as a disillusioned follower. An obvious provocation, the text accused Trotsky of collaborating with the Gestapo and of behaving in a Bonapartist manner, and declared the bankruptcy of the nascent Fourth International. Somehow, Klement's death helped confirm Sneevliet in his suspicion that Zborowski was a GPU informant, a charge that he began to make openly that autumn. So did Victor Serge, like Sneevliet once a close confederate of Trotsky's who had lately become an irritant. Krivitsky and Reiss's widow, meanwhile, voiced suspicions about Serge, detecting the hand of the GPU in his release from Soviet exile two years earlier.
After his son's death, Trotsky initiated an investigation of Etienne, entrusting the matter to Rudolf Klement, his German translator and onetime aide in Turkey. Klement put together a file and planned to take it to Brussels on July 14, where he would circulate it among various branches of the Opposition. But no one in Brussels ever saw him. A few days later three of the Trotskists, including Trotsky, received a typewritten letter announcing Klement's break with the organization and denouncing Trotsky for his Nazi connections. Each of the three copies bore a different signature: Klement, Adolphe and Frederic, the last two being Party names Klement had used in the past. Oddly, his current pseudonym - Camille - was neglected; perhaps a fourth copy of the letter got lost in the mail. The Trotskyists could not conceive that Klement had been an NKVD plant all along and concluded that the letter had been written under compulsion. About a week later his headless body was discovered floating in the Seine, recognized by a scar on his hand.
Rudolf Alois Klement was born in 1908. Originally active in the KPD (Communist Party of Germany) he was student of philosophy at Hamburg in 1933 and from 1932 was active in the Left Opposition when Georg Jungclas, the leader of the local group asked him to go to Prinkipo to replace Jan Fraenkel and then Otto Schüssler at about the same time that Jean van Heijenoort went there. Klement could already speak five languages and immediately started to learn Russian: six months later he could do German translations from the Russian, including particularly difficult pieces, which LD thought “good”. He arrived at Prinkipo at the beginning of May 1933 and left with the Old Man in mid-July since he was allowed to stay in France with Trotsky. He then stayed with him for the whole of the latter’s legal residence in France, first in the village of Saint-Palais and afterwards in the villa Ker-Monique at Barbizon. He was one of the delegates of the LCI at the “Pre-conference of the four” on 30 December 1933 in Paris and took the minutes of the meeting which have recently been found in the Sneevliet papers in Amsterdam. At Barbizon he often drove into Paris to make contacts and to meet the courier who arrived with the mail at the office in the Rue de Louvre. We know that on 17 April his motorbike lights failed. The Police at Ponthierry arrested him and then discovered that he had not got proper documentation for his motorbike - unaware of Trotsky’s presence, they had been watching the house full of suspicious foreigners whom they feared were about to disturb the peace of the good people of Barbizon. It was this incident that revealed to the press and the public the presence of Trotsky at Barbizon and this then served as the pretext for his expulsion from France, which was ordered on 18 April but which was only put into effect when he left for Norway on 18 June 1935.
Klement did not accompany Trotsky in his wanderings after the latter left France but stayed in Paris with a short break in Brussels before coming back to the French capital to take over the headquarters of the International Secretariat, of which he had become the administrative secretary while frequently changing his pseudonym (Frédéric, Ludwig, Walter Steen, Camille, Adolphe). He did an enormous amount of work both in translating, corresponding with the sections, keeping the files and writing articles for the press and internal bulletins...
Absolutely loyal to Trotsky he fought against LD’s adversaries in the movement, Vereeken, Raymond Molinier and Henricus Sneevliet, who all used him as a convenient Aunt Sally. In his polemics he was hard and sharp if not savage. His risky position as both an immigrant and political refugee together with the weight of his responsibilities condemned him to almost complete clandestinity. He did not seem to know how to protect himself against shifty individuals in his personal relationships – the Lithuanian Kauffman who lived with him, and who disappeared at the same time, was in all probability “the man from Grodno” whom Herschl Mendel met with Klement and whom Mendel regarded as highly suspect. After the death of Leon Sedov and then that of Erwin Wolf, the circle regrouped round him and he was really the only one who drove forward the work of the International Secretariat and in particular the task of preparing for the Founding Conference of the Fourth International. In retrospect we can perceive the shadow of the GPU close to him at this time: first when he met the agent of the GPU, Mercader, who under the name of Mornard posed as an American sympathiser or, secondly at the beginning of July when he had his briefcase stolen on the Metro which contained documents on the Fourth International. He does not seem to have sensed his danger. On 12 July he left his French comrades. Several days later, worried not to have seen him, several of them went to his flat at Maisons-Alfort where he lived under the name of Roger Bertrand: all was in order and the table was laid for an uneaten meal.
On 16 July, Jean Rous, Pierre Naville, Sneevliet and Vereeken received copies of a letter which Trotsky also got on 4 August. All had been posted in Perpignan. It seemed to be in his handwriting but the signature was a pseudonym that he had long ceased to use and it contained several possible minor clues which Trotsky thought pointed to the presence of the GPU. Later macabre events seem to disprove the fable of a "political break” with Trotsky: for on the 26th a headless human trunk with arms was fished out of the Seine at Meulan and two days later a sack containing the legs. Despite the sarcasms of l’Humanité and the averted gaze of others who should have known better, these were the mortal remains of Klement. This story is too well known to require further elaboration.
Some years ago in his book La Guépeou dans le movement trotskyiste, Georges Vereeken opened a posthumous case against Klement which ended with the verdict, “Rudolf Klement - Agent? Certainement un lache”. None of this carries any conviction whatsoever. The only certainty is that Klement was murdered because he had been Trotsky’s secretary and a member of the International Secretariat and his murderers have never been discovered.