Vol. XXXVI, No.1
FOUNDED IN 1937 BY THE VOLUNTEERS OF THE LINCOLN BRIGADE. PUBLISHED BY THE ABRAHAM LINCOLN BRIGADE ARCHIVES (ALBA)
The Last U.S. Volunteer Raphael Buch Brage (1915-2018)
Immigration Justice Campaign Wins ALBA/Puffin Award p3 Students Dive into the Archives p5 Arthur Witt (1907-1937) p15 Raphael Buch Brage, Harry Randall Fifteenth Brigade Photo Collection ALBA 011, Tamiment Library, NYU, 11-0957
Dear Friends, Founded by the Veterans of the Abraham Lincoln Brigade 239 W. 14th Street, Suite 2 New York, NY 10011 (212) 674-5398 www.alba-valb.org Editor Print Edition Peter N. Carroll Editor Online Edition www.albavolunteer.org Sebastiaan Faber Associate Editor Aaron B. Retish Book Review Editor Joshua Goode Graphic Design www.eyestormx.com Editorial Assistance Phil Kavanaugh Manuscripts, inquiries, and letters to the editor may be sent by email to email@example.com The editors reserve the right to modify texts for length and style. Books for review may be sent to Joshua Goode Claremont Graduate University Blaisdell House, #5, 143 East 10th Street Claremont, CA 91711
www.albavolunteer.org The Abraham Lincoln Brigade Archives (ALBA) is an educational non-profit dedicated to promoting social activism and the defense of human rights. ALBA’s work is inspired by the American volunteers of the Abraham Lincoln Brigade who fought fascism in the Spanish Civil War (1936-39). Drawing on the ALBA collections in New York University’s Tamiment Library, and working to expand such collections, ALBA works to preserve the legacy of the Abraham Lincoln Brigade as an inspiration for present and future generations.
One foot in the past and one foot in the present, with our eyes set on the future: that’s ALBA’s signature straddle. As our tagline says, we teach history to inspire activism and uphold human rights. Inspired by the anti-fascist activism of the Abraham Lincoln Brigade, ALBA taps into America's progressive traditions so that together we may meet the world’s daunting challenges—and work toward a better and more just society. Eighty years after the end of the Spanish Civil War, we remain deeply immersed in current struggles. In fact, we are thrilled to announce this year’s winners of the ALBA/Puffin Award for Human Rights Activism (page 3). The Immigration Justice Campaign mobilizes more than 9,000 volunteers to make sure that arriving migrants and those with asylum claims are not subject to the government’s arbitrary deportation system that has no purpose but to criminalize them. To understand how dire the situation is, see this issue’s Human Rights Column by Steven Volk (page 6). A longtime scholar and activist, Volk is now completing his training to become an accredited immigration advocate. We also continue to discover inspiring stories from the past. When, in early 2016, we mourned the passing of Delmer Berg, the sole surviving US volunteer to fight in the Spanish Civil War, we had no idea that another US volunteer was still living in southern France. It was high-school teacher Dean Burrier, an ALBA Institute alumnus who lives and works in Illinois, who made the discovery. International-Brigade veteran Raphael Buch Brage, who was born in New York City in 1915, died this past October, aged 103. On page 12, Burrier gives us a glimpse into Buch Brage’s stunning life story, worthy of a novel by his friend Ernest Hemingway. María Hernández Ojeda and Chris Brooks, both ALBA board members, share two other fascinating biographies on pages 15 and 16. For the past decade, ALBA has been particularly focused on reaching teenagers and young adults. This past year, we held no fewer than eleven workshop events for middle- and highschool teachers, a record number. We worked with more than 270 teachers, who in turn teach tens of thousands of students. No fewer than 95% of these teachers report that they are “very likely” to incorporate our materials in their classroom, and over 90% of participants evaluated the overall quality of the workshop as “outstanding.” A New York ALBA alum, history teacher David Hanna, shares some of his experiences teaching on Spanish art and politics on page 8. Primary sources are central in our educational work. How transformative it can be for young people to immerse themselves in an archive is explained by ALBA’s María Hernández Ojeda, who teaches at CUNY’s Hunter College, and two of her colleagues (page 5). In the opening paragraph of this letter, we used the words we and together—and that’s not just rhetorical. We at ALBA cannot do our work without your unflagging support. Our two pages’ worth of contributions (pp. 21-23) fill us with pride and gratitude. ALBA has always been more ambitious than its size. We are small, but we do a lot. We can’t thank you enough for standing by our side. Peter N. Carroll & Sebastiaan Faber, Editors P.S. NOW IS THE MOMENT TO SUPPORT ALBA’S OUTREACH TO TEACHERS! PLEASE DONATE. For a one-time gift or to set up a monthly donation, go to tinyurl.com/albadonate
IN THIS ISSUE p 3 ALBA/Puffin Award p 4 Record Number of Institutes p 5 Dive into the Archive p 6 Human Rights Column p 8 Teaching Art & Politics p 9 Faces of ALBA: Dean Burrier p 12 The Last Volunteer p 15 Arthur Witt p 16 A Chance Find: García Riestra p 18 Book Reviews p 21 Contributions 2 THE VOLUNTEER March 2019
To the Editor: I read with great interest your article on Spaniards in Mauthausen. A few years ago, my wife and I visited Vienna and made a side trip by train to Mauthausen. When we arrived at the station near the camp, we needed to find a taxi to take us there. Also waiting for a taxi was a young couple from Barcelona. We wondered what their interest was in visiting a Nazi concentration camp, but didn’t ask. We hadn’t made the connection between anti-fascist fighters for the Spanish Republic and a death camp for political prisoners, Jews and gypsies. Reading your article, I now can imagine why the young couple made the pilgrimage to Mauthausen. Most likely, they had a familial connection to someone who had perished in the camp, or they were savvy enough to have studied the role of their countrymen in the battle to keep fascists out of Spain. Thank you for the enlightening article! George Haber Jericho, Long Island, New York P.S. My uncle, Louis Stoloff, was an ALB volunteer from New York City who was killed in the Battle of the Ebro. My search for his story was the subject of an article in Newsday.
Karen Lucas / Immigration Justice Campaign image
Immigration Justice Campaign Wins 9th ALBA/Puffin Activist Award Everyone deserves a fair day in court—yet 86% of detained immigrants in the United States are without an attorney. The Immigration Justice Campaign, winner of the 2019 ALBA/Puffin Award for Human Rights Activism, mobilizes more than 9,000 volunteers to make sure that arriving migrants and those with asylum claims are not subject to the government’s cruel deportation system that has no purpose but to criminalize them
May 5, ALBA and the Puffin Foundation will join in honoring and supporting the Immigration Justice Campaign (IJC) with the 2019 ALBA/Puffin Award for Human Rights Activism in a ceremony to be held at the Museum of the City of New York. This year’s prize recognizes IJC’s groundbreaking efforts to increase access to legal counsel for thousands of immigrants held in detention centers on the southern border of the United States. n
“The Immigration Justice Campaign is deeply honored to receive the ALBA/Puffin Award,” said Karen Lucas, IJC Director. “Our 9,000 volunteer lawyers, interpreters, social workers, and advocates are dedicated to fighting together for a fair day in court for detained immigrants.” Although the campaign is a project of two large associations of US attorneys, its primary focus is on access to legal services. Currently, Lucas said, “more than 85 percent of detained immigrants face court alone, without a lawyer, because our system does not guarantee representation. To address an access to justice challenge of this magnitude, we need to break the mold and do things differently. This funding will help us connect more detained immigrants to more volunteers and build innovative, transformative representation strategies in partnership with strong local legal service providers around the country.” The Immigration Justice Campaign was founded in 2017 as a joint initiative by the American Immigration Lawyers Association (AILA) and the American Immigration Council. It has fought
tirelessly against illegal and inhumane policies toward refugees, asylum seekers, and immigrants, and has promoted ways for the broader legal community across the country to provide pro bono assistance for this critical work. “With the crisis for refugees and immigrants at our southern border continuing unabated, we hope the prize will help focus on a true humanitarian crisis and the important human rights work of the attorneys of the Immigration Justice Campaign,” said Neal Rosenstein of the Puffin Foundation. “This year’s award acknowledges the urgent need to safeguard the human rights of immigrants and refugees worldwide,” said Kate Doyle, co-chair of ALBA’s Board of Governors. “Not only those affected by the policies of the current U.S. administration, but anyone targeted by the rising xenophobia around the globe.” Working exclusively with volunteers, the Immigration Justice Campaign places people on the ground, at the border, inside the ICE detention centers and stands before judges in makeshift courtrooms, to ensure that arriving migrants and those with asylum claims are not subject to the government’s cruel deportation system that has no purpose but to criminalize them. Currently, there are more than 9,000 volunteers in network. To date, 926 volunteers served 15,296 families detained in Texas through the IJC’s partner, the Dilley Pro Bono Project. Furthermore, 573 volunteers served 469 individuals facing deportation around the country, and 236 separated families had an attorney by their side.
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“Not only can we help more detained individuals than ever before,” said Mekela Goehring, Executive Director at the Rocky Mountain Immigrant Advocacy Network, an IJC partner in Colorado, “but our volunteer lawyers have a way to make their voices heard in the national conversation through the Campaign’s critical communications support.” “It is through our partnership with the Justice Campaign,” she added, “that we were able to help immigrants like Mr. Y and Mr. R, both of whom fled torture and beatings in Azerbaijan due to their involvement in an opposition political movement – and both of whom are now safe from life-threatening danger due to an amazing volunteer legal team!” One of the largest monetary awards for human rights in the world, the ALBA/Puffin Award is a $100,000 cash prize granted annually by ALBA and the Puffin Foundation to honor the nearly 3,000 Americans who volunteered in the Spanish Civil War (1936-1939) to fight fascism under the banner of the Abraham Lincoln Brigade. Philanthropist and visionary Perry Rosenstein, President of the Puffin Foundation, created and established an endowed fund for this human rights award in 2010. Previous award winners include Judge Baltasar Garzón; Kate Doyle and Fredy Peccerelli; United We Dream; Bryan Stevenson; la Asociación para la Recuperación de la Memoria Histórica; Lydia Cacho and Jeremy Scahill; Proactiva Open Arms; and the Coalition of Immokalee Workers.
ALBA Annual Celebration and Award Ceremony Sunday, May 5, 5:00-6:30pm Museum of the City of New York 1220 Fifth Ave at 103rd St. Reception Following Tickets go on sale March 1 at alba-valb.org
ALBA Teaches More Institutes Than Ever More than eighty years after the outbreak of war in Spain, and ten years after launching ALBA’s Teaching Institutes in 2008, our educational program for high school teachers continues to make a deep impact on teachers all around the country. In 2018, ALBA held a record number of eleven institutes and workshops for high school teachers throughout the country, reaching more than 270 teachers and thousands of students.
• • • • • • • • • • •
Pittsburgh, PA, February 22, 2018 Clemson, SC, March 2, 2018 Hofstra University, NY, March 15, 2018 Plymouth, MA, March 23-24, 2018 New York City, NY, April 14-15, 2018 Pittsburgh, PA, April 15, 2018 Seattle, WA, April 21st, 2018 Beachwood, OH, October 12, 2018 NJCSS Conference, Rutgers University, NJ, October 22, 2018 New York City, NY, November 6, 2018 Bergen County, NJ, November 7, 2018
No fewer than 95% of the participating teachers have reported that they are “very likely” to incorporate our materials in their classroom, and over 90% of participants evaluated the overall quality of the workshop as “outstanding.” The written comments in the evaluation forms are overwhelmingly glowing. The March, 2019 issue of Hispania, the journal of the American Association of Teachers of Spanish and Portuguese, is featuring an article highlighting ALBA’s institute work.
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Hunter College students research the ALBA Collection at the Tamiment Library (NYU), April 2018. Photo María Hernández Ojeda.
A TRANSFORMATIVE DIVE INTO THE ARCHIVE
CUNY Students Work in the ALBA Collection and Hunter College Archives By Wendy Hayden, María Hernández-Ojeda, and Iris Finkel
What does it mean for undergraduates to do the work of narrating memory? Two faculty and one librarian worked with undergraduate students in the Hunter College Archives and the ALBA Collection at the Tamiment Library. The experience was transformative for all.
Editors’ note: The following is an excerpt from an article published in The Journal of Interactive Technology and Pedagogy.
or the past five years,
students in our courses at Hunter College have performed research in the institutional archives at Hunter and the Tamiment Library, exploring topics such as the efforts of Hunter women to establish free kindergarten in New York City, to organize the Lenox Hill Settlement House, and to become involved in CUNY student activism during the two World Wars and the Spanish Civil War. María Hernández-Ojeda’s Narrating Memory assignment is part of her courses on Spanish literature, while Wendy Hayden’s Rhetorical Reflections assignment is included in her courses on rhetoric and writing. The students have made their work available on three WordPress based sites: Narrating Memory, Rhetorical Reflections in the Hunter College Archives, and Archival Research and Rhetoric. Iris Finkel, Reference and Instruction Librarian at Hunter College, has assisted students and faculty with research assignments in physical and digital archives and used her digital humanities expertise to help students and faculty understand the norms and creative approaches to digital presentation. María’s undergraduate classes concentrate on 20th-century Spanish literature, where the Spanish Civil War serves as a common subject uniting historical and fictional narratives in the course. The ALBA Collection at NYU’s Tamiment Library, which includes primary-source documents related to the Americans
who volunteered to serve in the SCW, brings the past to life for contemporary CUNY students. At the Tamiment, María initially worked with former Public Services and Instruction Librarian Kate Donovan and currently works with Public Service Librarian Sara Moazeni and Reference Associate Danielle Nista. The librarians reviewed the course syllabus and became familiar with the course goals prior to the first class visit. After introducing the students to the ALBA collection, the librarians provided an information sheet and instructional activities for students to discuss in groups in order to familiarize them with the archival material. In February 2018, librarian Danielle Nista arranged four sets of documents (posters, diaries, and photos) for our analysis. She organized four groups of approximately five students so they could rotate and discuss each item to provide a broad introduction to the archives. The class visit to the Tamiment helped students to understand the role of the archive in their final project. From then on, they visited the archive on their own. Each student chose one Lincoln volunteer as the subject of their final essay and researched archival material to elaborate their motives to fight in the war. The final paper, posted individually on the Narrating Memory website, represented the culmination of the semester-long research they undertook at the Tamiment.
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Several students admitted they had never even been inside the Hunter College Library—or any library. The archival visits generated a variety of connections for students and by students as they explored the stories and experiences of American volunteers in the Spanish Civil War and began to understand why fellow CUNY students left everything and sailed to Spain to fight a war the US government largely ignored. Student Ashley Martinez found that the archive lacked information about David McKelvy White, a professor of English at Brooklyn College who unexpectedly left his teaching position in 1937 to fight in Spain, so she expanded her search well beyond the Tamiment: “I have embarked on a nationwide search for information,” she reported. “I have found letters and stories [McKelvy White] wrote at the New York Public Library and additional documents from the Ohio Historical Society, which sent me the letters between David and his father, the former Governor of Ohio, as well as documents he wrote during his political activism years after the war.” While Ashley began her project from an impartial position, keeping McKelvy White’s memory alive turned into an urgent task, a need to memorialize his life. Like many of the fictional characters discussed in the course, such as Lola and Javier Cercas in Soldiers of Salamis (2001), Carlos Sousa in Manuel Rivas’s The Carpenter’s Pencil (1998), or Minaya in Antonio Muñoz Molina’s novel Beatus Ille (1986), Ashley became a young receptor of history, an interlocutor to an older generation keeping the memories of those who fought in the war alive. Several students chose to research someone with a connection to their own life and academic interests. For instance, Cody Butler wanted to study the life of Fernando Gerassi, the father of his professor at Queens College, John “Tito” Gerassi. Leon Ramotar wanted to learn about Hunter College alumna Helene Weissman, who joined the ALB as a medical administrative aid and interpreter. Pre-med student Kathleen Jedruszczuk wrote her final essay on the renowned Dr. Edward K. Barsky, a surgeon, political activist, and graduate from City College. In her project, Kathleen explained, “Reading about Edward Barsky’s life made me realize that he was more than just ‘aid to Spain’; he was an aid to humanity. Anyone who risks their life for people, goes to jail for the people, and becomes a doctor to help those people is an aid to humanity.” Rebecca Halff focused on Robert Klonsky and the relevance of Brownsville, Brooklyn, a diverse, working-class, and Jewish community with strong communist leanings, as a catalyst to join the Lincoln brigade. The online format of the projects allowed students to write for audiences beyond the classroom and enabled explicit connections with those audiences. For example, Haley Trunkett wrote her essay on May Levine Hartzman, a New Yorker who worked as an operating nurse during the war. She met her husband, Jacob Hartzman, in Spain, where he was an ambulance driver. Their son Peter who lives in California provided information to Haley. 6 THE VOLUNTEER March 2019
Researching CUNY students and professors through the ALBA collection and the institutional archives at Hunter placed students within a tradition of student activists as they contributed to the process of memorialization. The act of telling the story of someone unknown and becoming an intermediary of both primary and secondary internet research also meant their work was meaningful in ways that traditional research papers may not be. Students in our courses became active agents of generational transmission for the ALB volunteers and the history of CUNY by transmitting their life histories and shared experiences. In a class session announcing a visit to the Hunter College Archives, several students in a class of juniors and seniors admitted that they had never even been inside the Hunter College Library—or any library. As student reflections from our courses show, the experience of entering a library, working with physical primary sources, and interacting with librarians face-to-face became a positive practice that not only introduced students to a new method and approach to research, but also resulted in new attitudes towards libraries, librarians, and the relevance of institutional memory. Whether they were collecting stories of women returning to college, documenting the involvement of students in the Abraham Lincoln Brigade during the Spanish Civil War, or processing archival collections, they were becoming both active agents of generational transmission and digital archivists themselves. María Hernández-Ojeda is Associate Professor of Spanish at Hunter College. She works on the literary and historical relationship between the Canary Islands and Latin America, the cultural production of the Spanish Civil War, and anarchist and feminist women authors. She has published two books on Cuban-Spanish author Nivaria Tejera, and a forthcoming edited novel by 19thcentury writer Juana Fernández Ferraz (1834-1918). She is working on a book on antifascist women activists. Wendy Hayden is Associate Professor of English at Hunter College, City University of New York and author of Evolutionary Rhetoric: Sex, Science, and Free Love in Nineteenth-Century Feminism (Southern Illinois Press in 2013). She works on nineteenth-century feminist rhetoric, rhetorics of sexual literacy, and composition and information literacy pedagogy. Iris Finkel is a reference librarian in the Leon and Toby Cooperman Library at the main campus of Hunter College, where she teaches various information literacy classes.
Protesters with locked arms and signs reading “Sanctuary for All” and “No Raids No Ban No Wall” block a driveway at a rally against Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) in San Francisco, 28 Feb. 2018. Photo Pax Ahimsa Gethen, CC BY-SA 4.0.
You Can Keep Your Huddled Masses
Trump v. Immigrants By Steven S. Volk
From the moment he assumed office, President Trump has advanced the most xenophobic immigration policy since the days of the Chinese Exclusion Act (1882), negatively affecting all immigrants regardless of status, including naturalized citizens. “May America be an Asylum to the persecuted of the earth!” George Washington, offering a toast in New York City on November 25, 1783, as British troops evacuated the city. In 2018 the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) changed its goal from a commitment to fulfill “America’s promise as a nation of immigrants” to a focus on “securing the border.”
ooted in xenophobia and racism, President Trump’s measures reflect a desire to limit and “whiten” future immigration and to insure that the foreignborn already here stew in fear and anxiety. This fear was evident when I spoke with workers detained in two massive raids in northern Ohio this past year. Many of them have worked in the area for more than 20 years, raising families, attending church, and supporting their communities. They now stood before suspicious immigration judges who slapped them with unattainably high bonds, questioning why they “didn’t own a home or a car.” The impact of Trump’s policies on would-be immigrants is no less apparent. Applications for immigrant visas, the path to a green card (Legal Permanent Residence), are down 14% from 2016. So are temporary-stay visas. Student visas granted by the State Department (F-1) have declined by 23%, and proposed rules aim to limit visas for high-skilled foreign workers (HB-1), angering even conservative business-oriented organizations. In October 2018, USCIS published changes that would drastically alter who will be issued immigrant visas, granting immigration officials discretion to deny entry based on such factors as income, family size, and English proficiency. The changes
target applicants with incomes or assets below 250 percent of the federal poverty line (about $62,000 for a family of four)—a move which would have excluded more than half the legal noncitizen immigrants who arrived during the past five years. If implemented, these changes would shift legal immigration from current sending areas (Trump’s “shithole” countries) toward higher-income, “whiter,” countries. Nor can naturalized citizens sleep easy. USCIS has announced a surge in denaturalizations targeting individuals it considers to have been “improperly” granted citizenship, implying that the legal immigration process is riddled with fraud. Finally, reaching for white nationalism’s golden ring, in October Trump threatened to abolish “birthright” citizenship with a stroke of his pen—no small matter, as this right, embedded in the 14th Amendment, carries with it the historical weight of slavery’s demise. If these moves are intended to limit immigration and “lighten” the US complexion, Trump’s determination to block the entry of refugees and asylum-seekers threatens to shatter the altruistic self-image that Washington has long promoted to the world. To be clear, the aspirational side of US humanitarian prac-
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Trump’s determination to block the entry of refugees and asylum-seekers threatens to shatter the altruistic self-image that Washington has long promoted to the world. tices almost always has outpaced facts on the ground. Despite George Washington’s 1783 toast, quoted above, or Emma Lazarus’ stirring words gracing the Statue of Liberty, US doors have often remained closed to the “persecuted of the earth.” Roosevelt’s refusal to aid Jews fleeing fascist Germany is only one reminder of the deep vein of popular xenophobia US leaders have often seen fit to mine. Worldwide, an estimated 25 million refugees—defined by the United Nations as individuals who can no longer count on the protection of their own country for “reasons of race, religion, nationality, membership in a particular social group, or political opinion”—currently live outside of their own countries. The US Refugee Act of 1980 systematized the humanitarian admission of refugees. In 2016, for example, Washington accepted nearly 85,000 refugees (.004% of the worldwide total, so hold the celebrations), including 12,000 from Syria. In 2018, having pledged to accept 45,000 refugees, the US actually admitted half that number, only 62 of whom were Syrian. Washington lowered the ceiling for 2019 to 30,000, the lowest ever; many observers expect refugee programs will be zeroed out by 2020. The right to asylum, in turn, while rooted in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (1948), allows signatory countries to adjudicate asylum claims. Asylees, according to US immigration law, are individuals outside their country of residence or nationality who face a “well-founded fear of persecution on account of race, religion, nationality, membership in a particular social group, or political opinion.” US immigration law holds that anyone can apply for asylum either upon arriving at a port-of-entry or once inside the country—whether or not the applicant has entered the country legally. USCIS officials conduct initial “credible fear” interviews to determine asylum eligibility. Eligible petitioners can remain in the US without being placed in removal proceedings as their cases advance. While asylum claims have always been hard to win, the Justice Department is taking a hammer to asylum law, slow-walking “credible fear” interviews, hiking “well-founded fear” standards, and limiting where petitioners can apply for asylum. Many of the detainees I spoke with in the Eastern Ohio Correctional Center this past summer were never offered the opportunity of a “credible fear” interview—a crucial step since, lacking a positive determination, they will be deported without further relief. In June 2018, then-Attorney General Jeff Sessions removed the grounds for granting asylum if the petitioners had been victims of domestic abuse or gang violence, precedents established under the Obama administration. One young man I interviewed, at that point in his fourth detention center since crossing
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the border in Texas months earlier, had been raped by gang members and threatened by the police in Honduras. His case for asylum, quite strong in 2016, will likely now be denied. These changes have “yank[ed] us all back to the Dark Ages of human rights and women’s human rights,” according to Karen Musalo of the University of California’s Hastings College of the Law. They also indicate how beholden immigration law courts have become to the government’s political agenda. Immigration judges, who are employees of the Justice Department, are overwhelmingly denying asylum claims on appeal. In 2017, then-homeland security secretary John Kelly threatened to separate children from parents apprehended entering the country illegally. In 2018, the government followed through, sending children and parents to separate facilities, often at opposite ends of the country, leading to chaos on the border, widespread condemnation even from Trump’s most loyal supporters, and a quick tactical retreat. Still, as of mid-December, more than 14,300 migrant children, some under 12 years old, remained in government detention. Blasting current immigration laws, Trump by-passed the legislative branch and simply rewrote them. In November, he signed an order denying asylum to those who circumvented official border entry ports. Reassuringly, federal courts and voters have pushed back. A federal judge quickly blocked Trump’s attempts to undermine asylum law, and, in December, the Supreme Court refused to allow USCIS to deny asylum to migrants who cross the Mexican border between ports-of-entry. Trump staked the midterm elections on his conviction that the specter of migrant caravans “threatening” to “overwhelm” the US border would generate votes for a Republican Congress. Instead, Democrats flipped the House. Nevertheless, as of this writing, thousands of migrant children are still separated from their parents in over 100 taxpayer-funded concentration camps across the country. Thousands languish in dangerous conditions in Mexico and immigrants, with or without documentation, remain Trump’s favored scapegoats, blamed, as were others in the past, for all society’s ills both real and imagined. And on Christmas Eve, far from a manger, an eight-year-old Guatemalan boy died in US government custody, the second death of an immigrant child detained at the border in December alone. Steven S. Volk is Professor of History Emeritus at Oberlin College and Co-Director of the Great Lakes Colleges Association Consortium for Teaching and Learning. He is currently completing his training to become an accredited immigration advocate. He has been active in immigration and sanctuary work both in Oberlin (which has been a sanctuary city since 2008), and around northeast Ohio. ICE Special Agents (U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement) arresting suspects during a raid. Houston, 2010. Photo Courtesy of ICE
Aidez Espagne, by Joan Miró / Time, by José María Sert, ceiling of Main Lobby in 30 Rockefeller Plaza, New York. Photo Khjara (CC BY-SA 3.0)
Teaching Art and Politics of the Spanish Civil War By David Hanna
High school history teachers who struggle to find room in their curriculum to teach the Spanish Civil War. One way to create space is to introduce the topic as part of broader thematic units— for example, on twentieth-century art and politics. Why did some artists of the avant-garde end up on Franco’s side, while others sided with the Republic?
Spanish Civil War is of great personal interest to me. Yet even though my course on European history gives me some flexibility, like many teachers I often find myself in a struggle against the clock to fit in the topic, usually in the spring. In the past, I have focused on the causes and effects of the war in a unit that included an analysis of Picasso's painting Guernica. Still, I am always left wishing I could do more. This year, I decided to dedicate more time to the topic through a thematic approach to art and politics that includes examples from the 1930s. he
My inspiration was the result of two visits I made to two cities about a month apart. The first was the Joan Miró exhibit on display at the Grand Palais in Paris. The second was to 30 Rockefeller Center in New York. This building contains murals by a number of artists; but the most impressive by far are those painted by Josep Maria Sert on the ceiling above the building’s main entrance. His mural Time (see illustration) conveys a stunning sense of movement and energy. Why, I wondered, had I never heard of Sert? The gap in my knowledge was all the more enigmatic because I had long been familiar with the work of his contemporaries, including Joan Miró. The answer, it turned out, lay in the Spanish Civil War. Both Miró and Sert were Catalans by birth. Born about twenty years apart, in 1874 and 1893 respectively, both eventually made their way to Paris in the early decades of the twentieth century and became fixtures of the avant-garde. Sert painted sets for the Ballets Russes of Sergei Diaghilev. Miró pioneered the Surrealist movement. Both received important commissions. In 1932, Sert was hired by the Rockefeller family to paint a mural for their building after they famously dismissed Diego Rivera for painting one they deemed too overtly political. Five years later, Miró was asked by those organizing the Republic’s exhibition at the 1937 Paris World’s Fair to create a design promoting the Spanish Pavilion. At the current exhibit in Paris, one part is dedicated to Miró’s work during the 1930s, including the ’37 Fair. (Curiously, the Spanish Pavilion was designed by Sert’s nephew, the architect Josep Lluís Sert.)
Along with Picasso and the American sculptor Alexander Calder, Miró was one of a number of artists whose creative contributions during the years of the Civil War were more than art—they were expressions of solidarity with a government under siege. Sert, who was only just completing his series of murals for the League of Nations headquarters in Geneva when the war in Spain broke out, threw his support to the franquistas, lending both his talents and his prestige to the fascist side. While Franco emerged victorious inside Spain, the Axis was defeated six years later; fascism in Europe and elsewhere was discredited and unfashionable. So, it would seem, was Sert. The cases of Sert and Miró bring up several questions that I’m curious to explore with my European history students. To what degree is art political? Should it be? How do an artist’s political views color our understanding of, and appreciation for, their work? After all, Adolf Hitler was a watercolorist in Vienna before World War I. On the other hand, the painter Edgar Degas was an anti-Dreyfusard with publicly known anti-Semitic views. Should we reject his work, too? Because the Spanish Civil War overtly enlisted painters, writers, poets, and photographers as propagandists, it is an excellent lens through which to view these questions. A unit that includes exposure to a larger body of work from both Miró and Sert, and an examination of their lives and careers as a whole both before and after the war, can place these questions in context and spark an informed discussion. Should artists take sides in a political conflict? Do they in fact have a choice? A field trip to 30 Rockefeller Center and to MoMA to see Miró’s painting The Hunter (1923-24) could enhance the discussion further. Art, after all, can connect students to history in a different, more accessible way. And many of the questions sparked by the Spanish Civil War are just as relevant today as they were eighty years ago. David Hanna teaches history at Stuyvesant High School in New York. He is a recipient of the New York Times Teachers Make a Difference Award. March 2019 THE VOLUNTEER 9
Faces of ALBA-VALB
Dean Burrier Sanchis By Aaron Retish
Dean Burrier Sanchis is a Spanish teacher and soccer coach in Elk Grove, Illinois. He also has a deep personal connection to the Spanish Civil War. Dean has spent several years uncovering and documenting the life story of his grandfather and Lincoln veteran Vicente Sanchis Amades. His blog can be found at: http://descubriendoadean. blogspot.com/p/timeline.html
Your grandfather Vicente Sanchis Amades was born in Spain and immigrated to the US in 1923 at the age of 16. Do you know why he decided to return to fight in the Lincoln Brigade in 1938? He believed in democracy and fighting for it at all costs. He had served in the US Army and Navy and had even been part of the US intervention in Nicaragua overseeing its elections. Despite having suffered injuries in combat there, he was not afraid to put his life on the line again for democracy. I recovered a letter from the State Department written by his friends to President Franklin Roosevelt when my grandfather was a POW at San Pedro de la Cardeña that stated that he was stirred to “go back and fight for democracy in his own country.” Another letter attested to his anti-fascist motives: “He started off to fight Fascists. He believed… this was not merely a war to save his homeland, but a war to save the world from Fascism and Anarchy.” Sources aside, it is clear to me that Vicente had become very integrated into the values of American society and believed deeply in the need to protect liberty around the world. I also think that being an illegal alien and recently unemployed from the Great Depression forced him to make this difficult decision.
We only know about your grandfather through your research. How did you get interested in learning more about your family and how did you track down the clues to re-create his story? It was fate. I was raised to believe my mother’s stepfather was my grandfather. In their defense, I think it was the easy thing to do at the time and my grandmother wanted to move on with her life and new husband. I learned the truth from my mother when I was 16 after I studied abroad in Spain and fell in love with a country that I did not believe I was at all connected to. I could not help but dedicate myself to researching and discovering a man and family roots that I never knew existed. I was fascinated with the thought that my love for Spain really had a deeper explanation inside my DNA. For better or worse, it became an obsession and, in many ways, an impossible quest. I set off with a handful of mostly inconsequential memories from my mother’s childhood, a social security death certificate and the recollection that he was from Valencia. It was a long journey but in less than seven years I was able to obtain his Spanish birth certificate, become a citizen of Spain through the law of historical memory, reconstruct a very complete biography of his life, and even recover my grandfather’s remains that were held by a niece from a subsequent marriage. Having his existence hidden from me actually motivated me to pursue historical memory and recovery. Vicente Sanchis Amades. Photo RGASPI 545.6.980
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Are there any updates to your story since your last blog entry? Too many, and there is precious little time to document them, given the demands of my career as a teacher and soccer coach, and now being a husband and father. For example, I had not shared the letters that I mentioned above until now. I also recently uncovered a WWII-era news article in which my grandfather is quoted about his experiences fighting Italian fascists in the Spanish Civil War. There is a great deal of material still left for me to pursue and share. However, these days my focus has turned toward learning about the many other Spanish-American Volunteers who left US shores for Spain. I was inspired by James Fernández to unite my story with a greater community of Spanish immigrant descendants, try to research further, and understand this exceptional group of “invisible immigrants.” In this project, titled “Reterrar,” I am creating biographical chronologies for Spanish-American volunteers—not unlike the work of another mentor, Chris Brooks, who has been a tremendous aide to me in all of my research—and trying to get a greater understanding of the motivations, contributions, and historical legacy of SpanishAmerican volunteers. Many of us are soccer fans of particular teams (Go Clapton CFC!), but your support of Levante U.D. has a unique story. Can you tell us about it? When I discovered that my grandfather was not just from Valencia, but from the fisherman’s neighborhood of Cabanyal, I wanted to grow closer to the emblematic beach-side community. Levante was founded mere blocks from where my grandfather once lived. Rooting for Levante started as a way to embody my love for my roots and feel connected to this place so essential to my family’s history, particularly on the side of my great-grandmother. I was also at a point in my research where I could not seem to break through. I had been trying for years to obtain a birth certificate through the Spanish consulate, but nothing could be located. Ironically, I had mostly given up when I penned a blog about how Levante was really the ultimate gift and the end point for my journey. Luckily, two long-standing granotas (as Levante fans are called) Joan Bosch and Rosa María Alcaina read the blog and reached out to me. They had been creating a genealogical database for Cabanyal and gave me census data that pointed to a birthplace other than Cabanyal. The couple grew from complete strangers to being like parents to me. Not only did they aid me in obtaining a seemingly endless amount of information about my family history, but they became trusted advisors and an indispensable support system. I called them my padrinos, or godparents, because the connection felt almost spiritual. They eventually did become my godparents when, in 2013, I was baptized in in Estivella, Spain in the same baptismal font where my grandfather was some 100 plus years before. Levante will forever be a family to me and the embodiment of my Spanish roots. Levante also has the unique legacy of being the winner of the only “Copa de la España Libre,” in the Free Spain of the Spanish Republic in 1937, champions of an as-yet unrecognized edition of the national cup, that today we know as the Copa del Rey.
You attended an ALBA teaching institute. Do you teach the Spanish Civil War or your personal story in the classroom? Yes, I have had my students read the POW letter that my grandfather penned and that Peter Carroll helped me transcribe. I have a great deal of freedom in my curriculum planning and this has fostered opportunities to experiment with engaging new units for my students. I have had AP Spanish students study the international dimension of the war under the AP theme of “Public and Personal Identities.” I have also made connections to the refugee crisis stemming from the Spanish Civil War to current events under the “World Challenges” theme. I have made a point to include Mexico’s reception of Spanish refugees in units on Immigration. As I teach Spanish to Spanish speakers in a predominantly Mexican-American community, learning of Mexico’s rich tradition of welcoming immigrants allows for an interesting backdrop for comparisons with US current immigration policies. In the near future, I want to incorporate the study of AfricanAmerican volunteers during Black History Month. I hope that when the College Board retools its national curriculum for AP Spanish Literature, more consideration will be given to including works from the Spanish Civil War period. There are virtually no opportunities to incorporate the war into the current curriculum of this course (other than through biographical information on Lorca, Unamuno or Machado, that don’t directly connect to the works selected by AP). Aaron Retish teaches at Wayne State University.
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The Last American-born Volunteer: Rafael Buch Brage (1915-2018) By Dean Burrier Sanchis
When, in early 2016, we mourned the passing of Delmer Berg, the sole surviving US volunteer to fight in the Spanish Civil War, we had no idea that another US volunteer was still living in southern France. Dean Burrier uncovers his remarkable life story.
I learned that my mother was not the oldest in the nursing home, even at 102, I went to visit el monsieur américain, aged 103 years, out of respect,” explained Anna Marie Labruquere, a French woman living in Biarritz, France. “He was doing very poorly, having broken his arm and hip, but just a few days later he was back in the dining hall with a strength of will to live that was astonishing … He still wore his medals on his chest through the corridors,” she told me. “I knew he was a great man.” His name, she said, was Rafael Buch Brage. hen
After Buch Brage died, on October 13, 2018, Labruquere ventured to the internet, determined to uncover his mysterious past. Little did she know she was about to help symbolically return a lost son of the Abraham Lincoln Brigade to his homeland as the longest living and final survivor of the brotherhood—the last volunteer. A few years ago, I started a project called RETERRAR to research the lives of Spanish-American volunteers in the Brigade. I sought to better understand this often overlooked group of volunteers, reconnect with possible descendants and undo the process of “destierro” that left both the deceased and survivors exiled from the collective historical memory of Spain. While I had been researching the life of Rafael for several years, I had presumed him to be long deceased—although, truth be told, the obituary had eluded me. Now I find myself writing the only obituary this great man will have received to date, perhaps a tragic consequence of outliving two spouses, three children and most certainly all other loved ones from his generation. As Anne Marie Labruquere, 12 THE VOLUNTEER March 2019
who contacted RETERRAR from France, wrote, he clearly had an insatiable desire to live and to go on. In these pages, we will fail to capture in their entirety his immense life span, his accomplishments, and the essence of Rafael. Still, he deserves a faithful attempt. Rafael was born in New York City on July 26, 1915 to Spanish immigrants from La Coruña (Galicia). The Buch family made the journey back and forth between New York and Spain several times. Ironically, Rafael would complete a Spanish baccalaureate degree in 1931, only to return to the United States to further his studies stateside. Indeed, the Spanish Civil War caught him in between both nations as well. He had traveled to Barcelona to represent the United States in the People’s Olympics, organized to counter Hitler’s 1936 Olympics but cut short when the Spanish Civil War erupted. An athlete of some regard, Buch Brage played fútbol—soccer—for some wellknown clubs throughout the Americas. By his own recollections, these included “Brookhattan” in New York, “España” in México, “Puentes Grandes” in La Habana, “Alajuela” in Costa Rica, and “América” in Colombia. At the 1936 games, Rafael was slated to participate in Track & Field and Rugby. Instead of competing in Barcelona’s stadiums, Buch Brage would end up enlisting in the war and fighting on the streets of the Catalan capital. In September and October of 1936, he served on a guerrilla dynamite unit in the Pyrenees. Aided by his fluency in as many as six languages, he rapidly ascended through the ranks of leadership: he was named “Teniente” in November 1936, “Capitán” by June 1937, and “Mayor” by September 1938. It was in Madrid in
1936 that he attested to meeting Ernest Hemingway at the Hotel Florida, later claiming to have helped inform the writer for his works on the Spanish Civil War. (Years after, the two would cross paths in Cuba as well.) Buch Brage’s claims would seem to be confirmed in the similarities drawn to Robert Jordan in Hemingway’s Spanish Civil War novel For Whom The Bell Tolls, where the hero is an Americanborn volunteer who serves on a dynamite unit in the Guadarrama mountains. Buch Brage later joined the Brigadas Mixtas and later still the ranks of the International Brigades, largely thanks to his linguistic capabilities. He served on the Aragon Front and, according to a magazine biography, participated in virtually all of the major military actions of the war: “Madrid, Guadalajara, Jarama, Brunete, La Granja, Belchita, Quinto and Fuentes del Ebro,” suffering injuries of severity on three occasions. As the war wound to its close, Rafael also participated in the Aragon Retreat, The Crossing of the Ebro, Retreat of Aragon and Catalonia. From Catalonia, he followed hundreds of thousands of refugees into exile in France, later making his way to Mexico, before finally returning to New York on December 20, 1939, aboard the Ausonia. Reestablished in the city of his birth, he became a Spanish teacher and worked as a sports journalist for La Prensa, a Spanish-language newspaper in New York City. Understanding and anticipating the greater scope of the world conflict, Rafael, as did so many Lincolns, enlisted to fight Hitler in World War II. Frustrated with the reticence of the Americans to enter the conflict, Rafael first joined the British Intelligence Service in 1940 to fight the
Raphael Buch Brage, Harry Randall Fifteenth Brigade Photo Collection ALBA 011, Tamiment Library, NYU, 11-0189
An athlete of some regard, Buch Brage played fútbol—soccer—for some well-known clubs throughout the Americas.
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Buch Brage later in life (courtesy Carlos Loza).
In 1936, he met Ernest Hemingway at the Hotel Florida in Madrid, later claiming to have helped inform the writer for his works on the Spanish Civil War. Axis powers, eventually joining the United States armed forces upon its entrance into the global conflict in 1941. The war did not stop him from starting a family. He married Sally Artiguez (1912-1989) in October 1940 in New York. Their first-born son Fernando Buch Brage (1941-2003) arrived shortly after, followed by a daughter, Marie Luisa Buch Brage (1944-2012). The birth of a third child is mentioned in some of his biographical information, but cannot be confirmed at this time. Rafael’s U.S. military service lasted until 1948. He was stationed in various parts of the Caribbean and Mexico, ending up in Cuba. Here, he dedicated himself to the study of pigeon-fancying, a tradition that had been in his family for four generations in Galicia. Indeed, virtually everything we know about Buch Brage is due to his immense reputation and fame among pigeon-fanciers around the world, recognized as the “Unsurpassed Master of the Iberian Pigeon Breeds”. Over the years, he compiled an unprecedented collection of over 3,000 volumes on the historical study of pigeons, preserving many endangered species, winning many awards at competitions and awakening admiration among international groups of pigeon aficionados. In Cuba, he would again cross paths with Hemingway, this time at the famous “La Floridita”, where the two “remembered events and anecdotes of the Spanish Civil War,” though he only speaks of the writer as a friend of a friend. The 1950’s found him in New Jersey and subsequently travelling back to the Old World. In 1954, in sharp contrast to the many other Spanish-American volunteers studied in the scope of RETERRAR, Rafael returned with his family to live in Spain. His father and possibly other family members lived in the Chamartín barrio of Madrid. He often worked as an aide to American cinematographers. Due to his travels and experiences around the world, he was consulted for filming locations in films such as “El Cid,” “Lawrence of Arabia,” and “Cleopatra,” among many others and became acquainted with Sophia Loren and John Wayne. He also continued to breed pigeons. In a competition in which his pigeons finished second to pigeons be14 THE VOLUNTEER March 2019
longing to “El dictador Franco,” he noted that these were of pitiful quality. By the 1970s, Rafael was already referring to his life and old age as one who sees the final stage near. In truth, he was, astonishingly, only at midlife. Retirement came in Biarritz, France, alternating seasons on the precious Valencian coastline and scenic backdrop of Peñíscola, where a medieval castle rises from the beach. Here, he dedicated himself to studying pigeons. He attended and spoke at many conferences and gatherings of pigeon-fanciers, sharing his knowledge and sources with all who could locate him. It seems he never returned to the United States. Not unlike many Spanish-American volunteers, he was completely disconnected from the Veterans of the Abraham Lincoln Brigade. One source did allude to his wish that his personal library be donated to an American university or foundation, though no record confirming the fruition of this wish has been found. As far as records show, his retirement traveling between Biarritz, France and Peñíscola, Valencia continued well into his 90s. A widower from 2013 onward, when his second wife passed, Rafael was transferred to a nursing home in Biarritz, France and placed under public guardianship, as he apparently had little to no financial means. Our French contact, Anne Marrie Labruquere describes the final years for “el
américain” as very lonely, further darkened by anecdotes that paint a disheartening end to an amazing life. The staff of the nursing home, who in Anne Marie’s words cared deeply for Rafael, gifted him shoes to alleviate the constant pain he had in his feet. Footwear was a luxury he could not afford for himself at that point in his life. He never received a visitor in his 5 years in the home and was buried in the Ranquine Public Cemetery in Biarritz with no ceremony—and indeed no recognition or memory beyond this article since his passing last October. France’s Online Public Cemetery Registry lists his death as October 13, 2018. Aged 103 years and 3 months, he was certainly one of the last surviving Spanish Civil War Veterans across all nationalities. A sad consequence of his longevity seems to be the utter loneliness he must have experienced in his final years, having survived two wives and indeed his own three children. There seems to have been no family left to be by his side or even to be aware of his survival and in contact in any way. Throughout his 103 years, Rafael Buch Brage demonstrated a love for life, freedom and scholarship that should be an inspiration to all of us. We hope that the publication of this obituary will bring more information to light, allowing us to properly celebrate the life of this singular, American-born, Spanish-American hero. May the love for life of Rafael Buch Brage live on. ¡Que viva siempre el espíritu de los Voluntarios! Dean Burrier Sanchis, an alumnus of an ALBA Teaching Institute in Illinois, is a high school Spanish Teacher and Soccer Coach at Elk Grove High School. In 2009, while studying the Spanish Civil War and reading Ramón Sender’s “A Requiem for a Spanish Farmer” as a student at Augustana College, he discovered that his Spanish-born grandfather Vicente Sanchis Amades was a member of the Abraham Lincoln Brigade. Since then, he has heavily researched his grandfather’s life and the lives of many other Spanish-American volunteers, creating chronologies and compiling information on each volunteer at reterrar.weebly.com.
Arthur and Syriea Nia Witt, 1934.
An Early Casualty of the War: Arthur Witt
By Peter Arthur Witt and Bert Witt
New Yorker Arthur Witt was among the many Lincoln volunteers to be killed at Jarama, in February 1937. Although he was only 29, he’d lived a full life. The back story of a Lincoln volunteer
RTHUR WITT (originally Witkowsky) was born on October 4, 1907, in Brooklyn, New York in a modest Jewish family. Like many of the Lincoln volunteers, he grew up in Brooklyn and attended New Utrecht High School, graduating in 1923. That fall, he enrolled at CCNY , but after a few semesters, he transferred to the University of Missouri in 1925. Arthur spent the summer of 1925 and a lot of 1926 wandering around the west, taking odd jobs wherever he could find them. The western travels exposed him to adventure, risk and uncertainty. He emerged a changed man. Perhaps most significantly, he had seen and experienced firsthand how most Americans had to earn their daily bread with their hands and backs with precious little to show for it. After his travels, Arthur reenrolled at CCNY and graduated with a BS in Social Science. When the 1929 Crash hit, and the working people of America couldn't even keep their poor-paying non-unionized jobs, Arthur moved to Cleveland's black ghetto where he joined the staff of The Friendly Inn Settlement House and later The East End Neighborhood Settlement. These settlement houses were centers of community organization and agitation for feeding the hungry, stopping the eviction of those who couldn't afford rent, and providing equal job opportunities for African Americans. While attending a regional conference of community activists in Chicago in 1929, Arthur met Ruth Cizon, a social worker from Milwaukee. They were married on March 17, 1930 and eventually settled in Chicago, where their daughter, Syria Nina Witt was born in 1933. In Chicago, Arthur organized teams of neighbors to move the furniture of evicted families back into their apartments. He visited steel mill workers arguing the need for unionization, and led delegations from the Unemployed Councils to City Hall demanding food allowances for starving families. In 1933, while working as a social worker for the Illinois Relief Commission, Arthur attempted to organize the social workers into a union. He and four others were fired for being communist agitators.
Arthur was concerned that his daughter would grow up in a system, which in “good” times provided little more than subsistence to its workers and in “bad” times threw them on the scrap heap without a second thought. He felt that the greater the freedom to speak, to organize, to act, the greater the chances of change. Although he had worked to put Roosevelt into office, he was disappointed by his policies, particularly wage and job cuts for workers on relief funding. Arthur also read The Olive Field, which focused on Spain and the workers’ struggles that were going on there. He followed the news closely after a cabal of Army generals led a rebellion against the Second Spanish Republican in July 1936. Arthur was among the very first Americans to form a secret network to recruit and arrange for young volunteers to bypass President Roosevelt's policy of “neutrality” by crossing the Atlantic with the intent of supporting the Spanish Republican (Loyalist) Army. Having worked to encourage others to volunteer, Arthur (who also used the party name Tom Trent) volunteered. He sailed to France on January 28, 1937, aboard the Aquitania and then proceeded overland to Spain with other Illinois volunteers to join the Lincoln battalion in the Fifteenth International Brigade. The battle to defend Madrid had raged for months. The newly formed Abraham Lincoln Battalion arrived in the Jarama area on February 14, 1937. Within a few days, they were thrown into futile assaults against entrenched Nationalist forces on Pingarrón Height on February 23, and again on February 27, 1937. The volunteers had little training and their equipment was no match for the forces they faced. Arthur’s first battle was on February 27. Advancing in a suicidal attack without artillery, armor, or flank support approximately 120 died, including Arthur. Another 175 were wounded. On July 9, 1937, the Illinois Friends of the Lincoln Battalion held a memorial meeting for Arthur in Chicago. For a longer version of this articles, see the online Volunteer at albavolunteer.org
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A 13-year-old García Riestra with two friends at the colonia of Torrent-Bo. American Friends of Spanish Democracy records. Manuscripts and Archives Division. The New York Public Library. Astor, Lenox, and Tilden Foundations.
A Chance Find at the Archive:
The Life of Vicente García Riestra By María Hernández-Ojeda
An old snapshot of three smiling teenagers leads a researcher to one of the Spanish survivors of the Buchenwald concentration camp.
through the archival collection of the American Friends for Spanish Democracy (AFSD) at the New York Public Library (NYPL), one picture stood out among the numerous priceless documents: three smiling children posing naturally for the photographer. Their carefree expression was not suggestive of the daunting conditions they endured at that moment. These children lived in a colony established during the Spanish Civil War in Torrent-Bo, an area located 20 miles northwest of Barcelona. It was the summer of 1938, and Vicente García Riestra, the 13-year-old boy in the middle, had become a foster child to the AFSD. The archival documents uncovered Vicente’s current life: his father, a butcher by trade, was now fighting on the Asturias front, in northern Spain. Along with his mother and four siblings, Vicente had left his hometown in Asturias and reached the children’s colony in Torrent-Bo, where the picture was taken. Under the “Personal Traits” category, Vicente’s description read: “small for his age, round face with a very puzzled expression; dark brown eyes and light brown hair. Very active and would like to study much more than play. Wants to become a chauffeur.” In the letter exchanges with his “padrinos” of the American Friends for Spanish Democracy organization, Vicente expressed the same wishes as any other child his age. hile browsing
As a researcher of the Spanish Civil War, and a Spaniard who grew up amid deafening silence on this subject at home and school in the 16 THE VOLUNTEER March 2019
1970s and 80s, I treasure these stories. Children’s voices are particularly stirring: in novels with young characters such as The Ravine by Nivaria Tejera, or First Memory by Ana Maria Matute, I imagine that these fictional characters shared my parents’ experiences during the war; their narratives filled a personal void of untold memories. Sitting at a century-old table in the Brook Russell Astor Reading Room for Rare Books and Manuscripts at the NYPL, I carefully examined every document in the folder, in an attempt to complete Vicente García Riestra’s unfinished story, to no avail. With low expectations to find information beyond the archive, and curious to know more about this child, I searched for him using a twenty-first century tool: I googled him. The search for answers proved much more fruitful than I could have imagined. Vicente was still alive— and he had lived an exceptional life since the Spanish Civil War. An hours-old Facebook post published by the political party Izquierda Xunida de Siero, in Asturias, described the celebration that took place the same day, December 14, 2018. The pictures described a “tribute to Asturian Vicente García Riestra, survivor of Buchenwald concentration camp. Antifascist fighter and example of dignity.” The 93-year-old man holding his Nazi prisoner uniform in that Facebook post was indeed the 13-year-old smiling boy embracing his friends in 1938, unaware of his remarkable future. I attached all the archival documents to the comments section of the Izquierda Xunida Facebook post, and asked if someone could
García Riestra holding the pants he wore in Buchenwald. Photo Deportados.es
send them to Vicente, as he probably would not have a copy of these records. Not long after, Edgar Cosío, the Izquierda Xunida Siero representative, contacted me, and put me in touch with Xuan Santori, the author of a recent book on Vicente García Riestra in the Asturian language. Santori sent me the copy of his book 42.553. After Buchenwald, a startling biography about the last Spanish survivor of the Buchenwald concentration camp, and one of the last Spanish survivors of the Holocaust. This book reveals the incredible life story of Vicente García Riestra. In masterly detail, it depicts the sequence of events that completed the story found in the archives. Born in 1925 in Pola de Siero, Asturias, Vicente managed to arrive at the children’s colony near Barcelona with his mother and siblings. Franco’s forces executed his father, and one of Vicente’s brothers also died in the war. Vicente and his family were able to escape when the war was lost, walking across the border to France in 1939. During World War II, he joined the French resistance at 17-years old, and became a Gestapo spy. Captured and tortured, he was sent to die in the Buchenwald concentration camp. Against all odds, he survived 15 months of horror until the camp was liberated. Today, Vicente is 93, and lives in Trélissac, France, where he is considered a hero. With much effort, he talks to students in elementary and secondary schools about his harrowing experience, so that “it never happens again,” said Xuan Santori. Yet he is unknown in Spain. Even today, due to a decree imposed during
Franco’s dictatorship, he cannot regain his Spanish nationality. We often think of archival research as a process to uncover former lives and completed historical facts. In my search for antifascist women activists during the Spanish Civil War, I found an accidental gift: the story of a man who changed history. Vicente García Riestra is alive today and he was able to look at his childhood picture from the Catalan colony with his son and granddaughters. Increasingly, the Humanities face pressure to break down their walls and become more relevant to the general public. This story is a fitting example of the way an ordinary scholarly endeavor in a public archive can have a direct effect on the life of an extraordinary person. The unintended consequence of working in the archive, aided by the power of social media, provided a unique occurrence. Thanks to the role of organizations such as the American Friends for Spanish Democracy, the archives contain information about thousands of lives that need to be rescued from obscurity. Xuan Santori will soon publish his book on Vicente García Riestra in Spanish, and he will include the NYPL documents. His text should be required reading for all Spaniards, because, in a country still divided, as Santori wrote, “to tell the story of one of those children is to tell the story of them all.” María Hernández-Ojeda is Associate Professor of Spanish at Hunter College.
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Sebastiaan Faber, Memory Battles of the Spanish Civil War: History, Fiction, Photography. Nashville: Vanderbilt University Press, 2018. 241 pp. Reviewed by Joshua Goode
ebastiaan Faber’s new book, Memory Battles of the Spanish Civil War: History Fiction, Photography, has two missions. First, he charts the complicated and multisided ways in which history and the memory of the Spanish Civil War both drive and are driven by contemporary politics. Not surprisingly, Faber concludes like most who study history and memory: history is a very presentist concern. When we confront the past we invariably read our current conflicts and interests into it. Yet Faber has another purpose for his study which is equally engaging, far less common and especially relevant: to ruminate on and to place at the center of debates about history and memory the role of the university scholar in these public debates. Either digging up the bones, passing laws that force historical memory, or writing books, films or poems that subtly confront the past, Faber wants to find the place for the scholar to be a public intellectual, to enliven and roil public interests. For this reason alone, Faber’s work would be of great interest to the readers of The Volunteer. Part of the reason the work is effective is the multiple contexts that Faber examines. He divides the book into five parts, each unpacking memory fights in their discrete and separate formats and modes of expression. Part one looks at the “visual archive” of the Civil War and the novelty of photographic propaganda that still serves as a lasting artifact of the war. In one particularly memorable section, Faber leads us through his own detective story tracking down the ways that some of the most iconic posters and photos from the war were assembled, repurposed and then lived on as symbolic palimpsests of the war and its meanings. Part two probes witness testimony and its role in framing public and interpersonal debates in the post-Franco era as well 18 THE VOLUNTEER March 2019
One cannot appreciate contemporary Spanish politics without accounting for the ways in which memory, personal and collective, trouble ongoing social and political debate. as in the legal wrangling with the crimes committed during the war, including the treatment of Baltasar Garzón and the passage of the Law of Historical Memory in 2007. Part three includes a fascinating conversation among historians in Spain, the United States and England, each ruminating on the political stakes of Spain’s memory battles not just for participants and their offspring but also for the professionals for whom writing about the Spanish past is their job. Part four looks at the same topics but from the perspective of other intellectuals, writers, film makers and poets. Part five examines fiction writers in particular, who were among the first to confront the Civil War during the Franco years and in the post-Franco era when silence was supposed to be the primary mode of dealing with the war. Each section puzzles over the disparate ways that the confrontation with past both affects and is affected by present-day circumstances. One cannot appreciate contemporary Spanish politics without accounting for the ways in which memory, personal and collective, trouble ongoing social and political debate. Yet the book has another purpose and one that is as finely rendered. As a university professor himself but one who works and writes for the larger public, Faber advocates for the role of the scholar to help guide, coax, complicate and advance public debate. In this regard, his book is a defense of the humanities scholar and a paean to the value that humanistic studies play in our world. He writes in his introduction: “For those of us who engage with Spain through scholarship, even from abroad, these developments [a more volatile but diverse political landscape in today’s Spain] have also created an opportunity—if not an obligation—to re-examine some of the assumptions underlying our work. In fact, they may even compel us to question the very institutional foundations of our practice as scholars of the humanities. This book is meant as a strong nudge in that direction.” This nudge should be a welcome burden for a scholarly work. Faber’s accomplishment rests as much in engaging in the effort as in his ability to fulfill it. Joshua Goode is the book review editor for The Volunteer.
For more articles, visit The Volunteer online at
Javier Cercas, The Impostor. Translation Frank Wynne. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 2018. 384 pp. Reviewed by Sara J. Brenneis
ooks by Javier Cercas are reliably at least partially about Javier Cercas. In Soldiers of Salamis and The Anatomy of a Moment, Cercas centered stories rooted in periods of deep historical value to Spain in his own quest to know the truth. So it is with The Impostor in which Cercas plays the intrepid but conflicted journalist/novelist, following every lead and interviewing every player as he dismantles, piece by piece, the scaffold of lies Enric Marco constructed to pass himself off as a Nazi concentration camp survivor for almost 30 years. But while Marco’s face may appear, blurred, on the cover of this “novel without fiction,” it is Cercas who assumes the book’s lead role. Is Enric Marco the impostor, or is Javier Cercas the impostor for writing about Marco? Cercas hammers the reader over the head with this quandary from the first page. By the end, when Enric Marco has been fully unmasked as a fraud, a charlatan, a narcissistic nonagenarian, Cercas is still wearing his mask, leaving us to wonder what exactly our author was trying to achieve. But first, Enric Marco. The antihero of this book is indeed a compelling figure. Steeped in the anarchist tradition of the CNT (Confederación Nacional del Trabajo) in Barcelona during the early 1930s, Marco fought with the 3rd Battalion of the 121st Brigade of the 26th Division, the “Durruti Column,” in the Spanish Civil War. On this point, as Cercas proves by unearthing a contemporaneous newspaper report confirming Marco’s military credentials, there can be no doubt. But everything Marco did after leaving the front lines is hazy. Was he a clandestine resistance fighter against Franco, or was he one of many who accepted the regime, a blue-collar worker under the thumb of the dictator? Was he arrested, deported, and sent to the Nazi concentration camp of Flossenbürg, or did he volunteer to work in Germany during World War II and wind up in a Nazi prison in Kiel? Did he return to Spain to continue the fight, or to invent a past that would allow him to burnish his image, to become the center of attention in a newly-democratic Spain? Was he a family man, or did he abandon his relatives in order to rebrand himself? Cercas takes us through the twists and turns of Marco’s life story separating
There are true heroes in this book, but Marco and Cercas are not among them. the truth from the lies. Along the way, readers are treated to an entertaining micro-history of the Spanish Civil War, SpanishGerman relations during World War II, daily life in dictatorship Barcelona, and the Spanish transition to democracy. Based on his invented credentials, Marco rose through the ranks of the CNT after Franco’s death, becoming secretary general during its tumultuous regeneration in the 1970s. He entered the political fray during a thrilling moment in Spain’s history when everything old was new again, and Marco, in Cercas’ analysis, wanted a piece of the action, wanted to be on the front page. He crafted his fictitious time in Flossenbürg in 1978, but it was toward the beginning of the 2000s when the story really took hold. Marco joined the Amical de Mauthausen — the Barcelona-based association of Spanish and Catalan survivors of Nazi camps — in 2001. He began to speak about his imagined harrowing passage through the Nazi camp, insinuating himself into annual meetings of Flossenbürg survivors. By 2003, he was president of the Amical, thrilling audiences with his tales of fortitude in the face of Nazi evil. In 2005, Marco was unmasked. Benito Bermejo — historian of the deportation and the real author of Marco’s fall from grace — alerted the Amical, providing evidence of the inaccuracy of Marco’s claims. The downfall was swift: Marco was stripped of his Amical responsibilities, ostracized by former colleagues and friends, and eviscerated in the Spanish media. Nevertheless, he continued (and, as of this writing, continues) to defend himself arguing that in his own way, he made the history of the Spanish deportation accessible and real to a new generation of Spaniards. Cercas, however, waffles incessantly about his feelings toward Marco. On the one hand, he writes, Marco is Alonso Quijano, tilting at windmills like Don Quijote, harmlessly wrapped up in his own fantasy. Cercas reasons that Marco is no better than the rest of Spain, a country not of heroes but of impostors who collaborated with the Franco regime, “a reality that they tried to hide or mask or embellish just as Marco hid or masked or embellished his.” On the other hand, he did something no one else seemed capable of doing, becoming “a rock star of historical memory,” drawing the Spanish public’s attention toward the hundreds of thousands who had suffered exile, deportation, incarceration and, in some cases, death during and after World War II. Of course, Marco built this media campaign on the backs of those who really were antifascist resistors and who really did suffer and die in Nazi concentration camps, unlike him. Cercas also wavers on whether he should even write this book. It feels disingenuous when, halfway through The Impostor, Cercas is still not sure if he should polish Marco’s star with the book that we are now reading, which has, moreover, been March 2019 THE VOLUNTEER 19
translated into English with the express purpose of reaching ever larger audiences, making Marco’s story even more well known, or let Marco slip into oblivion. In a bout of narcissistic self-involvement, Cercas dedicates an entire chapter to an invented conversation between him and Marco. In it, the author anticipates every criticism the reader might throw his way for writing this book, for making sure that Marco will be remembered in perpetuity as the subject of a famous Spanish novelist’s fanciful biography. There are true heroes in this book, but Marco and Cercas are not among them. They are the Spanish deportees themselves — the real ones — who gave their lives and livelihoods in exchange for no glory, no fame, and in most cases no stake whatsoever in Spain’s historical memory vogue. They are Bermejo, Montserrat Roig, Rosa Toran — tireless advocates for the legacy of the Spanish victims of the Nazis. Herein lies the other book Cercas could have written, the one that would have brought the real history of the Spanish deportation into the limelight, listing the names (Cercas loves to list names) of the survivors along with those who died knowing the horrible reality of a Nazi concentration camp. But Cercas has opted to write this book instead, which is his prerogative as an author. It’s a fascinating story, to be sure, but it would have been equally engaging, in this age of fake news, lies, and innuendo, if Cercas could have demonstrated this other Spain, the one that did not collaborate with the dictator, that looked fascism in the eye and didn’t blink. After all, these are the individuals who merit, as Cercas puts it, “honor to the heroes.” Sara J. Brenneis is an Associate Professor of Spanish at Amherst College and the author most recently of Spaniards in Mauthausen: Representations of a Nazi Concentration Camp 19402015 (University of Toronto Press, 2018).
The Jarama Society What you leave to friends and loved ones—and the causes you champion—are ways of expressing your hopes and dreams for the future and perpetuate your part in the story of the Lincoln Brigade. As you make your plans, please consider including ALBA in your will or living trust, or naming us as a beneficiary of your estate. ALBA can accept legacy gifts in any amount, large or small. Please help us to continue to expand our horizons, and your beliefs, and help us to carry our shared legacy to the next generation and beyond. If you have additional questions or would like to discuss your choices, please contact the ALBA office at 212 674 5398 or firstname.lastname@example.org. All inquiries are kept in the strictest confidence.
FOR THOSE WHO CAME AFTER: SONGS OF RESISTANCE FROM THE SPANISH CIVIL WAR A new interpretation of ten iconic songs from the Spanish Civil War
Recorded live at the Japan Society in 2016 commemorating the 80th anniversary of the war, the album features a fragment of an interview with Abe Osheroff and the voice of Delmer Berg, with liner notes by Adam Hochschild.
Now available at email@example.com $20 (for domestic orders. Price includes shipping & handling.) All proceeds from the record are being generously donated to ALBA.
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Smith, VALB • Linda Stamm in memory of Morris Stamm • Laura Stevens in memory of Rae Harris, nurse, & Gus Heisler, plumber • Louise Katz Sullivan in memory of Sylvia & Bob Thompson • Helene Susman • Cindy Shamban & Marge Sussman • Patricia Tanttila • Freda Tanz in memory of my husband, Alfred Tanz • Sara & William Tattam • David Turner in memory of Dr. Aaron Hilkevitch, VALB • Susan Udin • Norma Van Felix-Skye in memory of William Van Felix • Luis Wainstein • Nancy Wallach in memory of Hy Wallach, ALB veteran • Constancia Warren • Paul & Patricia Whelan • Shauna Haines & Mark Wieder in memory of Mark Billings • John Wilborn • Pamela Yates
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ALBA Annual Celebration and ALBA/Puffin Award Ceremony Join us in honoring the legacy of the Lincolns and supporting the Immigration Justice Campaign, which works to increase access to legal counsel for thousands of immigrants held in detention centers on the southern border of the United States. Sunday, May 5, 5:00-6:30pm Museum of the City of New York 1220 Fifth Ave at 103rd St. Reception Following Tickets go on sale March 1 at alba-valb.org For more information, write to firstname.lastname@example.org or call us at (212) 674-5398
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