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Fred Schofs
Willi Remmel
  Harry Fisher  was one of about 2,800 U.S. volunteers who went to fight in the International Brigades during the Spanish Civil War.
The commitment they made there keeps inspiring and encouraging people around the world to continue the good fight for a better world, peace, and justice.
62nd Anniversary

Blood that sings beyond the frontiers

Speech given by Juan María Gómez Ortiz, member of A.D.A.B.I.C. (Associació d’Amics de les Brigades Internacionals a Catalunya) to commemorate the 62nd anniversary of the farewell for the International Brigades.» Barcelona, 28th October, 2000.

Translation to English by Cherry Embury and Jane Larson, members of A.D.A.B.I.C.

Origins and formation

With the first news of the military rising, Mundo Obrero of the 18th July 1936 published a call to all workers and anti-fascists to defend the Republic. On the same day, Dolores Ibárruri «Pasionaria» was broadcast, calling to the people of «Catalonia, the Basque country and Galicia and to all Spaniards to rise in defence of democratic liberty and conquests.» This call would soon cross the frontiers of Spain, reaching the most remote corners of the world and would receive a reply which, by its quantity and quality, would prove to be the greatest epopee of international solidarity that humanity has ever known.

Between 35.000 and 45.000 men and women from 53 countries responded to the call, a third of whom would shed their life’s blood in Spain. Why such a massive and generous response? Primarily because the Spanish Republic, since its origin on 14th April 1931, had awoken much sympathy between workers, democrats, and anti-fascists all over the world. The Agrarian reform, the vote for women, the halt to «caciques» and reactionaries, the boost to education, aid for the unemployed, all of which had brought to a head at a time of world economic crisis of great intensity -later known as the Depression of the 30’s- all these were to the humanitarian and progressive credit of the Republican regime. The victory of the Popular Front in the elections of 16th February 1936, which meant a political amnesty for thousands of prisoners who had been incarcerated since the Asturian Rising in the autumn of 1934, was also received with enthusiasm in a Europe which, since the 20’s had seen the risen of fascism and dictatorships.

Since the coming to power of the nazis in Germany at the end of January 1933, the world had witnessed dozens of growing abuses; the burning of the Reichstag, the detentions of congressmen and trade unionists, the establishment of internment camps, such as Dachau on the outskirts of Munich, the promulgation of the racists laws of Nuremberg and the systematic persecution of Jews plus the growing attitude of superiority in international politics were all viewed with preoccupation and alarm by democratic powers. The Japanese in Manchuria, the Italians in Ethiopia and now the Nazis, re-arming and establishing themselves in a racist, police state. Meanwhile, what were the democrats doing? Practising what could be called «pacific politics», which the mass of workers and democrats perceived as timorous concessions to the dictators.

Thus when Spain presented what was clearly a fighting front against world fascism –for it soon became apparent that Franco was a pawn and not only the Spanish oligarchy but the Berlin-Rome Axis which supplied men and material from the outset– the antifascists of the world understood that it was time to stop in their tracks those who wished to assassinate liberty in Europe and the world.

In the summer of 1936, Paris was converted into the principal refuge for political exiles from central and Eastern Europe. Democrats, anarchists, socialists, communists, tradeunionists, Jews –all had arrived in the French capital, fleeing Nazi barbarity. Some of these men and women were to come to Barcelona to participate in the Popular Olympics, under the honorary presidency of the President of the Generalitat, Lluís Companys i Jover. These has been devised as the counterpoint to the Olympic Games in Berlin, about to take place and which had been planned as a publicity platform for its regime, by the Nazi hierarchy.

In Barcelona all was prepared to receive the anti-fascist athletes, the games were to be opened on Sunday 19th with a series of cultural and sporting events. Many of these men and women, instead of competing in the stadium, would be caught up in the fight, such as the Italians Fernando Rosa (socialist, killed on the Guadarrama front in September) or Nino Nanetti, communist who joined the Octubre Column. That same Sunday 19th of July, the Austrian athlete Mechter was killed, the first International killed in Spain. Jews figured amongst the first anti-fascists volunteers. The Spanish Republic had opened its doors to welcome Jews and in 1935 had received 2000 of them. The Thälmann group was organised in Barcelona, made up of Jewish refugees, including women volunteers, and led by Max Friedeman, one of the first to join the fight. This group was the embryo of the Thälmann Column whose members by August they were already fighting in the Tardienta sector. Ernst Thälmann was the secretary of the German Communist party imprisoned since March 1933 in Alxanderplatz prison in Berlin, to be later sacrificed in Buchenwald, 18th August 1944.

Hans Beimler, communist ex-congressman in Reichstag escaped from Dachau after a particularly brave adventure and on arriving in Spain, took immediate political charge of the German combatants, on the sector of the road to La Coruña, 1st December.

From the first days of the conflict there was a constant flow of Frenchmen, Belgian, British and others, across the Pyrenees. The English Felicia Browne, killed on the Aragon Front, 25th August, was the first woman to be killed fighting. The brilliant student and poet John Cornford, killed in December on his 21st birthday, were among the youngest casualties among the British. This people soon acquired the fame of forming the first barricade against the fascists advances with their bodies. The mature Arnold Jeans, the railway man Martin Messer, the communist organiser James Kermode, the young Scotsman Jimmy Hyndman to name but a few of the fallen. The British also required a reputation as excellent machine-gunners, so that the Tom Mann Centuria was formed in the Pedralbes barracks would supply machine gunners for the first battalions of the Internationals.


The first International Brigades

The Commune de Paris battalion entered into battle in August, in defence of Irun and was composed of Frenchmen, Belgians and some Britons. Jules Dumont commanded them and Pierre Rebière was the political commissar, who, years later was to become one of the heroes of the French Resistance. The numbers of Volunteers grew and it become evident that this wealth of solidarity must be structured and organised. If, during the first weeks, many leaders of the Socialist and Communist Internationals were confident that the Republic could quickly crush the insurrection by its own means, it soon became evident that the massive nazi-fascist aerial support given to the rebels would make their defeat more problematic. This help made possible their rapid advance from Andalucia up to Extremadura, towards Madrid. Different organisations began preparations for that which had started as a great movement of international solidarity should become, using a graphic expression of that time, «to convert endeavor into steel.» These organisations included the Comitè d’Aide au Peuple Espagnol, leaded by the philosopher and historian refugee living in Paris, the Jewish Hungarian Victor Basch (later, with his wife to perish at the hands of the Gestapo) and the Komintern.

The actions in Madrid by outstanding members of Spanish communism such as Pasionaria and internationals such as André Marty or Palmiro Togliatti, were met by parallel action in Paris. To name several, Luigi Longo (Gallo) who, years later (in 1964 at the death of Togliatti) became secretary general of the Italian communist party; the Polish Karol Swierczevski (the future General Walter); the German Gustav Regler and the Czech Klement Gottwald (later president of his country in the post-war years). Number 8, rue Mathurin-Moreau in Paris, headquarters of the Maison des Syndicates, had never known such a fervour of organisation. It negotiated to create a complete formation of an International Brigade, endowed with its own campaign equipment and armament. It fell to the German communist Willy Münzberg to organise supplies and lorries of arms, food and clothing soon began to arrive. The Italian communist Giulio Cerreti, «Allard», was responsible for the technical directions and in view of the rapid advance on Republican territory by land and sea, speedily established offices and centres in southern France, in Perpignan and Marseilles.

Meanwhile, in Spain, from the 4th September, Francisco Largo Caballero was president of a government that included the C.N.T., but whose systematic lack of confidence towards the communists made him little pre-disposed to accept the idea of the creation of an international contingent, in which it supposed that the Kommintern would be involved. However, the military commanders of the Republic saw it quite differently. At the outset, they asserted that they only needed qualified technicians, perhaps due to the lack of armament of the volunteers. But when the organisers of the Brigade assured that they were almost autosufficient thanks to the international clandestine network of arms dealers and particularly when soviet arms began to arrive with the Zirianin at the end of September, the Spanish military leaders could only accept with a sincere welcome, the much needed help. The foreign fighters who had already received their baptism of fire in Spain quickly earned a reputation of bravery.

While recruiting was taking place in all French communist party offices and trade unions, Luigi «Gallo» was in charge of establishing a reception centre in Catalonia on the Spanish side of the frontier. With the help of the P.S.U.C.he managed to procure the former military fortress of San Fernando in Figueras. An in Madrid he also made a move to establish a centre of instruction for the Brigade in Spain. That the Republican state could legally establish the admission of those foreigners would, curiously enough, be solved by a law of the monarchy. Sure enough, a year later, with Indalecio Prieto in the Ministry of War in Valencia, a decree was published establishing the situation of the International Brigades in the bosom of the Spanish people’s army, saying in its first article «to substitute the former unit of foreigners, as formed by decree of 31st August 1920, the International Brigades are created as units of the Spanish Army». Diego Martinez Barrio, parliamentary president, acquired installations in Albacete as a reception centre for international volunteers. One of the building was the former barracks of the Guardia Civil in this city from La Mancha, with still visible signs of the early days of the uprising in its walls.

No sooner at Albacete than André Marty had organised a committee to take charge of the volunteers who were to arrive. Along with Longo and Togliatti (known as «Alfredo»), the committee also comprised Mario Nicoletti, Pietro Nenni and Francesco Scotti, former secretary of the communist party in Milan.

On the 13th October the first volunteers arrived from Alicante where they had arrived the day before on a ship from Marseilles. The first three battalions were formed on 22nd October; the afore-mentioned Commune de Paris (made up of Frenchmen and Belgians), the Edgar André Battalion (led by Hans Kohle) which had taken its name from an anti-nazi who had been be-headed in Germany, and the Italian battalion made up of the remnants of the former columns Gastone Sozzi and Giustizia i Libertà. This unit was led by Randolfo Pacciardi, a liberal republican who, far from being communist was, in the 50’s, several times Minister of Defence in various centre-right governments. This new unit was called the Garibaldi Battalion. Meanwhile, volunteers continued to arrive in their hundreds, making up a forth battalion, the Dombrowski, led by the Polish Tadeusz Oppman. It was mainly made up of Polish, but also included Czechs, Yugoslavs, Ukrainians and Bulgarians. As with all battalions there was a notable percentage of Jews. All these units formed the 11 Brigada Mixta, also known as 11 Brigada Móvil, Primera Brigada Intrnacional or XI Brigada Internacional, and were led by general Emil Kléber (Manfred Zalmanovich Stern), a communist from Bukovina with experience in missions for the Komintern in China and other places. Nicoletti was the political commissar, known as Giuseppe di Vittorio in Spain.

On the 29th October it was transmitted in French (official language of the International Brigades) that the 4.000 brigaders in Albacete would be re-distributed to the towns in the province of Albacete, to make the task of training easier. The Edgar André was sent to Mahora; the Commune to La Roda, the Garibaldi to Madrigueras and the Dombrowski to Tarazona de la Mancha. Today in all these towns there is an important movement for the recuperation of the historical memory, in the conviction that is part of the cultural patrimony.

On 4th November the XI Brigade was preparing to leave Albacete to combat the rebels advance on Madrid. At the last moment the Garibaldi battalion was withdrawn to form the nucleus of a second International Brigade. On 5th November the XI left Albacete with 1900 men and arrived at Vallecas. On 6th November the political commissary of Albacete received the order to dispatch a second Brigade to the Madrid front by the following day at the latest. A second force, comprising approximately 1600 men and including the Garibaldi, Thälmann (led by Ludwig Renn with Beimler as political commissar) plus the French-Belgian and André Marty battalions, was sent to Madrid on the 7th. This would become the XII Brigade and was under the command of general Lukacz (in reality Matei Zalka, later killed in combat in 1937, a shell hitting his car while he was inspecting the Aragon front). Luigi Longo was the political commissar.

Baptism of fire in Madrid

The International’s baptism of fire took place in the defence of Madrid, under the command of General Miaja, responsible for the Defence Council of the city. The rebel General Varela’s troops attacked across the Casa de Campo and Toledo bridge. On the morning of the 8th November, there was a general sigh of relief and people’s skin prickled with emotion and pride at the passing of the diverse but orderly troops at they passed by the Gran Via. At the end of the Gran Via the Internationals took up positions, the Edgar André battalion in the University Campus, the Commune de Paris in the Casa de Campo and the Dombowski in the Manzanares river. Kléber established his headquarters in the Philosophy Faculty in the campus. The XII Brigade was sent to the south of the city, towards the Cerro de los Angeles. And later between the hippodrome and the Puerta de Hierro. The Thälmann battalion was sent to the Moncloa palace gardens. On the university campus (built during the last decade under the auspices of the Canarian physiologist don Juan Negrín López), the rebels had taken the School of Architecture, the Clinic Hospital, the Agriculture School and the Casa de Velazquez. The loyalist held the Faculties for Sciences, Philosophy and Medicine. The battle lasted two months with hardly a pause. In the first month the XI suffered 900 death casualties and many injured. In 3 weeks the XII lost 700 men.

Re-organisation started on the 3rd December, taking linguistic factors into consideration. The German speaking Thälmann was transferred to the XI and the Dombrowski joined the XII. In the middle of January the XI was pulled out of the first line of the front and sent to rest in Murcia. Since entering into combat on the 8th November the XI had lost approximately 1.230 of their original members and was now estimated to made up of 600 survivors of 3 battalions.

The XII Brigade was finally formed by the 11th November, originally with Slav and French volunteers, although it was represented by many nationalities. It was under the command of the German communist Wilhelm Zaisser (general Gómez) who had received training in the Frunze Military Academy of the USSR It consisted of the 8th battalion, the 21 Nations or Tschapáiev (named from a Soviet guerrilla leader of the civil war), the Henry Vuillemin and the Louise Michel. In the company one of the Tschapáiev there were Germans, Swiss, Czechs and Jews from Palestine.

The XIV Brigade was organised just before Christmas 1936 under the command of Karl Swierzewski (general Walter) who, like Zaisser, had studied in the Frunze. It included 4 battalions of about 750 men in each: the 9th or Nine Nations (Italians, Yugoslavs, Germans and Polish), the 10th or Marselleise (French), the 12th of French, British, Irish and Argentineans and the 13th of Frenchmen.

The XV Brigade was formed in Albacete on the 9th February 1937. It was made up of the battalions 8th February, Dimitrov and British. Shortly after the Americans arrived, the last but not least contingent to appear with nearly 3.000 men, a third of who would be buried «with the Spain’s earth as shroud.». They were grouped into the Abraham Lincoln battalion. Later it was formed a second American battalion, the Washington, that after the severe casualties in action, was finally associated to the Mackenzie-Papineau battalion, made mainly with Canadian volunteers. A number of Cubans joined the Lincoln battalion although Cubans had been fighting since the battle of Madrid, including the poet Pablo de la Torriente Brau, killed at Majadahonda (the Madrid front) in November 1936. The first contingent of Americans to arrive in Spain consisted of 96 men who had left New York in the SS Normandie, arriving in Spain on New Year’s Day. The French-Spanish border was then closed in accordance with the Non-Intervention Committee, so the men had to enter Spain with the help of guides after an exhausting crossing of the Pyrenees from Perpignan until their arrival in Figueras. Here they received several days of training until a convoy was organised which, after several days of travelling by train, brought them to Albacete and from there to Tarazona de la Mancha and Madrigueras or Villanueva de la Jara in the province of Cuenca.

Today we don’t have the time to enumerate, not even briefly, the combat actions in which the International Brigades participated. It’s sufficient to say that they were in all operations of the war, and were always used as shock force, be it for attack, counter attack or defence. Let us cite a few of the principals operations and battles where they made history and legend:

In the defence of Madrid, in Mirabueno (Sigüenza), Teruel and Lopera, all in 1936. In Motril, Pitres and Jarama (February 1937), Guadalajara in March; Pozoblanco and Pingarrón in April. Garabitas and Utande in May. In Huesca in June. The battle of Brunete took place in July of 1937, in which four of the five Brigades participated. In the summer of that year took place the battle for Zaragoza, with the actions of Quinto, Villamayor de Gállego, Belchite, Mediana, Grañén; and in the autumn Fuentes de Ebro, Cuesta de la Reina. In the battle of Teruel in January of 1938. In Segura de los Baños and Zalamea, in the Extremadura front. In those which were called retreats but in reality were numerous battles which attempted to stop the massive Nazi-Fascist intervention which finished by cutting the Spanish republican territory in two. Again Belchite, Híjar, Caspe, Maella, Batea, Gandesa, Lleida, Mora d’Ebre. And finally the battle of the Ebro, from Santiago’s day in 1938: Amposta, Ascó-Flix, Corbera de Terra Alta, Gandesa, Serra de Pàndols, Serra de Cavalls and Vértice de Puig Gaeta, in which the 5 brigades participated.

General Juan Modesto, chief of the Ebro Army, awarded the bravery medal to each one of the 5 brigades. The Lincolns, Garibaldi, Rakosi, Zwölfte Februar and Vaillant-Couturier, wrote pages of heroism defending en reconquering hills, the most famous of all known as Death Hill. A battle so tough that the memory of it greatly moved commander Antonio of the Republican Air Force who, on the 14th October in Corbera de Terra Alta at the unveiling of the monument in honor of the dead of the I.B.’s in the battle of the Ebro, affirmed that from the air it was impossible to see Serras de Pàndols or Cavalls, for the dust made by explosions. And below this dust was the infantry of the Republic, enduring rock grape shot. The 23rd September was to be the last day that the brigades fought. Commander Sagnier and Commissar Henry Rol-Tanguy of the XIV Brigade concluded the last attack of the Internationals, who at the end of the day were relieved for those «political and State reasons», that Dolores invoked a month later in her farewell speech. And if was for no-one else that the President of the Council, Doctor Juan Negrín López in his discourse before the General Assembly of the Society of Nations invoked:

bullet«The Spanish Government is disposed to eliminate what ever pretext could continue to doubt the national character of the cause for which the Republican Army fights».

At that time the Brigades only represented a minority disseminated in the popular army, which in the battle of the Ebro represented hardly 5% of those involved. This is one of the themes, that has lent itself to dispute. Not only for the old «Polibius effect»for which the number of the opposing forces is exaggerated with the aim of giving more merit to one’s own, and which has caused the disqualification of claims made by historians on Franco’s side. But also for the actual nature of the Brigades –don’t forget that from 16th January 1937 the Non-Intervention Committee, with headquarters in London, declared recruitment illegal as well as the sending of volunteers- it was extremely important at that time to maintain secrecy in many aspects related to the arrival and entry into combat of the internationals.

Nazi-fascists naval intelligence agents infiltrated Paris, Perpignan and Marseilles, and their information concerning troop and arms movements established the objectives for the submarines of the Axis. As an example, we can cite the sinking of the City of Barcelona in the spring of 1937 in which many of its passengers died, the majority of whom were young men coming to join the Brigades.

There are also those who try to short the figures because they defend a certain hypothesis, such as that the International Brigades were a creation of the Komintern, or that set quotas existed in the different communist parties. Also there are those that quite simply tried to dull the shine of that unrepeatable epopee of brotherhood and heroism which were the International Brigades, to quote Lluís Martí Bielsa, president of the ADABIC. An epopee that will always be a baggage of credibility and honesty for the forces that defend progress, peace and humanity throughout the world.

Colonel Louis Blésy-Granville, former commissar in the XIV Brigade and president of the Association of Volunteers in Republican Spain, on the 14th October in the aforementioned unveiling of the monument in Corbera de Terra Alta, work of José Luis Terraza, cited figures that range between 37.000 and 50.000 volunteers, with the possibility that both figures are slightly high. But the study of this figures is an interesting exercise, though academic. The question is that the casualties suffered by internationals were so widespread that a progressive «españolización»of the Brigades was necessary such that in the summer of 1937 between 60-70 % Spanish men where thus incorporated.

This responded to what the International Brigades tried to be, an integral part of the Spanish Republican Army, without pretensions of notability. The hispanicizing can be seen in publications, notably in the paper «The Volunteer for Liberty», that from the middle of 1937 inserted more and more articles in Spanish so that a year later it was practically bi-lingual. In preparing for this lecture I have carefully examined a number of English issues of the International Brigades « The Volunteer for Liberty» which permits one to appraise the second of the aspects decisive when speaking of the organization and action of the Brigades, the political aspect.

In imitation of the Red Army and taking up working class traditions which go back to the Paris Commune –that fight for history in which the three-pointed star, symbol later to be adopted by the International Brigades, first appeared- military and political aspects were intermingled. The commissars first missions was to explain the need to fight, transmitting the values which became the cause for the Spanish Republic «in the cause of all advanced and progressive Humanity ». The commander and the commissar must always be united and be the first to advance. The Commissar Inspector General of Brigades, Luigi Gallo, titled one of his articles «Our International Brigades, integral part of the Spanish People’s Army », and compared the brigaders, in his numerous articles, to the soldiers of year II, whom, in accord with «The Marselleise », extended the ideals of Liberty, Equality and Fraternity that the working class now took up with renewed refrain.

In June 1937, about to incorporate new replacements to the files who would shortly be sent to all brigades, the «Comisariado General» ordered all the political commissars who were to receive the new soldiers, to include in their first act the explanation of the following questions:

  2. What is the Governmental People’s Army fighting for?
  4. Why are the generals and the uprisers against the government?
  6. Why are the peasants in favor of a Popular Front victory?
  8. Why are the workers defending the Republic against fascism?
  10. Why is our war a war of national independence?

At the same time it should be explained to the soldiers why good military training and iron discipline were necessary. Discipline that as explained by American Captain Alan Johnson, one of the most valued military instructors of the Brigades, was not only obeying orders to the letter with the least lost of time, but also using that time with the best flexibility, good judgement and initiative. The commissars were o make a list of illiterate recruits and organize literacy classes.

In the binomial man-arms, by which one measures the correlation of forces in a war, it was soon clear that the arms factor favored the rebels in a determined way, who counted on the massive support of invading forces endowed with the most modern means of warfare. They disposed of well-trained soldiers, military professionals from well-equipped units. They had absolutely no consideration for the civilian population who had to face, for the first time, the terrible psychological arm of indiscriminate aerial attacks, as in Malaga, Guernica, Durango, Granollers, Barcelona and many other places. The battlefields were converted into laboratories of new arms and tactics which the Wehrmacht were to use in the war which was to follow: maneuvers involving tanks, spiral descents of Heinkel III to machine gun or bomb, the systematic violation of ambulances and hospitals, which were indiscriminately bombarded, the shooting of any political commissar captured in battle, a nazi instruction which would later be used with the same exactitude in the Ukraine, Bielorussia and the Baltic campaigns. Faced with all this, the Republic had to build up an army from practically nothing, with an air force that was known as the Krone Circus at the beginning. However, at the end of the war it was known as «The Glorious.»

Peasants, hairdressers, office-workers, servants, school teachers, waiters, mechanics and «banderilleros» from the outstart the men who made up the Popular army had to wait in trenches for someone to be injured in order to procure a gun.

Amongst the foreign volunteers was a contingent of workers, students, sailors, shop workers, not a specialized military force. What is more, the majority had no previous military preparation. Therefore potential must be given to the man-factor, to make all understand that arms are not invincible if not used in a just cause, that the best trained soldiers could not defeat creativeness, tenacity, courage and team spirit. «The internationals For Liberty demonstrate that the road to victory is by Antifascist Unity» wrote André Marty.

The pairing commander-commissar symbolised the unity between the army and the people. For this reason the publications of the Brigades mentioned the effort of the rearguard to supply the front. In one report a steel foundry in Madrid was visited and the women were carrying out traditionally masculine jobs was emphasized. The women produced bullets, wove protective garments for the soldiers, distributed powdered milk for the more than 10.000 babies under 12 months that there were in Madrid in September, 1937, and whose mothers had top priority in receiving this milk, as well as sugar and flour. The International Brigaders were also concerned about Spanish children and had organized several welcoming homes, such as Novelda in Alicante.

With this they responded to the affectionate love that they always received from the Spanish people. The North American Harry Fisher, transmission runner in the Lincoln Battalion, who recently visited our country, wanted to visit Madrigueras again (in Albacete) because he had this small town of La Mancha engraved in his heart all his life. An orphan since childhood, when he enlisted in the Brigades and was sent for training in Madrigueras, he found there for the first time in his life a family that adopted him and made him feel the warmth of belonging somewhere. Due to the difference of languages they could hardly understand each other and when he went to have dinner or brought clothes to be laundered, he had to speak with gestures or pausing at length to look up words in a dictionary.

But he will never forget that the Spaniards didn’t let him go hungry, not him nor any of his young comrades. Although they had to take it out of their own mouths, dinner for the IBers was never lacking on those farmers’ and peasants’ tables. They were brothers who had arrived from beyond the Spanish borders. And permanents linkings were formed between diverse groups and units of the Brigades. Lagasca Secondary School in Madrid linked with the XV Brigade.

Special mention is deserved by the injured. The Socorro Rojo Internacional stands out in the organizations of their care, as well as a group of self-sacrificing doctors, with special note given to those who came from the Americas. Mentioning a name when speaking of the International Brigaders implies not mentioning others. It must be understood that each name represents dozens of others who were equally heroic. I’ll begin by citing the name of the surgeon from New York, Doctor Edward Barsky a man who was deeply loved by all the Spaniards, North Americans and all IBers who knew him. He came from Beth Israel Hospital in Manhattan. He was the first to volunteer, imitating many of his nurses. More than once he was surprised by an aerial bombing while he was operating –whether in a mobile surgical unit or in a country hospital- all of which were under the control of doctor Irving Busch. Some words from Doctor Busch will give us an ideal of the organizational capacity of the First Aid Department of the XV Brigade:

bullet»We must be prepared to set up a field hospital of seventy five beds with a complete staff of thirty personnel. This includes doctors, nurses and varied types of help so that a complete hospital unit could be established in a building as close as possible to the front, ready to receive patients and ready to operate within twelve hours after the selection of a site.

The medicine practiced in the Brigades was in the vanguard of the era and here the first blood transfusion on the front line took place. Specifically on the road from Almería., where the Italian aviation sprayed terror among the refugees who were fleeing from the barbarian revenge that the Italian fascists were spreading in their way to Malaga. The medical team of the Canadian doctor Norman Bethune was in charge. After Spain, Bethune went to China where he died working as a doctor with the Popular Liberation Army. Some young doctor from Barcelona were also with the Ibers, such as doctor Moisés Broggi i Vallés, for whom it is impossible to be with us here today…But were would like to return the hug he sent to the Association of Friends of the International Brigades in Catalonia on the 62nd anniversary of the farewell.

Because the farewell finally came. After having crossed the Ebro and having put into practice the maxim of Captain Alan Johnson –that what infantry conquers with the bayonet must be maintained with the pick and the spade. After having united in Gandesa, in La Fatarella, in Corbera, in Pàndols, in Cavalls with the motto «fortify is conquer», came the time of farewell. All knew that they were leaving behind a Spain that would suffer a lot. Bilbao was already a German colony. Those who’d passed through Zaragoza brought news of a harsh repression. Ilya Ehrenburg described the slaughter in Malaga. In Extremadura the guerrilleros, those clandestine fighters against fascism, still resisted. Perhaps there was still hope. For this reason so many had died. Not only the most famous like Hans Beimler, General Lukacz, Robert Merriman, Dave Doran, but also the anonymous ones, among whom we will cite a few commanders and battalion and Company Commissars like John Cookson, Pierre Akkermann, Charles Goodfellow, Cazala, Francisco Parra, Roll d’Espinay, Pierre Brachet, Ivan Ivanov Paunov «Grobenarov», Vukasin Radunovic, Dorda Kovacevic, Gustav Kern, Libero Battistelli, René Hamon, Dario Lentini, Renzo Giua, Al Kaufman, Melvin Ofsink, Tom O’Flaherty, Jack Shirai, David Reiss, Nilo Makela, Joe Dallet, Leo Gordon, Tadek Ajzen, Jan Tkaczow, Adam Lewinski, Jaro Tarr, Dusan Petrovic, Gabriel Fort, Emile Schneiberg, Silvio Belloti, Georg Eisner, Louis Schuster, Gustav Kern, Casimir, Lambo, Gerhard Kruse, Rasquin, Laudigon, Boheim, Torralba, Marcel Fromond, Oliver Law, Max Krauthamer, Butch Entin, Jack Corrigan, Lou Cohen, Rudy Haber, Aaron Lopoff

The commander of the XV Brigade, lieutenant colonel José Antonio Valledor at the military farewell of October 1938 said to his men:

bullet»Your countries may well be proud to have sons such as you. Sons who put their lives in jeopardy a thousand times, who shed their blood on the soil of our beloved Fatherland in order to help a people who, not wishing to be exterminated, had thrown all his sons into the struggle: a people who preferred to die fighting rather tan live enslaved. (…)

Brother Internationals!

Before leaving for your countries accept once more the warm embrace of your Spanish comrades. Live satisfied and proud of the sacrifices you have made for the Independence of our Fatherland and for Liberty and Democracy the world over. And you may rest assured that we, who remain fighting for universal justice on the Republican fronts are ready to come to the aid of your people if at any time they should be threatened by despotism or servitude.

On October 29, 62 years ago tomorrow, the general Farewell to the Brigades took place in Barcelona, before the principal civil and military authorities of the Republic and an enthusiastic crowd, grateful and aware of the significance of that act. Some of those who are here today lived that experience directly and remembers the banners, the bouquets of flowers, the enthusiasm of the Barcelona citizens who were paying homage to those heroes. And they remember those words of La Pasionaria, which history has chosen to repeat many times and which are engraved in stone:

bullet»You are history. You are legend. You are the heroic example of democracy’s solidarity and universality. (…) We shall not forget you, and when the olive tree of peace puts forth it leaves again, entwined with the laurels of the Spanish Republic’s victory – come back!

They left feeling sadness for not having been able to resolve the conflict and knew that the Spanish people would have to suffer. The clamor for victory and guitars with which lieutenant Miguel Hernández waited the birth of his son had to be changed for the cradle of hunger cited in his «onion lullabies». The hopeful trenches of Madrid for a cell in Alicante’s jail. The bull rings used for fiestas and meetings converted into places to spend your last night on earth. Hundreds, thousands of executions, some very significant like that of Martyr President Lluís Companys, whose death and resurrection Pablo Neruda sang about. But in Europe the same fascism which had re-conquered Teruel from the Republic «exclusively by the Italian-German artillery and aviation», using Doctor Negrin’s words, profaned the waters of the Seine and Prague the Beautiful, and broke Greek stalactites and trampled the sacred soil of the Soviet Union. Spain had only been the beginning; fascism had prepared a terrible holocaust for Jews and gentile.

The Spanish republicans had the opportunity to put in practice the words of Major Valledor and help the French in their liberation. And the International Brigaders made their lives into a permanent renovation of their commitment to fight for liberty and democracy, as the hymn of the Thälmann goes:

»I left my homeland, to Spain I promised

that she would always be free.

They knew how to always wear these three colors of Spain in their hearts. Although their commitment was to be in many cases more a source of problems. In the US they were proscribed, harassed, lost their jobs, accused of spying. Having helped Spain became an oppressive burden and was brandished as evidence against the Rosembergs, against Robert Oppenheimer, against Steve Nelson, against Alvah Bessie, against Paul Robeson. Doctor Barsky was locked up in the federal prison of Danbury, Connecticut, for refusing to give Nixon and MacCarthy’s House on Un American Activities Committee the names of people who had economically helped the families of political prisoners in Franco’s jails.

I’ll stop now. Years passed and the time for remembering arrived. There were visits in 1978, 1986, 1988, the timid recognition of Spanish citizenship for the IBers that were still alive in 1995, the visit in 1996 and the one in 1998. But now it is time not only for remembrance, but for the glory that the International Brigades, their members, their heroic deeds, their children and grandchildren that is due to them is adequately recognized.

Permit me, having paraphrased verses of Miguel Hernández and Pablo Neruda, to finish with a few from his book «Spain in the Heart» selected from his poem «Arrival of the International Brigades in Madrid»

Brothers who from now on

your purity and your strength, your solemn history

may be known by child and man, by woman and elderly,

may it reach all beings who are without hope

may it descend the mines with air corroded by sulfuric steam

may it climb the inhuman stairs of slavery,

so that the stars and all the spigots of Castille and the world

write your name and your harsh struggle

and your victory strong and earthy like a red oak.

Because with your sacrifice you have given rebirth

to lost faith, the absent soul, the trust of the earth,

and because of your abundance, your nobleness, your deaths

like a valley of hard rocks of blood

passes an immense river with doves of steel and hope.

Juan María Gómez Ortiz

Barcelona, October 28th, 2000.



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