Vol. XXXIV, No.3
PUBLISHED BY THE ABRAHAM LINCOLN BRIGADE ARCHIVES
Justice in Spain Europe’s New Far Right (p. 5)
Alvah Bessie on Nazi Murders (p. 7) U.S. Anarchists in Spain (p. 9)
Ascención Mendieta at her father’s burial in Madrid, July 2, 2017. Photo Óscar Rodríguez.
Dear Friends and Comrades: Founded by the Veterans of the Abraham Lincoln Brigade 799 Broadway, Suite 341 New York, NY 10003 (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.eyestormonline.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 (193639). 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.
IN THIS ISSUE p 3 p 4 p 5 p 7 p 9 p 12 p 14 p 18 p 19 p 21 p 23
ALBA’s Busy Fall Justice in Spain HR Column: Europe’s New Far Right Alvah Bessie US Anarchists in Spain Faces of ALBA: George Snook In Search of Ben Barsky Jewish Volunteers News from the Archive Book Review Contributions 2 THE VOLUNTEER September 2017
Almost 80 years after her father Timoteo’s violent death during the Franco dictatorship, Ascensión Mendieta has finally been able to re-bury his remains. In her 90s now, Mendieta last saw Timoteo when she was 13. A labor leader in the tiny village of Sacedón, east of Madrid, he was picked up from the family home in the middle of the night by Franco’s fascists. The year was 1939. ALBA honors Mendieta along with the family members of the thousands of other victims of fascist violence. With the support of the Association for the Recovery of Historical Memory, recipient of the ALBA/Puffin Award for Human Rights Activism in 2015, they are forcing Spain to confront the legacy of Franco’s reign. But the story of Ascensión Mendieta’s victory is set against a checkered background. As Spanish journalist Miquel Ramos points out in this issue’s Human Rights Column (page 5), Europe’s extreme right has been busy reinventing itself—and quite successfully so. As Ramos points out, it is more necessary than ever to reflect on the legacy of the struggle against fascism. Elsewhere in this issue, ALBA’s own Dan Czitrom does precisely that in the context of his own family, which produced two Lincoln volunteers. Meanwhile, Kenyon Zimmer covers the little-known story of American Anarchists in the Spanish Civil War, and Gerben Zaagsma reflects on the Jewish volunteers in Spain. We also reprint a powerful piece by Lincoln vet Alvah Bessie—one of the Hollywood Ten—about the murder of two French writers by the Nazis. We are proud members of a global movement for social justice and the defense of human rights. ALBA strongly believes this cause is political but also educational. This coming academic year, we will offer as many as a dozen institutes for high-school teachers—our highest number yet. From Brooklyn and Bergen County to Cleveland, Milwaukee, and California, we’re helping teachers discover new ways to show their students how the power of history can help build a more equitable world. In the same vein, this September ALBA’ s human rights documentary film festival will bring three days of groundbreaking documentaries from around the world to New York City. The films speak powerfully to the social and political challenges the world is facing. Among those most concerned about these challenges are this country’s young people. “The Spanish Civil War is inherently interesting to students,” Brooklyn history teacher George Snook and ALBA institute alum tells us (page 12). “The narratives of the volunteers raise questions about courage, sacrifice, and commitment to a cause.” “With little prompting,” he adds, “students connect the issues of the 1930s to what they see and read every day. They are eager to make sense of their world, and the records of the volunteers offer a window into how an earlier generation confronted challenges to freedom and justice.” We have much work to do and we rely on your continued help to make it possible. Please give as generously as you can. In solidarity,
Fraser Ottanelli Chair of the Board of Governors
Marina Garde Executive Director
ALBA’s Busy Fall Half a Dozen Workshops in Three States Our Fall calendar is full! “America & World Fascism,” ALBA Teaching Institutes program, launches a statewide series at the Ohio Council for the Social Studies (OCSS) Meeting in September, with professional development workshops the following month for teachers in Cleveland and Bowling Green. Besides exploring U.S. and World History topics from the Spanish Civil War and World War II, this project introduces Human Rights subjects in more recent years based on ALBA’s rich archival sources, both written and visual. In November, ALBA’s faculty will be teaching our annual workshops in New York City and New Jersey. We’re especially excited to offer our first-ever teaching institute in Wisconsin this fall as well. For the Spring, another half dozen institutes are in the works.
ALBA TEACHING INSTITUTE FALL CALENDAR September 24-26: Cincinnati, OH — Ohio Council for the Social Studies (OCSS) Conference in September. October 10: Cleveland, OH — Professional Development Workshop, Co-sponsored by the Maltz Museum of Jewish Heritage. October 12: Bowling Green, OH — a) Professional Development Workshop, Co-hosted by Bowling Green State University — b) Film Screening and Q+A, open to public, Co-sponsored by the Wood County Public Library. October 18: Milwaukee, WI — Professional Development Workshop, Co-hosted by the University of WisconsinMilwaukee (School of Education & Department of History).
November 7: NYC, NY — Professional Development Workshop, Co-hosted by NYU’s King Juan Carlos Center and supported by public funds from the New York City Department of Cultural Affairs in partnership with the City Council. November 8: Bergen County, NJ — Professional Development Workshop, Co-hosted by Bergen County Academies. For more details, contact Andrés Fernández Carrasco, ALBA Education Coordinator, at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Tamiment Library Open House Saturday, September 9, 2017, 1pm - 3pm Tamiment Library Bobst Library, 10th floor 70 Washington Square South New York, NY 10012 There will be an instructional program from 11am - 12:30pm for those who are interested in learning how to conduct research in the archive. RSVP by email to email@example.com. Please specify if you intend to come to the instructional program. For questions, call 212 998-2630.
ALBA presents three days of groundbreaking human rights documentaries!
IIFFDOCS NY September 22-24, 2017 @DCTV 87 Lafayette Street, NY From workers in late capitalism to testimonies of resistance worldwide, Impugning Impunity brings social and political struggles to the forefront through the art of nonfiction storytelling
For more information visit:
www.iiff-docs.com September 2017 September 2016 THE VOLUNTEER 3
Argentine Court-Ordered Exhumation of Franco Victim Succeeds By Sebastiaan Faber
Almost 80 years after he disappeared, Ascención Mendieta could finally give a proper burial to her father, murdered by the Franco regime. Ascención Mendieta brought her case to an Argentine judge in 2010. “This should never happen again,” 91-year-old Ascención Mendieta said when she could finally re-bury her father’s remains this past July 2, fulfilling a promise she had made to her mother many years ago. Timoteo Mendieta headed up the local socialist union in his small town near Guadalajara. He had been arrested in November 1939, shortly after Franco’s victory in the Spanish Civil War, when Ascención was only 13. Convicted of treason, he was shot and buried in a mass grave along with 27 others. He left a family with seven children. Ascención Mendieta is one of the family members of victims of Franco’s repression who brought her case to the Argentine judge María Servini in 2010, after exhausting all judicial possibilities for reparation in Spain. Invoking the principle of universal jurisdiction, Servini took the case and ordered the exhumation of Timoteo Mendieta’s body. It was the Association for the Recovery of Historical Memory (ARMH), recipient of the 2015 ALBA/Puffin Award for Human Rights Activism, which undertook the arduous task of locating the body and disinterment. An initial exhumation attempt in January 2016 failed to find Mendieta’s remains. But a second attempt in June was successful. A DNA test brought final confirmation. The conservative Spanish government has refused to finance the ARMH’s work, which is consequently only possible thanks to the support of volunteers and organizations such as
ALBA and the Puffin Foundation. Since Spanish journalist Emilio Silva created the ARMH in 2000, the Association and similar groups, assisted by the Basque forensic anthropologist Francisco Etxeberría, have opened more than 600 graves and recovered close to 8,000 victims. Yet the Mendieta exhumation is the first to take place in Spain at the orders of a court. Unlike other nations with histories of dictatorship, Spain’s transition to democracy included amnesty laws that covered all judicial accountability for political crimes committed since 1936. Not one regime official has ever faced trial and many of Franco’s victims remain buried in roadside ditches and other unmarked graves. An attempt by Judge Baltasar Garzón to investigate the bloody acts of repression by the Franco regime as crimes against humanity—which, under international law, would not be susceptible to amnesty—led to the judge’s disbarment in 2012. The reburial in July attracted massive attention from the media and drew a crowd of thousands. The coffin was draped in a Spanish Republican flag. Those present reminded the journalists that many Spanish families still await their chance to locate and re-bury their loved ones. Sebastiaan Faber teaches at Oberlin College.
Photo Óscar Rodríguez. 4 THE VOLUNTEER September 2017
Human Rights Column
Identitaries: The New Fascist Menace By Miquel Ramos
Europe is seeing a resurgence of hatred and intolerance. While the direct heirs to the Fascist and Nazi legacies have changed their rhetoric, extreme right-wing organizations formed mainly by young people are gaining ground. But they no longer make overt racist or supremacist claims. Instead, they call themselves identitaires.
Right-wing protest from the Spanish “Movimiento Social Republicano el 12 de Octubre,” March 2014. Photo Likiloko9991. CC BY-SA 3.0 Europe’s extreme right: Salvini (Lega Nord), Vilimsky (FPÖ), Le Pen (FN), Wilders (PVV), Annemans (VB). Brussels, European Parliament, May 28, 2014 Photo Laurens Cerulus. CC BY-NC-SA 2.0
ast April, ALBA presented its annual human rights award to Proactiva Open Arms, a courageous initiative of professional lifeguards who since 2016 have been dedicated to helping refugees who, fleeing the Wars in the Middle East and North Africa, are trying to reach Europe by crossing the Mediterranean. In the face of the passivity of European governments and the incessant stream of deaths at sea, great gestures like those of Proactiva—which have already saved thousands of lives—reveal the immoral and criminal drift of a so-called First World that spends more on border control than on refugee aid. Europe, like the USA, finds itself imprisoned by its worst and most atavistic fears—fears that we believed we had left behind forever. We’ve long been told that fascism had been defeated,
and assured that it would never return. Nothing is further from reality. In fact, we are witnessing a clear resurgence of hatred and intolerance. On the one hand, the parties that are the direct heirs to the Fascist and Nazi legacies have changed their rhetoric and aesthetics. They now present themselves as respectable democrats. They claim they are the only ones capable of confronting the elites, and of protecting the cultural essence of the West. And they are no longer marginal. In fact, they have come dangerously close to electoral victory, as we saw in France, Austria, and the Netherlands. September 2017 THE VOLUNTEER 5
The new ultras are taking cues from Left’s playbook, resorting to squatting and social action, organizing concerts and pulling off eye-catching stunts. On the other hand, the seeds sown more than 30 years ago by the French Nouvelle Droite (New Right) are bearing fruit today. Extreme right-wing organizations, formed mainly by young people, are gaining ground. They are a constant presence in the streets and in the media. Their main objective at present are the refugees. They use fear and terrorism to justify themselves. This new extreme right no longer claims to be racist or supremacist. Instead, they call themselves identitaires, generally translated into English as “identitarian movement.” As self-appointed guardians of Western national identities, their purported mission is to guarantee the survival of their own culture and the wellbeing of their fellow nationals in the face of external threats. The mantra may seem old, but this movement’s new forms of action are gaining support. Some 15 years ago, the Italian organization Casa Pound began to occupy abandoned buildings to provide shelter and food to disadvantaged Italian families, accusing the State of worrying more about immigrants than about their own nationals. This initiative was followed by the Greek neo-Nazi party Golden Dawn, which delivered food to Greek families when the crisis was at its worst, drowning the country in misery. These formulas came to Spain just over three years ago. Several groups of young neoNazis occupied buildings in Zaragoza and Madrid under the name Hogar Social (Social Home) and proceeded to copy the Italian and Greek models. All these projects use images that shy away from the old Nazi and Fascist symbols. And they have hit on a very effective new rhetoric: the language of national priority. They call their work “social aid for nationals” and declare themselves “guilty of helping our people.” No one is opposed to feeding the hungry. And many would agree that nationals should be taken care of first. Their message has caught on. Although they have not yet evolved into mass organizations, they are gaining ground on the left. The Left knows this, but it has trouble finding the formula to combat this form of hate speech with actions that actually help shift public opinion. The antifascist movement is busy wondering where it went wrong, and how to face a new extreme
right that is rapidly gaining hegemony. To make things worse, the new ultras are taking cues from Left’s playbook, resorting to squatting and social action, organizing concerts and pulling off eye-catching stunts—such as managing to hang a “Spaniards Welcome” banner off Madrid’s City Hall, in response to the city’s “Refugees Welcome” banner. And the media are helping them in their campaign. Many of these things may seem anecdotal or marginal. But the latest far-right initiative, this time coming from France, marks a dangerous step forward. Génération Identitaire, a neofascist group in the image and likeness of those previously described, has kicked off a fundraising campaign to charter a ship in the Mediterranean to prevent refugees from reaching Europe. They have already raised almost 100,000 euros. In May, they launched a boat to hinder the rescue efforts of Aquarius, the ship operated by the SOS Mediterranée, an NGO that, just like Open Arms, rescues refugees at sea. The propaganda of this French neo-fascist group has reached the United States as well: Two US Marines featured a banner with the organization’s symbol at a racist rally in North Carolina on May 20. Steve Bannon also recently interviewed the organization’s leader. Before that, in 2015, Richard Spencer and his Institute of National Policy organized the essay contest “Why I'm an Identitarian.” The danger of a neofascist resurgence in Europe and the United States is real. The rise of hate demands a response inspired by the solidarity and internationalism of the Lincoln Brigade. Organizations like Proactiva Open Arms, which are now forced to confront the new fascism head-on, deserve our full support. Miquel Ramos, an activist, musician, and journalist, writes on far-right movements and hate crimes for the Catalan newspaper Directa and other outlets. Translation by Sebastiaan Faber.
“Refugees Not Welcome” sticker on a traffic sign in Córdoba, Spain. Photo Rafael Robles. CC BY 2.0
6 THE VOLUNTEER September 2017
Heroes of the Pen By Alvah Bessie
Gabriel Peri and Lucien Sampaix, two veteran writers of the Parisian pre-war Communist newspaper Humanité, were among the 100 hostages shot in late 1941 at Mont Valerien Fortress just north of Paris as one of the three “punishments” inflicted on the Parisian population by General Otto von Stuelpnagel in reprisal for the repeated bombings. Lincoln vet Alvah Bessie reported on their deaths.
Alvah Bessie (Tamiment Library, NYU, 15th IB Photo Collection, Photo # 11-0176)
September 2017 THE VOLUNTEER 7
Bessie’s article in New Masses. Plaque at 24 Rue des Bois in Paris. Photo Oxxo, CC BY 3.0
Never—except in our time—has such widespread determination existed in every segment of the world’s population—determination to see that we are done with fascism forever.
Gabriel Peri and Lucien Sampaix. They died in Paris before a Nazi firing squad, but their words will never die. emember their names:
Who were these men? Peri, foreign editor of L’Humanité; member of the Chamber of Deputies, elected by his people; vice president of that Chamber’s Foreign Affairs Commission; contributor to this magazine. He was arrested in Paris (remember that), on May 21 of this year just past, in the home of a friend. This was long, long after the French Communist Party had been run underground by its own government. (Remember that he was arrested in Paris.) Lucien Sampaix, writer for L’Humanité and Ce Soir, the man who more than any other single individual was responsible for the exposure of Les Cagoulards—the French counterpart of our Ku KIux Klan, our Black Legion, our secret fascists and appeasers who sit in high places. General Weygand is a member of Les Cagoulards. Petain is such another. These are the men who sold out the great French nation to the Nazis. These facts tell nothing of these men. There are no words now that can tell anything of these men. Betrayed by their government that they tried to warn, they were handed over by their own government to their nation’s enemies, and done to death. They were not alone in their death; that day ninety-eight other innocent people went with them, as hundreds had gone before them. To “punish” the French people for resisting their oppressors, their enemies, their murderers! Never— except in our time—have words been put to such base usage. Never— except in our time—has such hatred been sown in the hearts of men. Never—except in our time—has such widespread determination existed in every segment of the world’s population—determination to see that we are done with fascism forever. These men were writers; they used their knowledge, their living words, in defense of their fellow men; they used their native language to defend the people everywhere against their enemy— fascism. Every writer feels their loss. Every honest human being, writer or reader, scholar or illiterate, will feel their loss, even though their names are still unknown to multitudes. In Spain we read their words, translated from French into our Spanish newspapers. We knew they were on guard for our liberties, our lives; for the lives and liberties of the Spanish people who were fighting. We knew they had counterparts all over the 8 THE VOLUNTEER September 2017
world who would not hesitate to speak out—day or night, and at peril of their very lives—in our interests, in the interests of those who work for a living all over the world. Honest writers are heroes; it has always been that way. And these men, these writers, these heroes, have lost their very lives because they did not hesitate to write the truth. That is a hard thing to swallow. That is a hard thing to forget. We will not forget it. For just as we know that the people’s writers are soldiers; that the courage of their pens Gabriel Peri should rival the courage of men’s guns everywhere men fight today for liberty—in the Philippines, in Libya and on the Eastern Front and inside Europe—so we have also learned something else. We know that just as there were hooded men in France who watched and bode their time, and read with fear each word that Gabriel Peri wrote, each word that Lucien Sampaix wrote; we know that in Great Britain, in America, all over, there are also hooded men who read our words with fear. Who wait. And you do not have to be a writer, either. Nor do you have to be a Communist. You have merely to be a democrat, a union man, a fighter—to fight with word or action against the secret fascists, against the hooded men, against the appeasers of the fascists and the outright traitors—to have them list your name. To have them deliver you, if they get the chance; into the hands of the people’s executioners. We cannot give them that chance. We will not give them the chance. The men on Wake Island knew that fact; they died for it. The men on Luzon, in Singapore, and around Bengazi and Orel—they know that fact. They fight with guns; we fight, at home, with words, with lathes and drop-hammers, with pennies, nickels, dimes. So that the hooded men do not frighten us, writers, “non-combatants,” civilians, any more than they frighten the people in Paris who hear the echoes of the firing squad. But we will not forget them. To Gabriel Peri, to Lucien Sampaix, writers, Frenchmen, democrats, and heroes of the people, we can say what we said in Spain. And say it now with even more conviction, with even more assurance: Compañeros—Salud! y Victoria! Alvah Bessie was an American novelist, journalist and screenwriter who fought in the Spanish Civil War and was later imprisoned and blacklisted as one of the “Hollywood Ten.” This article first appeared in the New Masses on January 6, 1942.
Forgotten Fighters: American Anarchist Volunteers in the Spanish Civil War By Kenyon Zimmer
Among the almost 3,000 foreign anarchists who fought in the Spanish Civil War, more than one hundred came from the United States. Their story has been almost entirely overlooked.
lthough much has been written on the Abraham Lincoln Battalion and the International Brigades (IB), one group of volunteer fighters in the Spanish Civil War has been almost entirely overlooked: the approximately 2,000-3,000 foreign anarchists who either joined Spanish militias or IB units. Of these, between 100 and 200 traveled to Spain from the United States, in many cases never to return. Their motives and experiences differed markedly from those of most other volunteers. They highlight the many-sided nature of the Spanish conflict as well as the transnational networks of the preWorld War II anarchist movement. By the 1930s, anarchism—an antiauthoritarian socialist movement that aimed to abolish both capitalism and the state—was in decline in much of the world, including the United States. In Spain, however, it was reaching its peak; at the outbreak of the civil war there were over a million members enrolled in the anarcho-syndicalist Confederación Nacional del Trabajo (CNT), the country’s largest labor confederation. When the Nationalists launched their attempted coup in July 1936, armed CNT militants led the resistance in Barcelona and other parts of the country. With the government and economy of Spain in chaos in the first months of the war, CNT members took over factories and farms and collectivized them under workers’ control, began producing for the war effort, and formed and manned militias to hold back the fascist tide. In Barcelona, Aragon, and elsewhere, the anarchists were in de facto control. They attempted to organize both the economy and the militias democratically and horizontally, in accordance with their ideals. To the CNT’s comrades abroad, it appeared that in the midst of civil war, Spain was also undergoing a genuine social revolution. Many declared the two enterprises
inseparable, arguing that the success of this revolution was the key to mobilizing the resources and morale necessary to defeat Franco’s forces. Anarchists in the United States and elsewhere rushed to aid the CNT in its fight against fascism and its advocacy of revolution—but emphatically not to defend Spain’s Popular Front government, which they viewed as at best incompetent, and at worst a threat to the revolutionary transformation underway. The dramatic events in Spain revitalized America’s moribund anarchist movement. American anarchism had always been a movement composed primarily of immigrants. It had declined since its turn-of-the-century heyday in the face of World War I, the postwar Red Scare, immigration restrictions, and the rise of Communism. Yet it still counted thousands of followers and supporters, organized around dozens of groups and multilingual newspapers scattered across the country. At the outset of the Spanish Civil War, many of these bodies came together to form the United Libertarian Organizations or ULO, with the aim of supporting the anarchists’ struggles in Spain. (The word “libertarian” had not yet been appropriated by right-wing free-market advocates.) In August 1936, the ULO launched the newspaper Spanish Revolution, with a circulation that soon reached 7,000 copies, in order to raise funds for and awareness of the CNT’s accomplishments. A “great libertarian revolution is in the making,” the paper wrote; “a revolution breaking with all precedents and charting a new course for humanity…The Spanish Revolution is rapidly assuming an international scope. Its battle front is extending to all parts of the world.” In the midst of the Great Depression, the ULO and similar anarchist initiatives raised over $100,000 for the CNT. They also attempted to help the Spanish anarchists obtain desperately-needed arms
in the face of the western powers’ “nonaggression” pact. The final shipment of armaments to leave the United States before the embargo on Spain went into effect was carried aboard the Mar Cantábrico, which set sail on January 6, 1937. Its cargo also included five returning Spanish anarchist immigrants. However, Franco’s navy captured the ship and executed the crew and the anarchists aboard. Another effort was undertaken by Bruno “l’americano” Bonturi, an Italian-born anarchist who had lived for many years in both the US and Spain. After serving in a CNT militia near Granada in the early weeks of the war, Bonturi was dispatched to New York in an unsuccessful attempt to obtain arms from the United States. Some anarchist sources, however, allude to small-scale operations that smuggled munitions from America through France. Meanwhile, dozens of anarchists smuggled themselves across the Atlantic and into Spain. My research has identified 37 by name, but sources indicate that they belonged to a larger group of between 100 and 200 volunteers. In Spain, they joined hundreds of other fighters drawn from the international anarchist movement. Precise numbers and rosters are difficult to establish, because these volunteers traveled in secret to avoid potential charges under the Neutrality Act or being barred from reentry to the United States. Moreover, many avoided the Communist-controlled International Brigades in favor of the CNT’s militias, about which scant records exist. Nevertheless, the number of volunteers was remarkable given the deteriorated state of most countries’ anarchist movements and the fact that the CNT itself discouraged foreign volunteers from joining the war, considering them more useful as advocates on its behalf in their home countries. The first foreign anarchist volunteers to arrive in Spain were Italian exiles in September 2017 THE VOLUNTEER 9
FROM TOP LEFT TO RIGHT: Patrick Read at Ambite, December 1927. Tamiment Library, NYU, 15th IB Photo Collection, Photo #11_0992. Brunto Bonturi (Italian State Archives.) Guerrino Fonda (Italian State Archives.) Maria Giaconi (Italian State Archives.)
France, who reached Barcelona within days of the Nationalist uprising and formed the Italian Section of the CNT’s Ascaso Column. Among them was 57-year-old Michele Centrone, a veteran of San Francisco’s anarchist scene prior to his deportation from the U.S. in 1920. Centrone was also one of the first foreign casualties of the Spanish Civil War, shot in the head during the Italian Section’s first engagement on August 28, 1936, at Monte Pelado. A eulogy written by a fellow volunteer and published in the Italian-American anarchist press noted that Centrone had not died in defense of the Spanish Republic but “had gone to Spain to fight for the Social Revolution.” Approximately 50 Italian-American anarchists followed Centrone’s lead, including both longtime U.S. residents and recent refugees from fascist Italy—many of the latter veterans of armed resistance to Mussolini. An unknown, but likely similar, number of Spanish immigrants, like those aboard the Mar Cantábrico, also returned to their country of origin (where they are virtually impossible to distinguish from other Spaniards in the extant records). Only perhaps two dozen of the “American” anarchist volunteers were native-born, and most belonged to the Industrial Workers of the World (IWW), a revolutionary labor union that held much in common with the CNT and, like anarchism in general, was much diminished from its World War I-era prime. Another IWW member, Irish immigrant Patrick Read, became renowned within the Abraham Lincoln Battalion for his bravery as head of its transmissions unit. Some of these volunteers arrived months before the International Brigades materialized, including Italian Americans who joined the Ascaso Column (Bruno Bonturi among them). Others joined the International Group of the anarchist Durruti Column, which took part in the defense of Madrid. Nineteen-year-old American-born anarchist Douglas Clark Stearns was recruited by a unit organized by the Independent Labour Party while attending preparatory school in England, and served in the same militia unit as writer George Orwell before transferring to the predominantly Italian Batallón de 10 THE VOLUNTEER September 2017
la Muerte (Battalion of Death) within the CNT’s Ascaso Column, and survived that unit’s annihilation on the Huesca front in June 1937. In the winter of 1937 a group of Italian and Spanish anarchists in New York State secretly began flight training in response to an appeal from the CNT for qualified pilots, but half of them departed for Spain before completing their lessons. Italian government informants also reported that Maria Giaconi, an active anarchist in the Italian mining community of Jessup, Pennsylvania, spent several months in Spain fighting with a militia, which would make her the only American woman known to have done so.
Despite their aversion to the Communists’ authoritarianism, other anarchists joined the International Brigades, whose recruitment was organized by the Communist International—often because doing so was their only way to get to Spain. At least five enrolled in the Abraham Lincoln Battalion, including Patrick Read and the Italian sailor Guerrino Fonda, who was among the first group of Lincoln volunteers to depart from New York in December 1936. Three American-born sailors identified as anarchists—Virgil Morris, Harry Owens, and Raymond Elvis Ticer, all of them IWW members— also signed on. Italian-American anarchists, by contrast, were more comfortable enrolling in the Italian-language Garibaldi Battalion, whose commander was not a Communist but rather a republican antifascist who maintained good rela-
tions with the anarchists in his unit. The Garibaldi Battalion also participated in the defense of Madrid, played a decisive role in defeating Italian forces supplied by Mussolini at the Battle of Guadalajara, and fought in the Battle of the Ebro, where Italian-American anarchist Alvaro Ghiara was decorated for bravery. In addition, anarchist sailor Giuseppe Esposito, who fled fascist Italy to the United States in 1925, served in an IB medical unit, and an unknown number of American anarchist women served as nurses on Spanish battlefields. In some regards these anarchists resembled the American volunteers of the Lincoln Battalion. Maritime workers— among whom anarchism and syndicalism still persisted in the 1930s—predominated among both groups, and workers employed in other forms of mobile or irregular labor were also well represented in both. But the preponderance of immigrants, including a number of antifascist exiles, among the anarchists stood in sharp contrast to the Lincoln Battalion, whose members were mostly Americanborn. The dominance of Italian and Spanish immigrants among the anarchists also diverged sharply from the demographics of the Lincolns, among whom children of Eastern European Jewish immigrants were overrepresented. Unsurprisingly, given the Communist Party’s success in attracting young radicals, the anarchists also skewed older; the average anarchist (among those who can be identified) was in his (or her) mid- to late 30s and several were in their 50s. By contrast, nearly a fifth of Lincoln Battalion volunteers were college students. The anarchists’ experiences in Spain also diverged significantly from those of other American volunteers. The militias that they preferred are often judged harshly by historians for their relative disorganization, lack of experience and discipline, and seeming excess of democracy: there was no officers’ hierarchy, no saluting, and troops elected their commanders and voted on what tactics to pursue (although once engaged in battle, militia members were expected to obey the orders of their elected leaders). This structure was incomprehensible to experienced military observers and carried with it a number
Only perhaps two dozen of the “American” anarchist volunteers were native-born, and most belonged to the Industrial Workers of the World. of deficiencies. But it also embodied the CNT’s ideals of equality, liberty, and collective decision-making from the bottom up, creating, as George Orwell observed in Homage to Catalonia, “a sort of temporary working model of the classless society.” And whatever their shortcomings, these militias were all that stood between Franco and victory for more than a year. It was anarchist-led militias that retook half of Aragon during the first days of the war in what was to prove one of the most successful counteroffensives of the entire conflict. After the Republican government reasserted itself and mandated the incorporation of the militias into the regular army, complete with a centralized command structure and military discipline, foreign anarchists were among its fiercest opponents, often threatening to withdraw from the front if subjected to the new system. Foreigners also tended to be the most vocally critical of the CNT’s controversial decision to officially enter the governments of Catalonia and Madrid, essentially abandoning its commitment to anti-statism for the sake of antifascist unity, protecting its revolutionary gains, and obtaining adequate arms for its troops. Most of the Ascaso Column’s 200 Italian members left the front in protest in April 1937—but only after agreeing to participate in an offensive operation in which nine of its members perished and 43 were wounded. Most were still willing to fight, but on their own terms. After reaching Barcelona, members of this group formed a new anarchist unit, the International Shock Battalion of the 26th Division (the former Durruti Column). Its members included Armando “Amerigo” Vecchietti, one of the would-be pilots from New York, who was killed in action in June 1937 near Teruel. During this group’s time in Barcelona, however, an armed conflict broke out within the Republican camp, in a series of events known as the May Days. Tensions between the anarchists and the Spanish Communist Party—which was growing in size and influence due to the Soviet Union’s aid to Republican Spain—had rapidly escalated during the first year of the war, while the government of
Catalonia moved to contain the CNT’s influence. When CNT members resisted a police effort to evict them from Barcelona’s telephone exchange, the untenable alliances of the Popular Front exploded into street fighting, during which foreign anarchists like Vecchietti manned the barricades in a desperate effort to “defend the revolution.” The commanders of the Garibaldi Battalion even refused orders to march on Barcelona to suppress the anarchists. Five days of violence left at least 400 dead and fatally undermined the CNT, whose representatives were expelled from office. In the wave of repression that followed, Republican Army troops began dissolving CNT collectives and thousands of alleged dissidents and provocateurs were arrested—some American volunteers among them, including Bruno Bonturi. The Spanish Revolution that had raised the hopes of anarchists abroad was no more. Echoes of this purge reached the International Brigades, where the May Days were blamed on fascist agents amongst the CNT and its “Trotskyite” allies. Patrick Read was expelled from the Lincoln Battalion for criticizing its Communist leadership, and Virgil Morris was repeatedly disciplined and imprisoned for his negative attitude toward Communist command and for attempting to desert. Unsubstantiated reports circulated in the United States that other anarchists in the Lincoln Battalion were executed or killed after being intentionally ordered into exposed positions. However, IWW member Raymond Elvis Ticer, a diehard anti-communist, was promoted to sergeant before being wounded at Quinto. Regardless, the tide of war had already turned against the Republic, and foreign anarchists began to leave Spain. Many were corralled into French refugee camps, later to be interned after the German occupation. At least three interned ItalianAmerican anarchists—Pietro Deiana, Alvaro Ghiara, and Armando Rodríguez— were sent to Nazi concentration camps in Eastern Europe, though all three survived until the end of World War II. However, Rodríguez had to flee from his Soviet liberators out of fear of facing the Gulag as an anarchist and made his way back to
Italy, whereas Deiana eventually made his way back to the United States. Others, however, were prevented from returning due to immigration statutes barring anarchists. These included Bruno “l’americano” Bonturi, who was detained by immigration authorities and eventually went to Chile before petitioning Mussolini’s government to be allowed to rejoin his wife and child in Italy. Guerrino Fonda, one of the first Lincoln Battalion volunteers, escaped French internment and stowed away on a ship to New York in 1939, only to be held at Ellis Island for six months before finding refuge in Argentina. A few others smuggled themselves back through Canada with the aid of fake Cuban passports supplied by comrades. But even those who made it back did not necessarily leave the Spanish battlefield behind; Batallón de la Muerte survivor Douglas Clark Stearns returned to New York in 1937, but suffered from depression and anxiety that culminated in suicide. The struggles and fates of the anarchist volunteers provide a unique perspective on the Spanish Civil War. They remind us that the conflict was never only about combatting fascism or protecting the Spanish Republic, and that its international context including transnational anarchist networks as well as the jockeying of the Soviet Union and other powers in the lead-up to World War II. The Spanish conflict proved to be the last great campaign of America’s diminished anarchist movement, which had seen its dreams of a new world begin to materialize, however fleetingly, in the fields of Aragon and factories of Barcelona, giving many of its members ample reason to risk their lives on foreign soil. Kenyon Zimmer is an Associate Professor of History at the University of Texas at Arlington and is author of “The Other Volunteers: American Anarchists and the Spanish Civil War, 1936-1939,” in the Journal for the Study of Radicalism (Fall 2016) and the book Immigrants against the State: Yiddish and Italian Anarchism in America (2015).
September 2017 THE VOLUNTEER 11
George Snook at an ALBA institute earlier this year. Photo Andrés Fernández Carrasco.
Faces of ALBA-VALB
George Snook Brooklyn History Teacher By Aaron Retish
ALBA’s NYC institute, spring 2017. George Snook (top row third from the right).
George Snook is an award-winning history teacher at the Packer Collegiate Institute in Brooklyn, New York. For over 25 years he has inspired his students to engage history by doing their own research. The Spanish Civil War and the experiences of the Abraham Lincoln Brigade play a central role in his classes. An alum of multiple ALBA institutes, Snook introduces his students to history and the Spanish Civil War using materials made available by ALBA and the Tamiment Library at New York University.
“I want my students to confront the past in a way that survey courses do not permit. History can and must provide students with tools to make sense of the world and influence its future.” Your family has a history fighting fascism. Could you please tell us about that? How did this historical experience shape your understanding of history? My father served as a medic in the 45th Division of the U.S. Army. In the spring of 1945, they liberated Dachau Concentration Camp. In 1962, to impress upon me the importance of vigilance and resistance to totalitarianism in any form, he took me to Dachau to see first hand the evidence of Nazi crimes against humanity. As a teacher of history, I want my students to confront the past in a way that survey courses do not permit. History can and must provide students with tools to make sense of the world and influence its future. How do you integrate the Spanish Civil War and the Lincoln Brigade into your curriculum? For two years the archives have served as the foundation of a second semester research project in Advanced Topics in European History. I wish students to develop the skills of historians— to compose papers drawn from the raw material of the past. To this end I devote six weeks of the course for students to dig into archives and compose research papers based on them. Handling and studying original documents and artifacts offers the student a unique opportunity to develop an idea that he or she can defend with reason and evidence. The Spanish Civil War is inherently interesting to students as the narratives of the volunteers raise questions about courage, sacrifice, and com12 THE VOLUNTEER September 2017
mitment to a cause. When the history is presented to students through contemporary letters, newsreels, newspaper articles, and posters, the desire to go deeper is immediate, sincere, and sustained. Working with archival materials allows the students to engage in a process of discovery. The documents prompt questions, and the search for answers drives the research. New York City students are particularly excited when they realize that so many of the young men and women hailed from familiar neighborhoods. You are known for getting your students to work their way through archival material. What materials do the students read? After spending several days on the political and social background of 1930’s Europe, students are introduced to the archives. Students can access most of what they need through ALBA’s website. They learn to navigate the database and explore the letters, posters, drawings, photographs, interviews, and links they require. Students also locate sources in the archives of newspapers and magazines, university collections, and scholarly publications. It is important that they consult lengthier works as well, so we have gathered a modest, but worthwhile collection of books on the Spanish Civil War that students may use. What have you gained from the ALBA teaching institute? How many institutes have you attended?
High school students from Bergen Academies explore the ALBA collection at NYU’s Tamiment Library. Photo Juan Salas
With little prompting, students connect the issues of the 1930’s to what they see and read every day. For too long history courses and textbooks have neglected the Spanish Civil War. Students find its themes—the clash of 20th century ideologies, the impact of war on civilians, resistance to authoritarianism, and the struggle for justice and democracy— compelling. In the past, I have used Orwell’s Homage to Catalonia to introduce students to the Spanish Civil War. When I attended my first ALBA teaching institute, I realized I could transform a modest unit of study into an archival research project. The two sessions I have attended have been an inspiration for much of the work I now do in the second semester. The sessions offer a variety of materials and approaches to the archives that have proven to be of enormous value in my work. What themes do you emphasize when you teach about the Spanish Civil War? Once the historical background is firm, I introduce the students to the archives. This year New York University archivists welcomed my students to the collection [at the Tamiment Library] and instructed the class in the use of finding aids. Pairs of students then selected a general topic to investigate from the following categories: 1. Writers and observers of the Spanish Civil War, 2. Men and women who served in the International Brigades, 3. The relationship of the war to civilians, and 4. The Spanish Civil War and the shaping of public opinion. From this starting point, students began their research and soon narrowed their focus according to their personal interests. Several chose to research African-Americans or women who served in the Brigade. Others were drawn to propaganda, how it was created, and how it works. Several chose to study the influence of journalists and writers on shaping American opinion and policy. I try to give students the tools and the materials, but want them to investigate what they find most interesting. How do your students relate to the themes of the Spanish Civil War? Students are drawn to thematic content that directly addresses issues of race, gender, human rights and social justice. With little prompting, students connect the issues of the 1930’s to what they see and read every day. They are eager to make sense of their world, and the records of the volunteers offer a window into how an earlier generation confronted challenges to freedom and justice. Learning directly from letters and photographs makes for especially powerful instruction. This year the connections were particularly vivid as Packer Collegiate Institute hosted an exhibition of photographs shot by Syrian children in Jordanian and Iraqi refugee camps. The students immediately saw parallels to the drawings done by Spanish children that they saw in the Ben Leiter collection and in They Still Draw Pictures. Two of my students helped curate the gallery show, and the class was eager to share their observations
with Dr. James Fernandez and Andrés Fernandez when they visited Packer and viewed the exhibit. You also have an oral history project for your students. The oral history project has become the culminating feature of my New York City history course. Since immigration and cultural diversity have shaped every neighborhood in the five boroughs from the 17th to the 21st centuries, I thought it appropriate that we study the interaction between natives and migrants in New York City today. I suppose living in the Lower East Side of Manhattan for 30 years and taking students on tours of countless immigrant enclaves prompted me to come up with this project. Students work in pairs, develop questionnaires, conduct two filmed interviews, and edit and submit them as their final work of the semester. Students must interview one migrant and one native New Yorker. It's fascinating to see how natives and migrants understand the city and its character in similar and different ways. Given the political climate today, I think it is especially important to recognize the contributions of new arrivals to the culture and fabric of the city. Students have interviewed neighbors from a wide variety of countries including Yemen, Russia, Italy, Mexico, Guyana, and Australia, to name a few. Fortunately, Packer boasts several excellent film classes, so some of my students incorporate camera angles, sound, and roll footage into their work quite effectively. By and large, I concentrate on the quality of their questions and how they draw out the stories that bring their subjects to life. My hope is to assign these interviews for as long as I continue to teach. I love how they collectively illustrate what is fundamental to the city's character. Aaron Retish teaches at Wayne State University.
September 2017 THE VOLUNTEER 13
KITCHEN TABLE HISTORY: IN SEARCH OF BEN BARSKY
By Daniel Czitrom
Ben Barsky had volunteered for Spain in 1937 and never returned. Why and how did he go? Why did the family never receive any notice of his death? And—perhaps most importantly and painfully—why has Ben’s life and sacrifice been such a taboo subject in the family for so many years? Daniel Czitrom explores the silences in his family’s “kitchen table history.”
Ben Barsky, c. 1935, before Spain. Photo Czitrom/Barsky family.
14 THE VOLUNTEER September 2017
Kitchen table history can feature silences and repressed memories that need to be probed.
n January 1968, while home in the Bronx from my freshman year at SUNY Binghamton, I took a walk with my father to browse at Bookmaster’s on the Grand Concourse, near Fordham Road, the biggest bookstore in our neighborhood. I came upon a copy of Arthur H. Landis’s newly published book, The Abraham Lincoln Brigade, a pioneering work of history that gave us the first comprehensive account of the American volunteers in Spain. I quickly turned to the Index, where I found multiple entries for two of my father’s cousins, Joe and Leo Mendelowitz (Gordon), both of whom were familiar, even celebrated, names in the historical literature. But it was another, brief Index item that took my breath away: Barsky, Ben, death, 543. Ben Barsky, my mother’s older brother, had volunteered for Spain in 1937 and never returned. The family never learned exactly what happened to him. Now, thirty years later, a diary entry by 19 year old Sam Nahman provided a brief eyewitness account of his death. Nahman recorded the futility of an attack by undermanned and heavily outgunned Republican forces, trying to take a Fascist held hill, nicknamed “the Pimple,” just outside the town of Gandesa. It was August 1, 1938: We should not have attacked. Company after company went into action there. It was futile. Rose was killed there and Ben Barsky and many others. The 88’s got three tanks in three minutes. The top of the Pimple was fortified. The base was too. It should have been shelled. One battery and we would have had it. Here, after three decades, was a partial story of what happened to my uncle. But it raised more questions than it answered. Why and how did Ben go to Spain? Why had the family never received any notice of his death from the U.S. government or anyone else? And, perhaps most importantly and painfully, why had Ben’s life and sacrifice been such a taboo subject in the family for so many years? I had to come to terms with the inherent tensions and difficulties presented by “kitchen table history.” All of us learn about the world and about the past through family conversations, stories, and informal accounts, which offer counter narratives to what we get in school or through the mass media. These were especially important growing up in a radical activist family. But kitchen table history can also feature deep silences and repressed memories that need to be probed and interrogated with other sources. In the nearly 50 years since I found that reference to Ben Barsky’s death I have struggled to flesh out his story and clarify exactly what happened to him. All along I have been haunted by what seemed like a conspiracy of silence around his life and death. After discovering the reference in the Landis book, my mother warned me several times: do not ask Grandma about Ben. I had to respect that, and until her death in 1980 I never heard her even mention Ben. At her funeral one of my aunts made a glancing ref-
erence to the loss of Grandma’s oldest son in “a doomed effort to stop the fascist murderers.” My mother Betty, 16 when Ben went to Spain, recalled beautiful letters he had written home; but no one knew what had happened to them. Ben’s older sister, Esther, an active Communist in the 1930s, apparently felt lifelong guilt over helping persuade him to volunteer. But she would never discuss her feelings. All anyone knew for sure was that he had never come back from Spain, and the family had never received any sort of confirmation, official or otherwise, as to his fate. After I became active in ALBA in the early 1980s, I sought out vets who might have known Ben. Several, like Abe Osheroff, recalled him, but only as a name and a face passing through. A common response was to ask if he was related to the famous Dr. Edward Barsky, head of the American Medical Bureau in Spain. (He was not.) It was very difficult to verify even the most basic information: when did he sail to Spain, what unit had he served with, how long had he been there before his death? A break came in 1989 when I learned that Lincoln vet Irving Weissman and his wife Freda had both known Ben well. Irv wrote that he had crossed the Atlantic with him, and he recalled long discussions with Ben about Ignazio Silone’s 1936 novel Bread and Wine, a stirring novel of anti-fascist resistance in Italy. They later trained together in Tarazona and then lost touch. “What I remember most distinctly,” Irv wrote 50 years after the fact, “is a song that Ben often sang, a Mexican revolutionary song. I remember that song to this day, and sometimes hum it to myself.” Dijo Emiliano Zapata, En las montañas sureñas El pueblo quiere la Tierra, No quiere estar pobrito. El pueblo quiere la Tierra, No quiere estar pobrito. But it was the poignant handwritten letter from Freda Weissman that gave me the fullest, most human sense of who Ben was. It’s worth quoting at length: It is hard to believe that it is over 50 years since I last saw Ben Barsky. We worked together in an effort to organize the white collar workers in Wall Street. We were a cell of the Communist Party composed of people who worked in and around Wall St. We were busy trying to form a union. We juggled Party cell offices among ourselves and as we were not a union yet, we just considered ourselves to be an Organizing Committee for a long time. We tried to recruit—both Party and Union. For the Union we issued leaflets and a little printed paper called ‘The Wall Street Forum,’ of which I was the editor for a while.
September 2017 THE VOLUNTEER 15
My mother warned me several times: do not ask Grandma about Ben. We were, of course, underground as far as Wall St. was concerned. Jobs didn’t grow on trees then, and we all needed the ones we had. To distribute leaflets we had an agreement with garment workers on 23rd St. We would distribute theirs (this was possible for us as their opening time was much earlier than ours), and they always had some unemployed to distribute ours. The Wall St. Forum was a small, printed periodical, called a ‘shop paper,’ which to us represented a lot of work and effort. Ben, I, and others worked on this paper. All positions and assignments were constantly being juggled around depending on time, energy, health, other obligations, etc. It was not easy to do all this after a day’s work. As you can tell, I remember Ben very well. He was what is known as a ‘pure soul.’ He was a very gentle, sweet and modest person—bright, dedicated, and extremely able. He was also very handsome. It is strange to be writing about him after all these years. I cared for Ben and, truth to tell, he is one of my treasured memories. It hardly sounds like someone ready to pick up a gun. Yet in the spring of 1937 Ben volunteered to join the Lincoln Battalion in Spain. The particulars of how he made the decision have never been clear; and details of his time in Spain have been largely non-existent. In this respect his story resembles that of hundreds of others. Path breaking research by ALBA Board member Chris Brooks, and Ray Hoff, son of vet Harold Hoff, has given us more textured pictures of the lives and experiences of hundreds of American volunteers. Their digging into the recently opened Russian State Archives of Socio-Political History (RGASPI), as well as a variety of recently digitized databases, such as Ancestry.com, has revealed new particulars about Ben Barsky. In addition, using State Department records and recent writings on the Ebro offensive in 1938, I was able to construct a fuller picture of his life and time in Spain. Still, many basic questions remain hazy.
He was the eldest son in a Jewish family living in the Russian shtetl of Lisianka, near Kiev. After spending two years with relatives in Woromin, Poland, near Warsaw, the family emigrated to New York in 1923. Szmul and Miriam Zabarski, 37 and 36 respectively, came through Ellis Island with five children, ages 11 to 1, including Benjamin, listed as 5 years old. They settled in the Bronx where they sold fish in a small store on E. 180th Street, and they eventually changed their name to Barsky. The parents were largely apolitical and deeply valued education. Ben graduated from James Monroe High School, then attended City College for a while. He became active in the Young Communist League in 1934 and then the Communist Party. But his birth year remains murky. In Spain his birth year was given as 1915; the 1930 Federal census listed him as age 14 (1916); the Ellis Island ship manifest had him as 5 (1917 or 18). We know for sure only that he was in his early 20s when he received his passport in April 1937. His ship, the American Importer, landed in Liverpool May 17, 1937. It was already under State Department surveillance. A British immigration officer quickly forwarded to the American Consulate in Liverpool a list of 28 Americans and 1 Cuban on board (including names, ages, and occupations) suspected of traveling to Spain as volunteers for the Republic. Ben was listed as age 22 and a student. As travel to Spain was illegal for Americans, the group was ostensibly on a holiday trip to France. The volunteers then sailed to Cherbourg, France and, with the help of local supporters of the Spanish Republic, made the arduous trip to the Pyrenees and then crossed into Spain. In Tarazona Ben trained with the Mackenzie-Papineau Battalion, the Canadian unit that included many American volunteers. He then served as a Cabo (corporal) and later acting Teniente (Lieutenant) in some of the worst fighting of the war. On July 24, 1938 Ben crossed the Ebro with the Mac-Paps, the troops making their way in rowboats, rafts, almost anything that would float. They were part of the campaign to stop the Fascist drive on the Republican capital of Valencia, aimed at cutting the Republic in half. Republican forces quickly managed to open a 50km Ben Barsky’s Spanish death certificate. Barksy’s U.S. death certificate.
16 THE VOLUNTEER September 2017
Bodies lay strewn all over hillsides and the wilting heat soon produced a ghastly stench. front armed mainly with rifles, machine guns, and grenades. The Mac-Paps, fighting with British and Spanish battalions, took the town of Asco, capturing prisoners and weapons. They moved into the town of Corbera, deserted after intense Fascist bombing, and were then deployed on the Gandesa-Corbera road toward Gandesa. In response to the initial Republican advance, General Franco ordered a devastating counterattack, rushing to the front fresh troops, massive amounts of artillery, and the latest weaponry from Germany. The Fascist advantage in weapons, a decisive factor throughout the war, was never more evident and frightening. German Messerschmidts and Stukka dive bombers hammered Loyalist forces, and powerful new German 88 mm guns easily destroyed the few Russian tanks supporting Republican troops, a bloody preview of WW II. As Republican forces moved to take Gandesa, a vanguard of Mac-Paps got within a couple of hundred meters of the strategic town before heavy fire forced them to withdraw. To get at Gandesa, Republican troops would need to take out heavily fortified Fascist forces controlling Hill 481, “the Pimple,” overlooking the town just to the east. The men now dug in as best they could on the slopes and barancas surrounding the town, scraping the rocky soil and piling up stones for cover. There was little real protection from the continual pounding of Fascist planes, mortars, and heavy artillery. On July 27 the British began a series of murderous assaults up the slopes of Hill 481, but they were repulsed by ferocious artillery and aerial bombardment. Bodies lay strewn all over hillsides and the wilting heat soon produced a ghastly stench. By July 30, of the 558 British volunteers who crossed the Ebro, only 150 remained. On August 1 the MacPaps relieved the badly mauled British, attempting once more to take the Pimple. It was here, amidst the stink of rotting corpses, screaming artillery shells, and punishing machine gun fire that Ben Barsky lost his life. Hill 481 was never taken. Recently, Chris Brooks found Ben’s Spanish death certificate in the Russian archives. And on Ancestry.com, of all places, I found a letter from the American Consulate in Barcelona, dated January
11, 1939, acknowledging that death certificate (see illustration). None of these letters, or the information they contained, ever made it to the family. There is some ambiguity on the actual date of his death. It is possible that he was wounded and died later, but Sam Nahman’s eyewitness account puts the date as August 1, 1938. Ben Barsky, the long-lost uncle who has haunted me and my family for so long, has been dead for nearly 80 years. I’ve managed to fill in some pieces of the puzzle, but the sense of loss, the unresolved grief of the family, the pain of a young life cut short, still sting. Alvah Bessie’s Men in Battle, first published in 1939, remains one of the best accounts of the trench level, human experiences of American volunteers in Spain. Bessie, who took part in the Ebro campaign, includes his own thoughts on the profound question of why— what motivated men like Ben Barsky, the “pure soul” in Freda Weissman’s words, to put his life on the line against such long odds? These men behind these fragile rocks, these men whose tender flesh is torn to pieces by the hot and ragged steel; they could not accept their death with such good grace if they did not love so deeply and so well—were not determined that love must come alive into the world. What other reason could there be for dying? What other reason for this blood upon your hands? History is what hurts, perhaps most deeply when it is shared over the kitchen table. Silences, repressed memories, and unwillingness to talk are ways to manage pain. We can no longer tap the memories of the vets who made it home, and their generational circle is rapidly fading. But we have new tools and sources to build upon kitchen table history, allowing us to complicate it, deepen it, and understand its enduring connections to the present. Daniel Czitrom is a Board Chair Emeritus of ALBA and Professor of History at Mount Holyoke College. He can be reached at dczitrom@ mtholyoke.edu Ben Barsky in Spain, December 1937. September 2017 THE VOLUNTEER 17
Jewish Volunteers in the International Brigades: What Drove Them? By Gerben Zaagsma Dombrowski Batallion swearing allegiance to the Republic before the withdrawal of the International Brigades, 1938. Photo Zofia Szleyen. Public domain.
The tens of thousands of volunteers who joined the International Brigades in the Spanish Civil War included a relatively high percentage of men and women of Jewish descent. But can we say that these volunteers were driven by a specifically Jewish motivation to fight fascism in Spain? Or did their presence simply reflect the relatively large number of Jews active in the Socialist and Communist movements in certain countries at the time? And if the latter is the case, what explains the creation of the Naftali Botwin Company—a Jewish military unit within the Polish Dombrowski Brigade that was founded in December 1937 upon instigation of Jewish communists in Paris, most of them migrants from Poland?
any writings on Jewish volunteers in Spain not only emphasize their high number in the International Brigades but use the Holocaust as the main prism to explain their participation. Since many in the brigades had not only come to Spain to fight Franco but also his fascist allies Hitler and Mussolini, the struggle of volunteers of Jewish descent is often presented as the first act of Jewish resistance against fascism, fascist anti-Semitism and, ultimately, against the Nazi extermination policy that culminated in the Holocaust. Against the background of post-Holocaust debates about wartime Jewish responses and behavior, much of the literature inscribes the partici-
18 THE VOLUNTEER September 2017
pation of Jewish volunteers in the brigades in a larger resistance narrative. The main purpose of this narrative is to counter the myth of Jewish passivity in the face of the Nazi onslaught. The postwar memory of Jewish volunteers in Spain, in other words, was decisively shaped by the Holocaust. But how did Jewishness and Jewish concerns matter during the Spanish Civil War? Why was the Botwin Company actually created? And what does it mean to speak about “Jewish volunteers” to begin with? In my research, I purposely use this phrase to refer to all volunteers who were born Jewish,
The Botwins’ bulletin.
Inscribing the participation of Jewish volunteers in the brigades in a larger resistance narrative helps counter the myth of Jewish passivity in the face of the Nazi onslaught.
without assuming that their Jewishness carried over into the motivation with which they fought in Spain —or indeed, that a particular level of Jewish consciousness underpinned their participation. In fact, for many of the Jewish volunteers this was not the case; theirs was an ideological, not an ethnic, choice. The history of the Botwin Company should be seen within the context of Jewish participation in the Communist and Socialist movements, particularly the activities of Jewish migrant communists in Paris in the interwar period. Given the important role that the Brigades played in the Comintern’s campaign for the Popular Front, propaganda was an important factor for the company’s formation. A Jewish military unit facilitated support campaigns for Spain among Jewish migrants in France, for example. Yet there was another crucial reason for the company’s creation: the existence of anti-Semitic stereotypes about “Jewish cowardice.” These stereotypes had a long history and were grounded, among other things, in allegations of Jewish draft evasion. Against the background of nationality politics within the brigades and the occurrence of anti-Semitism within its ranks, concerns about Jewish/non-Jewish relations played a central role in the company’s formation. Created within the Polish Dombrowski Brigade, the Botwin Company served to emancipate Jewish volunteers as worthy soldiers, equal to their Polish comrades in arms, just as Jewish soldiership in general had always been linked to the project of emancipation. It’s true that we can’t speak of a specific category of Jewish volunteers within the International Brigades, motivated by distinct Jewish concerns and animated by a clear Jewish consciousness. Nonetheless, we can’t understand their experiences, during or after the Spanish Civil War, without
addressing the two great myths that have loomed so large over their participation and legacy: that of Jewish cowardice, and that of Jewish passivity during the Holocaust. Spain might not have been the place where a singular category of Jewish volunteers fought a battle against the future murderers of their people; but it was the site where they fought one of the classic anti-Semitic stereotypes of the 19th and 20th centuries: that of the Jew as a coward. The example of the Botwin Company shows that Spain became a battleground to achieve inclusion and emancipation. In that sense, the experiences of Jewish volunteers, whether they were self-consciously Jewish or not, constitute one of the many chapters in the ongoing project of Jewish modernity as it unfolded from the late 18th century onwards. Gerben Zaagsma (http://gerbenzaagsma.org) is a senior researcher at the Centre for Contemporary and Digital History (C²DH) of the University of Luxembourg. His Jewish Volunteers, the International Brigades and the Spanish Civil War was published earlier this year by Bloomsbury Academic.
Family Members Help Expand ALBA Collection at NYU By By Timothy V. Johnson
We know where and when the ALB vets were born, their political affiliations, which battles they fought in, and when they died. For too many Abraham Lincoln Brigade vets, this is all the information we have. In Samuel Waitzman’s case, that all changed with an email. (cont. next page) September 2017 THE VOLUNTEER 19
(cont. from page 19)
Family Members Help Expand ALBA Collection at NYU The database entry for the Lincoln volunteer Samuel Waitzman reads: Waitzman, Samuel. b. February 19, 1911, NYC, Jewish, Attended City of College of New York, Single, Journalist, (YCL & CP 1931) CP November 1935, u. org., Received passport# 36840 February 20, 1937 which listed his address as 680 East 140th Street, Bronx, New York and 600 East 139th Street, NYC (47 W. 87th Street, NYC), Sailed March 18, 1937, Normandie, Arrived in Spain on March 28, 1937, Served with the XV BDE, Washington BN; BDE Transport; 35th Division Sanidad; XV BDE, Sanidad, last unit British BN, rank Soldado; Served at Brunete, Quinto, Belchite, Fuentes del Ebro, Teruel, Seguro de los Baños, Retreats and Ebro Offensive; WIA July 28, 1937; Returned to the US on December 20, 1938 aboard the Ausonia, d. January 1982, New Jersey. In the Tamiment ALB Archives there is one picture of Samuel Waitzman and a file for him in the collection of complaints of discrimination filed by ALB vets against the U.S. military during World War II. We know where and when the ALB vets were born, often their political affiliations, which battles they fought in, and when they died. For too many Abraham Lincoln Brigade vets, this is all the information we have. What we don't often know is how they coped in Spain — with the violence, rugged conditions, displacement from their families. We have some information on these issues, but they are mostly based on reflections years after their service. In Samuel Waitzman’s case, that all changed with an email. On April 3, 2017, I received an email from Norman Waitzman, Samuel’s son. He wrote: My father, Samuel Waitzman (1911-1982) fought in Spain as a member of the Abraham Lincoln Brigade, arriving in April of 1937, I believe, and departing in December, 1938. He was a writer. He wrote extensive diaries in Spain, including some poetry and additional letters that we have in our possession. I think these are important historical documents, and I was wondering if you might be interested in archiving them in the Tamiment Collection? Briefly, the handwritten diaries span from March 1937 to October 1938 (with specific dates included on entries). In total there are about 600 pages (about 5''x3'' — some a little larger) with about 200-400 words on each page (these have all been scanned). There are also 55 pages of letters that have been scanned. Several entries bear on specific battles in the war, including Albacete and Valencia. They include descriptions of day to day life in Spain, interactions with locals, conversations on politics, some poems, song lyr20 THE VOLUNTEER September 2017
ics and sketches, and some intermittent Spanish phrases. I, along with my siblings and my daughter, will be visiting NYC (incidentally Sam’s birthplace as well as my own and two of my siblings) on Friday 5/12, and I would like to discuss with a curator or other relevant official connected with the Collection, the diaries and letters and whether the Library has an interest in being the repository for them. Please reply at your earliest convenience as to whether we can arrange for a meeting. The Waitzman family (Norman, his brother David and his wife Marcia, his sisters Deborah and Mimi, and Norman’s daughter, Emma) presented these documents to Tamiment on May 12. Emma is interested in her grandfather’s writings and has been transcribing them. She read an excerpt from Samuel’s poetry written in October 1937 in Albacete: Tune of Holy thy Holy Waiting, waiting, waiting Always fuckin’ well waiting Waiting in the morning Waiting in the night Waiting waiting waiting Always fuckin’ well waiting God bless the day when we’ll Fuckin well wait no more She also read from a more introspective diary entry: Had an argument with someone about […] despised persons who died like heroes, committing acts of personal bravery to compensate for long periods of bad management – […] it is demagogue, apolitical […] not working together with fellowmen – that alas was their error afore then – why then should we honor the biggest and final error and raise it to a noble deed – when such courage is itself a declaration of contempt for collective effort? I was accused of criticizing too finely – splitting hairs – where are we to get other leaders –where the working class should, has, and must get theirs from – the masses throws* up leaders –develops them. A leader is one who can direct his following according to situations, with kindness, understanding + sincerity, regardless [of ] pastime. Portions of Samuel Waitzman’s illuminating collection will be on display in Tamiment on Saturday, September 9, 2017, along with other recent additions to the ALB archive, including a recently acquired stretcher (the only one known in existence) that was used by the ALB. Timothy V. Johnson is head of the Tamiment Library and an ALBA Board member.
No Pasarán: Writings from the Spanish Civil War. Edited by Pete Ayrton. London/New York: Pegasus Books, 2016. 393pp. Reviewed by George Esenwein
ince 1936, the cry ¡No Pasarán! (first used by the French during World War I) has come to symbolize the will of the Spanish people to stand up to enemies of freedom and democratic rule. This collection of writings assembled by Pete Ayrton reflects the multiple perspectives that Spaniards and foreigners alike held at the time and since. And while the title is somewhat misleading—some of the viewpoints expressed were written years after the civil war ended—this book offers a diverse and representative array of perspectives on Spain’s epic conflict. Of the numerous literary collections in English published on the Spanish Civil War, few have included translations of Spanish writers, participants, and intellectuals who bore witness to events as they unfolded on both the Republican and Nationalist sides. Those which have—the excellent anthologies of Robert Payne (The Civil War in Spain, 1961) and Alun Kenwood (The Spanish Civil War: A Cultural and Historical Reader, 1993), for example—are either out of print or aimed at a specialized audience. In fact, one of Ayrton’s stated goals in publishing this anthology is to introduce to a largely Anglophone audience the voices of Spaniards who either directly experienced the war or whose lives under Franco’s rule were shaped by it. To help those unfamiliar with the contours of the civil war’s historical landscape, Ayrton has provided a useful outline of the major themes covered by the selected authors. Chapters devoted to the war at the front and in the countryside are not just about the battlefield experience of foot soldiers on both sides of the struggle. The excerpted essay (The Moors Return to Spain) by the Republican journalist Manuel Chaves Nogales, for example, provides an unvarnished portrait of the bloody fate of Moorish militiamen who were used as shock troops by the Nationalist army. Though this vivid account is replete with racial stereotypes regarding the character of the Moors—their alleged rapacious appetite for bloodletting and abusing their vanquished opponents—it offers a window into a little-known dimension of the war. Such selections illustrate a point the author raises in his introduction: The International Brigades were not the only foreigners who fought in Spain. The reader
comes away with a clear impression of how the Moors understood their role as jihadists fighting against the godless “reds”, as well as how their enemies on the left viewed them. Other themes include writings relating to the Republicans’ assault against the Catholic Church, the impact of bombing on the civilian population, and the role of women in the war. The scope of these chapters underscores the fact that the issues raised by the civil war cannot be explained simply in terms of good and bad. In a refreshing change from previous anthologies, the author has included right-wing writers like Drieu la Rochelle, whose provocative essays show why the European right outside of Spain chose to view the Spanish conflict as a harbinger of the final showdown in Europe’s politically polarized cultural wars. Yet for all his efforts to sketch the features of a complicated event, the author missed the opportunity to fill in some of the glaring gaps in our understanding of the civil war and the popular revolution it triggered on the Republican side. For example, there is little about the experiences of the hundreds of thousands of Spaniards who attempted to use the war as a stepping-stone for a revolutionary restructuring of Spanish society. In Ayrton’s defense, this oversight might be due to the fact that eyewitness accounts of this highly dramatic and often bewildering phase of the civil war have appeared in English (Franz Borkenau and George Orwell) or in translation in books published since 1936. Similarly, in this collection readers are given only glimpses of the “red” terror (Gironella) and attempts by the extremists to impose their revolutionary agenda (“A Proletarian Bullfight” and “Of Love and Marriage”) as the old order began to unravel in the wake of the July military rising. While this anthology is weighted towards a Spanish perspective, another strength is that Ayrton has not ignored observations of the diverse group of foreigners who visited Spain during the war. Journalists and celebrity writers often had more privileged access to events than the average Spaniard, and their accounts offer insights not only into the larger picture behind the lines but also of the mundanities of everyday life. The African-American writer Langston Hughes’s tongue-in-cheek account of how madrileños reacted to an artillery shelling while they were watching the American film Terror in Chicago is a case in point. Rather than seek shelter from incoming shells, the audience displayed an unexpected yet quintessentially Spanish kind of wartime resiliency: Suddenly an obús [shell] fell in the street outside. There was a tremendous detonation, but nobody moved from his seat. … Soon another fell, nearer and louder than before, shaking the whole building. The manager went out into the lobby. … Overhead he heard the whine of shells … he thought it best to stop the picture. Before he got the words out of his mouth he was greeted with such hissing and booing and calls for the show to go on that he shrugged his shoulders in resignation and signaled the operator to continue. Among the legacies of Spain’s tragic war are the remarkable literary and cultural works that were produced during the conflict and afterward. Ayrton has provided an engaging and diverse sampling of those writings. George Esenwein is an Associate Professor of History at the University of Florida, Gainesville. He is the author most recently of The Spanish Civil War: A Modern Tragedy (2005).
September 2017 THE VOLUNTEER 21
BOARD OF GOVERNORS
Fraser Ottanelli, Chair Peter N. Carroll, Chair Emeritus Dan Czitrom, Chair Emeritus Sebastiaan Faber, Chair Emeritus James D. Fernandez, Vice-Chair Gina Herrmann, Vice-Chair Ellyn Polshek, Vice-Chair Joan Levenson-Cohen, Treasurer Aaron Retish, Secretary Kate Doyle Anthony L. Geist Jo Labanyi
John Brickman Christopher Brooks Robert Coale Burton Cohen Angela Giral Peter Glazer Jeanne Houck Tim Johnson Peter Miller Josephine Nelson-Yurek Julia Newman Nancy Wallach Nancy Yanofsky
HONORARY BOARD Larry Cox Baltasar Garzón Adam Hochschild Joyce Horman Gabriel Jackson Robin D.G. Kelley Howard Lurie Judy Montell Antonio Muñoz Molina John Sayles James Skillman Bryan Stevenson
MARCH AGAINST FASCISM IN SOLIDARITY WITH CHARLOTTESVILLE Union Square, August 13th
22 THE VOLUNTEER September 2017
MORE WAYS TO MAKE ALBA THRIVE! CONSIDER MEMBERSHIP IN THE JARAMA SOCIETY Remember ALBA in your will and help secure the long-term future of ALBA for generations to come. There are many ways to give a planned gift to ALBA. HONOR A FRIEND Contributions may be made to ALBA in honor or in memory of a loved one. An acknowledgment card is sent to the person or family in whose name the gift is made. GIVE A MATCHING GIFT Many corporations match charitable contributions making your gift even more meaningful. Please send your matching gift form with your contribution. When combined, your gift could advance you to the next level. STRETCH YOUR GIFT WITH THE MONTHLY PLEDGE PROGRAM Ensure more of your money goes to our mission by lowering costs and supporting our cause without a big one-time hit to your wallet. How does it work? Simply decide on an amount you would like to give monthly or quarterly and mail the enclosed envelope checking the recurring box donation. Your donation will be transferred automatically and will appear or your credit card statement. It’s easy and ensures your donation is put to good work as efficiently as possible and you can cancel any time. If you have additional questions or would like to discuss your choices, please contact executive director Marina Garde at 212 674 5398 or email firstname.lastname@example.org. All inquires are kept in the strictest confidence.
CONTRIBUTIONS RECEIVED FROM 5/1/2017 TO 7/31/17 Benefactor ($5,000 and over)
Estate of Meyer S. Gunther • Estate of Mark Levinson • James & Ellyn Polshek • Puffin Foundation Ltd.
Ruth & Jacob Epstein Foundation • Hila & Gerry Feil in memory of Steve Nelson
Andrew Griffin • Fraser Ottanelli • Abby Rockefeller • The Stolyavitch Fund
Jorgia Bordofsky in memory of Joseph Siegel • Wendyn Cadden in honor of Joseph Cadden • Rachel Cummins • Jeff & Bunny Rosmarin Dell in memory of Joseph Rosmarin, a pilot in Spain • Thomas C. Doerner, M.D. • Bernard Feldstein in memory of Abe Feldstein • Noel & Cathy Folsom • Lola Gellman in memory of Isaiah Gellman • Bert & Esther Glassberg in memory of Samuel Gonshak • Edward & Priscilla Goldson • Laura Goyanes • David S. Klein • Nancy Kline Piore • John Lamperti • Vickie Wellman & Ian MacGregor • Arnold Miller • Michael J. Organek • Paypal Charitable Giving Fund • Seymour Schwartz in memory of Zorya Saltzman Schwartz • Marc Shanker • John Wilborn • D. Gareth & Barbara K. Wootton
Everett Aison in memory of Irving Fajans • Judy Ann Alberti • Mark Alper in memory of Marcus Mordechai Alper, VALB • Anthony S. Alpert, Esq. in honor of Victor Strukl • AmazonSmile Foundation • Karen Anliker • Anonymous • Ellen Antler • John August • Elaine Babian • Eugene & Evelyn Baron in memory of Saul Wellman • Judith McCombs & Ernst Benjamin in memory of Saul Wellman • Judith & Cyrus Berlowitz • Christopher Bigler in memory of Shirley Storm Bigler • Araceli Bose • Bonnie Bramble in memory of Bill Bailey • Edward Bronson • Tibby Brooks • Paul Bundy • Gil Cividanes • Frank Cloak • Douglas & Rosemary Corbin • Barbara Dane • Kevin & Nancy Devine • S. Leonard DiDonato • Howard Ehrlickman • Rocío Escobar Hernandez • Sebastiaan Faber • Peter Falion in honor of Paul Wentworth, Brigade volunteer, 1938 • James Fernandez • Carolyn Fershtman in memory of Solomon Rosenblum • Saul Finestone • Roberta Friedman • Victor Fuentes • Alex Gabriles • Marina Garde • Anthony Geist • Mark Ginsburg • Ricki Greenblatt • Richard Grossman • Margaret Gullette • Andrew Haimowitz • Richard W. Hannon • Margaret Hartman • Joan Intrator • Gabriel Jackson • Frederick Johnson • Marvin Kabakoff • John L. Kailin • Herschel Kanter • Doris Katzen in memory of Herb Katzen • Karel Kilimnik • Ethel & Keith Kirk in memory of Hilda Roberts • Lawrence Klein • Marilyn Koral • Frederic La Croix • Elliott Lehem • Eric Lessinger • Lewis Maggiora • Nanette McGuinness • Andrew W. McKibben • Ruth Misheloff • Michael Munoz • Ann M. Niederkorn • Celia Novis • Michael O’Connor • Nicholas Orchard • Ann & Vittorio Ottanelli • Reid Palmer • Rob Pan • Theodore Pearson • Louise Popkin • Nieves & Manuel Pousada • Richard S. Pressman • Edward J. & Gynis Pulia • Michael Quigley • Jules Rensch • Robert Resnik • Mona Roberts • Bill Roller • Constancia Romilly • Josie Yanguas & Carl Rosen • Miki Rosen • Jean Ross • Kathleen Rugg • Richard Ryder in memory of William J. Hughes • J.E. Scheiner • Herman Schmidt • Kraig Schwartz • Douglas & Karen Seidman in memory of Elkan Wendkos • Katherine & William Sloan • Pauline M. Sloan • Brian Smith • David Strom in memory of Seymour Faber • Peter Taylor in memory of Ann S. Blum • Ada Wallach in memory of Harry Wallach • Nancy Wallach • Mary Wentworth • Robert H. & Lois Whealey in memory of the 81st anniversary of the outbreak of the Spanish Civil War • Frank Woodman • James Woolery • Josephine & Henry Yurek • Leonard & Ellen Zablow
September 2017 THE VOLUNTEER 23
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 Viva la Quince Brigada | Venga Jaleo | L’Internationale | Song of the United Front | No Pasarán | Si Me Quieres Escribir | Peat Bog Soldiers | Freiheit | Los Cuatro Generales | A Las Barricadas 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
ALBUM RELEASE Joe’s Pub, NYC. October 4, 2017