Lenin's Journey from Switzerland - through Germany - in April 1917

Page initiated 6 January 2018

Current Status: 9 January 2018


A search on the web brought to light - that the coming into being of Lenin's journey - from his Swiss exile to at least Stockholm - demanded the engagement of quite many influential German personalities.

This brief survey originates from my curiosity:- whom once have been responsible for allowing Lenin getting permission for his historical train journey?

Did they really foresaw the consequences?

Which in effect, really did change the world since!

The aim of this webpage is only: my desire to get an understanding of what happened once, but also - why and how - it could commence.

My interest had been born together with Phil Judkins' and my endeavour on: Fatal Communications, which sparked the tremendous First World War (2014). 

In de pre-face we decided that we should extend our objectives towards - the causes and consequences - of this most devastating war in man-kind history.

Our interest was born by the centenary of 100 Years of World War One; which was commemorated in 2014.

My personal opinion about it, is, that they might have expected a more profound response; but the public attention quite quickly vanished.

But, our objectives are not popular subjects, but digging into, in our understanding, noteworthy aspects of history

Hence, we focussed first on its pre-face and what occurred thereafter.

Christopher Clark wrote an exceptional book titled: 

The Sleepwalkers: How Europe Went to War in 1914


Most unexpected, one should also try to obtain:

The three volumes of Churchill's The Great War

Published in the late 1920s

Totalling 1561 page numbers.

But, it is worth it! 

The value of this book, is, that for some time, of this bleak period, Churchill himself was a member of the War Cabinet; therefore on the decision making side.

Rarely for people of his days, admitting sometimes, having been responsible for ill judgements (decisions)

But, please keep in mind my advice:- be aware of his small wordings commenting crucial facts and episodes! As just within these instances - the real objections come to bear

Key literature written on the German side by eyewitnesses, in my perception, are General Max Hoffmann's memoires, as well as Admiral Tirpitz's memoires. Not historians, but personalities once engaged at crucial levels.

Both memoires had been published in English language too, in the 1920s.


Bearing this in mind, my preference for 'Great War' aspects, lays on the nucleolus of our current query:- whom made it ultimately possible - that Lenin was legally allowed to travel through Germany territory, with the objection of reaching St. Petersburg?

But, please notice also: that it occurred about the same period of time, as was the despatch of the well known Zimmermann telegram.

Albeit, that Zimmermann's historical commitment actually being exaggerated. This ominous message wasn't his', he only signed for it. However, he was the 'Foreign Secretary of State' and bore therefore the consequences.       


My friend Hans Goulooze, has a penchant for Russian political history.

We quite often discuss matters. In particular since Yale University published the gathered secret archives of the Komintern, in Moscow.

Just obtained - at the right moment - in history.


Let us first rely upon Hans Goulooze's contribution.

Revised on 9 January 2018

A train travel through Germany

A short summary of facts, persons and contacts  by  V.I. Ulyanov/Lenin, related to his famous train travel from Switzerland to Petrograd, where Lenin and the Bolsheviks took control of the uprising  against the Tsarist regime. The trip involved a train travel  through Germany, Sweden and Finland.  As a minimum this involved the German government that at that time, together with the Austria-Hungary, was at war with the Tsarist Russia among other countries. The author Robert Service states that there is “circumstantial evidence” that the German government was also financially involved  in the early revolutionary organisation. However Lenin was personally a man of independent means.



Lenin, a biography. Robert Service.  PanBooks/ PAN McMillan 2005

To start with:

Around 1900: After several arrests by the secret Russian police (Okhrana)  and subsequent exiles within Russia as a result of Lenin’s unwelcome political activities and writings. He was  granted a passport that allowed him to leave Russia. He initially went to Zürich and travelled, in the years to come, intensively through Western Europe.


1900-1902: Together with other emigrated Russian revolutionists a Marxist journal (Iskra) was started in the Russian language and was published in Munich with the help of emigrant sponsors. Also congresses were organised  (Party congresses, Stuttgart congress)


1914: Although the impact of the outbreak of the First World War is substantial with respect to the uprising in Russia, substantial political activity, discussion and analysis preceded among people inside and outside Russia. More or less well defined ideas developed with respect to the future of Russia. What lacked was organisation.


1914-1915: In the  meantime an intense discussion took place between Socialists, Social Democrats and Marxists in western Europe and Russia whether or not to support your local government in this war, regardless if you considered this government as imperialistic capitalistic or feudal in nature.

 Lenin became an international recognised analyst and publicist.

Lenin supported an extreme point of view, stating in the open that he considered that tsarist Russia should be defeated in the military conflict, enabling an overthrow of the present regime.

At the outbreak of war Lenin resided near Cracow/Kraków/Krakov (near the Russian front , at that time.) in Galicia. Galicia was administered  until 1918 by Austria. Since Russia occupied/administered a part of Poland,  Lenin considered his situation as unsafe and tried to organise his return to Switzerland  through Austria.  Even worse, as being a Russian of nationality, he was put in prison by the Austrian government.  He asked fellow Social Democrats and Marxists in Austria and  Switzerland to mediate on his behalf and to enable him to travel  through Austria (page 224).

Viktor Adler in Vienna who negotiated with the Austrian government was asked by a government minister (Quote from Robert Service): Are you sure  Ulyanov is an enemy of the Tsarist  government?

Adler replied: Oh yes, a more sworn enemy than your Excellency.(end of Quote)

Even Russian emigrants enlisted in the allied armies.



 Not known by the German Marxists, Lenin developed his own contacts with the German government.

(Quote from Robert Service, page 248/9): At first this involved sending literature to Russians in German POW and inside the POW propaganda was made, organised by Roman Malinowski, an associate of Lenin ( who later appeared also to work for the Okhrana) . The German High command facilitated this since Lenin advocated Russia’s defeat.

Baron von Ginsburg, a German minster in Bern, had been made aware of Lenin’s activities through an Estonian, Alexander Keskuala who also sought the overthrow the Tsarist regime. Another adviser to the Germans was Alexander Helphand- Parvus. (He was a wealthy businessman who was involved in errands on behalf of the German Government. )

An associate of Lenin, Jacob Hanecki, was an employee of Parvus.

(Quote from Robert Service): Although Lenin’s direct meetings with Keskuala and Parvus were rare, there is circumstantial evidence that the Germans made finance available to the Bolsheviks as a result.(end of Quote)


February to April 1917

In general the Russian emigrants were not very well aware of things happening in Petrograd, and were taken by surprise  by the news of developments in the Western newspapers.  Tsar Nicolas abdicated and a power struggle developed in Petrograd. A Provisional Government was formed.

Lenin  and associates, not being  involved, opened negotiations with the German Government to facilitate rail travel through Germany in order to reach Petrograd.

The negotiations (through the German Consul in Bern, Gisbert von Romberg) turned out to be very complex, also because the Provisional Government appeared to be involved.

Lenin turned to Frits Platten (a Swiss far left Socialist) for help and Consul Romberg secured his Foreign Ministry’s approval for any number of Russian political emigrants to cross Germany.

Thirty two  travellers should make the trip and all were expected to pay for their own fares.

Platten joint the group as an intermediate for on the road negotiations.

The train should be considered Russian soil with exception of the area occupied by two German officers/guards.

Apparently the trip was, as far as the German government was concerned, less secret than sometimes is suggested. Platten got off the train in Frankfurt to  buy food and in the process a couple of railroad workers came on board and political discussions arose. Also the German government gave the German trade union leader Wilhelm Janson permission to board the train in Stuttgart, but he was refused by  the travel party for fear of being compromised in Russia for contacts with the enemy.

On March 30 they arrived, after 6 days travel, at the northern  port of Sazznits (Rügen Germany) to take the ferry to Trelleborg and subsequently the train again to Stockholm. After being welcomed and treated by Hanecki on a welcome buffet and a formal breakfast by the Mayor of Stockholm, the travel was continued through Helsinki to Petrograd (St. Petersburg).  Not after a new set of formal clothes and shoes were bought for Lenin. The party arrived on April 3 and subsequently  Lenin took, after some time, control of events. Also along the lines he had worked on during the travel.


The rest is history.


By Arthur O. Bauer