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Jewish Volunteers, the International

Brigades and the Spanish Civil War

i
War, Culture and Society

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Joanna Bourke Birkbeck, University of London, UK
Debra Kelly University of Westminster, UK
Patricia Rae Queen’s University, Ontario, Canada
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ii
Jewish Volunteers, the
International Brigades and the
Spanish Civil War

Gerben Zaagsma

Bloomsbury Academic
An imprint of Bloomsbury Publishing Plc

LON DON • OX F O R D • N E W YO R K • N E W D E L H I • SY DN EY

iii
Bloomsbury Academic
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First published 2017

© Gerben Zaagsma, 2017

Gerben Zaagsma has asserted his right under the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act,
1988, to be identified as Author of this work.

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British Library Cataloguing-in-Publication Data
A catalogue record for this book is available from the British Library.

ISBN : HB : 978-1-4725-0549-1
ePDF : 978-1-4725-1379-3
ePub: 978-1-4725-0845-4
Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data
Names: Zaagsma, Gerben, author.
Title: Jewish volunteers, the international brigades and the
Spanish Civil War / Gerben Zaagsma.
Description: New York : Bloomsbury, 2017. | Series: War, culture and society | Includes
bibliographical references and index.
Identifiers: LCCN 2016035458| ISBN 9781472505491 (hardback) | ISBN 9781472508454
(epub)
Subjects: LCSH: Spain—History—Civil War, 1936-1939—Participation, Jewish. | Jewish
soldiers—Spain—History—20th century.
Classification: LCC DP269.47.J48 Z33 2017 | DDC 946.081/4089924—dc23
LC record available at https://lccn.loc.gov/2016035458

Series: War, Culture and Society

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iv
Contents

List of Figures vii


Acknowledgements viii
A Note on Translations x
List of Abbreviations xi

Introduction: From ‘Chosen Fighters of the Jewish People’


to Jewish Resistance Fighters 1
On Jewish volunteers 1
The Spanish Civil War as a Jewish concern 4
During the Spanish Civil War: Jewish volunteers and Jews in the Left 5
After the Holocaust: Jewish volunteers as Jewish resistance 10

Part One Jewish Volunteers in the International Brigades

1 Backgrounds and Contexts 17


Creating the International Brigades 17
Jewish volunteers: statistics and motivation 22
Understanding the Botwin Company 29

2 The Naftali Botwin Company 37


Nationality politics: acknowledging Jewish volunteers in the
International Brigades 37
Creating a Jewish military unit 41
Between propaganda and fighting the myth of Jewish cowardice 43
Naftali Botwin as a Jewish communist hero in interwar Poland 50
The Botwin Company in battle 53
Botvin: a battlefront newspaper 56

Part Two Jewish Volunteers in the Parisian Yiddish Press

3 Analysing the Yiddish Press in 1930s Paris 61

4 ‘Chosen Fighters of the Jewish People’: Jewish Volunteers in Naye Prese 67


Early militias and the formation of the International Brigades 67

v
vi Contents

Jewish volunteers until the formation of the Botwin Company 73


Jewish volunteers after the formation of the Botwin Company 78

5 Jewish Volunteers in Parizer Haynt and Undzer Shtime 93


Labour-Zionist representations: Parizer Haynt 93
Bundist representations: Undzer Shtime 102

Part Three Postwar: Becoming Jewish Volunteers

6 Jewish Volunteers and Jewish Resistance: Setting the Stage 109


From internment camps to the Holocaust 109
Commemorating Jewish volunteers in Yiddish 113
Beyond Yiddish: Jewish volunteers as Jewish resistance fighters 121

7 Debating Jewish Volunteers: The Long 1970s 125


The campaign for Polish-Jewish veterans 125
Tel-Aviv 1972 – the International Conference of Jewish Fighters 133
Jewish Currents and Albert Prago 140

8 Fifty Years: Jewish Volunteers as Jewish Resistance 145


Israel: the Herzog Speech and the grove in Beit Shemesh 145
Networking Jewish volunteers: meetings and monuments 150
Debating Jewish volunteers in Germany: Arno Lustiger 155

Epilogue 159

Notes 165
Bibliography 221
Index 241
Figures

2.1 The Yiddish version of the order of the day that officially
announced the formation of the Jewish Naftali Botwin Company 44
2.2 Photo of Naftali Botwin taken from Folks Shtime in Poland on
the occasion of the 40th anniversary of his death 52
4.1 Stamp for a campaign in support of volunteers and their families in
spring 1938 with Botwin Company commander Karol Gutman 86
4.2 Photo collage on the front page of Naye Prese, 12 June 1938,
announcing the celebration of the six month anniversary of
the Botwin Company 89
4.3 The flag of the Botwin Company 90
6.1 Title page of the magazine Mir Gedenken (We Remember) that
was ‘dedicated to the Jewish volunteers who were interned in
the concentration camps in France’ 111
7.1 Demonstration in honour of the veterans of the Dombrowski
Brigade, Warsaw, March 2016 132
8.1 Plaque of the Peace and Friendship Grove at Beit Shemesh,
Israel (1986) 149
8.2 The monument for Jewish volunteers at the Fuencarral
cemetery in Madrid (1988) 153
8.3 The monument for Jewish volunteers at Montjuïc in Barcelona (1990) 155

vii
Acknowledgements

Over the past years, many people have contributed to the making of this book in a
variety of ways. A chance encounter with the story of Jewish volunteers in the
International Brigades during the class ‘Yiddish for Historians’, taught by Helen Beer at
University College London, provided the initial spark for my research and set me on the
path that would eventually result in this book. I owe her much gratitude for being a
constant source of inspiration, as well as for her guidance, and recall with great fondness
the long discussions we had about early versions of the various chapters. I am likewise
very much indebted to Heinz-Gerhard Haupt, who was instrumental in shaping the
project and provided critical guidance and comments throughout the years.
I am furthermore grateful to the many archivists and librarians who offered so much
help: Leo Greenbaum (YIVO Institute for Jewish Research); Gail Malmgreen (Tamiment
Library, NYU ); Arieh Leibovitz (Jewish Labor Committee); Rajel Sperber (Hebrew
University Jerusalem); Françoise Burg, Pascal Carreau and Pierre Boichu (Archives
Départementales de la Seine-St. Denis, Paris); Frédérick Genévee (Responsable des
Archives, Party Communiste Français); Efrat Sinai (Jewish National Fund); Ariel Sion
(Mémorial de la Shoah); Natalia Krynicka (Bibliothèque Medem, Paris); Tish Collins
(Marx Memorial Library, London); the staff at the Russian State Archive of Socio-Political
History (RGASPI ) in Moscow, and the Jewish Historical Institute and Archiwum Akt
Nowych in Warsaw. I also thank East European Monographs, Boulder and the magazine
Jewish Currents for granting me permission to use copyrighted materials.
In addition I would like to thank a number of people who provided support and
information in myriad other ways. In no particular order: Gennady Estraikh; Dimitri
Frolov and Tauno Saarela; Gijs Kessler; Philippe Buton; Isaiah and Lola Gellman; Rudi
van Doorslaer; Annie Rappoport-Rayski; Henryk Paszt; Martine Zejgman; Ilsen About;
August Grabski; Jean Goldsztejn; Elga Skreptzowa; Esther Celma Fe; Eran Torbiner;
Zuza Ziółkowska Hercberg, Jim Jump and Rien Dijkstra. For translations from Russian,
Polish, Hebrew and Arabic I am very grateful to Marja Boogert, Floribert Baudet,
Itai Rabinowitz, Olivia Orozco de la Torre, Rob Leemhuis and Iwona Guść. Alina
Polonskaya acted as intermediary with the Russian State Archive of Socio-Political
History (RGASPI ) in Moscow, and Magdalena Waligórska with the Archiwum Akt
Nowych in Warsaw; their help was invaluable. I also thank the anonymous reviewers of
the book manuscript whose comments did much to strengthen my argument. Likewise
I am grateful to Rhodri Mogford, Emma Goode and Beatriz Lopez at Bloomsbury
Academic, and Stephen McVeigh at Swansea University, the editor of the series in
which this book appears, for their patience over the years, and their comments and
guidance in seeing the book through to publication. I also thank Sarah Webb, the copy-
editor, as well as Merv Honeywood and the production team at RefineCatch for their
diligent work and great attention to detail in getting the book produced. A very special

viii
Acknowledgements ix

word of thanks goes to Barry Trachtenberg for his incisive comments on the first draft
version of the book.
I am grateful for having had the opportunity to interview Sol Frankel (1914–2007),
Moe Fishman (1915–2007), Adam Paszt (1912–2009) and Ilex Beller (1914–2005), all
of whom fought in Spain, as well as Adam Rayski (1913–2008), editor of the Parisian
Yiddish daily newspaper Naye Prese in the Spanish Civil War period. Alex Gromb
shared with me his memories of his father, Meylekh Gromb, another editor of Naye
Prese, who wrote under the pen name G. Kenig. Lucien Steinberg (1926–2008), editor
of Presse Nouvelle Magazine, the successor of Naye Prese, shared with me his knowledge
about Jewish resistance.
Finally, I thank my parents for their support over the past few years, and the many
friends, both close and far away, who provided so much joy, laughter and inspiration
while I was busy researching and writing.
A Note on Translations

I follow the YIVO transcription system for Yiddish, while retaining the orthography
found in the original sources. This means that the same words can be spelled differently,
depending on how they were spelled in the original Yiddish. Titles of (newspaper)
articles and books in Yiddish have not been translated in the notes. In cases where a
title is particularly meaningful it is quoted in the main text in its English translation.
Even so, the original titles often convey a meaning or message that inevitably gets lost
in translation. Names are romanized except when they appear in quotes or titles of
references in which case I adhere to transcription rules (thus one can find the name
‘Weitz’ in the text and ‘Vays’ in a note). Spelling or other mistakes in quotes have not
been corrected but left as they were found in the original sources. Unless otherwise
indicated all translations into English are mine.

x
Abbreviations

APPP Archive de la Préfecture de Police de Paris


CAC Centre des Archives Contemporaines
CDH Comités de Défense de L’Humanité
CGT Confédération Générale du Travail
CGTU Confédération Générale du Travail Unitaire
CHAN Centre Historique des Archive Nationales
CIAPE Comité International d’Aide au peuple espagnol
Comintern Communist International
CPUSA Communist Party of the United States of America
ECCI Executive Committee of the Communist International
FALB Friends of the Abraham Lincoln Brigade
IBA International Brigades Association
JTA Jewish Telegraph Agency
KPP Komunistyczna Partia Polski – Communist Party of Poland
LICA Ligue Internationale Contre l’Anti-Semitisme
LPZ Linke Poale Zion
MML Marx Memorial Library
MOE Main d’Oeuvre Étrangère
MOI Main d’Oeuvre Immigrée
PCF Parti Communiste Français – French Communist Party
RGASPI Russian State Archive of Socio-Political History
SCW Spanish Civil War
SFIO Section Française de l’Internationale Ouvrière – French Socialist Party
VALB Veterans of the Abraham Lincoln Brigade

xi
xii
Introduction: From ‘Chosen Fighters of the Jewish
People’ to Jewish Resistance Fighters

On Jewish volunteers

All Jewish volunteers understand the importance of the mission they have to fulfil as
chosen fighters of the Jewish people. They are also determined to turn the Botwin
company into an example in all areas.1
Y. Lekhter, 3 January 1938

The International Brigades became the vehicle through which Jews could offer the
first organized armed resistance to European fascism. Their combattant role in Spain
proved that they could fight well, and that as early as 1936 they were actively
resisting fascism. Not all went passively to the concentration camps and crematoria.2
Albert Prago, 1980

On 17 July 1936 a major part of the army of the Spanish Republic revolted against the
Popular Front government that had been elected in February of the same year. The
ensuing civil war raged on until April 1939, when General Franco declared victory,
resulting in the establishment of the Franco dictatorship that lasted until 1975. The
Spanish Civil War did not only pit a coalition of anti-leftist parties and groups within
Spanish society against the ruling Popular Front coalition; the support of Hitler and
Mussolini for the so-called Nationalists headed by General Franco, and subsequent
support for the republican Loyalists by the Soviet Union and Communist International,
turned a civil war that was deeply rooted in internal Spanish strife into a conflict with
significant international dimensions, against the background of rising tensions in
Europe as a result of Nazi Germany’s increasingly belligerent behaviour.
Before long, the first foreign volunteers could be seen fighting in different militias
on the Spanish battlefields. Many were delegates to the Workers Olympiad that was to
take place in Barcelona between 19 and 26 July 1936 and was organized in opposition
to the Olympic Games in Berlin. Instead of joining an international sports event,
however, the young athletes ended up in the middle of a burgeoning civil war and
many decided to stay, volunteering to fight the rebels in the militias, anarchist, socialist
or communist, that were organized in these early stages of the conflict. In September
1936 the Communist International (Comintern) decided to create an international

1
2 Jewish Volunteers, the International Brigades and the Spanish Civil War

army in support of the Republican government, and its member parties began the
recruitment of volunteers. The newly created so-called International Brigades, into
which most foreign volunteers in the militias were eventually absorbed, began to be
deployed in October 1936. In the course of the war at least 35,000 volunteers from
more than fifty countries fought in the International Brigades. According to the most
accurate figures, around 3,500–4,000 volunteers were of Jewish descent.3 Both during
and after the civil war, the participation of these ‘Jewish volunteers’ has been
acknowledged and articulated, albeit in very different ways. Indeed, behind Y. Lekhter’s
label ‘Chosen fighters of the Jewish people’ and Albert Prago’s characterization of
Jewish volunteers as the first armed Jewish resistance fighters against fascism lie two
highly particular sets of contexts, concerns and debates and, indeed, two very different
groups of ‘Jewish volunteers’.
Y. Lekhter (whose real name was Pesach Kohn) was a correspondent for the Parisian
Yiddish daily Naye Prese, which had been published by Jewish migrant communists in
Paris since 1934.4 Lekhter actually referred to those Jewish volunteers that were
members of the Naftali Botwin company, a Jewish military unit that was created within
the Polish Dombrowsky Brigade in December 1937 following lobbying efforts of the
Parisian Jewish communists, and he would soon become the editor of its journal
Botvin. What we have here, then, are Polish-Jewish communists endorsing and
propagating the struggle of a Jewish military unit on the Spanish battlefields in the
Yiddish daily they edited in Paris in the latter half of the 1930s. Writing forty years after
the Spanish Civil War, American-Jewish veteran Albert Prago was not so much
concerned with a specific group of Jewish volunteers as with the broader pan-European
context in which the war took place and in which they ultimately found themselves.
Grounded on the basis that the many volunteers in the brigades had not only come to
Spain to fight against Franco but also, and especially, to fight against his fascist allies
Hitler and Mussolini, Prago presented the struggle of volunteers of Jewish descent as
the first act of Jewish resistance against fascism, Hitler and, ultimately, against the
Nazist extermination policy that culminated in the Holocaust.
As Prago’s comments show, the Holocaust has fundamentally shaped the way in
which the participation of Jewish volunteers in the International Brigades has come to
be seen. Against the background of post-Holocaust debates about wartime Jewish
responses and behaviour, their participation is inscribed in a larger Jewish resistance
narrative that aims to counter the myth of Jewish passivity in the face of the Nazi
onslaught. To put it succinctly: ‘Spain’ serves to prove that Jews did not go like ‘sheep to
the slaughter’ as they already resisted Hitler there, during the Spanish Civil War. As
debates about Jewish responses against fascism move between the polarities of alleged
Jewish passivity on the one hand, and assertions of armed Jewish resistance on the
other, the participation of Jewish volunteers in the International Brigades during the
Spanish Civil War is presented as an example of the latter. To be clear, the aim of this
book is not to emphasize Jewish military prowess by using the participation of Jewish
volunteers as a case study. Nor is it to counter claims of wartime Jewish passivity by
highlighting Jewish armed resistance; if anything, this book aims to complicate,
contextualize and critically examine such interpretations. Rather, the intention here is
to focus on the question of how a particular set of Jewish military experiences, both
Introduction 3

actual and remembered, became an expression of processes of emancipation and


validation that were so integral to the project of Jewish modernity.
Taken together, Lekhter’s and Prago’s remarks illustrate the broad parameters within
which representations of Jewish volunteers can be and have been situated, and the
decisive shift in emphasis that has occurred in the post-Holocaust period. It is the aim
of this book, then, to explore the participation of Jewish volunteers in the International
Brigades and understand its symbolic meaning both during and after the conflict. On
the one hand theirs is a story about the manifold experiences of Jews in the
contemporary Left, and the varying degrees to which Jewishness influenced or was
relevant to those experiences. On the other hand, the fact that these experiences took
place in the context of what many saw as the first great confrontation between ‘fascism
and democracy’ in the interwar period, and as such as the prehistory of the Second
World War, seems to inevitably raise the question of whether Jewish participation
should be evaluated as a particular Jewish response to fascism and the Nazi onslaught.
More than a peculiar footnote in pre-war Jewish history, the participation of Jewish
volunteers in the International Brigades during the Spanish Civil War can thus serve to
illuminate two major debates in Jewish historiography: first, debates about Jews and
the Left, particularly the activities of Jews in the communist movement; and, second,
that of Jewish responses against fascism, and particularly Nazism, as they took shape in
Europe from 1933 onwards.
Before proceeding it is important to be clear about what it means to speak about
‘Jewish volunteers’ and how that description will be used in this book. During the
Spanish Civil War, the phrase was mostly employed by East European Jewish
communists and socialists, in Eastern Europe as well as migrant communities
elsewhere, as a way to describe those volunteers who had come from their midst. Its use
primarily reflected a self-identification that was natural to East European Jews who
considered themselves to be part of a Jewish national minority in their home countries,
or were regarded as such. In many post-Second World War publications, however, the
epithet ‘Jewish’ does not simply indicate background: all volunteers of Jewish descent
are categorized as ‘Jewish volunteers’ and their Jewish background is often assumed to
have had a decisive bearing upon the reasons for which they volunteered, and the
consciousness with which they subsequently fought on the Spanish battlefields. In
short, the implication is always that being Jewish mattered beyond descent; to highlight
this specific use of the phrase ‘Jewish volunteers’ I will sometimes speak of ‘Jewish
volunteers’. As will become clear, then, assumptions about Jewish self-identification,
consciousness, or concerns can only be discussed by using the phrase Jewish volunteers
in a neutral sense, in other words, based upon descent.
Indeed, the question of what being Jewish actually meant for volunteers of Jewish
descent who joined the International Brigades is difficult to answer. In the following
pages, then, the phrase ‘Jewish volunteers’ will only be used to refer to those volunteers
that were born Jewish without implying or suggesting that their Jewishness carried over
into the motivation with which they went to fight, and subsequently fought, in Spain,
or indeed signified a particular level of Jewish consciousness underpinning their
participation. It is precisely the various ways in which the qualification ‘Jewish’ was and
has been imbued with meaning, both during the Spanish Civil War, as well as after the
4 Jewish Volunteers, the International Brigades and the Spanish Civil War

Second World War and the Holocaust, that lie at the core of the analysis. This book,
then, is about how volunteers of Jewish descent during the Spanish Civil War became
Jewish volunteers after the Holocaust.

The Spanish Civil War as a Jewish concern


In early August 1936 the Jewish Telegraphic Agency (JTA ) reported that the Spanish
rebels ‘had issued a proclamation declaring that when they came into power they
would expel all the Jews from Spain’.5 In the days and weeks that followed, a number of
JTA reports discussed the plight of Jews in Spain and Spanish Morocco, relating stories
about imprisonment, extortion, expulsions and anti-Semitic propaganda in rebel-held
territories. These reports were soon picked up in Jewish newspapers around the world.
Thus, in a summary of the rebellion and its consequences for Spain’s Jews in late August
1936, the main French Jewish newspaper at that time, L’Univers Israélite, described the
rebels’ attitude as ‘clearly hostile to Judaism’.6 It would continue to relate JTA dispatches
about Spain’s Jews, which at that time roughly consisted of two main groups: up to
12,000 Sephardic Jews in Spanish Morocco and a couple of thousand Jews in mainland
Spain, many of whom were post-1933 German-Jewish refugees and resided in
Barcelona.7 Likewise, German-Jewish newspapers like the orthodox Der Israelit and
the C.V.-Zeitung, the organ of the Centralverein deutscher Staatsbürger jüdischen
Glaubens (Association of German Citizens of the Jewish Faith), expressed deep
concerns. At the same time the C.V.-Zeitung, addressing the fate of German Jews that
had fled to Spain after 1933, also tried to counter allegations that Jews could somehow
be faulted for the war’s outbreak. Thus it felt compelled to note that ‘we do not deny the
collaboration of Jewish-uprooted elements in communism [but cannot see why] their
actions or motives are called Jewish’.8
There can be little doubt about Nationalist ‘antisemitic diatribes directed at the
Republican leaders and their external allies’.9 Indeed, there was no shortage of anti-
Semitic propaganda in Nationalist newspapers or remarks by some of the generals who
were involved in the revolt.10 Such propaganda was a mix of traditional Catholic anti-
Semitism and contemporary theories about a world Judeo-Freemason-Bolshevik
conspiracy. Perhaps the best-known example was the following remark by military
commander Quiepo de Llano, whose anti-Semitic stabs in his Radio Sevilla broadcasts
made headlines in the Jewish press worldwide: ‘Our struggle is not a civil war, but a war
for Western civilisation against the Jews.’11 Much of this anti-Semitism had its roots
long before the civil war but general support in the Jewish press for the Republican side
did not go unnoticed and was keenly exploited. Anti-Semitic attitudes were also fuelled
by Nazi propaganda, which claimed that the Nationalists ‘had taken up arms in order
to destroy the evil forces of Bolshevism and Judaism’.12 The fascist Falange, in particular,
was influenced by anti-Semitic conspiracy theories spread by the German regime as
part of its broader anti-communist and anti-Semitic propaganda campaign.13
Yet, ultimately, anti-Semitism was one of many facets of rebel propaganda, and
not its central tenet, nor were Jews its most important target. Systematic persecution
of the relatively few Jews under Nationalist control did not take place and a coherent
Introduction 5

anti-Semitic policy never developed, neither in the Nationalist zone in Spain nor in
Spanish Morocco. This is not to say that no anti-Jewish actions occurred, especially
in Spanish Morocco where Jews were extorted and jailed, and a number of killings took
place. But the Nationalists were eager not to let these excesses get out of hand and did
not allow such events to develop into a full-scale anti-Jewish campaign for fear of a
negative image abroad as well as for financial reasons.14 Indeed, Franco even asked the
Jews of Tetuan to disregard anti-Semitic broadcasts on Radio Seville, though he
confirmed they had been asked to make a ‘voluntary contribution’.15 Franco also seems
to have been less preoccupied with Jews than with Freemasons or communists.16
Together with the relatively small number of Jews in Spain at the time, this situation
shaped Jewish reactions to the conflict to a large extent. Though generally supporting
the Republican side, the war aroused few passions in non-leftist Jewish publications.
Robert Singerman, who analysed American-Jewish reactions to the Spanish Civil War,
even spoke of ‘Jewish apathy’.17 For most Jews, Spain was simply of less concern than
‘efforts to publicise the Hitler terror in Germany or the partition plans of the British in
Palestine’ especially after most Spanish and Spanish-Moroccan Jews had fled the
Franco-controlled areas.18 The same, by and large, held true for Europe. In addition to
Nazi Germany and Palestine, many newspapers were also deeply concerned with the
plight of the Jews in Poland where anti-Semitic violence and pogroms, an economic
boycott and other anti-Jewish measures severely affected an already impoverished
Jewish population. While anti-Semitic Francoist propaganda and anti-Jewish actions
in Spanish Morocco were recognized, they were, in the final analysis, of only relative
importance as compared with the predicament of Jews in Germany, Poland and
Palestine. This was not helped by the fact that many mainstream Jewish publications
felt little political affinity with the Spanish Republic’s Popular Front government.

During the Spanish Civil War: Jewish volunteers


and Jews in the Left
While the non-leftist Jewish press spoke of the conflict in terms of a fascist uprising, and
Jews generally favoured the beleaguered Republic, it was also restrained in advocating
active support for the Republican side, especially in terms of lending support to
campaigns for the International Brigades and its volunteers. Indeed, only the Jewish Left
went beyond a stated concern for Spain’s Jewish communities and analysed the events
in Spain in terms of a political conflict between fascism and democracy in which the
Spanish Republic should be actively supported. Soon after the Spanish army revolt
began, and news broke of the support of Hitler and Mussolini for the rebels, reports in
Jewish leftist periodicals began to emphasize its specific historical dimensions and
context. By invoking a specific Jewish historical framework that referenced the medieval
Spanish Inquisition and the expulsion of Jews from the Iberian pensinsula in 1492, the
importance of the Spanish conflict was underscored in order to engage and mobilize
Jewish audiences. Thus Adam Rayski, editor of Naye Prese, described the Spanish
generals Franco and Mola as heirs to the medieval Inquisitors in one of his first editorials
on Spain, an analysis that was expressed by many on the Jewish Left.19
6 Jewish Volunteers, the International Brigades and the Spanish Civil War

This historical framework was also used to explain the participation of Jewish
volunteers in the International Brigades as a form of posthumous reckoning and
righting of historical wrongs. Thus, Naye Prese cast Jewish volunteers as the heirs of
Maimonides, ‘the first Jewish fighter who had fought in Spain against backwardness,
darkness and barbarism’.20 Similarly, David McKelvey-White, chairman of the Friends
of the Abraham Lincoln Brigade, a support organization for American volunteers,
asserted in 1939: ‘During the 15th century the over-civilized barbarians of Spain – far
ahead of Hitler in efficiency as in time – drove the Jews from this country with fire and
violence. Surely they little thought that five centuries later Jews would return from a
continent as yet unknown to help defend Spain from a fresh outburst of the old terror.’21
As Lekhter’s remarks illustrate, however, writers in Naye Prese also emphasized the
importance of fighting fascism in Spain as Jews when discussing the experiences of
Jewish volunteers. Having successfully lobbied for the formation of a Jewish unit, the
Parisian Jewish migrant communists presented the Botwin Company as the prime
symbol of this Jewish engagement. At the same time, the company became an important
tool to mobilize and maintain support for the Spanish cause and promote the
Comintern’s Popular Front strategy on der yidisher gas (the Jewish street).22 This
strategy, adopted by the Comintern in 1935, ‘involved a postponement of revolutionary
objectives in favour of a broad anti-fascist alliance with Socialist and liberal bourgeois
parties’,23 and the International Brigades became a crucial propaganda tool to showcase
its successful application in practice. For Jewish communists in Paris this was no
different and the International Brigades were a key tool to promote a Jewish Popular
Front. It might seem, then, that the invocation of a specific Jewish historical framework
by these Jewish communists, and their promotion of the participation of Jewish
volunteers, were merely functional ways of explaining the importance of ‘Spain’ to
Jewish audiences in order to incite their support for what was essentially a much bigger
political cause.
Yet Jewish communist engagement with ‘Spain’ was decidedly more complicated. To
be sure, there can be little doubt that propaganda was a major part of the story; the
readership of Naye Prese consisted of Yiddish-speaking migrants in Paris and France
and their moral and financial support was crucial as many a campaign was waged to
collect money to support both volunteers and their families. And ‘Spain’ was indeed an
integral part of the political struggle waged by Jewish communists in Paris as they
sought to implement the Popular Front locally. They did so at a time when immigrant
Jews in France faced tremendous challenges, however. In addition to economic
hardship and a general rise of xenophobia and anti-Semitism, the fall of Léon Blum’s
second goverment in April 1938 augured trouble. The decree laws introduced by the
new government of Edouard Daladier imposed restrictions on immigrant labour and
heightened the risk of expulsion for many paperless (Jewish) immigrants.
Within this context, emphasizing ‘Spain’ and the joint struggle of Jewish volunteers in
the brigades served to drive home the message that united action was possible,
constituted the only possible defence against the threats that immigrant Jews faced, and
could also be achieved in France. Labelling Jewish volunteers as ‘chosen fighters of the
Jewish people’ was of course a clever case of employing religious references that would
resonate with a Jewish audience in order to try to bind them to the communist and
Introduction 7

Spanish cause. And having a Jewish military unit, the Botwin Company, certainly made
that task easier. Another much more important trope, however, would emerge
in Naye Prese’s coverage of Jewish volunteers and the Botwin Company: the idea that
fighting fascism in Spain as Jews and ‘Jewish heroism’, as it was often called, disproved
stereotypes and accusations of Jewish cowardice (in Yiddish: pakhdones) that had
surfaced in the brigades as well as in the Polish immigrant press in Paris. Such
representations of Jewish volunteers were related to Jewish communist concerns with
relations between Polish and Jewish immigrants, as well as the position of Jewish
workers in the French labour movement and France in general. It was within this context
that Naye Prese fashioned the participation of Jewish volunteers as a model of Jewish
action to be emulated by Jewish immigrants in Paris, a moral compass and means of
empowerment for many of those who found themselves in such dire circumstances.
All of this raises several questions about the Parisian Jewish communist engagement
with Spain. First of all, how did Spain fit into the communist Popular Front policy and
in what way was it linked to a more outspoken Jewish Popular Front policy? In other
words, how was Spain linked to the political interests and strategies of the Jewish
communists on the Jewish street in Paris? Another question is whether the presentation
of the war in Naye Prese simply reflected the accepted Comintern stance on the conflict,
in this case communicated to a particular audience, or signified more? Did the Spanish
struggle also have a more particular symbolic meaning for the Parisian Jewish
communists that went beyond political strategies and objectives? Was it of special
importance because of the rising tide of anti-Semitism in Europe and the support of
Hitler and Mussolini for Franco’s Nationalists? To summarize: did Jewish communists
in Paris simply toe the party line in using Spain and the International Brigades to
promote unity on the Jewish street, or did the communist Popular Front agenda
coincide with particular Jewish communist concerns? And to what extent did
communist and Jewish allegiances overlap and/or shift during the war?

The first two parts of this book will analyse the questions posed above and, more broadly,
underscore a fundamental point: the experiences of Jewish volunteers in the International
Brigades were first and foremost part of the manifold histories of Jews in the Left. In Part
One, the participation of Jewish volunteers in the brigades and the Botwin Company will
be contextualized and analysed. Chapter 1 provides the backgrounds and contexts that
are necessary to understand the participation of Jewish volunteers and the Botwin
Company. First of all, the creation and history of the International Brigades will be
outlined, before a general overview of the participation of Jewish volunteers will be
provided: who were they, where did they come from, what political backgrounds did they
have and in what numbers did they join? As the relatively high proportion of volunteers
with Jewish origins is often interpreted as proof of a special Jewish motivation, attention
will be paid to the meaning of these statistics and their possible explanations. Theories of
motivation as well as the question of self-identification will then be analysed with a view
to establish to what extent it makes sense to actually speak of Jewish volunteers. As will be
shown, the phrase ‘Jewish volunteers’ is useful to denote descent but cannot be used to
describe a specific category of volunteers who went to fight, and subsequently fought, in
Spain with a specific Jewish motivation or consciousness.
xii
Introduction 9

Part Two of the book focuses on representations of Jewish volunteers in the Parisian
Yiddish press, in order to find out what the symbolic meaning of their participation
was during the Spanish Civil War period itself, and how it contrasted with post-
Holocaust discourses and debates. Through a comparative discourse analysis of Paris’s
two major Yiddish dailies, Naye Prese and Parizer Haynt, its aim is to reveal the
specificities of Jewish communist engagement with Spain. Chapter  4 provides an
introductory background to the Yiddish press in Paris in the interwar period, focusing
on Naye Prese and Parizer Haynt. Chapter 5 will then analyse how Jewish volunteers
and the Botwin Company were represented on the pages of Naye Prese and what these
representations reveal about the Parisian Jewish communists and their political
interests and strategies among Jewish migrants. In order to find out what was unique
about Jewish communist representations of Jewish volunteers, Chapter 5 will analyse
how the Spanish Civil War and the participation of Jewish volunteers figured on
the pages of Parizer Haynt, which was not politically affiliated but had a moderate
Labour-Zionist orientation. The Bundist periodical Undzer Shtime will also be briefly
discussed here.
By framing the analysis in a comparative way, it is possible to analyse how Jewish
communists and other actors on the Jewish street in Paris interacted with each other,
using their newspapers as a vehicle to promote their interests and voice their concerns.
An important aspect is of course how their concerns were shaped by this interaction
and how they were communicated to their respective readers. Although this
comparative approach will allow me to draw some conclusions about relations on the
Jewish street in Paris, it is not in the first place intended to contribute to debates on
Jewish responses to internal and external threats in the years prior to the Second
World War. Reducing the history of Jews in Paris in the 1930s to the question of how
their actions or attitudes contributed to an awareness about the dangers of Nazi anti-
Semitism amounts to presentism. Jewish pre-war history, even in the difficult years just
before the Second World War in Paris, was not a dress rehearsal leading up to the
events of the Holocaust but should be assessed in its own right.30
Seen from a broader methodological perspective, the discursive construction of the
struggle of Jewish volunteers in Naye Prese, and its relation to Jewish communist politics
and strategies on the Jewish street in Paris, are a highly illuminating example of the
‘symbolic constitution of politics’, and thus the usefulness of cultural approaches to
political history.31 It also represents a prime example of an often overlooked historical
phenomenon in Jewish history: the constitutive role of the Jewish press in shaping
modern Jewish life. Yiddish newspapers not only reflected Jewish social, cultural and
political life but also acted as agents in creating it. Ideological newspapers such as Naye
Prese illustrate this particularly well, as their raison d’être was so clearly connected to the
realization of a political programme. Since the early 1990s the introduction of Habermas’s
notion of the public sphere in the field of media studies has influenced studies of the
Jewish press.32 Though not unproblematic, this has been important in focusing attention
on their role in shaping modern Jewish life instead of passively reflecting it. In this
context Sarah Stein has argued that ‘scholars have turned to popular newspapers in
Jewish vernaculars for the events they chronicled, but have virtually ignored the press as
an agent of historical change’.33 Similarly, Susanne Marten-Finnis has noted that the
10 Jewish Volunteers, the International Brigades and the Spanish Civil War

Jewish, and by extension Yiddish, press did not only reflect reality but also wanted to
‘contribute to its constitution and so create new reality’.34 And as she observed elsewhere,
‘Speech and other forms of communication are practical interventions in social life,
which have effects on, and help to constitute and shape social life.’35
Yet if we accept that Yiddish newspapers and periodicals were agents in their own
right, and focus on their performative role in Jewish life, than how do we conceive of
the relationship between content and reader or, more precisely, discursive and social
structures? In several publications in recent years Marten-Finnis has argued for the use
of Critical Discourse Analysis (CDA ) in studying the Jewish press as it draws attention
to how it helped to constitute reality.36 One of the premises of CDA is that ‘discourse is
socially constitutive as well as socially shaped’.37 CDA , however, focuses on issues of
power and ideology, and their reproduction through discourse, and is explicitly
political and emancipatory.38 This is not per se problematic, and its advocates in fact
insist on a commitment to self-reflexivity, but it makes CDA less suitable for historical
newspaper analysis in which the prime focus is not on issues of power and dominance.
Moreover, CDA does not have a clear answer to the question of how discursive
practices influence society and vice versa.
To address this problem, socio-linguist Teun van Dijk has introduced the notion of
social cognition and proposes a focus on the role of people’s shared ‘aims, beliefs,
knowledge and opinions’, or shared social representations as they are constituted
through discourse.39 Van Dijk’s approach is useful to understand the relationship
between a newspaper and its readership and helps to focus our attention on the
production and consumption of news and the role of shared beliefs and representations
in both processes. Newspapers draw upon these shared representations and
simultaneously constitute them. A specific example of this is the way in which Naye
Prese invoked a Jewish historical framework, referring to the period of the Spanish
Inquisition and the expulsion of the Jews from Spain in 1492, to explain the importance
of the Spanish Civil War to its readers; subsequently the newspaper built upon this
framework to promote the struggle of Jewish volunteers in the International Brigades.

After the Holocaust: Jewish volunteers as Jewish resistance

Part Three of this book focuses on the various ways in which Jewish volunteers have
been remembered and commemorated after the Second World War and the Holocaust.
The main question to be asked here is: how, and why, did volunteers of Jewish descent
eventually become Jewish volunteers? This question, as already indicated, can only be
answered by placing it within the broader context of debates on Jewish responses to
fascism, anti-Semitism and the Holocaust in the fateful period 1933–45. These debates
have long moved between two extremes: interpretations that stress submissiveness
and Jewish passivity on the one hand are countered by those that emphasize armed
Jewish resistance on the other. As discussions about wartime Jewish behaviour erupted,
the participation of Jewish volunteers in the International Brigades would increasingly
be framed as the first armed Jewish resistance against Hitler and a precursor to
Jewish resistance in Europe during the Second World War. To be clear, in tracing the
Introduction 11

development of post-Holocaust debates about Jewish volunteers this book does not
seek to reify or foreground the importance of Jewish armed resistance. Rather, it seeks
to understand why Jewish volunteers came to be commemorated as they did. Stressing
Jewish volunteers as the first armed Jewish resistance fighters raises problematic issues,
as it tends to devalue the full array of wartime Jewish responses, a point to which I will
return in the Epilogue.
The argument in this final part of the book is largely based upon the social agency
approach as advocated by Jay Winter and Emmanuel Sivan.40 In addition, the ideas of
Alon Confino, who has argued that reconstruction of the past always involves and is
shaped by processes of reception and contestation, were also important.41 Winter and
Sivan focus on what they call ‘social agency’ in relation to processes of ‘collective
remembrance’, which they define as ‘public recollection [. . .] the act of gathering bits
and pieces of the past, and joining them together in public. The “public” is the group
that produces, expresses, and consumes it. What they create is not a cluster of individual
memories; the whole is greater than the sum of the parts’.42 In centring on the individual,
Winter and Sivan aim ‘to examine collective remembrance as the outcome of agency,
as the product of individuals and groups who come together, not at the behest of the
state or any of its subsidiary organisations, but because they have to speak out’.43 This is
crucial in understanding how discourses about Jewish volunteers would take shape
after the Holocaust and move away from a strictly national perspective. Indeed, one
of the major aims of this book is precisely to disentangle the process by which
representations of Jewish volunteers have been put forward over time in a variety of
contexts, local as well as transnational.
Chapter 6 sets the stage for this exploration. It will begin by discussing the various
post-war trajectories of Jewish volunteers, many of whom ended up in internment
camps in southern France and eventually participated in resistance organizations during
the Second World War. Following this, Yiddish publications about Jewish volunteers will
be analysed as they appeared from the 1950s onwards, in book form or in the press,
targeting a generation of readers that had either participated in, or consciously lived
through, the events of the Spanish Civil War. As commemorations of the war were an
integral part of the communist commemorative canon, Yiddish communist newspapers
paid regular homage to Jewish volunteers. As the example of the communist newspaper
Folks Shtime from Poland shows, though, their participation was tentatively linked
to wartime Jewish resistance from early on. The journalist Samuel Shneiderman,
writing about Jewish volunteers in the New York Yiddish newspaper Forverts, went a
step further by explicitly framing the participation of Jewish volunteers as Jewish
resistance against fascism. Crucially, he also decoupled it from its original communist
context and thereby foregrounded the volunteers’ Jewish identity. Shneiderman’s
writings about Jewish volunteers coincided with emerging debates about Jewish
resistance in the 1960s that will be briefly discussed here too. The way in which this
debate would frame discourses about Jewish volunteers from the late 1960s onwards
concludes the chapter.
Chapter 7 is devoted to the period from the late 1960s to the early 1980s, when a
number of events took place that served to embed their experiences in a broader
narrative of Jewish armed resistance against fascism and Nazism. The starting point for
12 Jewish Volunteers, the International Brigades and the Spanish Civil War

this shift can be located in the years 1967–68 when an anti-Jewish campaign took place
in Poland that resulted in the involuntary emigration of several Polish-Jewish veterans
of the International Brigades, who thereupon lost their pension rights. The result was a
small scale international campaign that brought Jewish veterans and International
Brigades organizations in Israel, Great Britain, France and the United States in contact
in a modest but determined drive to restore these pension rights. Though unsuccessful,
the campaign shifted the focus to the veterans’ Jewish identity and brought sharp
divisions to the fore, particularly in the United States, as to the need to emphasize that
identity, against the backdrop of the politically charged question of whether or not
anti-Semitism in a ‘people’s democracy’ like Poland could be possible. The Polish
pensions campaign thus ultimately foregrounded the question of what it had meant to
be a Jewish volunteer.
The campaign was still underway when the International Conference of Jewish
Fighters in the International Brigades in Spain took place in October 1972 in Tel-Aviv,
bringing together Jewish veterans and researchers from many countries. The conference
was organized on the occasion of the 35th anniversary of the formation of the Botwin
Company, which many participants discussed as a precursor to Jewish armed resistance
during the Second World War. The conference also addressed the Polish-Jewish
pensions affair. For the first time since the war, the question of what the importance of
the participation of Jewish volunteers had been, and to what extent their Jewish origins
had mattered, was now openly discussed in an international forum. In the following
years several articles appeared that provided an overview of the participation of Jewish
volunteers. These publications, in turn, would influence the work of Albert Prago,
published in the American magazine Jewish Currents, which caused heated discussion
in the late 1970s and early 1980s; if American-Jewish volunteers did not go to Spain
with a strong Jewish consciousness as many, including Prago himself, claimed, then
how could their experiences be framed as Jewish resistance against fascism and in what
sense did it, or did it not, constitute a Jewish contribution to that resistance?
The Polish pensions affair, the Tel-Aviv conference and the debates among Jewish
veterans surrounding them, can be seen as a transitional phase: they served to frame
the participation of Jewish volunteers in the International Brigades as a form of armed
Jewish resistance against fascism and Nazism, especially in Europe and Israel. Indeed,
by the time of the 50th anniversary of the start of the Spanish Civil War in 1986
commemorations of Jewish volunteers, and assertions of the importance of their role
as armed Jewish resistance fighters, were firmly established and seemed no longer
contested. A series of events, to be discussed in Chapter  8, firmly solidified this
interpretation. In September 1986, then Israeli president Chaim Herzog gave a speech
in which he hailed the struggle of Jewish volunteers in Spain, and many saw the
speech as an official recognition by the Jewish state. Within the Israeli context it also
meant a form of rehabilitation since Palestinian-Jewish volunteers had left for Spain
at a time when Arab–Jewish fighting took daily casualties; as a result they often
faced allegations of deserting the Jewish cause in the years after their return. Several
days after Herzog’s speech, a commemorative grove dedicated to Jewish volunteers
was officially inaugurated in Beit Shemesh.44 Herzog’s words were also inscribed on
the monument that was dedicated to Jewish volunteers in Barcelona in 1990, the
Introduction 13

second monument to commemorate Jewish volunteers after a special plaque was


also erected in Madrid in 1988. Several other meetings of Jewish veterans also took
place in these years.
The chapter concludes with a brief discussion of the work of German historian
Arno Lustiger who published a book about Jewish volunteers in 1989, aptly entitled
Schalom Libertad!. Aiming for a broad, but particularly non-Jewish, audience, Lustiger
narrated the participation of Jewish volunteers in the International Brigades as the
earliest example of armed Jewish resistance against fascism and Nazism with the
express aim to move away from the emphasis on Jewish victimhood, which, in his view,
still dominated Holocaust debates in Germany.45 The book was subsequently translated
into French and Spanish and republished in a revised edition in 2001, while an English-
language article Lustiger published in 1990 became a seminal article on the topic in the
Anglo-Saxon academic world. Schalom Libertad! can be seen as the final, written,
culmination of a process whereby Jewish volunteers in the International Brigades were
established as the first armed Jewish resistance fighters against fascism and Nazism.
Lustiger was also the first to make this case, with the explicit aim of informing non-
Jewish audiences. Several studies have since followed, both in the form of academic
scholarship and more popular histories, yet the ubiquitous image of Jewish volunteers
as Jewish resistance fighters, if such a public image can be said to exist, had been fixed
by the late 1980s. It is thus fitting to end my analysis of how volunteers of Jewish
descent became Jewish volunteers here.
The Epilogue will discuss and contrast pre-Second World War and post-Holocaust
representations of Jewish volunteers and the extent to which they actually differ. As will
be clear by then, debates about alleged Jewish passivity during the Holocaust have been
much more influential in shaping the image of Jewish volunteers than their actual
experiences on the Spanish battlefields; as such their participation was evaluated in
strongly moral terms. This shift away from the context of Jews in the Left in which the
participation of Jewish volunteers was originally situated, is particularly well illustrated
by shifting ideas of what the Botwin Company stood for and represented: in 1938 the
company was mostly a symbol of Jewish valour and readiness to fight in Jewish
communist circles. Come 1986 it was, for many, the prime example of a Jewish and
Leftist contribution to armed Jewish resistance against fascism and Nazism in the dark
years of 1933–45.

Before beginning the story, a final word is due on the scope of the analysis. This book
is not exhaustive. For reasons that will become clear, it does not seek to establish in
detail how many of the volunteers fighting in the brigades were Jewish as I believe such
an endeavour misses the point. Nor is this book a biographical or prosopographical
study; there are several important works that offer detailed information about
individual volunteers. And while some events are explored in great detail, others are
only outlined. As with so many topics in Jewish Studies, linguistic challenges also
abound. The ideal historian of Jewish volunteers in the International Brigades masters
or has a working knowledge of Spanish, French, German, English, Dutch, Polish,
Russian, Yiddish and Hebrew, to name just the most important languages. I am aware
that a lack of knowledge of Hebrew, and especially Polish, adds certain limitations to
14 Jewish Volunteers, the International Brigades and the Spanish Civil War

the scope of this study, even though the most essential sources in the Polish and
Palestinian/Israeli cases were written in Yiddish. I have no doubt, then, that new
material will shed more light on issues I only touch upon. Nonetheless, I hope and
believe that the main outline and conclusions of the story that I present can stand the
test of time.
6 Jewish Volunteers, the International Brigades and the Spanish Civil War

This historical framework was also used to explain the participation of Jewish
volunteers in the International Brigades as a form of posthumous reckoning and
righting of historical wrongs. Thus, Naye Prese cast Jewish volunteers as the heirs of
Maimonides, ‘the first Jewish fighter who had fought in Spain against backwardness,
darkness and barbarism’.20 Similarly, David McKelvey-White, chairman of the Friends
of the Abraham Lincoln Brigade, a support organization for American volunteers,
asserted in 1939: ‘During the 15th century the over-civilized barbarians of Spain – far
ahead of Hitler in efficiency as in time – drove the Jews from this country with fire and
violence. Surely they little thought that five centuries later Jews would return from a
continent as yet unknown to help defend Spain from a fresh outburst of the old terror.’21
As Lekhter’s remarks illustrate, however, writers in Naye Prese also emphasized the
importance of fighting fascism in Spain as Jews when discussing the experiences of
Jewish volunteers. Having successfully lobbied for the formation of a Jewish unit, the
Parisian Jewish migrant communists presented the Botwin Company as the prime
symbol of this Jewish engagement. At the same time, the company became an important
tool to mobilize and maintain support for the Spanish cause and promote the
Comintern’s Popular Front strategy on der yidisher gas (the Jewish street).22 This
strategy, adopted by the Comintern in 1935, ‘involved a postponement of revolutionary
objectives in favour of a broad anti-fascist alliance with Socialist and liberal bourgeois
parties’,23 and the International Brigades became a crucial propaganda tool to showcase
its successful application in practice. For Jewish communists in Paris this was no
different and the International Brigades were a key tool to promote a Jewish Popular
Front. It might seem, then, that the invocation of a specific Jewish historical framework
by these Jewish communists, and their promotion of the participation of Jewish
volunteers, were merely functional ways of explaining the importance of ‘Spain’ to
Jewish audiences in order to incite their support for what was essentially a much bigger
political cause.
Yet Jewish communist engagement with ‘Spain’ was decidedly more complicated. To
be sure, there can be little doubt that propaganda was a major part of the story; the
readership of Naye Prese consisted of Yiddish-speaking migrants in Paris and France
and their moral and financial support was crucial as many a campaign was waged to
collect money to support both volunteers and their families. And ‘Spain’ was indeed an
integral part of the political struggle waged by Jewish communists in Paris as they
sought to implement the Popular Front locally. They did so at a time when immigrant
Jews in France faced tremendous challenges, however. In addition to economic
hardship and a general rise of xenophobia and anti-Semitism, the fall of Léon Blum’s
second goverment in April 1938 augured trouble. The decree laws introduced by the
new government of Edouard Daladier imposed restrictions on immigrant labour and
heightened the risk of expulsion for many paperless (Jewish) immigrants.
Within this context, emphasizing ‘Spain’ and the joint struggle of Jewish volunteers in
the brigades served to drive home the message that united action was possible,
constituted the only possible defence against the threats that immigrant Jews faced, and
could also be achieved in France. Labelling Jewish volunteers as ‘chosen fighters of the
Jewish people’ was of course a clever case of employing religious references that would
resonate with a Jewish audience in order to try to bind them to the communist and
16
1

Backgrounds and Contexts

Creating the International Brigades

Following the start of the revolt in Spain the various parties that made up its Popular
Front government began organizing militias in order to fight the rebellious generals
and their troops. Until October 1936, when they were merged into the reorganized
Republican army, these militias constituted the main line of the Spanish government’s
defence.1 From the very beginning foreigners could be found within this fluid and
rapidly changing military context. Some of them were political exiles already living in
Spain but soon volunteers from outside began to arrive too.2 Yet several early foreign
volunteers were also in Spain by coincidence. These were the athletes that had come
to Barcelona to participate in the Popular Olympiad (also known as the People’s or
Workers Olympiad) that was organized in opposition to the 1936 official Olympic
Games in Berlin. Due to take place between 19 and 26 July, only days before the Berlin
Olympics, the Popular Olympiad was abruptly aborted when the revolt started. As a
result, hundreds of athletes ended up in the middle of a burgeoning civil war instead of
joining an international sports event; several of them subsequently decided to volunteer
and fight in one of the militias.
Outside Spain, scattered initiatives to send volunteers to support the militias
were soon taken, though by no means in a structured way.3 In early August the
French Communist Party’s (PCF ) newspaper L’Humanité announced that the French
government had authorized volunteers to go to Spain, a false report with little effect
in terms of people actually volunteering.4 Nonetheless, the PCF soon began to recruit
volunteers. Polish-Jewish volunteer Alexander Szurek relates in his memoirs how one of
Naye Prese’s editors, Spero, called for volunteers during a meeting in Rouen.5 According
to the Italian Giulio Ceretti, then head of the PCF ’s foreign language sections (Main
d’Oeuvre Immigrée – MOI ), Spanish migrants in France urged him to support a volunteer
effort, an idea that he subsequently discussed with the party’s secretary-general,
Maurice Thorez. This resulted in the recruitment of several volunteers on the initiative of
the PCF leadership in late August.6 Whether or not this move was condoned by the
Comintern at that time remains unclear,7 but on 18 September the Executive Committee
of the Communist International (ECCI ) officially decided upon the formation of the
International Brigades during a meeting in Moscow.8 Subsequently the Comintern’s
member parties began the recruitment of volunteers.9 A base was set up near Albacete
and the official formation of the International Brigades took place on 14 October.

17
18 Jewish Volunteers, the International Brigades and the Spanish Civil War

Most foreign volunteers in the militias were eventually absorbed into the newly
formed brigades, headed by the French communist and Comintern secretary, André
Marty. He was assisted by Italian communist Luigi Longo (operating in Spain under
the nom de guerre ‘Gallo’) who became chief inspector. The organization of the brigades
outside Spain was handled by the PCF, and Paris became its centre of operations.10
Most volunteers passed through here before continuing their journey to Spain. In
January 1937 the International Committee for Aid to the Spanish People (Comité
International d’Aide au peuple espagnol, CIAPE ) was created to coordinate support
campaigns for Spain and for the volunteers and their families. The CIAPE was
organized in national sections, which were linked to the language sections of the MOI
that took care of ‘their’ volunteers.11
From its inception the International Brigades was thus a multinational army,
initiated by the Comintern yet not under its absolute control. Once in Albacete
volunteers were initially assigned to battalions and later to various brigades that were
organized along national and linguistic lines. Following the model of the Red Army,
each brigade unit, whether a brigade, battalion or company, had a military commander
as well as a political commissar whose task it was ‘to permeate the rank and file with
the views of the Comintern – under the guise of the Popular Front, the exaltation of
the USSR and the hatred of the POUM ’ and to maintain the troops’ morale12
(the Unified Marxist Workers’ Party, or POUM , was a competitor to the Spanish
Communist Party, PCE ). The brigades also had their own security apparatus, the
Servicio Investigación Militar (Military Intelligence Service). The Servicio de Cuadros
(Cadres Service) took care of administrative affairs and control of the various
nationalities and was divided in different language sections.13 Among the Polish cadre
leaders were two Polish-Jewish communists, Sevek Kirschenbaum and Gershon Dua-
Bogen, who would later play a role in the formation of the Botwin Company. The
Cadres Service also evaluated all volunteers on the basis of physical capabilities and
suitability for battle as well as character, morale and political outlook; a lack of either
military or political suitability could be grounds for repatriation for being either
physically unfit or undesirable.14
The role of the Comintern in the creation and organization of the International
Brigades has shaped, and still shapes, debates about the interbrigadistas, particularly in
Anglo-Saxon historiography.15 Since the publication of Dan Richardson’s Comintern
Army in 1982, and especially after the opening of the Comintern archives a decade
later, that debate has centred on questions such as if, and in what sense, the brigades
actually constituted a ‘Comintern Army’ and how they fit into Stalin’s real intentions in
Spain. Much has also been made of the sometimes rigid and overzealous enforcement
of political discipline within the brigades and the vexed issue of control, anti-Trotskyist
paranoia and repression, probably best symbolized by André Marty’s reputation as the
‘butcher of Albacete’. Several scholars have rightly pointed out though that the Soviet
military aid effort in Spain, known as Operation X, and the Comintern’s organization
of the International Brigades were no schoolbook examples of smoothly run, successful,
operations but in fact highly problematic and unsuccessful from an operational point
of view.16 Yet while it might be true that a gap existed between intent and outcome, the
latter does not make the former less contentious.
Backgrounds and Contexts 19

Equally contentious is the question of how the Soviet and Comintern role in
Spain shaped the agency of individual volunteers who went to fight in Spain, and their
motivations and role in the Spanish arena. Georg Esenwein has aptly described the two
opposing points of view: ‘One seeks to glorify the exploits of the volunteers by treating
them as self-sacrificing individuals who were engaged in a noble cause. The other
maintains that, whether wittingly or not, the brigadistas played an integral part in
Stalin’s strategy to dominate the political and military spheres of Republican Spain.’17
The extent to which dispassionate debate can be fraught on these issues, even among
academics, was well illustrated during a Spanish Civil War conference held in Bristol in
2006 where one of the (non-academic) contributors advocated a ‘history, not homage’
approach to the history of the International Brigades, in a by all means nuanced attempt
to de-romanticize the history of the International Brigades. The call was critically
received, not only by relatives of volunteers but even by some of the professional
historians that were present.
The overly simplistic picture of the interbrigaders as a politically single-minded lot
fighting united against a common fascist enemy might be slowly fading but it is not
yet gone. And while the ‘war about the war’ might have lost some of its intensity it
is certainly not over, nor have all vestiges of ‘last great cause’ simplism disappeared.18
This is especially problematic because important questions need to be asked about
nationality politics within the brigades, competition among national and/or ethnic
groups and, highly relevant for the purposes of this book, the existence of anti-Semitism
and/or anti-Semitic stereotypes. All of this is not to deny many individual acts of
heroism or sacrifice on the part of many volunteers. Yet heroism is a problematic term
for historians because it has so little explanatory value. Presenting dramatic individual
experiences as acts of heroism deprives the many volunteers for Spain, in a peculiar
sense, of their humanity by reducing them to heroes that were wounded or killed for
the good cause. It does not allow for an empathic understanding of the experiences of
these volunteers nor of those who stayed behind, worrying about their fate.
Estimates for the total number of volunteers in the International Brigades (IB ) vary
from 35,000 to around 60,000 but most recent estimates arrive at about 35,000–40,000
individuals.19 Although the majority of them were communists, the IB ranks also
included socialists, anarchists or non-politically affiliated individuals. All volunteers
had to undergo a physical health check, and were interviewed about their political
affiliation and stance before taking off for Spain. Women were mainly allowed as nurses,
pharmacists or doctors. The Brigade command did not encourage women to become
fighters and local communist parties did not actively recruit them.20 Nevertheless,
women did go to Spain to fight.21 During the course of its existence the IB was in a state
of constant reorganization and restructuring following the various battles in which it
fought and fluctuations in the numbers of new volunteers arriving.
A superficial glance at many accounts of the International Brigades might suggest
that the reasons for many thousands of men to volunteer to fight in Spain were simple
and straightforward: they went to fight against fascism, a suggestion that neatly fits with
the Comintern presentation of the conflict as a struggle between the forces of freedom
and democracy versus the fascist Nationalist forces of Franco. Yet in reality the issue
of motivation is complex. Individual decisions to volunteer for the brigades were
20 Jewish Volunteers, the International Brigades and the Spanish Civil War

influenced by many factors and have to be seen within the context of each volunteer’s
political, social, economic and psychological outlook and specific circumstances. If a
general anti-fascist conviction did indeed play an important role for many, so did
another factor: for many the fight in Spain was a proxy for the political battles they were
engaged in at home.22 This was true for exiled Italian and German volunteers, for Polish
communists whose party was forbidden and who faced persecution at home, and
British volunteers who saw volunteering as ‘an extension of their fight against Mosley’s
Blackshirts in Britain’,23 to name but some examples. Conversely the absence of a clear
‘enemy’ at home could also influence decisions, as American-Jewish veteran Milton
Wolff neatly summarized: ‘Where else were we gonna resist? Brooklyn?’24 Other factors
were at work too. For communists, especially cadres, a party demand to enlist could be
decisive. At the same time, not all volunteers had a clear political affiliation; in fact many
non-Communists became party members, which could facilitate enlisting. And there
were of course also those who simply sought adventure. For those who lived in poor
and difficult circumstances the possibility of regaining dignity and self-respect could
play a role or simply provided a way out.25
There was thus a fluid and complex dynamic between pull and push factors.
Nir Arielli has argued that ideological motivations alone are insufficient to explain
volunteering and has drawn attention to the importance of push factors.26 These could
be especially strong in the case of ‘migrant volunteers’; those who went to Spain, not
from their own countries of birth, but from those countries to which they had migrated
earlier, such as France, Belgium and Canada. In this respect, Helen Graham has argued
that the history of the brigades’ volunteers should be seen ‘in the context of “diaspora”,
that is to say the process of internal exile and migration within Europe that followed
the Great War’. Volunteers, thus understood, were crossing borders social, political,
cultural and real, ‘resisting many forms of violent social and political exclusion
simultaneously’.27 The specific psychological and socio-economic circumstances of
migrants in their new countries, their immigrant experience in other words, could
create an incentive to go to Spain, for instance as a means to escape the continual fear
of being expelled in the case of politically active communists.
Belgium is a good example of the latter; a considerable number of Jewish and
non-Jewish Poles who had fled political persecution at home subsequently faced
extradition in Belgium and decided to leave for Spain.28 For such ‘migrant volunteers’
the abovementioned idea of symbolically fighting injustice at home clearly played
an important role, as for example Michael Petrou has argued convincingly in his
work on volunteers from Canada.29 It follows that any categorical statements about
volunteers from certain countries or backgrounds are difficult to sustain. Treating and
studying Polish volunteers as a single group, for instance, is highly problematic unless
the migration experience is taken into account. And even within a single group
of communist volunteers from a given country there were differences, for example
between those who had volunteered themselves and those who had been ordered by
the party to go, or between those who had left a family behind and those who were not
married.
The International Brigades saw their first major deployment in the battles for
Madrid that lasted from November 1936 to March 1937, after which a change took
Backgrounds and Contexts 21

place. The build-up of the Republican army, into which the International Brigades were
formally incorporated, consigned them to a relatively smaller military significance,
though they remained largely independent in practice. Furthermore, from spring 1937
onwards, the number of brigades’ soldiers started to decline, due to the high number
of casualties (they were usually used as shock troops) and a decrease in the number
of recruited volunteers. As Dan Richardson put it: ‘No doubt also the reports of
disillusioned Brigade men who had managed to get out of Spain, the reports of the
Communist terror, and the gradually growing awareness that joining the Brigades was
less a romantic adventure than a good way to die young played a part in reducing the
number of men who might otherwise have been tempted to join.’30 To an increasing
extent Spaniards now refilled the ranks of the Brigades and by late 1937 overtook the
number of foreign volunteers. Attempting to manage Spanish/non-Spanish relations
subsequently became more and more important for the brigade staff.31 Internal
problems, such as competition between various communist parties and an absence of
functionaries of the Spanish Communist Party (PCE ) in the IB base, now led to the
requirement for foreign communists to become PCE members.32 Efforts to recruit
more volunteers abroad were reinforced by the IB command as well as a more rigid
discipline to counter the decline in morale among certain units.33 Upholding and
strengthening the morale of the troops on the battlefields was a key function of the
political commissars as well as the IB press,34 which, more generally, served to inform
volunteers about the state of affairs on the battlefield and in their units. All brigades,
battalions and even companies had their own newspapers coordinated by a special
press service. There were also frequent broadcasts on Radio Madrid in different
languages, including Yiddish.35
The International Brigades were an important propaganda tool to promote the
Comintern’s Popular Front tactic that had been adopted during its 7th Congress
in Moscow in August 1935. Within that context the Spanish Civil War was presented as
a struggle of the world’s democratic forces against the world’s fascists and the brigades
as an international army in which volunteers of all political backgrounds fought united
against the fascist enemy.36 In reality that front was far from united, neither in Spain
nor in the brigades. As Szurek contends in his memoirs: ‘Feuds between various
workers’ movements existed from the very beginning of the war. As the Spanish War
proves, the period of the Popular Front was no example of closing ranks against the
common enemy, fascism, but was a constant struggle not only to win a war but also to
win over the masses and to assure the form of any future government’.37
Szurek’s depiction is corroborated by documents in the Moscow archives which
suggest that the image of a united brotherhood of various nationalities is overly
romantic. Not only were several national and subnational groups of volunteers
vying for representation in the form of their own military units, but tensions between
foreign volunteers and Spanish soldiers in the ranks of the International Brigades
were frequently discussed too. In addition there were significant differences among
volunteers in terms of military and political discipline, and differing ideas on how
a multinational army should be run by those coming from democratic and non-
democratic countries.38 Following Juan Negrin’s speech at the League of Nations on
21 September 1938, announcing the Spanish government’s agreement to unilateral
12 Jewish Volunteers, the International Brigades and the Spanish Civil War

this shift can be located in the years 1967–68 when an anti-Jewish campaign took place
in Poland that resulted in the involuntary emigration of several Polish-Jewish veterans
of the International Brigades, who thereupon lost their pension rights. The result was a
small scale international campaign that brought Jewish veterans and International
Brigades organizations in Israel, Great Britain, France and the United States in contact
in a modest but determined drive to restore these pension rights. Though unsuccessful,
the campaign shifted the focus to the veterans’ Jewish identity and brought sharp
divisions to the fore, particularly in the United States, as to the need to emphasize that
identity, against the backdrop of the politically charged question of whether or not
anti-Semitism in a ‘people’s democracy’ like Poland could be possible. The Polish
pensions campaign thus ultimately foregrounded the question of what it had meant to
be a Jewish volunteer.
The campaign was still underway when the International Conference of Jewish
Fighters in the International Brigades in Spain took place in October 1972 in Tel-Aviv,
bringing together Jewish veterans and researchers from many countries. The conference
was organized on the occasion of the 35th anniversary of the formation of the Botwin
Company, which many participants discussed as a precursor to Jewish armed resistance
during the Second World War. The conference also addressed the Polish-Jewish
pensions affair. For the first time since the war, the question of what the importance of
the participation of Jewish volunteers had been, and to what extent their Jewish origins
had mattered, was now openly discussed in an international forum. In the following
years several articles appeared that provided an overview of the participation of Jewish
volunteers. These publications, in turn, would influence the work of Albert Prago,
published in the American magazine Jewish Currents, which caused heated discussion
in the late 1970s and early 1980s; if American-Jewish volunteers did not go to Spain
with a strong Jewish consciousness as many, including Prago himself, claimed, then
how could their experiences be framed as Jewish resistance against fascism and in what
sense did it, or did it not, constitute a Jewish contribution to that resistance?
The Polish pensions affair, the Tel-Aviv conference and the debates among Jewish
veterans surrounding them, can be seen as a transitional phase: they served to frame
the participation of Jewish volunteers in the International Brigades as a form of armed
Jewish resistance against fascism and Nazism, especially in Europe and Israel. Indeed,
by the time of the 50th anniversary of the start of the Spanish Civil War in 1986
commemorations of Jewish volunteers, and assertions of the importance of their role
as armed Jewish resistance fighters, were firmly established and seemed no longer
contested. A series of events, to be discussed in Chapter  8, firmly solidified this
interpretation. In September 1986, then Israeli president Chaim Herzog gave a speech
in which he hailed the struggle of Jewish volunteers in Spain, and many saw the
speech as an official recognition by the Jewish state. Within the Israeli context it also
meant a form of rehabilitation since Palestinian-Jewish volunteers had left for Spain
at a time when Arab–Jewish fighting took daily casualties; as a result they often
faced allegations of deserting the Jewish cause in the years after their return. Several
days after Herzog’s speech, a commemorative grove dedicated to Jewish volunteers
was officially inaugurated in Beit Shemesh.44 Herzog’s words were also inscribed on
the monument that was dedicated to Jewish volunteers in Barcelona in 1990, the
Backgrounds and Contexts 23

to have been Jewish.46 Considering that the Polish-Jewish population at the time was
about 10 per cent of the total Polish population, the difference seems indeed significant.
Yet most Polish-Jewish volunteers were communist and when a comparison is made
between the percentage of these volunteers and the percentage of Polish Jews active in
the Polish Communist Party (KPP ) the statistical picture is very different. Jaff Schatz
estimates that the percentage of Jewish members of the Polish communist party
fluctuated between 22 and 26 per cent throughout the 1930s.47 The ‘exceptional’
percentage of Jews among the Polish volunteers is therefore in the first place a reflection
of the percentage of Jews active in the KPP.48 Moreover, even if a difference can be
shown, migration needs to be taken into account as an explanatory factor: the semi-
legal status of many Polish-Jewish immigrants in France and Belgium, and the already
mentioned threat of extradition for the communists among them, contributed to a
greater willingness to leave for Spain.
Jewish volunteers came from many different countries and had very different
backgrounds; their motivation cannot be studied and explained sufficiently by
considering them as one specific category or nationality. As Rudi van Doorslaer has
commented in this respect:

First, one can ask the question whether it is historically advisable and correct to
count ‘all’ Jews together and then proceed to show that the Jewish ‘nationality’ had
the strongest representation in Spain, which in the case of some authors is the
underlying intention. What makes sense for Palestinian or Eastern European –
including Polish – Jews with their own language and identity, is already much less
significant for Jews of British, American, French and German nationality (even
though many were second or third generation Eastern European migrants).49

Yet the disproportionally high number of volunteers with a Jewish background is often
interpreted as indicative of a Jewish concern that, consciously or unconsciously, must
have motivated them. This specifically Jewish motivation is then used as justification to
construct a distinct category of Jewish volunteers. Jewishness thus feeds into theories
about motivation, albeit in a variety of forms. For some it can only mean that Jewish-
born volunteers went to Spain as Jews, motivated by the realization that they, as Jews,
were prime targets of fascism and thus had to resist as Jews. Thus Arno Lustiger writes:

The first Jews to take up arms against the advance of fascism in Europe were the
more than 6,000 Jewish volunteers in the Spanish Civil War. Hitler was not the first,
nor the last, leader of a fascist, racist and antisemitic movement. He was followed by
mini-Hitlers in numerous countries of East, South and West Europe. This was one of
the reasons for the comparatively high proportion of Jewish volunteers in Spain.50

As the discussion of statistics indicates, however, the political preferences of Jewish


volunteers were a key factor in explaining their numbers in the brigades. Indeed, the
real question is how to explain the attraction of communism and socialism among
young Jews, a controversial topic in itself given its relation to the myth of Judeo-
Bolshevism.51 All of this leaves open the major question of the extent to which being
24 Jewish Volunteers, the International Brigades and the Spanish Civil War

Jewish mattered in volunteering for Spain: ‘did the Jews come to Spain to fight for their
communist ideals (together with all other communists) or did they come because,
as Jews, they wanted to take issue with the motor of anti-Semitism – fascism?’52
The question is difficult to answer given the dearth of case studies that exist on the
motivation of Jewish volunteers. Moreover, many accounts of their participation rely
heavily on (auto-)biographical material or oral history. Valuable as these sources are,
the methodological issues that arise from using them are often ignored. Yet as people
look back on their lives their interpretation of past experiences is influenced by the
later course of their lives and their personal narrative is reconstructed accordingly.
With regard to Jewish volunteers Colin Shindler has thus noted: ‘It may be that many
brigaders felt that their Jewishness was simply one reason among many for their
presence in Spain and that to emphasise it was unnecessary. As the years have passed,
however, many have realised in retrospect that unacknowledged Jewish reasons for
volunteering were important’.53 Indeed, such ‘unacknowledged Jewish reasons’ would
take centre stage after the Holocaust when Jewish veterans began to look back and
debate their own participation.54 Nevertheless, one must be careful to look at the
circumstances that motivated volunteers at the time, without reconstructing their
motivation in hindsight after the Holocaust.
When qualifying the backgrounds of Jewish volunteers in the brigades it is useful to
distinguish between ‘those who came from countries where the notion of Jews
belonging to a separate nationality was not known or accepted, and those from the
countries of Eastern Europe where Jews considered themselves and were officially
considered to belong to a Jewish nationality.’55 Importantly, Jewish migrants transferred
this notion of belonging and identity to the places they migrated to, a fact that is crucial
to understand the engagement of Parisian Jewish migrant communists with Spain, and
their relations with the PCF more generally. There is general agreement among
scholars as well as Jewish veterans themselves that ‘Western’ Jewish volunteers did not
go to Spain ‘out of Jewish concern’.56 Jonathan Solovy, who conducted the only existing
case study on the motivation of American-Jewish volunteers, suggests that volunteering
‘served to neutralize the conflicts of identity derived from the volunteers’ American,
communist and Jewish backgrounds. Indeed, the volunteers were to fight against
the anti-communist, anti-Semitic and ultimately anti-democratic or anti-American
forces of fascism’.57 Fighting anti-Semitism, though, was not the main impetus for
these volunteers who often came from secular homes. American-Jewish veteran Saul
Wellman has observed that ‘among us, the degree of Jewish consciousness differed
from individual to individual’.58 Similarly, veteran and writer Alvah Bessie has noted
that most American-Jewish volunteers ‘did not consider the fact of being Jews germane
to the job they were engaged in’.59 Even Albert Prago admitted that American-Jewish
volunteers generally did not have a high level of Jewish consciousness when in Spain.
Nonetheless, some veterans have asserted at least a certain level of Jewish consciousness.
As Irving Weissman comments:

While it is without question that, in the period before the Holocaust, assimilationism
was a stronger ideology among left wing Jews in Europe and the USA than it is
today, I think it is also undeniable that, even in that period, no Jewish democrat or
Backgrounds and Contexts 25

socialist could fail to see that fascism had a special guillotine greased for his neck;
this heightened consciousness must have contributed to the readiness to engage in
armed struggle against fascism.60

Nonetheless, there were some who did appear to see the guillotine, and acted upon it,
most famously Rabbi Hyman Katz, a Zionist, who wrote to his mother on 25 November
1937: ‘don’t you realise that we Jews will be the first to suffer if fascism comes?’61
Interestingly, Milton Wolff explained his motivation to go and fight in Spain in exactly
the same words when appearing before the House Un-American Activities Committee
in 1939: ‘I am Jewish, and knowing that as a Jew we are the first to suffer when fascism
does come, I went to Spain to fight against it.’62 The use of identical words by Katz and
Wolff should not come as a surprise; the phrase was often employed by the CPUSA
and its Jewish Buro in the Popular Front era to highlight that fighting fascism meant
fighting anti-Semitism, and was part of a strategy to attract Jews to the party.63 While
Katz undoubtedly believed his words, the occurrence of other tropes found in much
contemporary Comintern propaganda about the Spanish conflict is evident in several
other passages in his letter:

But if we didn’t see clearly the hand of Mussolini and Hitler in all these countries,
in Spain we can’t help seeing it. Together with their agent, Franco, they are trying
to set up the same anti-progressive, anti-Semitic regime in Spain, as they have in
Italy and Germany.
So I took up arms against the persecutors of my people – the Jews – and my
class – the Oppressed. I am fighting against those who establish an inquisition like
that of their ideological ancestors several centuries ago, in Spain. Are these traits
which you admire so much in a Prophet Jeremiah or a Judas Maccabeus, bad when
your son exhibits them? Of course I am not Jeremiah or a Judas; but I’m trying
with my own meager capabilities, to do what they did with their great capabilities,
in the struggle for Liberty, Well-being and Peace.64

The only other case study existing for ‘Western’ Jewish volunteers is that of Paul Bagon
who studied British-Jewish volunteers. Bagon posits a link between their motivation
and the anti-Semitism of Oswald Mosley’s British Union of Fascists (BUF ), thus
suggesting they saw their participation as a proxy for the political battles they were
engaged in at home, a view which echoes Jason Heppell’s more general point about
Jewish engagement with communism in 1930s Britain that ‘For this generation, fighting
Fascism was a way of expressing together, with varying degrees of emphasis and
consciousness, their Jewish, British and generational identities. The BUF, the Spanish
Civil War, the Nazi invasion of the Soviet Union and the rebirth of the Fascist movement
in the post-war years formed an almost continuous chain of events testing and
developing their political loyalties’.65 While this is certainly plausible, Bagon’s thesis is
based on a sample of only eleven interviews and he does not reflect on the problem of
using oral history for this type of study and the question of how hindsight might have
reshaped these volunteers’ views. There are no case studies that specifically analyse the
motivation of Jewish volunteers that came from other ‘Western’ countries, such as
26 Jewish Volunteers, the International Brigades and the Spanish Civil War

Germany, Austria, France, the Netherlands and Belgium (excluding Jewish migrants
coming from those countries).
If East European Jews generally regarded themselves as belonging to a Jewish
national minority, it is tempting to assume that East European Jewish volunteers had
more outspoken ‘Jewish reasons’ for volunteering. Indeed, Rothenberg has claimed that
East European Jews, in contrast to their American colleagues:

had a keen awareness of their Jewishness and a loyalty to the Jewish people. . . . The
awareness that Nazism was a danger not only to the Jewish working class, but to
the whole Jewish people, served as a powerful incentive for fighting fascism,
especially German fascism. Most of these volunteers wanted it to be known to all,
friend and foe, that they fought Hitler, Mussolini and Franco as Jews.66

Yet the actual picture is much more complicated, and political loyalties were crucial.
Zvi Loker states, for example, that many Balkan-Jewish volunteers ‘did not view
themselves as Jews but as cosmopolitans and universalists’ with the exception of
Zionist youth.67 For them, volunteering for Spain provided a suitable outlet for their
revolutionary and leftist fervour, the possibility to meet ‘a desire for immediate and
practical action, as against the inevitable, and often long and frustrating, wait for
emigration permits’.68 Importantly, even within this Zionist group, where one would
expect a more outspoken ‘Jewish motivation’, pragmatic reasons thus seem to have
influenced the decision to volunteer for Spain. With regard to Polish-Jewish volunteers,
Sichon has argued that many were communists. The dire predicament of Polish Jewry
at the time, severe social and economic hardship combined with intense anti-Semitic
pressures, provided an incentive for young Polish Jews to enter the radical left: ‘In this
situation, Jewish youth was much more sensitive to the ideology of the left, that
advocated equality of rights, the struggle against racism, and social justice’.69 Yet while
the specific condition of Polish Jewry thus could incentivize many young Jews to join
the communist movement, Jewishness did not become the prime marker of identity
that infused their subsequent radical lives, nor individual decisions to go to Spain:

At the root of the engagement of Jewish volunteers we find unquestionably their


national and social origin, as well as their level of assimilation. But they all shared a
common trait, indepedent of their country of origin – they proclaimed and
considered themselves solely as anti-fascists. Their Jewish origin, which they almost
never hid, was completely secondary and without specific importance to them.70

It is important to realize that becoming a communist in interwar Poland often


entailed severing ties with one’s family. As the KPP was illegal and its members
constantly persecuted and imprisoned, Polish-Jewish communist identities were
decisively shaped by experiences of working underground and fighting the state, and
much less so by their Jewish backgrounds. Thus, while the radical engagement of Jews
might have had a Jewish context this does not automatically imply that Jewishness was
the key factor triggering the decision to go to Spain, nor that Jewish volunteers had a
clear Jewish consciousness and identified themselves mainly as Jews in Spain.
Backgrounds and Contexts 27

These observations are corroborated by what is without any doubt the most
thorough analysis of the motivation of Jewish volunteers, conducted by the Belgian
historian Rudi van Doorslaer. As his most important publications on the topic
have been published in Dutch they are unfortunately virtually unknown.71 His
prosopographic study on Jews from Belgium in the International Brigades, many of
whom were migrants, underlines the variety of push and pull factors that influenced
individual decisions to volunteer. Some Polish-Jewish volunteers had already migrated
to Spain before the civil war broke out and subsequently decided to join the early
militias. Others, coming directly from Belgium, were led by their anti-fascist convictions
and wanted to defend the interests of the working class, their party and the Soviet
Union. Yet they also included Trotskyists with revolutionary hopes that were quickly
squashed. Volunteers joining from October 1936 onwards, after the creation of the
International Brigades, were by majority communists or sympathizers.72 Their migrant
status in Belgium often affected the decision to go to Spain, as they sought to escape
economic hardship or problems with local authorities resulting from their communist
activities. Going to Spain allowed them to escape these pressures without forsaking
their political engagement. By highlighting the complex interplay of incentives, Van
Doorslaer’s research confirms Arielli’s thesis that volunteering was always the result of
pull as well as push factors, especially so in the case of Jewish migrant volunteers.
The same was true for the Palestinian-Jewish volunteers who were deported from
Palestine because of their communist activities,73 in some cases were forced by the
British authorities to choose between prison or expulsion and joining the fight in
Spain,74 or were simply disappointed and found Palestine too capitalistic.75 Indeed,
some of the Jewish volunteers from Palestine thought that a successful revolution in
Spain could help the future Jewish state.76 Once again we find a mix of factors, both
general and specific to local context: ‘a combination of pressure from the British
mandate authorities, hostility from the Zionist establishment and acute internal
disputes, following the party’s participation in the Arab Revolt in Palestine (1936–9),
created strong push factors that encouraged many Party members to leave the country’.77
It is interesting to note that historians like Rothenberg and Lustiger have been much
more outspoken in suggesting the importance of Jewish concerns in propelling Jewish
volunteers to go to Spain than veteran-historians, such as Sichon, Loker or Toch, who
are much more sensitive to the specific historical context in which the participation of
Jewish volunteers should be seen: that of the experiences of Jews in the Left in the
1930s. Thus Toch ventures that participation in the Spanish Civil War constituted an

act of their faith in the humanity of socialist-communist Internationalism and


thereby also (as they assumed) as a requirement for the resolution of their specific
Jewish misery. Hence they did not go with a specifically Jewish defensive concern
to Spain, but as communists, socialists or simply anti-fascists. Of course they could
not avoid to see the special threat that a victory for fascism, in which Hitlerism was
so interested and participated, would mean for them as Jews.78

In sum, generalizations about the background and the motivation of Jewish volunteers
can hardly be made. If the variety of political, social and geographical backgrounds
28 Jewish Volunteers, the International Brigades and the Spanish Civil War

shows us anything, it is that only a thorough contextualization, and the study of specific
groups of Jewish volunteers taking these backgrounds into account, can provide useful
answers. Jewish volunteers came from many different countries, with differing political
and social landscapes and policies with regard to their Jewish populations. The family
backgrounds of Jewish volunteers were also highly diverse, some of them having grown
up in traditional orthodox Jewish families and others in completely secularized
families. They had various political affiliations and experiences in political parties with
different attitudes to Jewish issues: a Polish Bundist brought a very different political
and ethnic outlook with him from that of a Polish-Jewish communist, or an American-
Jewish communist who happened to have been born Jewish. They would all have
gained experiences in various cultural and societal organizations, Jewish as well as
non-Jewish. All of these factors conditioned the level of Jewish consciousness ingrained
in them if, indeed, such a consciousness was present at all.
As will become clear in Part Three of this book, however, the development of
debates about Jewish resistance from the early 1960s onwards is key to understanding
how several historians have interpreted the participation of Jewish volunteers in the
1970s and 1980s. It explains why Jewish volunteers are so often discussed as a distinct
category within the International Brigades, motivated by specific Jewish concerns, as
well as the claim that brigade historians have failed to record ‘Jewish participation’. In
many works on the International Brigades, volunteers of Jewish descent were not
identified as Jewish volunteers but in terms of their national background. And that is
precisely the core of the ‘problem’, as the intention of some authors is to point out that
all volunteers of Jewish descent fought in Spain as Jews. Indeed, Lustiger’s claim that
Jewish participation was a ‘taboo subject, submerged in a general silence as to the part
played by Jews in the European resistance to fascism’, highlights the stakes: the taboo
can only be lifted, and the silence broken, by regarding Jewish volunteers as having
constituted a distinct category within the brigades.79
Yet framing Jewish participation in the International Brigades as Jewish resistance is
not without problems. To begin with, reconstructing the participation of Jewish volunteers
as Jewish resistance against the extermination of European Jewry, as some have done, is
anachronistic, even though many continued their struggle in various resistance
movements during the Second World War. It is nonetheless true that some Jewish
volunteers, especially following the Anschluss, began to recognize that a future war in
Europe would put them at the mercy of Nazi Germany as Jews. They might have thought
that their participation in the brigades, and a concomittant belief that a Nationalist victory
would pave the way for Nazi Germany to embark upon a new European war, could, if not
prevent, at the very least limit the perceived threat to their future existence. Yet even if one
allows for the possibility that individual volunteers had a clear premonition about Nazi
Germany’s future exterminatory policies, and assumes their act of volunteering was
predicated upon that premonition, one cannot conclude that a singular category of Jewish
volunteers fought in Spain as Jews with a clear Jewish motivation.
Moreover, if Jewish volunteers become part of a narrative about Jewish resistance
against the Holocaust then no essential difference exists between a Jewish volunteer in the
International Brigades and, for example, a Warsaw ghetto fighter. By labelling the
experiences of both as Jewish resistance, crucial historical differences are blurred and
18 Jewish Volunteers, the International Brigades and the Spanish Civil War

Most foreign volunteers in the militias were eventually absorbed into the newly
formed brigades, headed by the French communist and Comintern secretary, André
Marty. He was assisted by Italian communist Luigi Longo (operating in Spain under
the nom de guerre ‘Gallo’) who became chief inspector. The organization of the brigades
outside Spain was handled by the PCF, and Paris became its centre of operations.10
Most volunteers passed through here before continuing their journey to Spain. In
January 1937 the International Committee for Aid to the Spanish People (Comité
International d’Aide au peuple espagnol, CIAPE ) was created to coordinate support
campaigns for Spain and for the volunteers and their families. The CIAPE was
organized in national sections, which were linked to the language sections of the MOI
that took care of ‘their’ volunteers.11
From its inception the International Brigades was thus a multinational army,
initiated by the Comintern yet not under its absolute control. Once in Albacete
volunteers were initially assigned to battalions and later to various brigades that were
organized along national and linguistic lines. Following the model of the Red Army,
each brigade unit, whether a brigade, battalion or company, had a military commander
as well as a political commissar whose task it was ‘to permeate the rank and file with
the views of the Comintern – under the guise of the Popular Front, the exaltation of
the USSR and the hatred of the POUM ’ and to maintain the troops’ morale12
(the Unified Marxist Workers’ Party, or POUM , was a competitor to the Spanish
Communist Party, PCE ). The brigades also had their own security apparatus, the
Servicio Investigación Militar (Military Intelligence Service). The Servicio de Cuadros
(Cadres Service) took care of administrative affairs and control of the various
nationalities and was divided in different language sections.13 Among the Polish cadre
leaders were two Polish-Jewish communists, Sevek Kirschenbaum and Gershon Dua-
Bogen, who would later play a role in the formation of the Botwin Company. The
Cadres Service also evaluated all volunteers on the basis of physical capabilities and
suitability for battle as well as character, morale and political outlook; a lack of either
military or political suitability could be grounds for repatriation for being either
physically unfit or undesirable.14
The role of the Comintern in the creation and organization of the International
Brigades has shaped, and still shapes, debates about the interbrigadistas, particularly in
Anglo-Saxon historiography.15 Since the publication of Dan Richardson’s Comintern
Army in 1982, and especially after the opening of the Comintern archives a decade
later, that debate has centred on questions such as if, and in what sense, the brigades
actually constituted a ‘Comintern Army’ and how they fit into Stalin’s real intentions in
Spain. Much has also been made of the sometimes rigid and overzealous enforcement
of political discipline within the brigades and the vexed issue of control, anti-Trotskyist
paranoia and repression, probably best symbolized by André Marty’s reputation as the
‘butcher of Albacete’. Several scholars have rightly pointed out though that the Soviet
military aid effort in Spain, known as Operation X, and the Comintern’s organization
of the International Brigades were no schoolbook examples of smoothly run, successful,
operations but in fact highly problematic and unsuccessful from an operational point
of view.16 Yet while it might be true that a gap existed between intent and outcome, the
latter does not make the former less contentious.
30 Jewish Volunteers, the International Brigades and the Spanish Civil War

immigrants worked in the clothing and textile industry and many were so-called
façonniers, self-employed home-workers.82 Due to the post-war reconstitution of
Poland, and the Russian Revolution, these more recent migrants had different political
characteristics from those of previous groups: among them were political refugees,
fleeing Poland where the KPP was illegal and its members were persecuted. Many of
these Polish communists (Jewish and non-Jewish) sought refuge in Belgium and
France, although their exact number is unclear, and formed their own networks. As
evidenced by the fact that both Naye Prese and Parizer Haynt were also sold in Belgium,
Jewish migrants in both countries effectively were part of a single transnational
communicative space. The arrival of more revolutionary inclined migrants after the
First World War, a small but vocal group, exacerbated tensions between migrants and
estalished Jewish communal leaders and organizations. Strongly opposed to
communism themselves, ‘native’ communal leaders were all too aware of stereotypes of
Jews as revolutionaries and the myth of Judeo-Bolshevism that Nazi Germany sought
to peddle, and feared an anti-Semitic backlash that would affect the Jewish community
as a whole. At the same time these politically active Jewish migrants polarized relations
within the Jewish migrant population, especially between the older generation and
those that had arrived more recently.
Jewish migrants faced a rising tide of anti-Semitism within a generally increasing
xenophobic climate in late 1930s France. Vicki Caron has convincingly argued that
anti-Semitism in France in the 1930s was not a mere corollary of a general upsurge in
anti-migrant xenophobia, and a form of symbolic protest, but ‘also reflected very real
socioeconomic differences between Jews and non-Jews’.83 Anti-Semitic discourse also
rested on the perceived equivalence of ‘Jew’ and ‘foreigner’, and the idea that Jews could
never could be assimilated on account of their heredity.84 Foreign Jews were traditionally
seen as difficult to assimilate in the French nation due to their visibility and ‘otherness’.85
The arrival of Jewish migrants from Poland after 1935, following an upsurge in anti-
Semitism and anti-Jewish violence there, exacerbated the situation.86 Jewish migrants
also faced other problems. Unlike immigrants who worked in the mines in the north of
France or in agriculture, they preferred to live in the cities, predominantly in Paris,
where they were seen as competitors with French workers. In contrast to non-Jewish
Polish migrants, Jewish migrants conveyed an impression of not sharing (and not
being able to share) in ‘traditional’ French values, such as manual labour and love for
the land, that could make them more easily assimilable.87 Because of their specific
economic position, Jews were, more than other foreigners, separated from French
workers who were susceptible to anti-Semitism.88 After the Austrian Anschluss in
March 1938, and the Munich crisis in November of that year, fears of foreign Jews
being warmongers resulted in a number of anti-Semitic incidents. The murder in Paris
of the German diplomat Ernst vom Rath by the young Jew Hershl Grynspan, which
provided the Nazis with the ‘excuse’ for the Kristallnacht, exacerbated these fears.89 Yet
Jewish immigrants faced hostility not only from French workers but also from other
non-Jewish Eastern European immigrants, especially Poles and Romanians. This is not
to suggest that anti-Semitism was the sole determinant of Jewish immigrant life in
France in this period;90 nevertheless, the activities of anti-Semitic groups in Paris are
well documented and indicate that Jewish immigrants were confronted with anti-
Backgrounds and Contexts 31

Jewish propaganda, and violence, on the city’s streets.91 Furthermore, the fall of Blum’s
second government in early April 1938 and the decree laws of the new Daladier
government significantly enhanced pressure on migrants in general and Jewish
migrants in particular.92

Already before the First World War a modest, and rather weak, Jewish labour movement
had developed in France, mostly in the form of Jewish sections within the French trade
unions, or in separate unions that were organized in the Intersectional Bureau in 1910.93
At the same time the Jewish socialist Bund (short for General Jewish Workers’ Bund in
Lithuania, Poland and Russia) organized itself in Paris.94 In the interwar period the Bund
had various organizations in Paris, the largest being the Arbeter Ring (Workers Circle)
with about 500 members and the Medem-Farband with 234 in 1939.95 Youth- and other
clubs included, the total number of Bundists hovered around 1,000–1,500, which
included the wider circle of active sympathizers and not just the party militants.96 As was
the case for the Bundists, the number of actual Jewish members of the PCF was relatively
small, running in the hundreds, but the number of sympathizers was considerably larger.
Thus the Fraynt fun Naye Prese, the newspaper’s support organization, had between 2,000
and 3,000 members in the late 1930s in the whole of France.97 The Labour-Zionist
movement was represented by a small branch of the Linke Poale Zion (Left faction of the
Workers of Zion, LPZ ) and the more moderate Poale Zion Hitachduth (Union of the
Workers of Zion). In addition to Jewish socialists, Labour-Zionists and communists
there was also a smaller group of Jewish Trotskyists active in Paris.98 Little is known
about Jewish anarchists, a small group by most accounts.99
Jewish migrants in France also created several umbrella organizations, most
importantly the Fédération des Sociétés Juives (Federation of Jewish Societies),
which was founded in 1926 and comprised several landsmanshaftn and mutual aid
societies. The Federation also operated a school system and a variety of cultural
and sports organizations.100 Many leftist Jews, often communists and usually of a
younger generation of immigrants, regarded the Federation as too apolitical and the
landsmanshaftn and their activities as smacking of ‘old country’ old-fashioned Jewish
philantrophy. They set about creating their own parallel infrastructure of organizations.
In the case of Jewish communists, the oldest of these were the so-called patronatn,
orginally set up in the 1920s to aid politically persecuted comrades in the home
countries. Jewish communists, together with Jewish sections of the trade unions,
created the Tsentrale fun arbeter un folks-organizatsies (Federation of Worker and
People’s Organizations, TSAFO ) in June 1937. The TSAFO was renamed the Farband
fun Yidishe Gezelshaftn (Association of Jewish Societies) in 1938.101 ‘Spain’ would
become one of the tools to advertise the Farband on the Jewish street in Paris.
Until March 1937, Jewish communists had their own section within the PCF.
The creation of language sections as a way of organizing migrant workers in the party
had its roots in the French trade union movement and followed a model set by the
communist General Unitarian Labour Confederation (Confédération Générale du
Travail Unitaire, CGTU ) in 1923.102 To this end an organization called the Main
d’Œuvre Étrangère (MOE , renamed Main d’Œuvre Immigrée – MOI – in 1932) was
set up in 1925 in which all language groups were organized. The sous-section juive
32 Jewish Volunteers, the International Brigades and the Spanish Civil War

(Jewish section) was formed in the late 1920s.103 Police reports suggest that small
independent Jewish communist groups functioned in Paris as early as 1921.104 The
estimated membership of Jews in 1927 in the PCF was around 200.105 By 1934,
according to MOI estimates, there were around 600 Jewish members in the Paris
region, half of them in the Jewish groups.106 From January 1934 onwards the Jewish
section published its daily Yiddish newspaper, Naye Prese, which sold around 3,000
copies a day in the late 1930s.
Throughout the existence of the MOE -MOI , the PCF faced difficulties in
controlling the work of foreign communists of various nationalities and organizing
their propaganda among fellow migrants. A practical reason for this was the frequent
expulsions of foreign communists, who were kept under close police surveillance.107
However, improving relations between ‘foreign comrades’ and French workers proved
an even greater challenge as the former were often seen as too autonomist.108 In this
respect, Courtois et al. have pointed to the centripetal logic of the PCF, which tried to
integrate foreigners in the party, and the more centrifugal logic of the language groups,
which also tried to maintain ties with the home countries.109 Indeed, by 1934 the fight
‘against the autonomist tendencies within the language groups’ was still high on the
agenda. Within that context the Jewish section faced particular criticism:

the Jewish section has not yet succeeded in leading all Jewish comrades and
party members into the work of the party [. . .] Thus the Jewish comrades organise
their own unemployed migrants. They collected 17,000 francs within a couple
of days and opened a restaurant for the unemployed, these comrades take refuge
in a narrow-minded nationalism and resist the joint struggle with the French
unemployed. From their side, members of the Comittee of French unemployed
worry about what the Jewish comrades are doing, and under the influence of the
reformists, take up an anti-Semitic position.110

Importantly, the supposed ‘autonomism’ of the Jewish section should be seen in a


broader context. Its creation also mirrored the creation of the yevsektsia (Jewish
section)111 in the Communist Party of the Soviet Union (CPSU ) in the autumn of
1918.112 Following Soviet nationality policy, known as korenizatsia, an infrastructure
was set up in which each recognized nationality was granted its own party section and
corresponding organizations and means of cultural expression, such as publishing
houses, theatre companies and so on.113 In the Leninist view on national cultures,
language was the key marker of nationality and the socialist message was spread
among the various nationalities and ethnic groups in the USSR via their languages, in
accordance with the well-known communist dictum ‘national in form and socialist in
content’. Because language was form it did not compete with socialist ideals: ‘insofar as
national culture was a reality, it was about language and a few “domestic arrangements”:
nationality was “form.” “National form” was acceptable because there was no such thing
as national content.’114 Until its dissolution in 1930 under Stalin, the yevsektsia was
not only responsible for the creation of a Yiddish language infrastructure but also the
repression of Judaism, Hebrew and the remnants of Zionism inside the USSR . It is
mostly the latter which has determined the reputation of Jewish communists among
Backgrounds and Contexts 33

Jews in general. Importantly though, Soviet nationality policy ultimately blurred the
distinction between form and content. It not only used ethnicity as a key organizational
principle but, crucially, as Yuri Slezkine has argued, created allegiance to the nationality
and so promoted ethnic culture rather than the Soviet state. Yiddish thus became much
more than a mere vehicle to promote the socialist message.115 Indeed, ‘the Jewish
sections began to serve also as consolidatory factors in Jewish life’ around which a new
form of Jewish existence was organized.116
Jewish communist forms of self-organization were furthermore shaped and
influenced by migration itself. Migration affected Jewish communist practices in two
major ways that relate to social structure as well as agency or, to use Pierre Bourdieu’s
terminology, the twin impact of the political field and the mental universe, or habitus,
of its inhabitants. Jewish communist practices did not only result from party structures,
which were beyond their control, but were profoundly shaped by previous experiences
in Eastern Europe. Recent sociological research has drawn upon Bourdieu’s work to
discuss how the habitus of migrants affects and changes their political practices.117
To the extent that migration as a social condition affects the mental dispositions that
make up the habitus of political activists, the movement from one country to another
will affect their practices in the new home country as it radically alters these social
conditions.118 One can speak in this context of the ‘transnationalisation of habitus’.
In Poland, Jewish communists worked in an underground organization and faced
persecution and imprisonment as a result of their activities. Polish-Jewish communists
in France thus brought with them the experience and mind-set of working in an
underground organization, in addition to a general sense of belonging to a specific
national minority. Having been used to operate in secrecy in Poland, Jewish communists
in France could now work in a legal party that expected them to forge closer links
between Jewish migrants and French workers. They also entered a country where Jews
did not have a national minority status. Moreover, their previous underground
experience did not have the same value in the PCF as in the KPP where prison
experience functioned as initiation in the movement and proof of the discipline that
was required by the party.119 The result of these differences was a protracted process of
adaptation, reinforced by the influx of new political migrants, and the fact that the PCF
had organized them in a Jewish section. First-generation Jewish migrant communists
thus showed an inclination to self-organization that recalls what, in one of the very few
works to address the impact of migration on Jewish communist identity, Rudi van
Doorslaer has labelled the retention of a ‘ghetto identity’.120
Returning to France, the perennial problems of the PCF to control the language
groups, in which it never fully succeeded, in combination with an increasingly
xenophobic climate led to a national MOI conference in March 1937, which resulted
in the dissolution of the language groups.121 The impact of the dissolution was profound
as Jewish communists from now on no longer officially represented Jewish communists
but the ‘Parisian communist region’.122 The PCF, however, did not forbid Jewish
communists to continue their propaganda on the Jewish street, and group meetings
continued as before.123 In order to restore their credibility Jewish communists tried to
explain the dissolution of the PCF ’s language groups to their base.124 At the same time
they created a new support organization, the Fraynt fun Naye Prese (Friends of Naye
34 Jewish Volunteers, the International Brigades and the Spanish Civil War

Prese),125 which effectively replaced the former Jewish section as the organizational
locus for Jewish communist activity. Indeed, in the months following the dissolution, a
campaign took place to recruit members for the Fraynt, and Jewish communist
meetings were henceforth organized under the aegis of Naye Prese.126
Both before and after the dissolution of the Jewish section, Jewish communists
cooperated with other Jewish organizations on the left. In July 1934, in the wake of
the February riots in Paris and a growing realization that fascism could pose a
serious threat in France, the Jewish section, Bundists and Linke Poale Zion (LPZ )
decided to collaborate in the so-called United Front. The Front evolved in the following
year into the Mouvement Populaire Juif (Jewish Popular Front, MPJ ) which first met
on 8 October 1935 and also included a number of member organizations of the
Federation.127 Running parallel to PCF leader Maurice Thorez’s call for a French
Popular Front, the MPJ was essentially its precursor on the ‘Jewish street’. In May 1936
France saw the establishment of a Popular Front government, headed by socialist
leader, and Jew, Leon Blum, which was supported by the PCF. The MPJ ceased to exist
in the months between March 1937, when the PCF dissolved its language sections,
and June 1937, when the first Blum government fell. A new Farshtendikungs Komitet
(‘Agreement Committee’) of Jewish communists, Bundists and LPZ was established at
the end of July.128 The presence of Jewish volunteers in Spain would become an
important way for Jewish communists to stress their continuing commitment to
defending Jewish interests.
The dissolution of the Jewish section and its negative reception demonstrate the
delicate balancing act in which Jewish communists were engaged, expected to obey the
demands of the PCF on the one hand while trying to maintain street credibility among
Jewish migrants on the other. The PCF decision to dissolve the language groups was
a response to rising xenophobia in France, and a clear attempt to lower the visibility
of migrants in the party. The PCF ’s stance towards migrants was ambiguous in the
Popular Front period; it did little to prompt the Blum government into a more forceful
defence of immigrant rights, for instance.129 Even more problematic was the party’s
adoption of right-wing rhetoric, most notably expressed in Maurice Thorez’s
appropriation of the slogan France aux Français (France for the French) during a PCF
meeting at the Velodrome d’Hiver on 28 September 1937.130 While professing to
distinguish between ‘good’ and ‘bad’ foreigners in his speech, such rhetoric did little to
curb xenophobic sentiments among the party’s rank and file. The same was true for
the appropriation of the slogan C’est complet (It’s Full) in an article in the leftist journal
Fraternité. This ambiguity, combined with the dissolution of the MOI , effectively left it
to Jewish migrants themselves to confront anti-Semitism in this period.
It would be a mistake, though, to assume that attempts by the Jewish communists in
Paris to confront anti-Semitism reflected the ambiguous path that the PCF had
embarked upon. Their practices were as much informed by the way in which the KPP
sought to combat anti-Semitism in Poland in the interwar period. Indeed, the
autonomist stance derided by the PCF was largely the result of a transfer of practices
and mentalities engendered by their migration to France. And if the PCF was loath
to confront anti-Semitism head on, the KPP, with its high Jewish membership and
confronted with several waves of pogroms in the 1920s and 1930s, opposed anti-
Backgrounds and Contexts 35

Semitism vigorously.131 This was in fact an important reason for young Polish Jews to
gravitate towards communism.132 Moreover, the Comintern’s Popular Front tactic
meant that merging communist and Jewish allegiances had become much easier than
in the previous class-against-class period, as fighting anti-Semitism became part and
parcel of the communist fight against fascism.
This is not to suggest that the Comintern had a straightforward position on the
nature of anti-Semitism in this period. Marxism traditionally espoused an ‘economistic
analysis of social conflict which reduced the Jewish question to a “class” question’.133
While the rise of racial anti-Semitism did not fundamentally alter that view, it did force
the Comintern and its member parties to adopt counter-strategies. The organization
struggled, though, to formulate a theoretical position on the nature and rise of Nazi
anti-Semitism. There was no discussion about it during the 7th and last Comintern
congress in 1935 and an elaborate analysis was only published in the official ECCI
(Executive Committee of the Communist International) journal L’Internationale
Communiste in September 1938.134 Meanwhile a public statement from Soviet foreign
minister Molotov in late 1936 revealed some of the thinking in the Soviet politburo
on anti-Semitism. In a speech given at the 8th Congress of Soviets, Molotov sharply
denounced anti-Semitism in Germany, quoting Stalin who, answering to questions
from the Jewish Telegraph Agency in 1931, had denounced anti-Semitism as the most
extreme form of racial chauvinism and condemned it as ‘a phenomenon profoundly
hostile to the Soviet system’.135
A ‘first draft of the concept resolution on the Jewish question’ that circulated within
the ECCI in May/June 1937 further reveals the concerns that existed within the
organization.136 Outlining the ECCI position on anti-Semitism, in a class-based
analysis coupled with a tacit, if implicit, recognition of the racial aspect of Nazist anti-
Semitism, the document presented fascism as the ‘main enemy of the Jews’ and asserted
that communists all over the world were obliged to take part in the struggle of Jews for
equal rights. However, to do so also implied that Jewish communists had to fight
‘certain tendencies within their own ranks’, which not only consisted of ‘declared Jewish
fascists’ but also ‘Jewish nationalists’ (Bundists) and Zionists who created ‘ideological
confusion’ within Jewish ranks. The resolution furthermore stipulated that in order to
successfully fight anti-Semitism, communists should aim for ‘the inclusion of the
Jewish masses and their organisations in the ranks of the anti-fascist front’. In this
respect the draft resolution contained a clear recommendation: communist parties
should be actively interested in the World Jewish Congress (WJC ) movement and both
the KPP and the Jewish section of the PCF were criticized for boycotting it.137 The
KPP had allegedly succumbed to Bund pressure and the Jewish section of the PCF
had to beware of further ‘sectarian’ mistakes.
The document also discussed the First World Yiddish Culture Congress that was
held in Paris from 17 to 21 September 1937, declaring that efforts had to be made to
involve all Jewish cultural ‘non-fascist’ organizations in its preparations.138 Given the
ways in which culture and politics were intertwined in the Popular Front period, the
ECCI ’s interest in exploiting the propagandistic potential of the Congress should
come as little surprise.139 For the Parisian Jewish communists themselves, the Congress
offered ample opportunity to counter the negative publicity and allegations of Jewish
24 Jewish Volunteers, the International Brigades and the Spanish Civil War

Jewish mattered in volunteering for Spain: ‘did the Jews come to Spain to fight for their
communist ideals (together with all other communists) or did they come because,
as Jews, they wanted to take issue with the motor of anti-Semitism – fascism?’52
The question is difficult to answer given the dearth of case studies that exist on the
motivation of Jewish volunteers. Moreover, many accounts of their participation rely
heavily on (auto-)biographical material or oral history. Valuable as these sources are,
the methodological issues that arise from using them are often ignored. Yet as people
look back on their lives their interpretation of past experiences is influenced by the
later course of their lives and their personal narrative is reconstructed accordingly.
With regard to Jewish volunteers Colin Shindler has thus noted: ‘It may be that many
brigaders felt that their Jewishness was simply one reason among many for their
presence in Spain and that to emphasise it was unnecessary. As the years have passed,
however, many have realised in retrospect that unacknowledged Jewish reasons for
volunteering were important’.53 Indeed, such ‘unacknowledged Jewish reasons’ would
take centre stage after the Holocaust when Jewish veterans began to look back and
debate their own participation.54 Nevertheless, one must be careful to look at the
circumstances that motivated volunteers at the time, without reconstructing their
motivation in hindsight after the Holocaust.
When qualifying the backgrounds of Jewish volunteers in the brigades it is useful to
distinguish between ‘those who came from countries where the notion of Jews
belonging to a separate nationality was not known or accepted, and those from the
countries of Eastern Europe where Jews considered themselves and were officially
considered to belong to a Jewish nationality.’55 Importantly, Jewish migrants transferred
this notion of belonging and identity to the places they migrated to, a fact that is crucial
to understand the engagement of Parisian Jewish migrant communists with Spain, and
their relations with the PCF more generally. There is general agreement among
scholars as well as Jewish veterans themselves that ‘Western’ Jewish volunteers did not
go to Spain ‘out of Jewish concern’.56 Jonathan Solovy, who conducted the only existing
case study on the motivation of American-Jewish volunteers, suggests that volunteering
‘served to neutralize the conflicts of identity derived from the volunteers’ American,
communist and Jewish backgrounds. Indeed, the volunteers were to fight against
the anti-communist, anti-Semitic and ultimately anti-democratic or anti-American
forces of fascism’.57 Fighting anti-Semitism, though, was not the main impetus for
these volunteers who often came from secular homes. American-Jewish veteran Saul
Wellman has observed that ‘among us, the degree of Jewish consciousness differed
from individual to individual’.58 Similarly, veteran and writer Alvah Bessie has noted
that most American-Jewish volunteers ‘did not consider the fact of being Jews germane
to the job they were engaged in’.59 Even Albert Prago admitted that American-Jewish
volunteers generally did not have a high level of Jewish consciousness when in Spain.
Nonetheless, some veterans have asserted at least a certain level of Jewish consciousness.
As Irving Weissman comments:

While it is without question that, in the period before the Holocaust, assimilationism
was a stronger ideology among left wing Jews in Europe and the USA than it is
today, I think it is also undeniable that, even in that period, no Jewish democrat or
2

The Naftali Botwin Company

Nationality politics: acknowledging Jewish volunteers in the


International Brigades
As we have seen, the politics of Jewish communists in Paris, and their engagement with
the Spanish Civil War, were shaped by local, national and transnational factors. Yet the
reasons for which they lobbied for the formation of a Jewish military unit within the
International Brigades, and the ultimate success of these efforts, should also be seen in
the wider context of nationality politics and relations in the International Brigades
itself. The brigades were organized along national and linguistic lines, while the major
nationalities were represented in the Cadres Service to facilitate the effective
organization and operation of this multi-national army. The Press Service tried to
ensure that each nationality and linguistic group received due attention in the brigade
press and other publications. Owing to the constant flux of foreign volunteers, the
brigades were effectively in a constant state of reorganization, which allowed the
various nationalities a chance to ask for representation, whether in the form of a
brigade unit or press publication.
Indeed, prior to the formation of the Botwin Company, attempts were made to cater
to the needs of the many Jewish volunteers who spoke Yiddish. It has even been
suggested that Yiddish served as a kind of lingua franca withint the International
Brigades.1 This was by and large true for Jewish volunteers originating from Eastern
Europe and from some Western countries such as the United States.2 Yet many others
had shed their parents’ language and possessed at most a basic knowledge of Yiddish.
In any case, most East European Jewish volunteers were Yiddish-speaking, a fact that
was readily acknowledged by the brigades’ staff. Thus in early August 1937, Brigades
inspector Luigi Longo wrote to the Press Service that the Polish Section in the Cadres
Service had asked for a bulletin in Yiddish.3 Only two days later, on 7 August 1937, a
Yiddish bulletin called Frayhaytskemfer (Freedom Fighter) appeared. Its publication
was an initiative of a group of Jewish volunteers consisting of the Lithuanian-Jewish
political commissar Brauer, who worked in the brigades’ base in Albacete, Joseph
Naider (‘Yosl’), Hillel Gruszkiewicz (‘Robert Bil’) and Albert Stravinski,4 the latter three
having come from Paris to Spain. It is unclear how many issues of Frayhaytskemfer
were published in the months after its first appearance and only one issue seems to
have survived.5 Frayhaytskemfer’s first editorial stated: ‘We are aware that every victory
over barbaric fascism and inhuman anti-Semitism is a step towards our final goal: our

37
38 Jewish Volunteers, the International Brigades and the Spanish Civil War

social and national liberation.’ If that message was still somewhat opaque, a drawing
that was placed below the editorial was unambiguous: it showed a caricature of a
capitalist, smoking a cigar while holding a bag of money in his hand, next to Hitler
upholding a sign that read ‘Death to the Jews’, and a fist smashing into him. Another
article underlined that ‘the struggle in Spain will decide whether fascist barbarism,
anti-Semitism, Hitlerite racism will govern Europe or if democracy and peace will be
victorious’.
While such statements provided an overall assessment of the Spanish conflict,
Frayhaytskemfer also shed light on the relations between Jews and Gentiles within the
International Brigades. Bolek Maslankiewicz, political commissar of the Polish
Miczkiewicz Company, hinted in an interview at existing prejudice about the fighting
capabilities of Jewish volunteers: ‘Not a single Polish volunteer is still under the
influence of the reactionary ideology that Jews are unfit for active battle. On the
contrary, after the first attacks the Polish comrades became convinced how heroically
Jewish comrades fight with them, hand in hand.’ Listing the heroic deeds of a number
of Jewish volunteers within the company he added: ‘these examples have proven how
false and criminal theories about the Jewish masses being unfit for battle or [prone to]
military desertion are’.6
Frayhaytskemfer was received with pride in Paris where the Yiddish writer A. Yalti
(also know as Hanan Ayalti, pseudonym of Hanan Klenbord) published a glowing
article in Naye Prese, in which he stressed the cultural value of a military newspaper
appearing in Yiddish:

Somewhere discussions are still held if Yiddish is a jargon or a language?


Assimilated ‘doctors’ do not allow Yiddish to be spoken at kehile meetings, budgets
of Yiddish schools are being cut! Can a language receive a more honorable
recognition then by the fact that it expresses the struggle and will, the suffering and
happiness of a part of the International Brigades, that are at the forefront of the
struggle for human culture?7

He added that Brauer’s initiative to create a Yiddish newspaper stemmed from the fact
that he was a Lithuanian Jew and ‘Lithuanian Jews are no Galician doctors’.8 As a writer
with a deep connection to Yiddish culture, Ayalti placed the publication of
Frayhaytskemfer within the larger context of debates on the linguistic status of Yiddish.
If anyone still needed convincing, so he seemed to suggest, Frayhaytskemfer proved its
equivalence: Yiddish was emancipated as it had become integral to a new-found Jewish
military prowess on the Spanish battlefields, a point later underscored by the Botwin
Company’s political commissar Misha Reger who wrote in Botvin ‘how normal orders
and military terms sound in the Yiddish language’.9
Ayalti also mentioned the technical problems related to publishing in Yiddish in
Spain where no Yiddish print set could be found. For a moment it looked as if the
problem could be solved when a set of Hebrew letters was found in the museum of the
regional government in Barcelona. This set turned out to be so-called Rashi script,
however, a particular version of the Hebrew alphabet used to print commentaries of
the Talmud and Tanakh by the medieval French rabbi Shlomo Yitzchaki, known by the
The Naftali Botwin Company 39

acronym Rashi. Ayalti was quick to point out the irony and commented: ‘Expecting
Jewish soldiers to read Rashi script in the trenches would really have been a bit
exaggerated.’10 Apparently the editors finally settled on using a Yiddish typewriter,
which was used to produce multiple copies. Ayalti finished his review by presenting
Frayhaytskemfer as a gift to the Yiddish Culture Congress that was due to be held in
Paris in September 1937: ‘the first Yiddish front newspaper, published by Jewish soldiers
who fight, gun in hand, against racism and anti-Semitism for the defense of culture in
general and Jewish culture in particular’.11
While Frayhaytskemfer served to connect especially Polish-Jewish volunteers, and
highlighted that they fought as equals in the brigades, efforts were also underway to
inform non-Jewish soldiers of the accomplishments of their Jewish comrades in arms.
The Historical Commission of the International Brigades had begun work on a Spanish
booklet about Jewish volunteers. The Commision had been created in the first half of
1937 upon instigation of the Comintern.12 Its mission was to systematically collect
materials, make them accessible for ‘military, political and literary use’, and prepare a
historical overview of the ‘significance, experiences and lessons’ of the brigades.13 The
materials that were to be gathered had to be classified according to the brigade’s
military units, while indexes by theme and national groups were also foreseen. Not
only would this serve to highlight the anti-fascist struggle to audiences abroad, ‘the
direct result of the propagandistic use of the struggle of various national groups in
the International Brigades is the latter’s reinforcement with new volunteers’.14 To this
end, the political commissariat of the brigades had also issued clear instructions as
to how the fight of foreign volunteers should be promoted outside Spain: ‘Every people,
of every nation, must know who are their best sons, what heroic things they have done,
how they fought, how they have died and in what manner they have finally won. All of
you must communicate this to your people, from your lips they must know the truth
about the fight and the heroism of your comrades.’15
The task of gathering materials for the Commission’s work was delegated to the
brigade’s political commissars who were instructed to collect relevant documentation
within their units.16 Publications resulting from the commission’s work were issued by
the brigades’ Press Service. Importantly, the Historical Commission had to ensure that
equal tribute was paid to the different nationalities fighting within the brigades. The
importance attached to ensuring this balance can be glimpsed from a report by Luigi
Longo, who instructed the Press Service to make sure more emphasis was put on the
Canadian role in the creation of the 15th Brigade in a planned book on the latter.17
As part of the commission’s work, the journalist Gina Medem was asked to write a
booklet, in Spanish, on Jewish volunteers, with materials provided by the Commission.18
Medem (born Birnzweig, 1887?–1977), a communist writer and widow of well-known
Bund leader Vladimir Medem (1879–1923), had worked since the late 1920s for the
Jewish communist newspaper Morgn Frayhayt in New York. She travelled extensively
and contributed reports from Spain to the Frayhayt as well as several other Yiddish
newspapers, among them Naye Prese. She also held lecture tours in Europe, notably
France, where she helped to promote the cause of Republican Spain among Yiddish-
speaking Jewish migrants.19 Her booklet was part of a planned series of several ‘national
brochures’ that were under preparation in late 1937.20 According to Medem it would be
40 Jewish Volunteers, the International Brigades and the Spanish Civil War

distributed among Spaniards as ‘counter-propaganda against fascist agitation which


had been spread against Jews by Goebbels, Mosley and the French “cagoulards”
(fascists)’.21
Los Judios voluntarios de la libertad (Jewish volunteers of freedom) was published
in late 1937 but not distributed before January 1938, after the formation of the Botwin
Company.22 In fact, Medem briefly mentioned the newly created Botwin Company in
a biographical paragraph on Polish-Jewish volunteer Bobrus Nisenbaum.23 All brigade-
level political commissars received copies with the request to sell them within their
respective units. In addition copies were sent to political parties, ministries and various
officers of the Spanish Republican Army.24 All this was normal distribution practice for
most brochures published by the press service. Unlike other brochures, however,
Medem’s booklet was only published in Spanish, and thus was predominantly intended
for Spanish soldiers fighting within the brigades’ ranks.25 In Los Judios voluntarios
Medem set out to show ‘the heroic part played by the Jews, international volunteers at
the service of the Spanish Republic in its struggle for freedom and independence’. In a
brief foreword she thanked the editors of Dombrowsczak (the journal of the
Dombrowski Brigade) for help with providing materials, the Polish section of the
Historical Commission, and Gershon Dua-Bogen. The booklet itself presented its
readers with a factual overview of the presence of Jews in the various brigade units and
their battlefield experiences. In doing so it aimed to quash the ‘slander launched by the
Fascists and the Nazis [that]: “Jews are cowards and deserters” ’.26 Indeed:

The Jewish fighter has found in Spain, in Republican Spain, a global stage where he
can show to all the oppressed peoples his true, real and unique face, just like in
fascist countries, whose press slanders, attacks and insults him for the sole reason
of being Jewish, the argument that fascism uses against the harmonious coexistence
of all peoples.27

It is clear that the reason for publishing a special brochure about Jewish volunteers in
Spanish was thus to counter Nationalist anti-Semitic propaganda. As Rohr has argued,
‘the large number of Jewish brigadiers encouraged the Nationalists to construct the
war as a religious “crusade”“to purify” Spain of the anti-Patria, the anti-Spain, embodied
in the “Jewish-Masonic-Bolshevist” conspiracy’.28 She also speaks of ‘Francoist
propaganda . . . [which] emphasised the participation of Jews in the International
Brigades’.29
Nonetheless, the extent to which Jewish volunteers in the International Brigades
were targeted, and the effect of such propaganda, are unclear. While the nationalist
press sometimes alluded to the ‘Jewish Brigades’ and underscored the number of Jewish
volunteers, for instance after Franco had received information about a number of
Austrian Jews joining the brigades in March 1938, it seems that the full propagandistic
potential of the presence of real Jews, as opposed to the mythical Jews of old in
conventional Spanish anti-Semitic propaganda, was never fully exploited.30 The
newspaper ABC de Sevilla published an article in October 1938 which alleged that
thousands of Jews had come to help the ‘reds’ and even formed special Jewish brigades;
the Belgian-Jewish brothers Piet and Emiel Akkerman were thus said to have
The Naftali Botwin Company 41

commanded a brigade of Belgian Jews.31 In reality Emiel Akkerman had headed a


small group of Polish and Hungarian Jews that left Belgium for Spain in October
1936.32 Another example is the story of British-Jewish veteran David Goodman who,
while imprisoned in the Nationalist San Pedro prison, received a newspaper cutting
speaking of Jewish participation on the Republican side that also included a photo of
some bespectacled Jewish volunteers, himself included.33 Of course such photos served
to underscore that Jews were intellectuals and certainly no worthy fighters. Other
imprisoned Jewish volunteers have also told how Gestapo agents and Nazi scientists
took their measurements in order to ‘prove’ or ‘confirm’ their Jewishness.34 Such
practices fed into the Nazi regime’s propaganda efforts at home to underscore the ‘truth’
of the alleged Judeo-Bolshevist conspiracy now at work in Spain; Christoph Eykman
has pointed out that ‘among Franco’s enemies, the Jews and the members of the
International Brigades are especially maligned in Nazi publications’.35
A booklet by a Falange-affiliated association published in February 1939 contained
a chapter on Jewish volunteers in the International Brigades accompanied by photos of
Frayhaytskemfer, Medem’s Los judios voluntarios, and the order of the day in which the
formation of the Botwin Company was announced.36 Yet this book was published
several months after the withdrawal of the International Brigades. Though the extent
to which Nationalist propaganda specifically targeted Jewish volunteers thus needs
further exploration, it is clear that Medem’s booklet was published in an attempt to
shield or inoculate Spanish soldiers in the brigades against its effects.37

Creating a Jewish military unit

Gina Medem’s booklet carried a preface by Luigi Longo, who stated that the idea for the
book was an initiative from Medem herself that he had subsequently endorsed. In
reality, though, Medem had been commissioned to write the booklet within the
framework of the Historical Commission’s publication programme. Nonetheless,
Longo explained that his reason for ‘endorsing’ the brochure had been his encounter
with a ‘Jewish comrade’ who had proposed to him the idea of creating a Jewish military
unit within the International Brigades in Autumn 1936. Longo professed his enthusiasm
for the proposal, writing: ‘we owed a huge debt to the Jewish heroes who have written
magnificent pages in all our Brigades’.38 He discussed the idea with the brigades’
commander, André Marty, and they subsequently permitted the anonymous comrade
to issue a call to Jewish volunteers to form a Jewish unit.39 According to Longo, due
to language difficulties and lack of time this idea could not be realized. The Jewish
volunteer who had proposed the idea meanwhile died during the battles for Madrid
in January 1937. In an interview for Naye Prese in March 1938, Longo repeated this
story and Naye Prese reporter Elski identified the volunteer as Albert Nakhumi Weitz.40
Nakhumi Weitz was a Russian-born communist who had grown up in Palestine before
moving to Paris in 1932.41 He was one of a group of fourteen Jews who left from Paris
in October 1936.42 According to Diamant he had been given an assignment from the
Jewish section to lobby for the creation of a Jewish unit.43 After the Second World War,
Longo’s story would be frequently invoked to show the brigades’ staff appreciation for
42 Jewish Volunteers, the International Brigades and the Spanish Civil War

the contribution that Jewish volunteers made in the Spanish struggle. His words were
even inscribed on the monument dedicated to Jewish volunteers that was unveiled in
Barcelona in 1990.44
The idea of forming a Jewish unit was not abandoned after Nakhumi Weitz’s
abortive attempt. Sichon recalls it was discussed during a reunion of Jewish volunteers
at Albacete in May 1937.45 The Polish-Jewish communist Max Stark, born in Galicia in
1907 when it was still part of the Austro-Hungarian empire, conveyed his wishes, and
those of his fellow Jewish fighters in the Thälmann Battalion, to Gina Medem in July
1937.46 In his memoirs, Gerson Dua-Bogen has recalled a discussion about the
advantages and disadvantages of creating a specifically Jewish unit which sheds light
on the differences of opinion that existed among Jewish volunteers themselves. For
some, there was great value in the fact that Jews, Poles and others fought together in the
same companies because it had an educational effect and connected anti-fascists from
all over the world. Furthermore, as one volunteer is quoted as saying, ‘the Polish Brigade
has been more effective in the fight against anti-Semitism then a thousand brochures
and articles’, and separation could weaken this effect. Yet other volunteers disagreed for
basically the same reason. They saw the fight against racism as ‘one of the most
important moments in the fight against fascism’ and ‘a Jewish military unit, which
should demonstrate for the world the contribution of Jewish volunteers [to the
struggle] against fascism, will have a political and educational meaning’. Furthermore,
it was also said to be time for others to start talking about the contribution of Jews as
Jews, and not as part of other nationalities. Yet another argument was that the Polish
Dombrowski Brigade should symbolize in its structure all the national groups that
lived in Poland and that a Jewish company should be mixed, like all brigades and units,
but with a Jewish command and name.47
In July and August 1937 Jewish communists in Paris renewed their efforts to create
a Jewish military unit and sent Jacques Kaminsky to Spain to discuss the matter with
the brigades’ staff as well as with Jewish commanders. Kaminsky was a Polish-Jewish
communist and Secretary of the Friends of Naye Prese. In that capacity, he was involved
with mobilizing French Jews for the Spanish cause.48 He also formed part of the
committee that had been established in May 1937 to create a museum for Jewish
volunteers in Paris (see Chapter  4).49 During this period a general reform of the
International Brigades took place during which the 13th Brigade was reconstituted as
a predominantly Slavic unit and took the name Dombrowski.50 According to Sichon,
the Poles had envisaged the creation of separate military units within their new brigade
for the largest minorities within the group of Polish nationals, the Ukrainians and
Jews.51 Indeed, shortly before the Botwin Company, the Ukrainian Shevchenko
Company had been created within the Palafox Battalion. The precise sequence of
events in these months will probably never be known, but in November a decision
was taken by the staff of the International Brigades to form a Jewish unit.52 Thus, on
12 December 1937 the second company of the Palafox Battalion of the 13th Polish
Dombrowski Brigade was renamed the Naftali Botwin Company and officially
designated as a Jewish unit. While the company now operated under Jewish military
and political command, its composition was not exclusively Jewish; the original Botwin
Company consisted of around seventy-five men, of whom twelve were Jews, ten Poles
30 Jewish Volunteers, the International Brigades and the Spanish Civil War

immigrants worked in the clothing and textile industry and many were so-called
façonniers, self-employed home-workers.82 Due to the post-war reconstitution of
Poland, and the Russian Revolution, these more recent migrants had different political
characteristics from those of previous groups: among them were political refugees,
fleeing Poland where the KPP was illegal and its members were persecuted. Many of
these Polish communists (Jewish and non-Jewish) sought refuge in Belgium and
France, although their exact number is unclear, and formed their own networks. As
evidenced by the fact that both Naye Prese and Parizer Haynt were also sold in Belgium,
Jewish migrants in both countries effectively were part of a single transnational
communicative space. The arrival of more revolutionary inclined migrants after the
First World War, a small but vocal group, exacerbated tensions between migrants and
estalished Jewish communal leaders and organizations. Strongly opposed to
communism themselves, ‘native’ communal leaders were all too aware of stereotypes of
Jews as revolutionaries and the myth of Judeo-Bolshevism that Nazi Germany sought
to peddle, and feared an anti-Semitic backlash that would affect the Jewish community
as a whole. At the same time these politically active Jewish migrants polarized relations
within the Jewish migrant population, especially between the older generation and
those that had arrived more recently.
Jewish migrants faced a rising tide of anti-Semitism within a generally increasing
xenophobic climate in late 1930s France. Vicki Caron has convincingly argued that
anti-Semitism in France in the 1930s was not a mere corollary of a general upsurge in
anti-migrant xenophobia, and a form of symbolic protest, but ‘also reflected very real
socioeconomic differences between Jews and non-Jews’.83 Anti-Semitic discourse also
rested on the perceived equivalence of ‘Jew’ and ‘foreigner’, and the idea that Jews could
never could be assimilated on account of their heredity.84 Foreign Jews were traditionally
seen as difficult to assimilate in the French nation due to their visibility and ‘otherness’.85
The arrival of Jewish migrants from Poland after 1935, following an upsurge in anti-
Semitism and anti-Jewish violence there, exacerbated the situation.86 Jewish migrants
also faced other problems. Unlike immigrants who worked in the mines in the north of
France or in agriculture, they preferred to live in the cities, predominantly in Paris,
where they were seen as competitors with French workers. In contrast to non-Jewish
Polish migrants, Jewish migrants conveyed an impression of not sharing (and not
being able to share) in ‘traditional’ French values, such as manual labour and love for
the land, that could make them more easily assimilable.87 Because of their specific
economic position, Jews were, more than other foreigners, separated from French
workers who were susceptible to anti-Semitism.88 After the Austrian Anschluss in
March 1938, and the Munich crisis in November of that year, fears of foreign Jews
being warmongers resulted in a number of anti-Semitic incidents. The murder in Paris
of the German diplomat Ernst vom Rath by the young Jew Hershl Grynspan, which
provided the Nazis with the ‘excuse’ for the Kristallnacht, exacerbated these fears.89 Yet
Jewish immigrants faced hostility not only from French workers but also from other
non-Jewish Eastern European immigrants, especially Poles and Romanians. This is not
to suggest that anti-Semitism was the sole determinant of Jewish immigrant life in
France in this period;90 nevertheless, the activities of anti-Semitic groups in Paris are
well documented and indicate that Jewish immigrants were confronted with anti-
44 Jewish Volunteers, the International Brigades and the Spanish Civil War

Figure 2.1 The Yiddish version of the order of the day that officially announced the
formation of the Jewish Naftali Botwin Company
Source: Photo taken from: David Diamant, Combattants juifs dans l’armée républicaine espagnole, 1936–1939
(Paris: Éditions Renouveau, 1979). © Fonds David Diamant, Archives du PCF – Archives départementales de la
Seine-Saint-Denis.
The Naftali Botwin Company 45

heroicizing perspective, there is a clear subtext revealing that propagandistic goals, as


well as concerns about anti-Semitism and prejudice concerning Jewish fighting
capabilities within the brigades, played a decisive role in the Botwin Company’s
formation. And while we lack archival sources that discuss the Botwin Company’s
creation, we do possess materials that document the creation of another ‘ethnic’ unit,
the Dimitrow Battalion that was established early in 1937. These materials also link the
battalion’s formation to propaganda efforts undertaken in France by the Yugoslav
section of the PCF.
In late 1936 several members of the Yugoslav Communist Party wrote to André
Marty to request their own ‘Balkan Battalion’, explicitly arguing that having such a
‘national unit’ would contribute to strengthening the Yugoslav Communist Party.58
Calling itself the ‘Balkan Committee’, the group subsequently wrote to the Yugoslav
section of the PCF in France to announce its establishment and set out the tasks that
lay ahead. These included the creation of a Serbian, Croatian, Slovenian and Bulgarian
company within the battalion. The Committee explicitly linked the creation of the
battalion to the propaganda effort for the Spanish Republic and announced its intention
‘to provide you with the necessary information in order to propagate our struggles, our
heroes and heroic actions, as well as to prepare the journalistic documentation
that is needed’.59 After the creation of the Dimitrov Battalion a recruitment campaign
was undertaken among Balkan migrants living in France.60 We find the same
instrumentalization and intensivation of propaganda after the formation of the Botwin
Company in Paris. Nonetheless, that was only part of the story of its creation.
What, then, were the reasons for granting Jews their own company? Three major
reasons are put forward in the existing literature and memoirs of former Jewish
volunteers: the wish of Jewish volunteers themselves to fight in a Jewish military unit;
a recognition of Jewish heroism on the battlefield; and the high number of Jewish
volunteers, which made such a move seem only natural. Thus Diamant sees the good
reputation and high number of the Jewish soldiers as the prime reasons for the
founding of the Botwin Company61 and Rothenberg emphasizes the wish of Jewish
volunteers themselves to fight in a Jewish unit: ‘the Jewish volunteers who fought so
hard to fight in a distinctly Jewish unit were well acquainted with such views [the idea
of submissiveness as a Jewish trait] among non-Jews (as well as some Jews). They
were fearful that their armed resistance might be submerged in anonymity unless they
made it unmistakably Jewish’.62 These reasons do not suffice to explain the Botwin
Company’s formation, however. Opinions on the usefulness of forming a separate
Jewish unit varied among Jewish volunteers themselves. And while some might well
have wished for a company of their own, their agency should not be overestimated.
Reorganizations in the structure of the International Brigades were made by the base
in Albacete on the basis of other considerations. Given the ever-changing numbers of
volunteers from different national and linguistic backgrounds, the creation of new
units primarily served logistic purposes or had obvious propagandistic advantages.
Logistics in this case were unimportant. If numbers alone had been decisive, a much
larger Jewish military unit could have been formed, and much earlier too. Given the
high percentage of mostly Yiddish-speaking Jews among the volunteers from Poland,
it would easily have been possible to create a Jewish battalion. As it happens, only a
Backgrounds and Contexts 33

Jews in general. Importantly though, Soviet nationality policy ultimately blurred the
distinction between form and content. It not only used ethnicity as a key organizational
principle but, crucially, as Yuri Slezkine has argued, created allegiance to the nationality
and so promoted ethnic culture rather than the Soviet state. Yiddish thus became much
more than a mere vehicle to promote the socialist message.115 Indeed, ‘the Jewish
sections began to serve also as consolidatory factors in Jewish life’ around which a new
form of Jewish existence was organized.116
Jewish communist forms of self-organization were furthermore shaped and
influenced by migration itself. Migration affected Jewish communist practices in two
major ways that relate to social structure as well as agency or, to use Pierre Bourdieu’s
terminology, the twin impact of the political field and the mental universe, or habitus,
of its inhabitants. Jewish communist practices did not only result from party structures,
which were beyond their control, but were profoundly shaped by previous experiences
in Eastern Europe. Recent sociological research has drawn upon Bourdieu’s work to
discuss how the habitus of migrants affects and changes their political practices.117
To the extent that migration as a social condition affects the mental dispositions that
make up the habitus of political activists, the movement from one country to another
will affect their practices in the new home country as it radically alters these social
conditions.118 One can speak in this context of the ‘transnationalisation of habitus’.
In Poland, Jewish communists worked in an underground organization and faced
persecution and imprisonment as a result of their activities. Polish-Jewish communists
in France thus brought with them the experience and mind-set of working in an
underground organization, in addition to a general sense of belonging to a specific
national minority. Having been used to operate in secrecy in Poland, Jewish communists
in France could now work in a legal party that expected them to forge closer links
between Jewish migrants and French workers. They also entered a country where Jews
did not have a national minority status. Moreover, their previous underground
experience did not have the same value in the PCF as in the KPP where prison
experience functioned as initiation in the movement and proof of the discipline that
was required by the party.119 The result of these differences was a protracted process of
adaptation, reinforced by the influx of new political migrants, and the fact that the PCF
had organized them in a Jewish section. First-generation Jewish migrant communists
thus showed an inclination to self-organization that recalls what, in one of the very few
works to address the impact of migration on Jewish communist identity, Rudi van
Doorslaer has labelled the retention of a ‘ghetto identity’.120
Returning to France, the perennial problems of the PCF to control the language
groups, in which it never fully succeeded, in combination with an increasingly
xenophobic climate led to a national MOI conference in March 1937, which resulted
in the dissolution of the language groups.121 The impact of the dissolution was profound
as Jewish communists from now on no longer officially represented Jewish communists
but the ‘Parisian communist region’.122 The PCF, however, did not forbid Jewish
communists to continue their propaganda on the Jewish street, and group meetings
continued as before.123 In order to restore their credibility Jewish communists tried to
explain the dissolution of the PCF ’s language groups to their base.124 At the same time
they created a new support organization, the Fraynt fun Naye Prese (Friends of Naye
The Naftali Botwin Company 47

Very little is said about relations between the nationalities within the inter-
national units, or, more truthfully, it is completely hushed up, but it is just this
[problem] that gives rise to almost all our weaknesses.
Earlier, when the label ‘international’ exactly matched the national composition of
the units, the nationality question had not acquired the acuteness that it has now, as
the internationalists are becoming lost in the surrounding Spanish masses. It is true
that even then there were more than enough petty squabbling and strong antagonisms
in the international units. The francophobia was most transparently obvious, for
instance (although it is difficult to see why, when in all the brigades it was precisely
the French who filled in all of the most unpleasant ‘holes’ during battle), anti-Semitism
flourished (and indeed it still has not been completely extinguished), but in general
this was, if one can talk like this, a family quarrel, very diligently hidden from
strangers’, that is, Spanish, eyes. However, the conditions of that period allowed
neither the time nor the opportunity to investigate thoroughly this veiled issue.

The great, very exalted, and revolutionary objective, armed struggle with fascism,
united everyone, and for its sake Germans, Italians, Poles, Jews, and representatives
of the world’s numerous nationalities, including blacks, Japanese, and Chinese, had
to agree among themselves, found a common language, suffered the same
adversities, sacrificed their lives, died heroes, and were filled with the very same
hatred for the common enemy.
But at the very same time as the volunteers were unifying, this petty, disgusting,
foul squabble about the superiority of one nationality over another was going on.
Everyone was superior to the French, but even they were superior to the Spanish,
who were receiving our aid and allowing us to fight against our own national and
class enemies on their soil.70

Unsurprisingly, Walter reserved most of his ire for the condescending attitude he
perceived among many volunteers and brigade commanders towards the Spaniards,
who outnumbered foreign volunteers by autumn 1937.71 As his report shows, though,
this was not the only problem: within the context of national in-fighting in the brigades,
anti-Semitism reared its head. In addition to propagandistic reasons, specific concerns
about the relations between Jewish and non-Jewish volunteers in the brigades thus fed
into the creation of the Botwin Company. And only the convergence of these two
factors in late 1937 allowed for the establishment of a Jewish military unit.
Indeed, apart from General Walter’s observations about anti-Semitism there are
numerous indications attesting to the delicate nature of Jewish/non-Jewish relations
within the brigades, particularly within a Polish-Jewish context. A letter published in
Naye Prese in April 1937 by a volunteer named M. Matsyak reveals much of what was
at stake.72 Under the telling editorial headline ‘Jewish heroes in the Dombrowski
Battalion’, Matsyak explained that he had become a member of the Dombrowski
Battalion only after overcoming initial doubts to do so because of strained relations
between Poles and Jews in Poland. After joining the battalion he encountered distrust
from Polish fighters, based upon allegations of Jews trying to escape military service.
However, now that Jews were joining the fight in the brigades, Poles could see that Jews
48 Jewish Volunteers, the International Brigades and the Spanish Civil War

‘did go to the front’ and Polish–Jewish relationships were good: ‘a yid – a polak, a polak
– a yid’ (a Jew – a Pole, a Pole – a Jew).
If Matsyak, and Naye Prese’s editors, only indirectly alluded to existing problems
between Jewish and non-Jewish volunteers from Poland, the Dombrowski Battalion’s
newspaper Dabrowszczak published an article in June in which anti-Semitism within
the battalion’s ranks was discussed directly, even though it attributed its occurence to
outside forces:

Arm in arm we are fighting together with them for the freedom and independence
of Spain. As was the case in Poland during the strike battles, fights against
fascism, fights for bread, work and freedom – the worker, the Pole, the Jew, the
Ukrainian and the Belorussian act as one; in this way a fraternal alliance of
Polish and Jewish anti-fascists was forged in our country. Agents of the 5th column
try in vain to set up one nationality against the other in our ranks. Fascist agents
try in vain to introduce chauvinism and anti-Semitism in our ranks; and to
break down the unity of the International Brigades. Let us be alert to every
move of the enemy that attempts to undermine our troops by chauvinist agitation.
Let us remember that behind every comrade who is insufficiently conscious and
speaks against Jews or soldiers of other nationalities – there are agents of
General Franco and the Polish defense, villains like Barny, exposed as spy and
provocateur.
Let us remember that anti-Semitism and chauvinism are weapons of
international fascism, used by Hitler as well as by Franco and their Polish followers
in order to break the unity of the people in their struggle for bread, freedom and
peace.73

Interestingly, Naye Prese never discussed the Dabrowszczak article, but it was later
picked up by Parizer Haynt under the headline ‘anti-Semitic propaganda in Polish
communist Battalion’.74 This article appeared only days after Naye Prese had published
a resolution against pogroms in Poland that had been jointly passed by a group of
Polish, Jewish, Ukrainian and Belorussian volunteers.75 Dabrowszcak also published an
article in June 1937 that described a solidarity campaign among the volunteers of the
Dombrowski Battalion for Naye Prese. It praised the newspaper for showing that ‘the
liberation of the Spanish people equals the freedom of the Jewish people’. Jews, Poles,
Spaniards and other nationalities had given money ‘in order to deny the fascist and
anti-Semitic theory that the Jewish worker is somehow separated from the Polish
worker’. The Polish government, according to the article, used anti-Semitism as a
divisionary blame tactic to mask the real problems facing the country, but the joint
fight of Jews and Poles in the Dombrowski Battalion had washed away the shame of the
pogroms conducted by the Hitler-inspired Polish fascists.76
Yet another Dabrowszcak article in September about ‘Jewish volunteers in the Polish
units’ affirmed that stereotypes about Jews as fighters were at stake. It discussed the
participation of Jewish volunteers from many countries, places and backgrounds
fighting with the Polish volunteers ‘for your and our freedom, the freedom of Spain, the
The Naftali Botwin Company 49

freedom of the thousands of tormented people in Przytyk, Brest, the concentration


camps of Dachau and Papenburg’.77 It then explained:

after generations of slavery the Jewish worker has straightened his shoulders, in
order to join the fight against fascism, the successors of the Spanish inquisition, the
creators of the contemporary inquisition of Hitlerite Nuremberg together with
Polish workers and farmers [. . .] In the struggle for the just cause the Jewish
workers in Spain have proven they can win by [their] heroism, in relation to the
hundreds of splendid Jewish soldiers the arguments of the anti-Semites, that Jews
are cowards and deserters are nothing more than a hollow phrase.78

Polish-Jewish volunteer David Karon, who had come from Palestine, encountered
anti-Semitism first hand from a Polish mine worker, an incident resulting in a fight.79
Clearly, stereotypes among Polish volunteers about Jewish cowardice and desertion
were a problem that had to be addressed. While such stereotypes can be dated back at
least to nineteenth-century czarist Russia, they acquired a new urgency after Poland
regained its independence in 1918. The integration of various minorities in the newly
created Polish army was evaluated in terms of their (potential) loyalty to the
reconstituted Polish state. In army reports detailing the potential for successful
integration of Germans, Jews, Belorussians, Ukrainians and Lithuanians, Jews ranked
comparatively high in statistics on draft evasion and desertion.80 The key question of
course is how to interpret such figures. As Mateusz Rodak has argued: ‘statistics that
were unfavourable for the Jews served as a pretext for anti-Semitic writers for
proclaiming them as proof of disloyalty and hostile anti-state actions of which they
accused the Jews all the time’. Arguments were also made that Jews were physically unfit
to serve as soldiers. All of this led to the situation that Jewish recruits were condemned
for evading draft ‘while on the other side the Jews were denied the right to serve in the
armed forces’. This was one factor leading Jews to evade army service, while implications
for religious practice and other soldiers’ attitudes towards Jews were equally important.81
Attempts to evade military service, which constituted a response to anti-Semitism
and discrimination in the army, thus fed into stereotypes about Jewish cowardice,
leading to a vicious circle.82 Seen against this background, it comes as little surprise that
some Polish volunteers harboured stereotypes about their Jewish brethren in arms or
were susceptible to fascist propaganda casting doubt on their fighting capabilities. It is
no coincidence, then, that glowing messages about the Botwin Company’s formation
immediately appeared in various Polish brigade newspapers. Za Wolność immediately
published the order of the day in which its establishment had been announced in the
trenches at Tardienta.83 In early January 1938 Ochotnik Wolnosci published an article
entitled ‘Carrying Botwin’s name with dignity and honor’ in which Jewish volunteers
announced their intention to continue Botwin’s revolutionary, and Jewish, self-sacrifice,
pointing out that the joint struggle of Polish, Jewish, Ukrainian and Belorussian
workers in the Dombrowski Battalion had greatly ‘solidified the struggle against
fascism, anti-Semitism and racist theory’.84 Dabrowszczak published a greeting in
February from the Shevchenko compagnie, which emphasized the heroic status of
Naftali Botwin in the Western Ukraine and the brotherly fight of Jews and Ukrainians.85
50 Jewish Volunteers, the International Brigades and the Spanish Civil War

This message thus highlighted the importance that Poland’s biggest national minorities
attached to being represented in the International Brigades. Gershon Dua-Bogen
would later emphasize how the decision to establish the Botwin Company had been
vindicated by its achievements:

All who ‘doubted’ and ‘feared’ the formation of a Jewish military unit now have to
confess and recognise that the decision to form a Jewish unit was right. Comrades
who could not imagine the existence of a Jewish company openly declare their
mistakes and admiration for the Jewish fighters. The Botwin Company has become
the pride of all Jewish anti-fascists, the embodiment of the large participation of
the Jewish masses in the fight against reaction and fascism.86

A similar message was related by Palestinian-Jewish volunteer Pinchas Cheifetz, in a latter


written to his brother in 1938: ‘This company has bestowed much honour upon the Jewish
people. And not this company alone. Jewish workers could be found in their thousands in
the International Brigades. Not a single Spanish person can accuse the Jews of being
cowards! Not a single person in this world will ever again have the right to do so!’87
Crucially, stereotypes of Jewish cowardice were not confined to the International
Brigades but directly affected Jewish communists in Paris and fed into their efforts.
Donations to the museum for Jewish volunteers that was in the making in Spring 1937
included a number of ‘antisemitic outcries against Jewish volunteers, published by Polish
antisemites in France’.88 In July, Jewish communists came under direct attack from the
Polish migrant newspaper Siła (published by the Association of Polish Workers in
France).89 Siła had published an article alleging that an ambulance, which had been
bought with money collected among Jewish migrants, had been used to carry Polish
workers to the Spanish battlefields in order to fight. The newspaper commented: ‘We are
convinced that not a single Jewish communist fights in Spain. The Jews just shout
everywhere and repeat: “We, the heroes”. They sent others to the front in Spain and
remain in Paris themselves’.90 Naye Prese responded under the headline ‘Polish antisemitic
newspaper conducts a smear campaign against Parisian Jewish workers’ by underlining
the united struggle of Poles and Jews in the Dombrowski Battalion.91 It also emphasized
the positive role that was played by Dziennik Ludowy, the newspaper of the Polish section
of the PCF, in improving Polish–Jewish workers relations in France. One of Dziennik
Ludowy’s editors in late 1938 was former Jewish volunteer Piotr Kartin.92 Indeed, relations
between Polish and Jewish workers in France were as important for the Parisian Jewish
communists as Polish–Jewish relations in the International Brigades. And as the two
were inseparable, the participation of Jewish volunteers, and their continuous glorification
in Naye Prese, thus symbolized a broader struggle for Jewish equality.

Naftali Botwin as a Jewish communist hero in interwar Poland

As Polish–Jewish relations loomed large in the background, naming the newly created
Jewish company after Naftali Botwin was a clever way to appeal to Jewish as well as
Polish communists. The politics of naming within the International Brigades combined
The Naftali Botwin Company 51

national and communist allegiances in order to cement the loyalty of volunteers to their
units. All brigades, battalions and companies were named after famous historical figures
whose deeds had a symbolic meaning within the particular national or political historical
context of the myriad countries that volunteers came from, or could serve to underscore
the brigades’ service to Republican Spain in its struggle for survival. The Dombrowski
battalion, later brigade, for instance was named after general Jan Henryk Dabrowski, a
Polish military hero from the period of the Polish partitions and Kingdom of Poland.
The very motto of the Polish volunteers in Spain, ‘For your freedom and ours’, dated back
to the Russo-Polish War of 1830–1.93 The Mickiewicz company, later battalion, was
named after Adam Mickiewicz, one of Poland’s foremost national poets. The Palafox
battalion was named after Spanish general José de Palafox who had fought Napoleon’s
forces during the Peninsular War. The latter’s forces included many Polish soldiers, and
naming the battalion after Palafox symbolically allowed Polish volunteers to expiate the
sins of their forebears who were seen to have fought on the wrong side then.94
All these men symbolized a struggle for independence and assertion of national
pride within their respective national histories. The same was true for the Shevchenko
Company, created shortly before the Botwin Company, which took its name from Taras
Shevchenko, the Ukrainian writer and intellectual who was revered as a foundational
figure in the creation of Ukrainian literature. Of course the legacy of these men was
appropriated in order to make them acceptable heroes within the communist universe,
yet it would be wrong to assume that national pride was frowned upon within the
International Brigades.95 As Jews constituted a non-territorial minority in Poland, the
question was which name could be used for the about to be founded Jewish military unit
that could fit both the specific Polish-Jewish context and the broader message of the
International Brigades as an army of freedom fighters. The choice fell on Naftali Botwin.
Naftali Botwin was a young Polish-Jewish communist who was executed by the
Polish authorities in the city of Lwów on 6 August 1925, following a trial in which he
was convicted for assassinating a police infiltrator in the ranks of the KPP. Botwin’s
deed and subsequent fate earned him the status, albeit modest, of a revolutionary hero
in interwar Poland. Yet as a communist of Jewish descent that status was far from
simple, even if his act was politically motivated and unrelated to his Jewish origins.
Botwin represented different things to different people at different times and in the
decades following his death, he would be remembered variously as a communist of
Jewish descent, a Jewish communist and a Jew; in all three cases these labels were
imbued with both positive and negative connotations and meanings.
Botwin, born in Lemberg in 1905 (Lwów after the First World War) came from a
poor Jewish family with six to eight children and lost his father when he was 3 years
old.96 He left primary school after the third year and became a gaiter maker at the age of
13. His political activism began with a brief involvement with the Jewish-socialist Bund
before becoming a member of the communist youth organization in 1923 and a full
party member in 1924. He was also a member of the leather workers’ union. Apparently
a fellow union member approached him and ordered him to kill a man named Josef
Cechnowski. An infamous police agent provocateur, Cechnowski’s activities had seen
many communists jailed, and some executed as a result. For this reason the KPP, illegal
at the time and subject to severe repression, wanted him to be eliminated.
52 Jewish Volunteers, the International Brigades and the Spanish Civil War

Figure 2.2 Photo of Naftali Botwin taken from Folks Shtime in Poland on the occasion of
the 40th anniversary of his death. The title reads: ‘Honour to the memory of the heroic
proletarian revolutionary Naftali Botwin’
Source: © Collection YIVO Institute for Jewish Research (New York) – Bund Archive.

On 17 July 1925 a first, and failed, attempt to assassinate Cechnowski was made in
Warsaw by three Polish party members, Wladislaw Hibner, Henryk Rutkowski and
Wladislaw Kniewski. Subsequently Botwin was recruited and supplied with a revolver, as
he later confessed during his trial.97 On 28 July 1925 Botwin shot Cechnowski in Lwów
in broad daylight and was immediately arrested. He was tried by summary court on 5–6
August 1925, condemned to death by firing squad and executed on 6 August in the
courtyard of the Brigidki prison. Establishing the extent of public indignation following
Botwin’s trial and execution is difficult yet local reactions seem to have been strong: non-
communist reports suggest that during the two days of the trial and execution thousands
of people were out on the streets of Lwów.98 Stories exist of demonstrations in several
cities and factories in Poland.99 There were also calls for revenge but these seem to have
been relatively minor incidents.100 In any case, Botwin became a martyr for the communist
cause, and his actions clearly resonated among Poland’s Jewish youth:

News about the fatal shooting of Naftali Botwin came in the first months of 1926
and exploded like a bomb among both the Jewish youth and the Polish workers of
our city. A big meeting was held in ‘Dos Ludovi’ (House of the People) which was
attended by many Polish workers and almost all the town’s Jewish youth. Speakers
came from Warsaw and also from Zyrardow.
Despite the threat of strong police repression, the workers went into the street
after the meeting and gathered in a giant demonstration that took them from the
House of the People, in the market square, to the train station. The meeting and
demonstration made a deep impression. One had the feeling that a party which
could create heroes like Naftali Botwin must harbour in itself a great, noble truth.101
The Naftali Botwin Company 53

Such recollections notwithstanding, communist sources of the time tended to


exaggerate public reactions and engaged in a fair amount of mythmaking. Botwin was
depicted as a stoic hero instead of the nervous and frail looking man that appeared in
trial reports in the non-communist Yiddish press.102 A commemorative booklet about
Botwin, published by the Jewish Bureau of the CPUSA in 1935, asserted that after the
first botched attempt to kill Cechnowski it was Botwin himself who volunteered to do
the job, yet the same trial reports quoted him as having acted on orders of a comrade
and the party. Clearly, volunteering made him look more heroic.103
In the years following his death Botwin’s legacy lived on, mostly in Jewish communist
circles in Poland and Jewish migrant communities elsewhere. Children were named
after him and his yortsayt (literally: year time, the anniversary of his death) was part of
the Yiddish communist calendar. He was the subject of several Yiddish plays, for
instance by the Soviet-Yiddish poet and playwright Abraham Wieviorka, whose Naftoli
Botvin was first performed by the State Jewish Theatre in 1927.104 It was subsequently
published in 1929 and was followed by a special version for youngsters in 1932.105 The
play was also performed by the New York-based Yiddish Proletarian Theatre Artef in
1930.106 The Belarusian Yiddish poet Moyshe Teyf (1904–66) wrote a poem in 1930.
Teyf announced in his poem his wish to recite it at Botwin’s monument in Warsaw.107
Whether or not a monument did ever exist remains unclear. A common trope in these
publications is an emphasis on Botwin’s sacrifice for the working class and party; his
Jewishness is hardly considered in any way.
Botwin was thus first and foremost a revolutionary hero of Jewish descent within
communist circles. An important question is obviously whether or not his Jewishness
mattered at all and, if so, in what sense? Clearly, Botwin was a useful hero for the KPP
given the percentage of Jews in the party.108 For many, Jews and non-Jews alike, Botwin’s
act was nothing but ordinary murder; for the KPP and for Polish workers it symbolized
revolutionary self-sacrifice for what they saw as a just political cause; for many Jewish
youngsters, however, his act also served to prove something else. As Poland was
redefining the position of its minorities following the First World War, many young
Jews, particularly in industrial towns, were attracted to radical politics. Botwin, a hero
from among their midst, proved that existing prejudices in Poland about Jews being
submissive, cowardly and ‘dodging the fight’ were wrong. Botwin’s act thus could
provide an emancipatory model. Botwin was therefore an ideal choice to name a Jewish
military unit that operated within a Polish brigade: he symbolized both communist
and Jewish sacrifice for the cause within a Polish setting.109 Other names had been
contemplated too, notably that of the legendary Jewish military hero Bar Kokhba,
whose name resonated much more widely in a Jewish context.110 Yet Bar Kokhba was
also an explicitly Jewish national symbol for Zionists and for that reason highly
problematic for communists.

The Botwin Company in battle

As Chapter 4 will show, the Botwin Company’s actual history in battle stood in sharp
contrast to its glorification in Naye Prese. As the Parisian Jewish communists focused
54 Jewish Volunteers, the International Brigades and the Spanish Civil War

mainly on its symbolic value, the company suffered dramatic defeats and was virtually
destroyed during the Ebro offensive in the summer of 1938. While the Botwin Company
was officially created on the battlefield at Tardienta, a reserve Botwin Company was
formed at the training base of the International Brigades in Casa Ibañez, where new
volunteers were given brief military training and political instruction. From its
inception, the company was mixed in terms of nationalities, Jewish or non-Jewish
background and political affiliation. According to Efraim Wuzek, the original company
comprised approximately eighty men, most of whom were Spaniards, with around ten
Jews and ten Poles.111 The number of soldiers during the formal existence of the
company, until the dissolution of the IB in late September 1938, varied constantly. In
the battles in which the company fought many were killed or wounded, and new
volunteers or Spanish soldiers filled its ranks. Some of the wounded did not return to
the Botwin Company but were assigned to other units.112
The majority of the Jewish Botwinists were Polish communists (several of whom
were political émigrés who had come from Belgium or France). The precise number of
volunteers that fought in the Botwin Company cannot easily be determined. Efraim
Wuzek lists 153 names in his memoirs while a list he compiled, which is kept in the
Jewish Historical Institute in Warsaw, mentions 148 individuals.113 Adding names from
other sources we arrive at a figure of 160–170, which refers to the company’s Jewish
fighters only. Wuzek’s list, for example, includes only two Spaniards, but tens of
Spaniards refilled the company’s ranks after various battles.114 There were also non-
Jewish volunteers of different nationalities in the company, including Poles, Germans,
a Greek and at least two Arabs, in addition to many Spaniards. David Diamant contends
that there was even a German soldier who had originally been sent to Spain to join
Franco’s troops, but then deserted and became determined to fight in the Jewish unit.115
This story cannot be corroborated though and might well be a myth.
In early February 1938, the reserve company was sent to the front to join the rest of
the Botwin Company. They then moved to the front at Estramadura, where they were
to join in their first battle. The offensive decimated the company: of 120 men
approximately 20 survived.116 The most detailed eyewitness account of the role of the
Botwin Company in this battle is provided by Sygmunt Stein, who wrote that, shortly
before the actual offensive, a Spanish commander replaced commander Karol Gutman.
Only ten men could be provided with rifles, the rest would have to ‘grab them from the
hands of the fascists’.117 Similarly, Efraim Wuzek has noted that the biggest problem
when the new volunteers came was to provide them with weapons and clothing.118
Lack of weapons and the role of the Botwin Company in the centre of the attack, in
which they were confronted by Franco’s infamous Moroccan cavalry, led to the high
number of casualties. International Brigades units were often used as storm troops
facing the first blows, and in general the losses were high. The Mieczkewicz battalion,
like Palafox part of the Dombrowski Brigade, also suffered very high losses.
Furthermore, reinforcements that had been promised, were not sent.
Following the battle at Estramadura the company, again according to Stein, had
some fifteen to eighteen Jewish soldiers and a majority of Spaniards and Poles.119
Commander Karol Gutman had died on the battlefield and was replaced by the Pole
Tadeusz Shliakhta. The Botwin Company then went to the front at Aragon, where a
The Naftali Botwin Company 55

new commander, Leon Rubinstein, was appointed and new volunteers arrived,
both Jews and Spaniards. The Botwin Company was subsequently involved in battles
at Belchite, Lesera and Caspe. At Caspe, commander Rubinstein and political
commissar Misha Reger were wounded, and a new temporary commander,
Galant, took the place of Rubinstein. After the battle at Caspe the Botwin Company
took new positions near Lerida, where Moshe Safir, a captain from the American
Lincoln Brigade, became commander. The Spaniard Isidor Graju became the new
political commissar. New volunteers were also brought in, among them Emmanuel
Mink, and by the end of March 1938 the company had again reached around 120
men.120 During the battle at Lerida, Safir was severely wounded and later died. Mink
became the new commander while Misha Reger later returned from a stay in hospital
to rejoin the Botwin Company. By the end of April the company had been moved to the
front at the river Ebro and by the end of May a new position had been taken near
Pradel. This sketchy overview indicates that while most commanders and political
commissars were Jewish, the realities of the battlefield meant non-Jews occupied these
posts as well.
At Pradel, a period of rest and preparation began for the Ebro offensive, which
started in July 1938. Mink went to an officers school and was replaced by Moshe
Halbersberg, a former member of the French Foreign Legion.121 New volunteers, Jews
and Spaniards, joined the ranks of the Botwin Company. A picture of the ‘Jewish
Botwinists prior to the Ebro offensive’ published in the company newspaper Botvin
shows thirty-three men.122 It is unclear whether these are simply the soldiers that
happened to be around when the photograph was taken or indeed comprise the total
number of Jewish Botwinists left in the company. If the latter, they were clearly a
minority, as in fact they had often been. During the battle at the Ebro, Halbersberg fell
and was replaced by Mink, who had returned from the officers school. In general, the
losses were great.123 Misha Reger, who had become the political commissar of the
Palafox battalion, was replaced by the Spaniard Diego Mula. When Mink was wounded,
he was replaced by Alexander Szerman. The fighting near the Ebro, which continued
until the official demobilization of the International Brigades that began on 23
September, resulted in the near-total destruction of the company. According to
Emmanuel Mink, all who had not been wounded in battle were executed after being
surrounded by the enemy.124
Legend has it that the Botwin Company’s determination in battle earned its soldiers
the nickname ‘di royte teyvelonim’ (the red devils), and attracted Jewish volunteers
from other units who wanted to join because of its reputation of heroism.125 Since
most available sources are either memoirs or brigade press publications, which stress
the heroism of Jewish, or other, volunteers as a matter of course, it is difficult to
ascertain its appreciation by other volunteers or base command. Nonetheless, Jewish
volunteers, particularly from Eastern Europe, did have something to prove in the eyes
of some of their non-Jewish comrades. Moreover, Polish communists were generally
seen as disciplined and determined due to the illegality of the KPP. Thus Misha Reger
explicitly linked the discipline of Jewish volunteers, already before the formation of the
Botwin Company, to the underground and prison experience of many of its Jewish
fighters.126
56 Jewish Volunteers, the International Brigades and the Spanish Civil War

Botvin: a battlefront newspaper

The Botwin Company published its own battlefront journal, simply called Botvin,
which first appeared on 30 December 1937. Botvin was, in Gina Medem’s words, the
‘little brother’ of Naye Prese and edited by its correspondent Lekhter.127 Like all brigade
publications, the journal was meant for internal propaganda, uplifting and maintaining
morale and discipline, and was made under supervision of the political commissariat.
As Rothenberg has observed, ‘It was the irony of history that the first Hebrew print
to appear in Spain in more than four centuries was produced by a Yiddish speaking
military unit’.128 Ironic though it was, Rothenberg was not factually correct:
Frayhaytskemfer, not Botvin, was the first Yiddish brigade publication to appear within
the International Brigades. Botvin was hectographed in the beginning and later printed,
using type that had been found in the University of Barcelona. The fonts had once been
used to print an academic edition of Hebrew poets from the goldene tkufe (golden age)
in 1931.129
Six issues were to appear, the last three after the formal dissolution of the Brigades.
Botvin’s first two issues, published in January and February 1938, were handwritten.
While the third issue was still made by typewriter, later issues were printed and of
much higher quality. In the fifth issue of Botvin a note from the editor appeared,
apologizing for spelling mistakes because of a lack of Yiddish typesetters; the paper was
typeset by a Sephardic Jew from Turkey.130 Botvin was read by Jewish volunteers from
different units, and Lekhter once wrote that he wanted it to be the journal for all Jewish
volunteers in Spain.131 Rothenberg contends that the ‘higher instances’ did not want the
Botwin paper to transcend the confines of one Jewish company: only occasionally were
items about Jewish soldiers in other units printed. The I.B. leadership feared ‘Jewish
nationalism’.132 Indeed, references to other Jewish soldiers were few and mainly
mentioned Jewish volunteers in the Palafox Battalion, of which the Botwin Company
was a part. We have to remember, however, that an important function of brigade press
publications was to strengthen the volunteers’ allegiance to their own unit. By allowing
a brigade press publication to transcend the confines of its own unit, this strategy
would have been undermined.
Perhaps the best characterization of Botvin was given by the American Yiddish
communist newspaper Morgn Frayhayt: ‘A peculiar newspaper. From its pages shines a
new type of Jewish hero, that has already during its lifetime become a legend, the
Jewish freedom-fighter’.133 Botvin published articles on all aspects of the life of the
Company. Its optimistic tone, always emphasizing imminent victory in battle, sharply
contrasted with the actual military situation, and its own defeats in battle. Unsurprisingly,
given its links to Naye Prese, Botvin also reflected developments in France, such as the
decree laws of the new Daladier government in spring 1938 and its consequences on
the Jewish street.134 Cultural life was another point of great interest. There were choirs,
sports activities and a steady production of wall newspapers.135 Diamant relates that
huts and houses were decorated in an attempt to create a pleasant living environment,
turning it into ‘a kind of Yiddish shtetl’. One of the company’s fighters once dubbed the
place ‘Kashrilevke’,136 referring to one of the fictional town names of the famous Yiddish
writer Sholem Aleichem. Tables were arranged and decorated ‘in der Botvinishn
The Naftali Botwin Company 57

shteyger’, in the Botwin manner.137 There was an ongoing competition between different
sections of the company in these activities.138 The use of typical Yiddish metaphors,
underlining the company’s cultural roots, is also found in a description in Botvin 5 of
the editorial ‘office’ in an old farmer’s house. Here, the busy activity of people creating a
new wall newspaper is described as ‘a yarid’, or market.139 The Botwin Company had its
own marching song, which was devoid, though, of specific Jewish content, composed
by Olek Nus and set to the melody of a Spanish folk song.140
Though mostly preoccupied with the exploits of its Jewish fighters, Spanish–Jewish
relations received only occasional attention as the following anecdote reveals, rich in
symbolism and clearly intended to underline how good relations between the
company’s Jewish and Spanish soldiers were. During a concert evening a Hungarian
chazan named Viktor Tulman sang some liturgical melodies. The Spanish soldiers who
were present were moved and wondered about the similarity between this Jewish
music and their own musical heritage. Jewish Botwinists explained to them the
Sephardic origins, and thus the ‘Spanish’ roots, of the music the chazan had sung.141
44 Jewish Volunteers, the International Brigades and the Spanish Civil War

Figure 2.1 The Yiddish version of the order of the day that officially announced the
formation of the Jewish Naftali Botwin Company
Source: Photo taken from: David Diamant, Combattants juifs dans l’armée républicaine espagnole, 1936–1939
(Paris: Éditions Renouveau, 1979). © Fonds David Diamant, Archives du PCF – Archives départementales de la
Seine-Saint-Denis.
Part Two

Jewish Volunteers in the


Parisian Yiddish Press

59
60
46 Jewish Volunteers, the International Brigades and the Spanish Civil War

small token Jewish company was formed, which indicates that numbers were not the
primary concern of those who sanctioned its formation.
There were clear propagandistic advantages to creating a Jewish unit, however.
Given the decline in the number of volunteers from spring 1937 onwards, as well as in
their morale, the Comintern increased its propaganda efforts in support of the brigades.
As important as recruiting new volunteers were political reasons. In view of the
struggle for the Popular Front it was essential to maintain the image of a strong
international brotherhood of men fighting fascism in Spain, even though the brigades’
military significance was decreasing.63 The Botwin Company was thus created at a time
when recruiting new volunteers had become increasingly difficult and public interest
in the conflict seemed to be waning. Given the high proportion of Jews, especially in
the KPP, a Jewish symbol on the Spanish battlefields had clear propagandistic value.
Indeed, a number of Jewish veterans have pointed to this broader strategic interest.
Former Botwinist Efraim Wuzek, for instance, in his memoirs has highlighted ‘the need
to concentrate and mobilise the attention of the Jewish masses to the fight against
fascism and to alleviate the mass action of the Jewish solidarity committees’ as one of
the reasons for the Botwin Company’s formation.64 Polish-Jewish veteran Benjamin
Lubelski, who did not fight in the Botwin Company, saw propagandistic considerations
as the sole reason for its formation.65 Likewise Sigmund Stein, another Botwinist, has
pointed to the important propagandistic effect a Jewish company was expected to have
on Jews around the world: it would make it easier to collect money for the Spanish
cause and spread the communist message among Jews.66
Stein also discusses the internal political reasons the Jewish section of the PCF might
have had to encourage the formation of a Jewish military unit and engages in some
interesting speculation.67 In his view, Jewish communists in Paris regarded the large number
of political emigrants, mainly young Jewish communists from Poland, as unwelcome rivals.
A Jewish company thus provided an opportunity to send them out of the country.68 After
all, a demand by the party to enlist in Spain was hard to refuse. Another ex-communist, and
former editor of Naye Prese, Faivel Schrager, recalled a similar story in his memoirs.
Schrager began to develop doubts about the communist movement in the period of the
Moscow trials in 1937. As the party relieved him of his responsibilities, he was offered, by
his own account, the political direction of the Botwin Company. Schrager refused, unable
to see how he could perform such a task when his political doubts were well known, and
wondered if this was not a way ‘to eliminate me, to distance me from Paris’.69
Propaganda and purported internal squabbles aside, however, there was another
crucial impulse for the formation of the Botwin Company. This becomes evident from
a damning report on the state of the International Brigades by General Walter from
January 1938, in which he discussed the brigades’ ‘nationality policy’. Walter, nom de
guerre of Polish general Karol Świerczewski, was commander of the 14th Brigade
and later 35th Division. It is worth quoting him here at length as his report provides
crucial insight into the broader context in which the Botwin Company’s formation
took place:

The nationality question is the weakest spot in the international units and is the
main hindrance impeding the growth of our potential.
62 Jewish Volunteers, the International Brigades and the Spanish Civil War

Ouvrière, edited by Marc Jarblum. Jarblum was the Poale Zion Hitachduth leader in
France and, since 1936, president of Paris’s most important Jewish migrant organization,
the Federation of Jewish Societies. He regularly published articles on the Spanish Civil
War in Parizer Haynt.6 In addition, Parizer Haynt announced meetings and published
occasional reports on the activities of the more radical Linke Poale Zion (LPZ ), and
thus provided the most comprehensive information on LPZ activities in this period.7
Naye Prese was published by the Jewish section of the PCF, which encouraged all
language groups within the MOE -MOI to publish their own newspaper or journal.8
From the second half of 1937 onwards, after the dissolution of the Jewish section, its
editorial offices were at Rue Montmartre 142, the same location where the PCF ’s
L’Humanité was printed. Naye Prese relied on L’Humanité for much of its news gathering
on communist affairs, while the Jewish Telegraph Agency was an important news
provider for Jewish news. The newspaper could also boast a network of correspondents
that, in Autumn 1936, covered Poland, the Soviet Union, the United States, Palestine,
England, Belgium and Romania, in addition to several special and volunteer-
correspondents operating in Spain.9 The use of these so-called worker correspondents
was a well-known model in the communist press to connect to readers.10 Naye Prese
was also published in Belgium, as was Parizer Haynt, and part of a transnational
network of Yiddish communist periodicals. It had close contacts with Morgn Frayhayt
in New York, for example. In fact, Frayhayt’s co-founder, the Austrian-Jewish writer
and communist Leo Katz, would become the first editor-in-chief of Naye Prese in
1934.11 During the Spanish Civil War period, Frayhayt journalist Melech Epstein was a
‘special correspondent’, as Naye Prese described it. A photo on the front page of Naye
Prese of 19 September 1936 shows Naye Prese reporter Elski together with Epstein on
one of the Spanish fronts. Another ‘shared’ journalist was Gina Medem.12
Naye Prese was not the only leftist, party-affiliated Yiddish publication in Paris. The
Parisian branch of the Bund, the Medem-Farband, published the journal Undzer
Shtime. Not a daily newspaper, it appeared sporadically and in smaller numbers than
Naye Prese.13 Little is known about its history. It was published from 1935 onwards,
replacing a previous journal entitled Veker that had existed since 1932.14 Unlike the
Jewish communists, Bundists were ideologically opposed to the idea of a Popular Front
that included non-workers parties and they opposed overtures to religious migrants.15
Such ideas mirrored those of Trotsky and contributed to regular allegations in Naye
Prese of Bundist Trotskyist sympathies, a cardinal sin in the communist universe, that
would also surface in Spain. Measured by the print run of their respective newspapers,
Jewish communists reached a significantly larger audience than the Bundists did with
Undzer Shtime. In its heyday, in the Popular Front period, the newspaper published
2,000–3,000 copies per day, which far exceeds the estimated number of party members
of circa 200–300 in the 1930s.16 Its actual readership was even bigger as the newspaper
was often shared with family and friends. During the Spanish Civil War period the
average size of the newspaper also increased from four to six, to six to eight pages
per day.
The differences between the two Yiddish dailies were significant. Parizer Haynt’s
origins as a West European offshoot of Warsaw’s Haynt reveal its strong links with
Poland. Moreover, Parizer Haynt had existed for 8 years when Naye Prese began
Analysing the Yiddish Press in 1930s Paris 63

publication and thus already had an established audience among the Parisian Jewish
migrant population. Crucially, even though it tended to reflect labour-Zionist opinions
in Paris, Parizer Haynt was not an activist newspaper nor the mouthpiece of a party
and movement that had particular ideas on how the press should function within
the context of a broader political programme and propaganda strategy. Its pages
were much less characterized by the continuous calls for arms for various national
and international political causes that could be found in Naye Prese, and its tone was
generally more subdued. Given the huge differences in political outlook, relations
between Naye Prese and Parizer Haynt were tense. Naye Prese frequently published
polemical articles about its competitor or used more subtle ways to antagonize. When
it began publication of Yiddish writer Zalman Shnoer’s new novel Der Mamzer (The
Illegitimate Child) it did so with headlines that outsized those of many, more mundane,
events. As Shnoer had once been entangled in a legal battle with Parizer Haynt’s
founder Shmuel Yatzkan, it symbolized perfectly the competition between the two
Yiddish dailies.17
As a daily newspaper, Naye Prese covered the major international and national
political events of the day but with clear foci. During the Spanish Civil War
period several other major issues dominated its headlines, notably the threat of war
looming over Europe and the fascist menace posed by Nazi Germany. In addition, the
newspaper extensively covered the fate of Jewish communities all over the world
focusing especially on anti-Semitic incidents in Poland, Romania, Germany and, after
the Anschluss of March 1938, Austria. Much attention was also devoted to the volatile
situation in Mandate Palestine, a difficult topic to cover for anti-Zionist Jewish
communists in a period of ongoing Arab–Jewish fighting: their ambiguous position
was perhaps best summed up by an editorial entitled ‘anti-Semitism or freedom
struggle?’.18 Needless to say, much was made of the development and supposed
achievements of Birobidzhan, the Jewish Autonomous Region (JAR ) in the east of
Siberia, which functioned as a communist Zion and symbol of the success of the Soviet
Union in solving the ‘Jewish question’, and was frequently invoked as such.
Regarding France, Naye Prese closely monitored the changes in, and politics of,
successive French governments, especially in relation to labour issues and the ongoing
debate about the legal status of foreign workers in the country. The latter issue became
especially pertinent after the introduction of the first decree laws by the new Daladier
government in April 1938. Naye Prese actively supported Jewish migrants by, for
instance, providing and facilitating legal advice. Despite the pressures facing Jewish
migrants, there was a growing realization that France would be their permanent home.
A variety of articles thus dealt with French history and its relevance, in an attempt to
mentally root Jewish migrants in their new home country. David Weinberg has pointed
towards the growing identification of Jewish communists with French society and
history after the mid-1930s.19 As a result French history increasingly became part
of the Jewish communist historical framework and calendar. Thus one writer in
Naye Prese could state that ‘without the French Revolution Jews would still live in
the ghetto’.20 Naye Prese’s editors, of course, duly followed the politics of the mother
party; after PCF leader Maurice Thorez’s attempts to woo French Catholics in his main
tendue (literally: stretched out hand) speech of April 1936, Naye Prese also began to
64 Jewish Volunteers, the International Brigades and the Spanish Civil War

report more positively on religious matters.21 Right-wing and fascist movements in


France also received much attention, not only because of their anti-leftist stance but
especially because of their anti-migrant and anti-Semitic rhetoric. Anti-Semitism
among French or non-Jewish migrant workers was, however, largely a taboo subject
and only addressed implicitly.
Naye Prese (co-)organized excursions, holidays for Jewish workers and all kinds of
cultural and political meetings, and was involved in various support campaigns, for
example for Jewish children in Poland. Nonetheless, we need to qualify what made
Naye Prese a Jewish newspaper, if only because Jewish communists were often seen to
serve mostly communist interests. It was of course only natural for Yiddish-speaking
Eastern European Jewish communists to publish in Yiddish but choice of language
does not necessarily imply a strong commitment to the corresponding culture.22 On
the face of it, Naye Prese showed a strong commitment to the maintenance of a secular
Yiddish culture and an interest in the Jewish world that went beyond the daily reporting
of anti-Semitic incidents in Poland or Romania. It ran continuous feuilletons of Jewish
writers like Opatoshu and Feuchtwanger and regularly featured a page on the world of
Jewish/Yiddish literature and movies, with an emphasis on Soviet–Yiddish culture and
the many Yiddish fellow-traveller writers of the period.23 In addition, the newspaper
paid attention to important public Jewish figures, like sportsmen, doctors, scientists
and politicians. Moreover, Naye Prese played an important role in the creation and
support of Yiddish cultural and educational institutions in Paris, such as the so-called
Tsugab-shuln (literally ‘extra schools’; Jewish primary schools that were part of the
activities of the Farband) and the theatre-group PIAT. Attention for Jewish life and
Yiddish culture in its various manifestations was thus a given, but cultural and political
commitments were never separated. Whatever the topic, it was always framed in the
proper class terminology and Naye Prese’s editors displayed a keen understanding of
how to sell their political message to a large audience.
In addressing its readers, Naye Prese employed a mode of describing events that
blended communist rhetoric with cultural references carrying a specific resonance for
a Jewish audience. Its use of the Hebrew word yishuv, meaning ‘settlement’, is particularly
illuminating. Yishuv was originally used to refer to the Zionist settlement in Palestine
as opposed to those Jews living in the diaspora. Its usage by the Jewish communists to
refer to the Jewish immigrant population in France signified a clever appropriation of
the term for its own diasporic agenda, depriving it of its usual Zionist resonance. Its
political position was also reflected in the orthography employed: all Hebraisms were
spelled phonetically in accordance with orthographic reforms that had taken place in
the Soviet Union in the 1920s and 1930s.24 This was, however, not exclusive for
communist Yiddish publications but a more general feature of leftist Yiddish printing:
Undzer Shtime for instance also used Soviet-Yiddish spelling, at least during the
Spanish Civil War period, but its articles were stylistically more sophisticated and its
Yiddish vocabulary less basic.
It is important here to note the particular role of the press, and of language, in
the communist movement at the time. From the Soviet, and thus communist, point of
view the press served, in the words of Lenin, as a ‘collective propagandist, collective
agitator . . . collective organiser’.25 The pages of Naye Prese are full of calls to act in
Analysing the Yiddish Press in 1930s Paris 65

favour of a variety of causes, phrased in a language that is often characterized by an


‘imperative mode’.26 Support campaigns were almost by definition successful and
disappointing results did not exist. Naye Prese instead wrote of the need to ‘reinforce’ a
campaign. Daniel Weiss has pointed to the semantic consistency of Soviet propaganda
characterized, among other things, by a sense of stability and necessity.27 Morten Thing
has noted that ‘in deciphering the Russian reality you have to read forwards. This means
that you have to look for all the growing signs of the new society and write about
them’.28 ‘Reading forwards’ is a fitting description of the kind of wishful optimism that
was also maintained on the pages of Naye Prese with regard to the events of the Spanish
Civil War.
Thing has also pointed to problems arising from the attempt by the Comintern
to universally implement a ‘language of communism’, with many words translated
directly from Russian into other languages, or simply invented, with results that did not
always make sense outside the Soviet context.29 Another characteristic of communist
language use was that words often became attached to new Soviet realities; an
example being the word ‘communism’ itself, which came to stand for its Soviet
implementation. Similarly,‘democracy’ in Comintern speak stood for Soviet democracy,
not its Western parliamentary implementation. Of course it was precisely the existence
of such divergent meanings, and their appropriation and redefinition within a Soviet
context, that caused many outside the communist movement to distrust communist
motives. Sudden shifts in the applicability of certain words contributed to this as
well: in the class-against-class period socialists were branded ‘social fascists’ and in the
Popular Front period they suddenly became comrades in the joint struggle against
fascism. Such changes were presented as completely logical but, as many articles
in Undzer Shtime show, caused deep misgivings about the true motives of Jewish
communists in Paris.
Naye Prese aimed to create a Jewish migrant workers’ community in France and
Belgium that was based on several issues. There was consistent coverage of workers’
rights issues such as the fight for a forty-hour working week and holidays. Since Jewish
workers occupied a particular economic position as manual, often self-employed,
labourers its editors devoted much attention to their specific socio-economic position.
It also urged Jewish workers to respect the forty-hour working week, after its
introduction, because of concerns over anti-Jewish sentiment among French workers.
This concern with the position of Jewish workers among their French brethren also
manifested itself in frequent calls to participate more actively in the trade unions.
Within that context, attention given to the participation of Jewish volunteers in the
International Brigades in Naye Prese would serve as a means to address tensions
between Jewish and non-Jewish workers.
Naye Prese thus had to balance its defence of the specific interests of Jewish workers
with those of French workers and loyalty to the PCF. Indeed, any analysis of the
newspaper’s views on political, economic, social and cultural issues is meaningless unless
it is seen within the context of the political position of the PCF and the Comintern on
these issues. Its role was thus determined by two factors: it was a communist newspaper
published in Yiddish for a Jewish audience. This dual identification with communist
ideology and practice and the Jewish migrant population in France required a careful
66 Jewish Volunteers, the International Brigades and the Spanish Civil War

balancing of allegiances, informed by changes in Comintern strategies as well as by the


increasingly difficult living conditions of Jewish migrants in France. In the Popular Front
period it was clearly easier for the newspaper to merge its allegiances, though relations
with the Bund and LPZ often remained troubled. Nonetheless, in the years following the
establishment of the Popular Front in France, Naye Prese became the major Yiddish daily
in Paris and sought cooperation with many of its Jewish migrant organizations.
Throughout the late 1930s there was thus a consistent emphasis on the need for unity
among Jewish migrants. Jewish communists also played an important role in attempts to
create an organizational platform to bring this unification about, though with varying
degrees of success.
Naye Prese’s advocacy of a united fight against fascism in Spain thus mirrored
the concerns it sought to address on the Jewish street in Paris, and Jewish communist
attempts to unify the Jewish migrant population. ‘Spain’ could thus function as a
symbol for its political battles in France and Paris, which were partly informed by its
communist position but equally by its concern for the rights and specific problems
of Jewish migrants. Indeed, it seems impossible to separate one from the other in the
case of Spain. In the absence of the specific political importance that Spain and the
International Brigades had for Jewish communists, it is of little surprise that Parizer
Haynt and Undzer Shtime covered the Spanish Civil War in very different ways.
For communists, and by extension for Naye Prese, the Spanish conflict was an
important propaganda tool. The International Brigades, symbolizing democratic anti-
fascist unity and action in the face of the fascist menace threatening Europe, were thus
crucial to support and promote the Popular Front tactic. In Parizer Haynt another
conflict took prominence, though: that in Mandate Palestine or ‘Erets Israel’ as Parizer
Haynt consistently called it. The engagement of Parizer Haynt vis-à-vis ‘Spain’ was in
the first place determined by the direct consequences of the war for the Jews in Spain
and Spanish Morocco and not by a political programme it subscribed to. For Undzer
Shtime the revolutionary potential of the Spanish conflict that communists sought to
suppress was as important as the fight against the Nationalists, and Bundists regarded
the International Brigades as a largely communist affair. All of this means that the
International Brigades and the experiences of its volunteers were not nearly as urgent
for Parizer Haynt and Undzer Shtime as for Naye Prese.
4

‘Chosen Fighters of the Jewish People’:


Jewish Volunteers in Naye Prese

Early militias and the formation of the International Brigades

The military revolt in Spain and the first foreign volunteers


Only days after the start of the military revolt in Spain, Naye Prese offered its take on
the conflict. Adam Rayski, who had been Naye Prese’s liaison to L’Humanité since
March 1934,1 explained in an editorial what lessons for France could be drawn from
the Spanish revolt and emphasized the importance of maintaining a united front
against the fascist enemy.2 Two days later, on 24 July, when news of Hitler’s support for
the rebels had reached the world, he added, in a second editorial, that support for
Republican Spain also implied fighting Franco’s fascist sympathizers in France.3
Following a line that PCF leader Maurice Thorez had set out, which was also reflected
in L’Humanité, the Spanish struggle was thus immediately linked to French interests,
based on the idea that a Nationalist victory would give France a second front to deal
with in case of war.4 As Paul Vaillant-Couturier, L’Humanité’s editor-in-chief wrote on
the same day: ‘To aid and defend the Spanish people . . . is to defend the French people,
to work for the security of the country!’5 Similarly, a PCF manifesto published on
3 August, headlined ‘With Spain for the security of France’, detailed what the Spanish
struggle was about in the eyes of the PCF : ‘Against treason. For France, for liberty and
for peace. Frenchmen, Unite!’.6 The ‘traitors’ were those French fascists seen to act as
agents of Hitler in France.
By coincidence, however, Naye Prese was in a position to give a first-hand account
of the revolt. Several members of the Yidisher Arbeter Sport Klub (YASK ) from Paris
were present in Barcelona in July 1936 as delegates for the Workers Olympiad.7 In the
days that followed, the YASK delegates also offered a vivid account of the fighting in
and around the city and told of their efforts to secure food for other delegates and to
aid wounded fighters.8 Among those that decided to volunteer for the early militias
were the leader of the YASK group, Aronowicz, who would later fight in the Botwin
Company, and the Polish-Jewish communist T. Elski.
Elski was born in 1910 in Warsaw where he worked in the textile industry. He left
Poland at the age of twenty and settled in Paris where he found work in a knitting
factory.9 An avid reader when he was young, he became a volunteer-journalist in Spain
and remained one of the most important reporters for Naye Prese on the Spanish

67
52 Jewish Volunteers, the International Brigades and the Spanish Civil War

Figure 2.2 Photo of Naftali Botwin taken from Folks Shtime in Poland on the occasion of
the 40th anniversary of his death. The title reads: ‘Honour to the memory of the heroic
proletarian revolutionary Naftali Botwin’
Source: © Collection YIVO Institute for Jewish Research (New York) – Bund Archive.

On 17 July 1925 a first, and failed, attempt to assassinate Cechnowski was made in
Warsaw by three Polish party members, Wladislaw Hibner, Henryk Rutkowski and
Wladislaw Kniewski. Subsequently Botwin was recruited and supplied with a revolver, as
he later confessed during his trial.97 On 28 July 1925 Botwin shot Cechnowski in Lwów
in broad daylight and was immediately arrested. He was tried by summary court on 5–6
August 1925, condemned to death by firing squad and executed on 6 August in the
courtyard of the Brigidki prison. Establishing the extent of public indignation following
Botwin’s trial and execution is difficult yet local reactions seem to have been strong: non-
communist reports suggest that during the two days of the trial and execution thousands
of people were out on the streets of Lwów.98 Stories exist of demonstrations in several
cities and factories in Poland.99 There were also calls for revenge but these seem to have
been relatively minor incidents.100 In any case, Botwin became a martyr for the communist
cause, and his actions clearly resonated among Poland’s Jewish youth:

News about the fatal shooting of Naftali Botwin came in the first months of 1926
and exploded like a bomb among both the Jewish youth and the Polish workers of
our city. A big meeting was held in ‘Dos Ludovi’ (House of the People) which was
attended by many Polish workers and almost all the town’s Jewish youth. Speakers
came from Warsaw and also from Zyrardow.
Despite the threat of strong police repression, the workers went into the street
after the meeting and gathered in a giant demonstration that took them from the
House of the People, in the market square, to the train station. The meeting and
demonstration made a deep impression. One had the feeling that a party which
could create heroes like Naftali Botwin must harbour in itself a great, noble truth.101
Jewish Volunteers in Naye Prese 69

means for the Jewish people’. In a pamphlet announcing the meeting, Franco was
quoted as saying ‘when we have won the war we shall return to the glorious days of
1492’, an obvious reference to the expulsion of the Jews from the Iberian peninsula in
1492. The pamphlet then proceeded to explain that a fascist victory would entail ‘a
tremendous increase in Jew baiting all over the world’, applying a phrase normally used
to describe attacks on Jews in Britain by the Blackshirts of Oswald Mosley’s British
Union of Fascists (BUF ). The JLC therefore insisted it was imperative to ‘support the
Spanish people’ and engage with the conflict.21 Similarly, the newspaper of the CPGB ,
the Daily Worker, printed items underlining Republican pro-Jewish attitudes.22
These references to the Inquisition and expulsion of the Jews from Spain in 1492
vanished almost completely from the pages of Naye Prese after the first 2 months of the
revolt. The importance of the Spanish cause for the newspaper’s Jewish audience should
now be obvious: Franco’s rebels were the heirs of the medieval inquisitors and Jews
therefore had a special duty to help the Republic under siege. Naye Prese also published
reports on the fate of Jews in Nationalist-occupied Spain and in Spanish Morocco,
who were attempting to flee or subjected to new taxes.23 There were even reports
about the existence of concentration camps in Morocco.24 At the same time ‘bourgeois’
Jews were denounced for aiding Franco. When the SFIO newspaper Le Populaire
discussed alleged support from French Moroccans to the fascists in Spanish Morocco,
among them Jews, Naye Prese seized upon the opportunity to denounce their behaviour
as a betrayal of the interests of the Jewish masses by allying with fascists and anti-
Semites.25

The first Jewish volunteers on the Spanish battlefields


Naye Prese now also began to publish reports about Jews fighting in the various
militias on the Republican side. Elski wrote an elaborate report about Jewish residents
of Barcelona as well as delegates for the Workers Olympiad who had volunteered,
underlining that they had taken up arms ‘against the Francos and Molas, the bearers of
fascism and anti-Semitism’.26 He focused on volunteers from Barcelona, a city with a
Jewish population of 6,000, half of whom were German-Jewish refugees or Jews that
had left or been expelled from Belgium and France, mostly for political reasons. Elski
specifically mentioned communist organizations like the Gezerd (Association for the
Settlement of Jews on the Land in the USSR ), which was active in Barcelona, adding
biographies of East European Jewish communists that were fighting for the Republic.
He followed up with a report about his meeting with a group of Jewish volunteers from
Paris, adding that one of them had worked for Naye Prese delivering paper,27 thus
linking the early volunteer phenomenon explicitly to the activities of the Parisian
Jewish communists. Unlike L’Humanité, which did not pay attention to foreign
volunteers until after the formation of the International Brigades, Naye Prese thus
presented its readers from the very beginning of the conflict with stories of volunteers
that had come from their midst.28
From early September onwards the number of articles discussing the experiences
of Jewish volunteers, as well as correspondence from these volunteers, steadily
increased. A number of these articles referred to the Thälmann Group, named after
70 Jewish Volunteers, the International Brigades and the Spanish Civil War

the imprisoned German communist leader Ernst Thälmann, most of whose members
were Jewish. The group was therefore described as a ‘Jewish militia’.29 Already in August
a salute from Abrasha Krasni on behalf of the group had appeared on the front page
of Naye Prese.30 Krasni was a Polish-Jewish communist who had been active in the
Belgian MOI before migrating to Spain due to unemployment and being wanted by
the police.31 Krasni also featured in an article about Jewish volunteers in which Lekhter
underlined that their participation disproved stereotypes about Jewish workers being
cowards and shying away from struggle.32 When Krasni died, Naye Prese published an
extensive obituary in which his activities among Belgian workers, for which he had
even learned to speak Flemish, were also highlighted.33 The newspaper thus emphasized
the commitment of this Jewish communist to work with, and for, his non-Jewish
comrades, thereby reinforcing the message that Jews did not shy away from action.
Some other members of the Thälmann Group were Parisian Jews but there was also
a Jewish communist from the London borough of Stepney within its ranks: Sam
Masters.34 Masters, together with another Stepney Jewish communist called Nat Cohen,
was one of the early volunteers from the United Kingdom. He and Nat Cohen later
fought in the Tom Mann Centuria and, as a postcard of the Stepney Branch of the
British Communist Party shows, they became symbols of the Spanish struggle among
the Stepney communists.35 The Thälmann Group fulfilled a similar function for Jewish
communists in Paris. The close links between its volunteers and Naye Prese were once
more underlined when the group sent a ‘battle greeting and thanks to the newspaper
that mobilises the Jewish masses against the fascist danger and the anti-Semitic
hangmen’.36
Among the early Jewish volunteers in the Spanish militias were not only delegates
for the Workers Olympiad or members of Barcelona’s Jewish population. Other
volunteers began to head for Spain as well and Naye Prese was quick to publish articles
about their departure from Paris and their experiences after they had arrived in Spain.37
When one large group of volunteers left Paris in late September, Naye Prese wrote that
‘between different other nationalities there were also a significant number of Jews’.38
Among these first Jewish volunteers were two men who became symbols of the Jewish
communist engagement vis-à-vis Spain in France and Belgium: Leon Baum and doctor
Kuba Bachrach. Baum, a Polish Jew who had lived in Belgium before coming to Paris,
had left for Spain already in early August with a group of Jewish volunteers from Paris.
He died in early September and was the first volunteer coming from the Parisian Jewish
migrant population to fall on the Spanish battlefields. The way in which his death was
announced merits some attention, though. On 2 September, the Jewish Popular Front
celebrated its first anniversary with a big concert meeting in the Maison de la Mutualité
during which Baum’s death was commemorated.
On 4 September, Naye Prese reported that, contrary to what had been assumed,
Baum was not dead but seriously injured in a hospital.39 However, four days later, his
death was confirmed via an advert.40 Jewish migrants in Belleville thereupon organized
a special meeting and announced that a local communist group would be named after
Baum.41 Without doubt, Naye Prese had made a mistake by reporting Baum’s death
prematurely, but the incident also reveals a clear awareness of the propagandistic
potential that the death of a Jewish volunteer hailing from Paris could have. Naye Prese
Jewish Volunteers in Naye Prese 71

later also published a poem on Baum by the well-known Soviet-Yiddish poet, Itzik
Fefer. Fefer related how Baum had come from Paris bringing with him ‘the breath of
the commune’, in reference to the Paris Commune of 1871, one of the major symbolic
events for the international socialist movement. Alluding to the Inquisition period, he
also wrote of ‘the ghost of Torquemada’ that would ‘die in the flames’.42
Kuba Bachrach was a doctor who was born in Riga and had studied in France.
When he was expelled for his communist activities he moved to Belgium where he
became a leader of the Jewish workers in Antwerp and was active in the MOI .43 But as
was the case with Leon Baum, the report in Naye Prese announcing his death in battle
was premature: Bachrach had indeed been severely wounded, but he had survived and
in fact continued to serve as a doctor in the hospital of the International Brigades in
Bencassim.44 Indeed, in October 1937 Naye Prese published an article by the Belgian
journalist Doverman, who had met him there.45
Fully engaged with the Spanish conflict from the beginning, Naye Prese proudly
advertised the number of correspondents it had in Spain. In mid-August it announced
a new ‘special correspondent’, Bernard Lecache, the chairman of the International
League Against Anti-Semitism (Ligue Internationale Contre l’Antisémitisme, LICA ).
Lecache joined the other correspondents: Elski, who fought with the Thälmann Group
on the southern front, and Leo Weiss who reported from Madrid. Weiss was likely
none other than Leo Katz, one of the founders of Naye Prese, who was involved in
arms sales for the Spanish Republic during the civil war.46 The newspaper now had
three correspondents in Spain and explained the importance of its coverage of the
war by asserting, among other things, that a Nationalist victory would encourage
Hitler to ‘implement fascism – and anti-Semitism – in other countries’ and that the
‘Jewish masses’ for this reason followed the events in Spain so attentively.47 By the end
of September Morgn Frayhayt journalist Melekh Epstein and Lekhter were added to
the list of correspondents.48 Less than 2 months after the start of the civil war Naye
Prese had no fewer than four of its own correspondents operating in Spain and one
affiliate reporter. Elski and Lekhter were also volunteers and thus acted as worker
correspondents. The presence of Lecache, a former communist who had joined the
SFIO, also served to underline the united Popular Front struggle in Spain.

Spain and Jewish communist politics in France: unity and the threat
of anti-Semitism
The possible implications of a fascist victory in Spain aided and reinforced the
unity campaign that Naye Prese conducted on the Jewish street in August and
September, when it celebrated the 1st anniversary of the Jewish Popular Front.49 The
Jewish section presented the display of ‘anti-fascist unity’ in Spain as an example to
be followed by the Jewish migrant population in France and Paris. But despite much
rhetoric in Naye Prese about the necessity of unity on the Jewish street, the reality was
quite different and unity had been far from achieved. Not only was the Jewish migrant
population as a whole divided but the same was true for the Jewish Left in Paris,
despite formal cooperation of Jewish communists, Bundists and the Linke Poale Zion
in the Coordination Committee. Several critical, sometimes dismissive, reports on the
72 Jewish Volunteers, the International Brigades and the Spanish Civil War

Medem-Farband in Naye Prese reveal that it was the Jewish communists who dictated
the terms of unity and did not hesitate to take those who questioned them to task.
A good example is an editorial that Lerman wrote about the Bund on the occasion
of the appearance of a new issue of their journal Undzer Shtime.50 In a highly
condescending tone Lerman chided his ‘Bundist friends’ for focusing on communists
instead of the fight against anti-Semitism and support for ‘Spanish freedom fighters’.
Only a single article dealt with Spain and contained unjust allegations towards the
communist party, according to Lerman, who was also worried about what he saw as
anti-Stalinist and pro-Trotskyist tendencies. He ended his comradely advice by urging
the Bundists to join the ‘people’s movement for the joint fight against anti-Semitism
and racial hatred’.51 Similarly, relations with the Linke Poale Zion were strained, as
is revealed by an open letter of the Jewish section in reaction to an invitation for an
LPZ meeting. In the letter, the Jewish communists announced their intention not to
send representatives to LPZ meetings any longer, alleging that on previous occasions
their members were heckled and could not speak without interruption. They therefore
demanded guarantees before sending a representative.52
Lerman’s critique of the Bund came only days after the annual NSDAP
Reichsparteitag in Nuremburg, which was extensively covered in Naye Prese.53 As a
prelude to Nuremburg, Naye Prese decided to acquaint its readers with Hitler’s Mein
Kampf by publishing a series of excerpts announced in an advert entitled ‘Hitler wants
to enslave France and the Jews’. Its major argument was that Hitler was spreading
his ideas ‘with fire and sword’ in Spain today and would turn to France tomorrow,54 a
point that was underlined by Maurice Thorez in a speech during a PCF rally where he
quoted from Mein Kampf.55 Naye Prese emphasized that Mein Kampf threatened both
France and ‘world Jewry’ by publishing a first excerpt entitled ‘France and the Jews
are our worst enemies’.56 As was the case with Spain, French and Jewish interests now
merged on the pages of Naye Prese. Following the Nuremburg congress, Naye Prese
stressed that Hitler’s struggle against the Soviet-Union and Popular Front went hand
in hand with a struggle against the Jews: ‘anti-Semitism is the driving force of the
Hitlerite ideology and practice’. Thus the fate of Jews, according to editor Kenig, was
closely connected to that of democracy, the Popular Front and the Soviet-Union.57
Fighting fascism now more than ever implied fighting anti-Semitism.
Naye Prese regularly pointed out that anti-Semitism was part of the fascist menace
posed by Franco and his foreign helpers, Hitler and Mussolini. Fighting the Nationalists
in Spain thus by implication meant fighting anti-Semitism.58 Indeed, Jewish communists
clearly recognized the threat of anti-Semitism but, given their unshakeable belief in
the correctness of the communist solution, failed to see that their unity campaign
and struggle against anti-Semitism seemed little more than a tactic to attract Jewish
workers to the communist movement in the eyes of the Bund or LPZ . Yet if doubts
existed as to the sincerity of the Jewish communist struggle against anti-Semitism
in general, the participation of Jewish volunteers on the Spanish battlefields gave
that dicussion a new dimension. Communist rhetoric about fighting fascism and
anti-Semitism notwithstanding, Naye Prese now also began to underline that the
participation of Jewish volunteers in Spain disproved the age-old stereotype of Jewish
cowardice.59 In the course of the Spanish Civil War, this would become an increasingly
Jewish Volunteers in Naye Prese 73

consistent trope in its articles on Jewish volunteers, especially after the formation of the
Botwin Company.

Jewish volunteers until the formation of the Botwin Company

From early militias to the establishment of the International Brigades


Most of the volunteers that fought in the early militias were integrated in the newly
created International Brigades from October 1936 onwards. An article by Lekhter on
the history of the Thälmann Group, published on 27 October 1936, can therefore also
be read as an obituary of this ‘Jewish’ unit.60 Lekhter assessed its importance in terms of
Jewish/non-Jewish relations and opined that, owing to its existence, the Spanish people
had gained sympathy for the Jews. He added that the ‘best sons of the Jewish people’
were now fighting in Spain, for the freedom of the Spanish people as well as their own,
a reference to the motto of the Polish volunteers in Spain. Much of what Lekhter said
echoed general features of communist discourse on foreign volunteers. The idea that
they were essentially fighting for the freedom of mankind was a familiar trope and
also appeared in a first salute from the ‘colonne internationale’ in L’Humanité, which
underlined that ‘the international brigade will fight with you until the end, thinking
about the liberation of all the peoples oppressed by fascism’.61 Similarly, the use of the
‘best sons’ metaphor followed the Comintern’s propaganda practice of hailing the
volunteers of the International Brigades as ‘the best sons of the proletariat, the best
representatives of democracy’.62
Nonetheless, there was a marked difference between the ways in which Naye Prese
highlighted the struggle of Jewish volunteers after the brigades’ formation and the
attention L’Humanité paid to its French volunteers. One of the reasons for L’Humanité’s
restraint in reporting on volunteers in the brigades was the PCF ’s support of the
Blum government, which subscribed to a non-intervention policy vis-à-vis Spain. The
PCF far from endorsed that policy but could not openly condemn it. The resulting
ambiguous stance was on full display in a parliamentary speech by PCF leader Maurice
Thorez: ‘the Communist Party has been, and will remain, opposed to each direct
or indirect intervention in Spanish affairs. But the Communist Party did not, and
will never, approve the ill-fated initiative of the government that effectively organised
the blockade of the Spanish Republic’.63 Importantly, the Comintern was also keen
to maintain the myth of spontaneous creation of the International Brigades. As the
PCF fulfilled a key role in organizing the brigades it was therefore careful not to
instrumentalize them too overtly in its propaganda for the Spanish cause, as Jewish
communists increasingly would.
Jewish communists continued to be engaged in support campaigns that were
organized to provide relief to Spanish civilians or to support the International Brigades,
its volunteers and their families, mostly initiated by the PCF or CGT. It should be
noted, however, that during this period Spain was but one of several causes, albeit a
major one, for which Naye Prese sought to rally support. Another prominent concern
was the dire situation of the Jewish population in Poland for which various support
campaigns were organized. As a rule, Naye Prese paid attention to aid efforts as long
74 Jewish Volunteers, the International Brigades and the Spanish Civil War

as they were organized under the aegis of the Popular Front, the PCF /CGT or
organizations that were part of the Jewish communist landscape in Paris, such as the
YASK . Although the Medem-Farband advertised its meetings in Naye Prese, those
gatherings typically did not receive any attention in the form of post-event reports and
neither did LPZ meetings. Unsurprisingly, Naye Prese was always keen to stress the
communist contribution to various support campaigns.

Perceptions of Jewish volunteers within the International Brigades


Now that the foreign volunteer effort had turned into an organized international
military operation, Naye Prese also began to inform its readers about perceptions
of Jewish volunteers among the brigades’ staff and soldiers, particularly Poles. In an
article about Leon Inzelstein, the political commissar of a machine gun company,
Lekhter wrote about a meeting with the political commissar of the Polish Dombrowski
Battalion whom he asked for his opinion about Jewish volunteers. This commissar was
Stach Matuszczak who later became the commander of the Dombrowski Brigade and
in that capacity signed the order of the day that officially declared the formation of the
Botwin Company. Matuszczak emphasized the heroism of the Jewish volunteers
fighting with Inzelstein and highlighted that their conduct had ‘cured’ a Polish volunteer
of his anti-Semitism now that he had witnessed the heroism of his Jewish comrades on
the Spanish battlefields.64
A similar opinion was expressed in an interview by Elski with the Italian Mario
Nicoletti, the chief political commissar of the International Brigades.65 Nicoletti, a
member of the Central Committee of the Italian Communist Party (PCI ) whose real
name was Guiseppe de Vittorio, emphasized the strong discipline of Polish-Jewish
volunteers and stressed its importance in countering prejudices about their fighting
capabilities. He also recalled an effort by Jewish commanders and political commissars
to form a Jewish military unit, an initiative that had been approved by the International
Brigades command but was not realized due to language problems; this was of course
a reference to Nakhumi Weitz’s early initiative. Interestingly, Parizer Haynt later also
published an interview with Nicoletti about the International Brigades, a reprint from
a German newspaper that did not mention Jewish volunteers at all. Nicoletti also wrote
a letter to Naye Prese in which he praised the heroism of Jewish volunteers and
underlined that they made racial distinctions disappear.66
In December 1936, Naye Prese printed an excerpt from Mundo Obrero, the
newspaper of the Spanish Communist Party (PCE ), in which Jewish volunteers
were hailed and, again, the point was underlined that their participation in the
brigades countered prejudices about Jewish cowardice.67 Correspondence from Jewish
volunteers themselves reinforced this message of ‘Jewish heroism’ and military prowess.
Thus a volunteer going by the name of ‘Sholem Konsul’ related the popularity of his
Jewish comrades in a letter from the Madrid front.68 In August 1937 Naye Prese again
mentioned a Mundo Obrero article that celebrated ‘the heroism of the Jewish fighters’.
Mundo Obrero linked the conduct of Jewish volunteers on the Spanish battlefields to
experiences of persecution elsewhere: ‘The workers of the Jewish people, persecuted by
reactionary forces, are well aware of the price of freedom and a country’s independence.
Jewish Volunteers in Naye Prese 75

For where are Jews more persecuted than in fascist countries?69 It was in this period
that Gina Medem was commissioned to write her Spanish booklet about the
participation of Jewish volunteers in the brigades. The fact that Mundo Obrero paid
attention to Jewish volunteers can thus be seen as a broader propaganda effort among
Spanish audiences to highlight the positive contributions made by Jews to the struggle
for the Republic’s survival.
Naye Prese’s concern with perceptions of Jewish volunteers in the International
Brigades should be seen within the context of Polish–Jewish relations, in Paris as well
as Poland. As we have seen, the Parisian Polish migrant newspaper Siła accused Jewish
communists of cowardice in relation to Spain. But Naye Prese also reported on the
Polish newspaper Gazeta Polska, which was campaigning against the Dombrowski
Battalion by describing it as a communist entity, and pointing out the Jewish
background of a KPP leader who had visited the Dombrowski Battalion in Spain
together with Bund leader Viktor Alter.70 In early July, an article appeared that had
previously been published in the journal of the Dombrowski Battalion, written by
Polish-Jewish volunteer Janek under the headline ‘Dombrowchaks for the Naye Prese’.71
Janek explained that, on the initiative of a number of Jewish volunteers, money had
been raised for Naye Prese by Jews, as well as Poles and Spaniards. According to him,
this was an answer to fascist accusations that Jewish and Polish workers were separated.
Anti-Semitism and racial hatred, he contended, were decoys employed by the Polish
leadership to break the unity of Poles and Jews. As with so many articles in Naye Prese,
the discourse was unmistakably communist yet the subtext reveals that profoundly
Jewish concerns were at stake.

Creating heroes: the exhibition about Jewish volunteers in Paris


The frequent allusions in Naye Prese to the heroic conduct of Jewish volunteers served
a dual purpose. They served to establish the volunteers’ reputation, and by extension
that of the Jewish communists themselves, which facilitated aid campaigns for Spain
and helped to focus attention on the importance of the Popular Front strategy. Yet they
also reveal that the Parisian Jewish communists were acutely aware of anti-Semitic
stereotypes about Jewish fighting capabilities and the need to address them. This effort
required symbols, such as the Thälmann Group in the early months of the civil war,
heroes like Leon Baum and Kuba Bachrach, or Leon Inzelstein’s stories about a special
Jewish group in the Polish Dombrowski Battalion who were dubbed ‘heroes of the
Jewish people’.72
In July 1937, Naye Prese published two special pages in its Sunday paper on the
occasion of the war’s first anniversary, one of them dedicated to Jewish volunteers
under the page-wide heading: ‘Jewish fighters – the pride of our people’.73 To be sure,
this kind of terminology was not limited to Jewish volunteers but more generally used
to describe those Jews who had accomplished something extraordinary, especially
within a communist context. A non-Spanish example is the descriptions of Jewish
participants in a Soviet expedition to the North Pole in spring 1937, an expedition that
played an important role in late 1930s Soviet propaganda.74 As John McCannon has
noted in this respect, the ‘Soviet Arctic heroes were not merely passive symbols in the
58
Jewish Volunteers in Naye Prese 77

The importance of the museum was explained in Naye Prese in an article headlined
‘Building up the museum for Jewish fighters is a duty towards the heroes of our
people’.85 Its propagandistic message was simple: the Spanish cause was connected
to the fate of the Jewish people and the Jewish volunteers fighting for the Republic
had ‘written one of the most beautiful chapters in the history of the Jewish workers
movement and the Jewish people in general’. Seemingly echoing Simon Dubnow’s
famous 1891 appeal to Polish and Russian Jews to collect and record their own history,
the museum committee opined that ‘we Jews start collecting important historical
documents too late’.86 As was frankly admitted, the exhibition’s organizers faced
problems in getting support for the museum outside the Parisian Jewish communist
circles of Naye Prese and the former Jewish section. Given the obvious communist
imprint of the enterprise this was hardly surprising. Indeed, apart from a few reviews
of the exhibition, no reference was ever made in Parizer Haynt to the efforts to collect
materials.
The official opening of the exhibition, housed on the third floor of the building
where the Jewish People’s University had its offices, was originally set to coincide with
the start of the World Yiddish Culture Congress that was held in Paris from 17–21
September, but it eventually took place a week earlier, on 11 September. A front-page
editorial in Naye Prese on that day, tellingly entitled ‘A Golden Page’, described the role
of ‘the best sons of the Jewish people’ in Spain and emphasized that their struggle
was a dignified answer to the enemies of the Jews and their accusations of ‘Jewish
cowardice’.87 Among the materials that were collected for the exhibition were anti-
Semitic accusations in relation to Jewish volunteers. Volunteer Fishl Fefer added in a
greeting that now the courage of the ‘Jewish comrades’ would be strengthened even
more, ‘knowing that we will never be “unknown soldiers” fallen for unknown causes’.88
The opening itself took place in the Albouy hall and was, according to Naye Prese,
attended by a 1,000-plus audience.89 Lerman gave the first speech in his capacity as
chairman of the museum committee and was followed by several volunteers and editor
Spero, who underlined that 90 per cent of the Jewish volunteers were members of the
communist party. J. Soltin, chairman of the Jewish Buro of the CPUSA , who had
repeatedly been announced as the key speaker, was absent. Instead, William Weiner,
chairman of the International Workers Order (IWO ), gave a speech.90 Weiner was in
Paris to attend the World Yiddish Cultural Congress as part of the American delegation.
An elaborate description of the exhibition by David Kutner in Naye Prese gives
a fascinating impression of how the exhibition was structured and the way in which
the participation of Jewish volunteers was framed and narrated.91 Visitors were first
introduced to the history of the Jews in Spain, focusing on the Inquisition and its
Jewish victims (another article in Naye Prese described the exhibition’s timeline as
‘from stake to Spanish trench’).92 An accompanying cloth displayed a quote from
Catalan president, Luiz Companys: ‘Jews correctly understood that they can only live
as free civilians in a free Republic on a real democratic foundation.’ Kutner also
introduced the trope of Jewish cowardice, highlighting that the stories of hundreds of
Jewish volunteers were enough to refute it. A painting by the Austrian artist Kopel
depicted three volunteers honouring a fallen comrade, accompanied by several verses
from Itzik Fefer’s poem for Leon Baum. A central place was occupied by a section on
78 Jewish Volunteers, the International Brigades and the Spanish Civil War

the Jewish press in the middle of the exhibition room with due attention given to Naye
Prese. A map furthermore showed how volunteers with a Jewish background had come
from all over the world to fight in Spain. Many documents aimed to bring to life
the stories of individual volunteers as well as their families. Finally, Kutner cited the
exhibition’s curator, the artist Moshe Bahelfer, who explained that its goal was ‘to show
the heroic share of Jewish volunteers in the Spanish battles’.
The exhibition ran until 17 October and was visited by at least 1,200 visitors.93 Naye
Prese encouraged organizations to book a tour to the exhibition. A report about one
such tour was published under the title ‘From Rambam to Moritz Skalka’ and adds
intriguing detail with regard to the way in which the story of Jewish volunteers
was framed.94 The exhibition began with a portrait of the Rambam, acronym of the
famous Spanish-Jewish philosopher Moshe ben Maimon or Maimonides (1135–1204).
When one of the visitors asked who the Rambam was, another visitor replied that he
was ‘the first Jewish fighter who had fought in Spain against backwardness, darkness
and barbarism’. Maimonides was cast here as a secular Jew avant la lettre who had
dared to stand up against the same evil that was now confronted by his Jewish
‘successors’, those Jewish volunteers that were fighting in the International Brigades.
Thus, it was not only the Nationalists who came from a long and dark Spanish tradition
going back to the Middle Ages; the same was true for their Jewish opponents who
defended another, very different, Spanish, and Jewish, tradition.

Jewish volunteers after the formation of the Botwin Company

The formation of the Botwin Company


Representations of Jewish volunteers in Naye Prese until December 1937 were
characterized by an emphasis on Jewish heroism and by suggestions, both implict and
explicit, of how it disproved stereotypes and accusations of Jewish cowardice. The
Botwin Company would become the perfect symbol to drive these points home, while
simultaneously allowing Jewish communists in Paris to more effectively organize and
focus their propaganda vis-à-vis Spain. At the same time, the run up to the Austrian
Anschluss in March 1938 and the accession of the new Daladier government in early
April 1938 significantly altered the context within which Jewish communists operated
and engaged with Spain. The new government’s decree laws enhanced pressures on the
Jewish migrant population. Efforts undertaken by the Jewish communists to ‘unite the
yishuv’ in this period, though clearly aligned with a PCF unity campaign to regain
ground after the accession of the new Daladier government, should be seen against this
background. Within this broader context, the Botwin Company would become much
more than a mere tool to propagate the Spanish cause on the Jewish street: it would
serve as symbol of Jewish resilience and a means to empower Jewish migrants by
providing a model of how to act in the face of adversity.
As the driving force behind the creation of the Botwin Company, the Parisian Jewish
communists carefully staged the announcement of its formation, with a moderate,
though consistent, increase of articles about Jewish volunteers in the period immediately
Jewish Volunteers in Naye Prese 79

preceding 12 December 1937. Then, on 6 December, a report was published of a meeting


with Alexander Szurek. Szurek was not just a random Polish-Jewish volunteer but a
staff member of the Dombrowski Brigade and the personal adjutant of General Walter
who broached the issue of nationality politics and anti-Semitism within the International
Brigades. ‘Olek’, the story went, had been on leave in Paris for a month and had stopped
by Naye Prese’s offices before returning to Spain. And he had some interesting news to
share: the staff of the International Brigades had decided upon the formation of a
Jewish military unit at the beginning of November. Szurek asserted during the meeting
that the heroic deeds of Jewish volunteers in Spain had ended thousand-year-old lies
against the Jewish people and constituted a smack in the face of ‘those who preach racist
theories’. Importantly, he explained, from now on ‘the Polish and the Jewish flag’ would
‘move as one’, thus providing a ‘joint answer to the pogromists’.95
The creation of the Botwin Company was carefully framed in Naye Prese as a decision
taken from above, and no details of the possible involvement of the Parisian Jewish
communists were given. Indeed, the company’s formation was presented as resulting
from the actions and heroism of Jewish volunteers themselves. This is evident when
looking at a number of articles that were published in Naye Prese on 12 December.
A front-page announcement highlighted that a group of 150 Jewish volunteers at the
Aragon front had made a donation to Naye Prese, an act they described as a gesture of
solidarity with the ‘journal of unity’, Naye Prese, in contrast to its competitor Parizer
Haynt.96 The struggle of Jewish volunteers in Spain was thereby directly linked to
Jewish communist efforts to unite the Jewish migrant population in Paris. In a resolution
adopted by the same group of volunteers, the ‘Jewish workers of France’ were thanked for
sending Jacques Kaminsky. Kaminsky, of course, had been instrumental in the Parisian-
Jewish communist lobbying effort to create the Botwin Company. The volunteers also
welcomed the support of Paris’s Jewish migrants and described themselves as having
left their homes in Poland, Romania, Belgium, Palestine and France to fight against
fascism, the ‘biggest enemy of the Jewish people’. The resolution was signed, among
others, by Misha Reger and Karol Gutman, respectively the political commissar and
military commander of the ‘Palafox-company’, the second nameless company of the
Palafox Battalion that was transformed into the Jewish Naftali Botwin Company.97
Then followed an interview with Kaminsky himself, who described his visits to
various battle fronts and his meetings with Jewish volunteers, specifically mentioning
‘Jewish heroes’ like Leon Baum.98 Crucially, Kaminsky quoted Stanislav Matuszczak,
the political commissar of the Dombrowski Brigade, who said that the joint fight of
Jewish volunteers and Poles in the Dombrowski Battalion had been more important in
the fight against anti-Semitism than several years of propaganda. Finally, Kaminsky
revealed the formation of a Jewish company. Taken together these articles highlighted
the multiple contexts in which the participation of Jewish volunteers was embedded:
the Jewish communist effort to bring about the Popular Front among Jewish migrants
residing in France, Jewish communist responses to fascist anti-Semitism, and the issue
of Polish–Jewish relations within the International Brigades.
A day later, Naye Prese published the second part of the interview in which
Kaminsky related the formation of the Botwin Company and the context in which it
took place. He explained that its fighters were prolonging the struggle of the ‘Jewish
80 Jewish Volunteers, the International Brigades and the Spanish Civil War

heroes’ in the Paris Commune and the October Revolution, thereby cloaking their
participation in a tradition of Jewish radical action and simultaneously invoking a
Jewish, French and communist historical framework.99 What mattered, Kaminsky
concluded, was that Jews could now fight as Jews and thereby counter anti-Semitic
allegations of Jewish cowardice, a theme that would recur consistently in Naye Prese
in the months following the Botwin Company’s formation. Indeed, as a letter to the
political commissar of the IB base in Albacete, Maurice Lampe, underscored, having a
Jewish military unit would facilitate the work of the Jewish communists in France as
well as the fight against fascist anti-Semitism.100
The Botwin Company now became a key symbol of the participation of Jewish
volunteers in the International Brigades, in a similar way as the Thälman Group had
been a year earlier. Yet there was a major difference: the Gruppe Thälman was an
unrecognized ‘Jewish’ unit formed before the creation of the International Brigades
at a time when the foreign volunteer effort was largely unorganized. The Botwin
Company was an officially recognized Jewish military unit established within an
organized multinational army. And as the battle lines were much clearer now, the
conflict over a year old, the Republic in danger and the number of foreign volunteers
steadily decreasing, the propagandistic stakes were also significantly higher. The
Botwin Company dramatically increased the visibility of Jewish volunteers in the
International Brigades and became synonymous with their presence in the pages of
Naye Prese. And even if its role in the various support campaigns only served to benefit
the Botwins themselves, it helped raise awareness of the Spanish struggle in a Jewish
context. In short, the Botwin Company became the focal point around which all Jewish
communist activities concerning Spain could now be arranged.

Presenting the Botwin Company


On 1 January 1938 a special page in Naye Prese was dedicated to the Botwin Company.
Headlined ‘Jewish company in the name of Nafatali Botwin is fighting for the freedom
of all peoples on the fronts of the Spanish republic’, it featured the hand-written Yiddish
version of the order of the day that announced the creation of the company. The page
also contained an article by Adam Rayski who hailed the creation of the company as a
monument to Naftali Botwin himself.101 The main message, though, was contained
within a letter by the company’s commander Karol Gutman that was addressed to a
friend in Poland. Explaining that a Jewish company had been created within the Polish
Dombrowski Brigade, Gutman then asked:

I am curious how the different parties in Poland will react to this. What will the
Endek Dziennik Narodowy write? It will be hard for them to misrepresent. The
anti-Semites will certainly not have the courage to write about Jewish cowardice.
[. . .] You should see what kind of friendship exists between Jews, Poles, Germans,
Spaniards, between individuals of different peoples. Even Polish workers, who
were convinced that one cannot fight with Jews and that they run away when they
hear a shot, have altered their opinion here in Spain. When they hear news of a
pogrom they are no less shocked than we, the Jewish fighters.102
Jewish Volunteers in Naye Prese 81

Gutman was referring to the virulently anti-Semitic National Democratic Party


of Poland (Endek) and its newspaper Dziennik Narodowy and he thus placed the
participation of Jewish volunteers and the importance of the newly created Botwin
Company firmly in the context of Polish stereotypes of Jewish cowardice. The same
point was made by Lerman in an accompanying editorial in which he highlighted the
historical importance of the company’s creation.103 Suggesting that its formation was in
the first place a sign of recognition of the Spanish people and the international working
class for the efforts made by Jewish workers in defence of the Spanish Republic, he also
pointed to its importance in countering the myth of Jewish cowardice. Moreover,
according to Lerman, Jewish volunteers were now not only brothers in arms but
representatives of the entire Jewish people, an honour that had hitherto befallen only
large nations in the International Brigades.
Lerman proceeded by effectively prescribing the participation of Jewish volunteers
as a model of Jewish action to be followed in the face of adversity: the solution for
Jewish suffering was not to flee but to stay and jointly fight with the ‘masses’ of the
countries where Jews lived. It was highly symbolic that the company had been formed
within a Polish brigade, for it proved that the problems of Polish Jewry were not caused
by the Polish people in general but by a group of ‘Hitlerites’ in its midst of which
it needed to be freed; the joint Polish-Jewish fight in Spain was therefore also a symbol
of the ‘fraternization of peoples’. Lerman added that the bonds with the Jewish
community should not be forgotten though; it was the duty of Jewish workers to
support the Jewish volunteers in Spain who served as an example that should inspire
all Jews to unite in the face of fascism and the ‘Axis’. The final goal, he concluded, was a
better future for Jewish migrants among the French population.
In one big sweep, Lerman here addressed the major problems facing the Jewish
migrant population in France and simultaneously suggested a solution. As a wave of
anti-Jewish violence and repression swept over Poland, Jewish migrants with relatives
and friends in Poland were naturally immensely worried. At the same time those
migrants tried to make France their permanent home while struggling to find their
place in French society, and faced an upsurge in anti-Semitism. The model of action
that Lerman proposed was simple and, in his view, had been successfully tried and
tested in Spain: prejudice and adversity could only be countered and confronted if Jews
fought and acted as Jews, as equals to those among whom they lived.
Lerman’s admonition was partly grounded in the realities of tense relations between
French and Jewish workers. Just as the active participation of Jewish volunteers in
Spain could help to improve Polish–Jewish relations in the International Brigades, so
active political engagement of Jewish workers would help to improve their reputation
in France. A concrete example can be found in a letter from the Spanish front written
by the leader of the Jewish painters in Paris, Bernard, in which he reflected upon the
importance of his work in the painter’s union in Paris and the position of Jews in its
midst.104 Revealing the existing tensions between French and foreign workers in the
trade union CGT, he wrote that, notwithstanding French sympathy for the plight of
foreigners and the union’s Jewish language group, all Jewish workers should become
unionized to fight for better labour conditions and show French workers that their
Jewish brethren did not shy away from their responsibilities.
82 Jewish Volunteers, the International Brigades and the Spanish Civil War

During the whole month of January 1938 Naye Prese highlighted the plight of
the Botwin Company while it also published a series of articles on Naftali Botwin
written by Rayski.105 Lekhter described the initial military exercises by the newly
formed company, explaining that their first drill had been hard as most volunteers
lacked military experience. He added that a Bulgarian captain held Jewish volunteers
in high regard, seeing them as examples for the Jewish people. The volunteers
Lekhter mentioned were all Jewish migrants from Paris. Using language clearly
intended to resonate with Jewish audiences, he described these members of the
Botwin Company as ‘the chosen fighters of the Jewish people’.106 In an article taken
from the first issue of the company newspaper Botvin, Olek Nus explained once more
that the company was a symbol of the heroic struggle of Jewish volunteers that proved
the myth of Jewish cowardice wrong; the Botvintses acted as representatives of the
Jewish people in the struggle against oppression by showing how to combat anti-
Semitism.107
Yet whether or not fighting in a separate Jewish unit was the best way to achieve
that goal was a matter of debate, as an article by Elski about Jewish volunteers in
the Miczkewiecz Battalion revealed.108 While some of these volunteers thought that
fighting anti-Semitism and prejudice should be done together, others emphasized
that Jews had a special score to settle with fascism. That struggle had to be shown to
the world and the Jewish people openly, an opinion that was echoed in a letter
from Botvinist Efraim Wuzek, who wrote that Jews had a double score to settle
with fascism.109 Other volunteers saw fighting openly as Jews in Spain as a symbolic
way to fight repression at home. Polish-Jewish volunteer Zingeris thus pointed out that
Polish fascism repressed each form of democracy and culminated in ‘anti-Semitism,
hooliganism and barbarism’.110
The latter theme was picked up by Gina Medem, who addressed herself to Jewish
women, soliciting their support in what she described as ‘a letter, a request, a warning
and an order’. She told Jewish women not to disturb their men who were in Spain to
protect ‘the bed of your child in Belville, Rue du Temple, Place de la Republique’ and
added that when ‘the fascists airplanes will come to you in your house, in Belgium,
Poland, Hungary, Rumania, England and America, – it will be too late’. She explained
that Spain was a place where Jewish workers ‘changed their skin’, where they took off
the ‘2000 year old skin of dark ghetto people [to] become punishers of fascism’. In a
reference to the fate of Polish-Jewish communists inprisoned in Poland, she added that
Jewish volunteers in Spain also took revenge on their behalf.111 Medem thus emphasized
that fighting in Spain implied fighting hardship and oppression at home.
An ‘official’ version of what the participation of Jewish volunteers was supposed to
represent came in the form of an article by Gershon Dua-Bogen, the Polish-Jewish
representative in the Cadres Service. Dua-Bogen wrote that Jewish volunteers fought
in all the units of the International Brigades, that many had died a heroic death, and
that they had shown themselves to be ‘good soldiers, officers, doctors, engineers and
military scientists’. Bogen also asserted that these volunteers, who had come from
many countries and were from all classes and political persuasions (he emphasized
the many non-politically affiliated volunteers and the low number of Bundists), had
understood:
64 Jewish Volunteers, the International Brigades and the Spanish Civil War

report more positively on religious matters.21 Right-wing and fascist movements in


France also received much attention, not only because of their anti-leftist stance but
especially because of their anti-migrant and anti-Semitic rhetoric. Anti-Semitism
among French or non-Jewish migrant workers was, however, largely a taboo subject
and only addressed implicitly.
Naye Prese (co-)organized excursions, holidays for Jewish workers and all kinds of
cultural and political meetings, and was involved in various support campaigns, for
example for Jewish children in Poland. Nonetheless, we need to qualify what made
Naye Prese a Jewish newspaper, if only because Jewish communists were often seen to
serve mostly communist interests. It was of course only natural for Yiddish-speaking
Eastern European Jewish communists to publish in Yiddish but choice of language
does not necessarily imply a strong commitment to the corresponding culture.22 On
the face of it, Naye Prese showed a strong commitment to the maintenance of a secular
Yiddish culture and an interest in the Jewish world that went beyond the daily reporting
of anti-Semitic incidents in Poland or Romania. It ran continuous feuilletons of Jewish
writers like Opatoshu and Feuchtwanger and regularly featured a page on the world of
Jewish/Yiddish literature and movies, with an emphasis on Soviet–Yiddish culture and
the many Yiddish fellow-traveller writers of the period.23 In addition, the newspaper
paid attention to important public Jewish figures, like sportsmen, doctors, scientists
and politicians. Moreover, Naye Prese played an important role in the creation and
support of Yiddish cultural and educational institutions in Paris, such as the so-called
Tsugab-shuln (literally ‘extra schools’; Jewish primary schools that were part of the
activities of the Farband) and the theatre-group PIAT. Attention for Jewish life and
Yiddish culture in its various manifestations was thus a given, but cultural and political
commitments were never separated. Whatever the topic, it was always framed in the
proper class terminology and Naye Prese’s editors displayed a keen understanding of
how to sell their political message to a large audience.
In addressing its readers, Naye Prese employed a mode of describing events that
blended communist rhetoric with cultural references carrying a specific resonance for
a Jewish audience. Its use of the Hebrew word yishuv, meaning ‘settlement’, is particularly
illuminating. Yishuv was originally used to refer to the Zionist settlement in Palestine
as opposed to those Jews living in the diaspora. Its usage by the Jewish communists to
refer to the Jewish immigrant population in France signified a clever appropriation of
the term for its own diasporic agenda, depriving it of its usual Zionist resonance. Its
political position was also reflected in the orthography employed: all Hebraisms were
spelled phonetically in accordance with orthographic reforms that had taken place in
the Soviet Union in the 1920s and 1930s.24 This was, however, not exclusive for
communist Yiddish publications but a more general feature of leftist Yiddish printing:
Undzer Shtime for instance also used Soviet-Yiddish spelling, at least during the
Spanish Civil War period, but its articles were stylistically more sophisticated and its
Yiddish vocabulary less basic.
It is important here to note the particular role of the press, and of language, in
the communist movement at the time. From the Soviet, and thus communist, point of
view the press served, in the words of Lenin, as a ‘collective propagandist, collective
agitator . . . collective organiser’.25 The pages of Naye Prese are full of calls to act in
84 Jewish Volunteers, the International Brigades and the Spanish Civil War

Trying to underline how the Botwin Company contributed to better Polish–Jewish


relations, Naye Prese also eagerly quoted from articles in the Polish brigade newspaper
Opotnik Wolnosczy.118 In one of these articles, Botwin Company commander Karol
Gutman saluted Polish volunteers and emphasized the importance of fraternization
and the fight against Polish fascism. Naye Prese also published interviews with high-
ranking brigade officers and officials. Thus, Elski interviewed General Walter, who
noted that the participation of Jewish volunteers had shown that Jews, contrary to
accusations, have ‘military capabilities’.119 As already mentioned, Elski also interviewed
the chief inspector of the International Brigades, Luigi Longo, who spoke highly of
Nakhumi Weitz’s initiative to form a Jewish company.120 He also added that, when he
visited Longo, a photo album lay open on the latter’s table showing a picture of a Jewish
volunteer named Motl Faltenberg reading Naye Prese.
In the interview itself, Longo explained the initiative and the reasons why it had not
materialized (as he also did in the introduction to the Medem booklet). According to
Longo, Nakhumi wanted a Jewish unit so as to counter ideas about Jewish cowardice.
While praising Jewish volunteers, Longo stressed that it would not be a good idea to take
them from other units and place them in the Botwin Company. The company could
grow to a battalion but only with new volunteers. He added that a Jewish company was
not a goal in itself but a matter of granting equal rights so that Jews, like others, would
have representation on the Spanish battlefield. Longo expressed himself diplomatically
but there was also a subtext to his words: a Jewish company now existed and its function
was mainly symbolic and should not be taken as an incentive to ask for more.
All of these reports were intended to show how the formation of the Botwin
Company contributed to the improvement of relations between Jews and non-Jews
within the International Brigades. Simultaneously, however, by underlining the
importance of the struggle of Jewish volunteers for its readership, Naye Prese sought to
reinforce the unity campaign it was conducting among the Jewish migrant population
in France.

The Botwin Company and support for Spain


In the months following its formation Naye Prese made little secret of the Botwin
Company’s propagandistic potential in promoting the cause of Republican Spain. Thus
political commissar Misha Reger stressed in a letter from Spain that it would now become
easier to focus the attention of the ‘Jewish masses’ on the Spanish struggle.121 Reger’s letter
was published in support of a week-long campaign initiated by the Jewish-Spanish
Committee, the Jewish section of the Committee for Aid to the Spanish Volunteers
(Comité d’Aide aux Volontaires d’Espagne), which was headed by David Diamant, with
the aim to buy milk for Spanish children, collect 3,000 packages of cigarettes for the
Jewish volunteers in Spain and buy clothing.122 Spero underlined the importance of the
campaign in an editorial underlining that hundreds of Jewish heroes with their
revolutionary fervour were writing a historic chapter in the history of the Jewish
people.123 They fought, stated Spero, in the front-line against anti-Semitism and fascism
and their struggle meant that Jews could walk with pride: the importance of the Botwin
Company lay in the fact that Jews fought as Jews and thereby symbolized Jewish courage.
Jewish Volunteers in Naye Prese 85

Coverage of support campaigns, and correspondence from the Botwin Company,


underlined its broad support and stressed that volunteers from different political
persuasions fought together, united against fascism and anti-Semitism. Naye Prese only
reluctantly covered the problems of the Republic, though, which had lost Teruel in
February 1938 and by April was effectively cut in two by the Nationalists. While coverage
of general events of the war decreased, Naye Prese devoted much attention to a new
support campaign organized by the Agreement Committee with support of the Jewish-
Spanish Committee, which ran from early February until mid-April. Its purpose was to
collect 50,000 francs to provide clothing to the volunteers in Spain.124 While this was in
fact the Jewish communist version of a renewed aid campaign that the PCF and its youth
organization had decided upon,125 there was a marked difference in how L’Humanité and
Naye Prese promoted the campaign. L’Humanité spoke of the need to collect food and
clothing for the republican fighters without mentioning the (French) volunteers of the
International Brigades at all.126 The latter connection, though, was central in Naye Prese,
which emphasized that most of the ‘heroes’ of the Botwin Company came from Paris and
added that they were ‘the prime expression of the will to fight that beats in the hearts of
tens of thousands of Parisian Jewish workers’.127 The solidarity campaign thus became a
duty of honour.128 Underscoring the importance of unity, a letter sent by the Botwin
Company during the campaign paid homage to fallen volunteers from the Bund, the
Linke Poale Zion and Jewish communist circles. Their sacrifice proved that ‘a wall of
united, courageous fighters opposed our common enemy’.129
The 50,000-franc campaign was almost daily front-page news for at least a month
and culminated in a solidarity day on 6 March with a large number of activists going
door to door collecting money. Among the participating organizations were several
patronatn as well as the Bundist youth organization Tsukunft.130 A day earlier an ‘appeal
to the Jewish masses from the Jewish fighters in Spain’ was published, which reads as a
summary of the various tropes that ran through Naye Prese’s representations of the
Spanish conflict and the participation of Jewish volunteers in the brigades: the Spanish
struggle constituted a battle against fascism and anti-Semitism, the modern-day
Inquisition and the enemies of the Jewish people; Jewish volunteers had successfully
countered the myth of Jewish cowardice that had brought them recognition in the
form of a Jewish company, a company that consisted of volunteers with different
backgrounds fighting together, which should be an example that a Jewish democratic
anti-fascist united front was possible and necessary.131 And in case anybody had missed
the point, Spero wrote a separate editorial about the appeal in which he once more
emphasized and explained its historical significance.132
The Botwin Company was now the focal point around which Jewish communists in
Paris could organize and implement their aid for Spain campaigns. In May the Jewish-
Spanish Committee, in cooperation with the Jewish section of the (communist)
International Red Aid, began a second campaign to collect 50,000 francs for the Jewish
volunteers in Spain as well as their families in France, which lasted until mid-July.133
During this campaign special stamps were sold with a photo of the Botwin Company’s
first commander, Karol Gutman.
In the middle of the campaign, the 6-month anniversary of the Botwin
Company took place. On 3 June the Jewish-Spanish Committee organized a concert
86 Jewish Volunteers, the International Brigades and the Spanish Civil War

Figure 4.1 Stamp for a campaign in support of volunteers and their families in spring
1938 with Botwin Company commander Karol Gutman. The text reads: ‘Gutman, first
Jewish commander of the Botwin Company. Support the soldiers and their families!’
Source: Photo taken from David Diamant, Combattants juifs dans l’armée républicaine espagnole, 1936–1939
(Paris: Éditions Renouveau, 1979). Every effort to trace the copyright holder of the image was made and the
publisher would be pleased to hear from anyone who might have further information regarding the matter so
proper acknowledgement can be given.

to commemorate the anniversary of the ‘Compagnie Betoow’, as a police report


described it.134 Among the speakers at the event were Naye Prese editors Lerman, who
emphasized the heroic history of the Botwin Company, and Spero, who discussed its
formation. In addition, the Polish commissar of the 45th Division, Stapchik, conveyed
greetings on behalf of the ‘Jewish fighters and their Polish comrades’.135
While the Republic’s existence was severely threatened the Jewish-Spanish
Committee intensified its activities. This intensification of the Committee’s activities
was part of a general drive among Spanish aid organizations to increase and improve
support for the families of volunteers and the increasing number of the wounded.
In order to assist the effort, a congress was held in Paris in early August to establish
the Association of Volunteers for Freedom (Amicale Volontaires de la Liberté).
Among the many delegates was also a representative of the Jewish volunteers, David
Rothenberg, who explained in his speech which lesson of the Spanish Civil War
the Jewish volunteers would bring to ‘the Jewish masses: the Spanish people are
fighting against fascism which is at the same time a struggle against anti-Semitism’.136
In practical terms the conference was organized to initiate the creation of local
organizations to assist the relief efforts for families and wounded volunteers.
Shortly thereafter, a Jewish Amicale was formed, made up of several Jewish
volunteers who had returned wounded from Spain. Its self-proclaimed mission was to
Jewish Volunteers in Naye Prese 87

‘provide a link with the Jewish volunteers on the fronts, group all those who returned,
assist the Jewish-Spanish committee in its relief efforts and, in particular, to recruit
3000 members’.137 To this end, a conference was organized on 25 August where,
among other issues, quotas would be assigned to various local committees in the
arrondissements.138 These efforts coincided with a sharp rise in wounded Jewish
volunteers being repatriated to Paris as is evidenced by a significant number of articles
devoted to this subject in Naye Prese after the start of the Ebro offensive on 25 July. Part
of the general Jewish support effort therefore shifted from Spain to Paris where
wounded volunteers were visited in hospital and provided with material help. This
came in addition to the support that was already given to the volunteers’ women and
children. Interestingly, one of the agenda items for the 25 August meeting was also to
establish contact with Polish Jews in the United States in order to solicit their support.
Gina Medem would become instrumental in these efforts. Meanwhile in London, the
Workers’ Circle created a special Botwin Aid Committee in the summer of 1938.139

The Botwin Company and the campaign for unity in Paris


The Botwin Company played a crucial role in maintaining and organizing support for
Republican Spain and the Jewish volunteers fighting in the International Brigades. But
even more importantly, the Botwin Company served to reinforce Jewish communist
strategies in Paris within an increasingly volatile domestic and international context. It
is important to recall that promoting the participation of volunteers in the International
Brigades also served as a means to promote the Comintern’s Popular Front policy.
Within that context, the participation of Jewish volunteers as symbolized by the Botwin
Company was instrumental in supporting the Jewish communist campaign for unity
among the various Jewish migrant organizations.
Ever since the creation in June 1937 of the TSAFO, later renamed the Farband, the
campaign had been arduous, not least because Jewish communists insisted on setting
the terms of unity; and old political rivalries, often rooted in discord already existing in
Eastern Europe, were never far from the surface. A curious example was Naye Prese’s
accusation that the Bundist Medem-Farband had not allowed a collection of money
for Jewish volunteers during the Bund’s 40th anniversary celebration in Mutualité on
12 December,140 which happened to be the day of the Botwin Company’s official
formation. According to Naye Prese, this caused signifcant dismay but for Bundists it
was no doubt the ultimate Jewish communist khutzpah to suggest a collection on their
very own anniversary celebration. Though no evidence exists as to the question of why
the Botwin Company was officially formed on 12 December, one cannot help but
wonder if the date had been deliberately chosen and reflected the competition between
Jewish communists and Bundists.
The way in which the Botwin Company was used to promote unity among Jewish
migrants was illustrated by a greeting sent by Jacques Kaminsky, who had become the
political commissar of the reserve Botwin Company stationed in Pradel. According
to Kaminsky, Naye Prese was the only true newspaper for Jewish workers by taking a
stand against those who opposed unity.141 In the run up to the Austrian Anschluss of
March 1938, and in support of the previously mentioned 50,000-franc campaign, an
88 Jewish Volunteers, the International Brigades and the Spanish Civil War

‘appeal to the Jewish masses from the Jewish fighters in Spain’ was published. It read
like a summary of the various tropes that ran through Naye Prese’s representations of
the Spanish conflict and the participation of Jewish volunteers in the brigades. The
Spanish struggle constituted a battle against fascism and anti-Semitism, the modern-
day Inquisition and the enemies of the Jewish people. Jewish volunteers had successfully
countered the myth of Jewish cowardice, which had brought them recognition in the
form of a Jewish company. Moreover, that company consisted of volunteers with
different backgrounds fighting together, which showed that a Jewish democratic anti-
fascist united front was possible and necessary.142
Following the Anschluss, Jewish communists embarked upon a new campaign to
‘unite the yishuv’ in April and May. Again, the Botwin Company was instrumental in
underscoring the message, as the front-page configuration of Naye Prese of 24 April
1938 shows. Underneath its lead article, which announces a meeting of dozens
of Jewish organizations in Paris, organized by the so-called Committee to Unite the
Democratic Organizations,143 a greeting from Misha Reger to Paris’s Jewish migrant
population is printed. Its relation to the meeting elaborated in the lead article is evident:
only unity on the Jewish street was an adequate defence against external threats facing
the Jewish migrant population and its leaders should heed the example that was set by
their ‘best sons’ in Spain.144
We have to remember that by now the new decree laws of the Daladier government
had taken effect. At the same time, new attempts to unify the Jewish street were made
and negotiations with the Federation were underway. A big meeting took place on
19 May in Albouy in defence of Jewish immigrants, organized by the Farshtendikungs
Komitet. The composition of the front page of Naye Prese that day is once again
illuminating: the leading article announced the meeting in Albouy, which was of course
the main news of the day. There was also an article about a new overture to the Federation
in connection with the problems facing Jewish migrants. An editorial by Kenig also
drew attention to the new 50,000-franc campaign for wounded volunteers and their
families. Kenig spoke of the Botvintses and other Jewish volunteers who so honourably
fulfilled their task ‘as representatives of the Jewish people whose best sons they are’.145
There was also a small announcement for a meeting concerning the new campaign.146
But much more important was a letter from volunteer Matsyak, who wrote about the
situation on the Spanish fronts in March when the Nationalists had started a new
offensive in Aragon. He placed that offensive in a broader international context, however,
by suggesting that Hitler, having annexed Austria, was now also keen to bring the war
in Spain to an end.147 With its rousing headline, ‘Yes, to resist means to win’, Matsyak’s
letter, placed on a front page with articles devoted to the defence and unification
of Jewish migrants, gained a symbolic meaning that was visually decoupled from its
actual, Spanish-related, content. Given the increasing pressure on Jews, in France as
well as elsewhere, it is hardly surprising that Naye Prese’s editor Spero subsequently
issued a stark warning during the 3 June celebration of the Botwin Company’s 6-month
anniversary: fascism in France was growing stronger and had to be fought, lest Jews
would be driven from France like they had been driven from Germany and Austria.148
Perhaps the best illustration of the use of the Botwin Company for domestic political
purposes is Naye Prese’s annual outing in the Parc de Garches close to Paris.149 Taking
Jewish Volunteers in Naye Prese 89

place on 12 June, it was dedicated to the company that had been created exactly 6 months
earlier. The day before the meeting, the Botwin Company’s volunteers sent a telegram,
published on the front page of Naye Prese, in which they assured its readers that they
would represent the Jewish people with dignity.150 Reminding its readers of the special
occasion, Naye Prese’s front page featured a photo collage with Nakhumi Weitz, a volunteer
reading Naye Prese, and the commander and political commissar of the Botwin Company.151
The meeting drew several thousand people who were entertained with an elaborate
programme.152 Several Jewish communist-affiliated organizations occupied stands,
including the Jewish-Spanish Committee, which displayed photos of fallen volunteers and
a map that showed the countries from which Jewish volunteers had come to Spain. While
Naye Prese mentioned discussions among the audience about the decree laws, it ventured
nonetheless that there was ‘no sign of panic or despair, courage and hope fill the hearts’,

Figure 4.2 Photo collage on the front page of Naye Prese, 12 June 1938, announcing the
celebration of the 6-month anniversary of the Botwin Company. Upper left: Nakhumi
Weitz, the volunteer who approached Luigi Longo with the idea to create a Jewish unit and
in whose name the museum for Jewish volunteers was created. Upper right: I. Schwartzer,
a known activist from Paris reading Naye Prese. Below: commander Karol Gutman and
political commissar Misha Reger (Eugeniusz Szyr) of the Botwin Company
Source: © Bibliothèque Nationale de France.
90 Jewish Volunteers, the International Brigades and the Spanish Civil War

Figure 4.3 The flag of the Botwin Company with inscriptions of the name and motto
(‘For your freedom and ours’) in Yiddish and Polish. The flag is kept at the Jewish
Historical Institute in Warsaw
Source: postcard of unknown origin.

a clear attempt at morale boosting that masked the uncertainties facing many Jewish
migrants. The People’s Choir sang the march of the Botwin Company, composed by Olek
Nus, and a Soviet song while communist youth engaged in ‘Soviet-style’ basketball.
The highlight of the day was a series of speeches culminating in the official
presentation of a flag for the Botwin Company.153 In his opening speech, Lerman, Naye
Prese’s editor-in-chief, emphasized the historic significance of the Botwin Company,
which, he asserted, was not only an expression of the will of the Jewish masses to fight
against fascism but also a continuation of the Jewish people’s traditions of struggle and
freedom. He explained ‘our’ interest in the Spanish struggle by explaining that ‘we are
the vanguard of the workers’ in the struggle against fascism and the yoke of capitalism.
Moreover, he added, this interest stemmed from the fact that most Jewish fighters came
from ‘our revolutionary organisations’. He went on to describe the Botwin flag in a
similar vein by pointing out that it expressed ‘our readiness . . . to be available for our
party in the ranks of the Spanish soldiers’. This readiness also signified a will to prevent
fascism from gaining a foothold in France and, he continued, to unify the Jewish masses
Jewish Volunteers in Naye Prese 91

in the bosom of the French. Indeed, it signalled a readiness to defend, ‘with a gun in our
hands’, the achievements of the French working class against the fascist onslaught. The
final aim of this struggle was to ensure that Jews could be happy and free in France.
Without a Jewish section, Lerman was effectively the unofficial head of the Jewish
migrant communists in France and his speech was cleverly tailored to satisfy multiple
audiences. The PCF was reassured that the struggle of Jewish workers in Spain and
France served party and country first and foremost. Together with French workers,
their Jewish comrades were brothers in arms in the struggle against fascism in France.
At the same time, Jewish migrants were told that their struggle would assure them a
future in a free France that would welcome Jews in its midst. Within this context the
Botwin Company, ‘the vanguard of Jewish migrant workers in France’, represented a
readiness to fight for French as well as Jewish migrant interests. Lerman in fact pulled
off a fascinating balancing act, conveying a seemingly standard communist message
of au service du peuple that was cloaked in the ultimate symbol of Jewish prowess, a
Jewish military unit.
The themes in his speech were underlined by the other speakers. One of the
volunteers who received the Botwin flag, David Rothenberg, talked about the
heroism of the Botwin Company, ‘the vanguard of the fighting Jewish masses’. Jacques
Lederman, speaking on behalf of the Intersyndikale Komisye (Intersyndicalist
Committee, consisting of Jewish sections in the trade union CGTU ), saluted Naye
Prese and asserted that Jewish workers appreciated its role in defending their rights and
showing them the way to fight ‘together with the French workers’. Editor Charny
repeated the message by saying that the meeting was proof that Jewish workers showed
their readiness to fight, instead of panicking, and that the Popular front was the only
solution to threats of ‘the enemies of our people’. Underlining this message of a Jewish
readiness to fight, in her final speech Gina Medem quoted Spanish communist leader
Dolores lbárruri, better known as La Pasionaria, who famously said that it is better ‘to
die standing than to live on your knees’.
The outing in Garches thus firmly linked the Botwin Company, and the struggle of
its Jewish volunteers, to the political struggle that Jewish communists waged on the
Jewish street in Paris, against the background of mounting pressure on Jewish migrants,
rising anti-Semitism and a looming European war. Ten days after the outing in Garches,
Gina Medem also participated in an ‘evening dedicated to the Spanish reportage’,
which was organized on the occasion of the publication of Elski’s book Reports from
the Spanish Fronts and also included appeareances by Egon Erwin Kisch and A. Yalti.154
On 16 July, an exchange of letters was published between volunteer Abraham Lissner
and Marc Chagall. Lissner reacted to an earlier article in which Chagall had ventured
that Jewish contemporary culture did not only revolve around writers and intellectuals
but included ordinary Jews and workers who opposed ‘our enemies’ with ‘clenched fists’.
Lissner responded that, more than clenching their fists, Jews had actually taken up
arms in Spain to resist Hitler and anti-Semitism. In his response, Chagall hailed Lissner
and his comrades, writing that ‘your names will shine in our history’, and added that
their participation constituted a ‘new biblical motive’.155
A day later, exactly two years after the start of the Spanish revolt, Naye Prese
published a ‘manifesto of the Botwin Company to the Jewish population’.156 It contained
92 Jewish Volunteers, the International Brigades and the Spanish Civil War

the familiar references to the Jewish experience in Spain, alleged Jewish cowardice, the
need for unity, and so on. But it also introduced some new elements that reflected
increasing anxieties as Europe drifted once again to war. The Spanish Civil War was
now described as a conflict where fascist dictators conducted the ‘final rehearsal for
the total war’. The manifest added a warning that left very little to the imagination:
‘The Jewish people know that a victory of fascism in Europe would mean the
complete enslavement of the Jewish masses, the political, material and spiritual ruin of
hundreds of thousands of lives, the enslavement and downfall of millions, their physical
extermination’ (italics mine). Never before had such an outspoken message been
published in which fascism in Europe was directly linked to Jewish survival.
The message was repeated in September 1938 in another appeal from a group of
Jewish volunteers, who called upon ‘all Jewish organisations, political movements and
all of Jewish society in France’ to unite and heal internal divisions.157 Pointing to the
specific danger that fascism posed for Jews and emphasizing that they were part of a
long tradition of Jewish struggle, the volunteers sought to battle anti-Semitism in no
uncertain terms: ‘Enough expulsions! Enough Inquisitions! Enough pogroms! Enough
concentration camps!’ They added that it was better to be ‘eternal fighters’ than ‘eternal
wanderers’. Finally they presented their struggle in Spain as an example for the Jewish
masses in France and rhetorically asked why the ‘unity-lesson’ they provided was not
picked up. As the Munich crisis reached its climax, and war seemed to loom over
Europe, it was clear that fighting fascism in Spain had gained a new, and much more
urgent, meaning for these Jewish volunteers. And as their appeal was sent during the
days in which the withdrawal of foreign volunteers from the Spanish battlefields was
announced, they would soon enter another chapter of their struggle.
5

Jewish Volunteers in Parizer Haynt and


Undzer Shtime

Naye Prese’s coverage of Spain was intimately related to its political interests, particularly
within the context of Jewish migrant politics in France. Yet for all the propaganda there
was a clear Jewish subtext to the newspaper’s representations of Jewish volunteers:
their struggle negated accusations of Jewish cowardice and thus gained an emancipatory
quality that subsequently was held up as a model to be emulated by Jewish migrants in
France as they struggled with increasingly difficult living conditions. The extent to
which representations of Jewish volunteers in Naye Prese were part of a broader
political programme that the Parisian Jewish communists sought to advance, is
underlined by a comparison with Paris’s other Yiddish daily newspaper, Parizer Haynt,
as well as the Bundist periodical, Undzer Shtime.

Labour-Zionist representations: Parizer Haynt

Parizer Haynt covered the Spanish Civil War, and the participation of Jewish volunteers
in the International Brigades, in a completely different way. To begin with, the newspaper
devoted significantly less space to Spain, if one considers the number of articles related
to the Spanish conflict, which was about one third of that in Naye Prese. Moreover, a
higher proportion of that coverage dealt with the general course of the war and was not
related to particular Jewish concerns. Having said that, in those instances when Parizer
Haynt did address topics of Jewish interest in relation to Spain, it paid considerably
more attention to Spanish-Jewish history and the fate of Jews in Nationalist Spain and
Spanish Morocco than did Naye Prese. And, interestingly, as a proportion of its total
Jewish-related Spanish Civil War coverage, Parizer Haynt published an equal amount of
articles about Jewish volunteers, though Naye Prese published far more about Jewish
volunteers in absolute numbers. The key difference lay in the amount of correspondence
from Jewish volunteers that was published, and the attention that was given to support
activities. Here, Naye Prese outdid its rival by every measure, absolute or relative. Given
the importance of the Spanish conflict and the International Brigades for the communist
Popular Front strategy, this difference is of course hardly surprising.
A week after the start of the military revolt, Parizer Haynt published a first editorial
on Spain, written by Mark Jarblum. Entitled ‘Struggle between fascism and democracy’,

93
94 Jewish Volunteers, the International Brigades and the Spanish Civil War

Jarblum analysed the military rebellion as a fascist uprising, asserting that a victory
over the ‘dark anti-national forces’ in Spain would send a warning to similar ‘forces’ in
other countries. A victory for the Spanish Republican government thus equalled a
victory for world democracy.1 This overall characterization of the conflict was similar
to that found in Naye Prese, at least if we leave aside the question of what ‘democracy’
was supposed to entail, and so was the assessment of the threat the conflict represented
for France. Thus, Jarblum pointed out in another editorial that a Nationalist victory
would strengthen the dominance of Hitler and Mussolini in Europe and thereby
increase the fascist threat to France: ‘losing time now will leave France prey to the
fascists and Hitlerists’. Moreover, if the European democracies failed to help the Spanish
Republic, their own fate would be sealed.2 Fighting fascism in Spain in his view implied
fighting fascism elsewhere, a message underlined by I. Khamsky, who opined that the
Spanish Republic’s cause was a French concern since eliminating France was one of
the goals spelled out in the ‘dark gospel of contemporary Europe’, Mein Kampf.3
Before long, the Spanish revolt was also linked to a threat to Jewish interests. In a
sketch of Spain’s contemporary Jewish population, K. Ashkenazi highlighted the large
number of German-Jewish refugees in Spain who were now threatened by Nationalist
anti-Semitic propaganda. He also asserted that Nationalist anti-Semitism was a result of
German influence and propaganda, pointing to the ‘Spanish fascist’ slogan ‘Struggle
against Bolsheviks, freemasons and Jews!’ For Ashkenazi, the fate of the Jews in Spain
was thus linked to the success or failure of the military uprising.4 Another early report
spoke of a secret programme of the Nationalists to expel Jews, freemasons and other
‘members of international sects’.5 While Naye Prese highlighted the support of Hitler
and Mussolini for the Nationalists in order to emphasize that the Spanish Republic
fought European fascism, Parizer Haynt detailed how the Nazi press linked the Spanish
conflict to Jews. It reported on interviews with the Spanish generals Mola and Cabanellas
in the Völkische Beobachter and Lokal Anzeiger in which they said that Jews, among
other ‘parasites’ would not be allowed any influence in a future Spanish government.6
Similarly, an article from Angrif was discussed in which ‘world Jewry’ was made
responsible for the Spanish conflict.7
Much more than Naye Prese, Parizer Haynt thus stressed the actual fate of the
Jewish population in Spanish Morocco and those parts of Spain that were in the hands
of the Nationalists. Two Jews from Cracow, for instance, recounted how they had fled
from Spanish Morocco and that most East European Jews there had been arrested as
suspected communists.8 Reports also talked of arrests and the imposition of special
taxes on Jews in Spanish Morocco.9 At the same time, Parizer Haynt reported that
certain measures taken by the Republican side, ‘where anti-Semitism does not reign’,
negatively affected the Jewish population. Thus, in Barcelona, where most of the
Spanish-Jewish population lived, the Jewish community’s offices had been put under
control of the authorities.10
While the fate of Spain’s Jews thus featured prominently, references to the Inquisition,
or the expulsion of 1492, were less frequent and, more importantly, carried a different
meaning from those found in Naye Prese. While the latter underlined the symbolic
continuity between the medieval inquisitors and the Nationalist generals by presenting
them as the inquisitors’ heirs, Parizer Haynt presented the Inquisiton period only as
Jewish Volunteers in Parizer Haynt and Undzer Shtime 95

part of Spanish-Jewish history, and in the context of the policies of the Spanish Republic
towards Sephardic Jews. A good example is a concert evening organized by ‘the workers
youth’ in Paris in support of the Spanish ‘freedom fighters’ during which a representative
of Spain’s ambassador in France spoke, and who told the audience that the Spanish
government was considering the legal possibilities of a return of those Jews whose
forefathers had been expelled from the Iberian peninsula in 1492.11 Parizer Haynt also
related, however, that several volunteers from the Linke Poale Zion had sent their
greetings to the meeting.

How, then, were Jewish volunteers represented in the pages of Parizer Haynt? In
general, articles about Jewish volunteers were scarce. No direct references appeared to
those Jewish athletes who had travelled to Barcelona to compete in the Workers
Olympiad and had joined one of the early militias that were organized in the first
weeks of the uprising. There was a report, however, on a group of delegates from the
Palestinian Labour Zionist sports club Hapoel, who got stuck in Port Bou on the
Spanish–French border and subsequently went to Paris where they came into contact
with the LPZ .12 One of the delegates addressed a LPZ meeting that was dedicated to
the ‘fascist uprising’ in Spain.13 This Palestinian group, together with other delegates,
also held a demonstration in Paris in support of the Spanish Republic.14 The LPZ also
became active in organizing the first support campaigns for Spain in which the affiliated
sports club Shtern played a major role.15 Another active group was the International
League of Jewish War Veterans (Ligue Internationale des Anciens Combattants Juifs),
which donated part of the proceedings from a theatre play to the Republican cause in
order to support its fight against ‘the worst enemies of humanity: the fascists, whose
first victims are Jews’.16 The League’s president repeated that stance in another
announcement by asserting that they fought against ‘all Francos, Molas and fascist-
anti-Semitic world arsonists’.17
The first reference in Parizer Haynt to Jews fighting on the Republican side dealt with
around 400 Jews from the Jewish population in Barcelona that had joined the ranks of
the Spanish army.18 Yet unlike Naye Prese, Parizer Haynt relied exclusively on news
reports from other newspapers or press agencies as it did not have its own reporters in
Spain. Significantly, it would never use reports from Naye Prese. The first story about a
Jewish volunteer was therefore based on a report in the French newspaper L’Intransigeant.19
It related the experiences in Spain of a 25-year-old son of Jewish immigrants from
Perpignan, Jacques Menachem. As a young man, Menachem had been active in the
LICA and he had travelled to Spain in order to ‘help those who fight for freedom and
democracy’. While in Spain he became a military commander and Parizer Haynt proudly
noted the admiration his exploits had garnered in the French press. Menachem
commanded a unit of 200 soldiers, mostly Basques but also volunteers from France,
Hungary and Poland.20 His identification as a LICA activist exemplified a pattern in
Parizer Haynt, which focused almost exclusively on non-communist Jewish volunteers.
In late October 1936 the first report appeared about Jewish workers from Paris who
had travelled to Spain.21 Though this group obviously went as a result of the recruitment
campaign for the newly created International Brigades, the latter were not identified as
such in Parizer Haynt until early 1937. Hardly any references to Soviet or communist
Jewish Volunteers in Naye Prese 77

The importance of the museum was explained in Naye Prese in an article headlined
‘Building up the museum for Jewish fighters is a duty towards the heroes of our
people’.85 Its propagandistic message was simple: the Spanish cause was connected
to the fate of the Jewish people and the Jewish volunteers fighting for the Republic
had ‘written one of the most beautiful chapters in the history of the Jewish workers
movement and the Jewish people in general’. Seemingly echoing Simon Dubnow’s
famous 1891 appeal to Polish and Russian Jews to collect and record their own history,
the museum committee opined that ‘we Jews start collecting important historical
documents too late’.86 As was frankly admitted, the exhibition’s organizers faced
problems in getting support for the museum outside the Parisian Jewish communist
circles of Naye Prese and the former Jewish section. Given the obvious communist
imprint of the enterprise this was hardly surprising. Indeed, apart from a few reviews
of the exhibition, no reference was ever made in Parizer Haynt to the efforts to collect
materials.
The official opening of the exhibition, housed on the third floor of the building
where the Jewish People’s University had its offices, was originally set to coincide with
the start of the World Yiddish Culture Congress that was held in Paris from 17–21
September, but it eventually took place a week earlier, on 11 September. A front-page
editorial in Naye Prese on that day, tellingly entitled ‘A Golden Page’, described the role
of ‘the best sons of the Jewish people’ in Spain and emphasized that their struggle
was a dignified answer to the enemies of the Jews and their accusations of ‘Jewish
cowardice’.87 Among the materials that were collected for the exhibition were anti-
Semitic accusations in relation to Jewish volunteers. Volunteer Fishl Fefer added in a
greeting that now the courage of the ‘Jewish comrades’ would be strengthened even
more, ‘knowing that we will never be “unknown soldiers” fallen for unknown causes’.88
The opening itself took place in the Albouy hall and was, according to Naye Prese,
attended by a 1,000-plus audience.89 Lerman gave the first speech in his capacity as
chairman of the museum committee and was followed by several volunteers and editor
Spero, who underlined that 90 per cent of the Jewish volunteers were members of the
communist party. J. Soltin, chairman of the Jewish Buro of the CPUSA , who had
repeatedly been announced as the key speaker, was absent. Instead, William Weiner,
chairman of the International Workers Order (IWO ), gave a speech.90 Weiner was in
Paris to attend the World Yiddish Cultural Congress as part of the American delegation.
An elaborate description of the exhibition by David Kutner in Naye Prese gives
a fascinating impression of how the exhibition was structured and the way in which
the participation of Jewish volunteers was framed and narrated.91 Visitors were first
introduced to the history of the Jews in Spain, focusing on the Inquisition and its
Jewish victims (another article in Naye Prese described the exhibition’s timeline as
‘from stake to Spanish trench’).92 An accompanying cloth displayed a quote from
Catalan president, Luiz Companys: ‘Jews correctly understood that they can only live
as free civilians in a free Republic on a real democratic foundation.’ Kutner also
introduced the trope of Jewish cowardice, highlighting that the stories of hundreds of
Jewish volunteers were enough to refute it. A painting by the Austrian artist Kopel
depicted three volunteers honouring a fallen comrade, accompanied by several verses
from Itzik Fefer’s poem for Leon Baum. A central place was occupied by a section on
Jewish Volunteers in Parizer Haynt and Undzer Shtime 97

articles would be published in Parizer Haynt in the course of the war. Since Nenni was
not a communist he was clearly an acceptable spokesperson for newspapers like Parizer
Haynt that were loath to credit the communists or emphasize their role.
That being said, Parizer Haynt did offer its readers the communist view on the
brigades when it published an interview with its chief political commissar, Mario
Nicoletti.31 Nicoletti provided the official Comintern version of the history of the
brigades: that of a spontaneously created army in which volunteers from various
political backgrounds were united in their fight against the common fascist enemy. It is
revealing to compare this Nicoletti interview with the one published in Naye Prese a
month earlier. In the Naye Prese interview, conducted by Elski, Nicoletti spoke about
the different nationalities in the brigades, its Jewish volunteers and early attempts to
form a Jewish unit, while emphasizing the courage of Polish-Jewish volunteers whose
participation negated stereotypes of Jews being incapable fighters. By contrast, the
Parizer Haynt interview was taken from the German Volkszeitung, the organ of the
Kommunistische Partei Deutschlands (German Communist Party, KPD ). It only dealt
in very general terms with the brigades and did not address the role of Jewish volunteers
at all. For Naye Prese, the interview clearly served to mobilize its readership in favour
of the Spanish cause, the International Brigades and its Jewish volunteers. For Parizer
Haynt’s editors this was of little importance, even if they undoubtedly knew of the Naye
Prese interview which, after all, had been published earlier.
After the publication of the interview with Nicoletti, which coincided with reports
on the International Conference for Aid to the Spanish Republic that was held in Paris
in February 1937, attention to the experiences of Jewish volunteers increased somewhat.
A group of Linke Poale Zion volunteers left Paris at the end of January and sent a letter
ten days later, explaining that they had been welcomed enthusiastically ‘by the non-
Jewish fighters and Spanish population’.32 Parizer Haynt’s Belgian correspondent,
Nirenberger, interviewed the Belgian socialist leader, Camille Huysmans, ‘who told me
facts about heroic Jews who distinguish themselves on the front’.33 Significantly, this
was a minor detail in the article even though it was highlighted in its subtitle. Yet while
Jewish participation, even heroism, was thus emphasized, this would never become a
key trope in reports about Jewish volunteers. Indeed, a letter of a Jewish volunteer
published in the same issue as the Huysmans interview underlined the participation of
Jewish volunteers in the fight against fascism: ‘Many are the Jewish youngsters from
France and other countries who, from the first day of the fascist attack on the Spanish
republic, can be found in the first lines of struggle in Spain.’34 Tellingly, however, Parizer
Haynt’s editors did not use the opportunity to frame the letter as an example of the
point made by Huysmans about ‘heroic Jews’.
Parizer Haynt also higlighted aspects of the volunteer experience that were absent
from the pages of Naye Prese. Some reports, for instance, noted that Jewish volunteers
had gone to Spain without notifying their family, as had been the case for Jacques
Menachem. The effect of these sudden disappearances on the volunteers’ relatives was
illustrated in a plea from a desperate father who wanted to know whether his son was
still alive. In a letter to Parizer Haynt he begged its readers to provide any information
they might have on his son’s whereabouts. His son, Maurice Levin, was a 22-year-old
former LICA activist who used to write regularly from Spain but had not done so for
98 Jewish Volunteers, the International Brigades and the Spanish Civil War

6 weeks. All the family wanted, his father wrote, was to know if Maurice was still
alive and, should he be dead, to have the opportunity to give him a proper Jewish
burial.35 In contrast to the anxiety highlighted here, correspondence from relatives in
Naye Prese was clearly selected and edited to underscore support for their sons’
sacrifices in Spain. Similarly, announcements of fallen volunteers in Parizer Haynt were
matter of fact and did not serve to emphasize the heroic battle against fascism waged
by Jewish volunteers in Spain.36 A case in point is the obituary of Levin, who would die
in August 1937.37
Another difference between Naye Prese and Parizer Haynt concerned the activities
of the Jewish population in mandate Palestine in support of the Spanish Republic. These
were completely ignored in Naye Prese, which focused, instead, on similar efforts in
Birobidzhan. The following description of an Israeli Trade Union Federation Histadrut
campaign captured Parizer Haynt’s Labour-Zionist stance perfectly: ‘In spite of the great
difficulties faced by the yishuv after the bloody events in the country, the Jewish workers
of Erets-Israel did not forget their brotherly duty for the Spanish republic.’38 Some
kibbutz members had even gone to fight in the International Brigades, as was also noted.
Volunteering from Palestine was not endorsed though, given the ongoing Arab–Jewish
fighting. Thus Mark Jarblum explained that Jewish workers in Palestine could only
offer limited support during a meeting of the Socialist International in October 1936.39
As a member of the executive of the Socialist International representing the Jewish
workers from Palestine and the Histadrut, Jarblum was involved from early on in
the International’s activities vis-à-vis Spain. He repeated his position during the
International Conference for Aid to the Spanish Republic in February 1937, where he
spoke as a representative of the Histadrut.40 Jarblum also represented the Poale Zion
Hitachduth and the Palestine Labour Party MAPAI during the March 1937 joint
congress of the Socialist and Trade Union Internationals.41 Since he was Parizer
Haynt’s main opinion maker on Spain his views were effectively those of the newspaper.
In sum, when comparing the importance of the Spanish conflict and the Arab–Jewish
fighting in mandate Palestine, the latter clearly took precedence in the pages of
Parizer Haynt.
Parizer Haynt did publish several articles that gave its readers a view from inside the
embattled Republic, written by Samuel Shneiderman.42 Shneiderman, who had lived in
Paris since the early 1930s, was the official Spanish Civil War correspondent for the
Warsaw Haynt and so his articles were also reprinted in its Parisian sister paper. In
post-war autobiographic notes he recalled that his reportages were soon reprinted in
other Yiddish newspapers and ‘In this way, I became the chief war correspondent for
practically the entire Yiddish press’.43 This excluded, of course, the Yiddish communist
press worldwide. Interestingly, none of Shneiderman’s articles in Parizer Haynt reveal
the post-war interest he would take in the experiences of Jewish volunteers (see
Chapter 6). Nonetheless, he showed a keen awareness of Spain’s Jewish past. During an
interview with Lluís Companys, president of the regional government of Catalonia,
Shneiderman introduced himself as a member of the Jewish press and told him that
Jews all over the world were anxiously following the events. Companys’ reply, ‘The
doors of my country are open for the Jews, just as my heart is open to them’, prompted
Shneiderman to note that these words were uttered in the same place where six
Jewish Volunteers in Parizer Haynt and Undzer Shtime 99

centuries earlier the inquisitorial edicts to burn Jews at the stake had been issued.44
Shneiderman also took an interest in what could be called the ‘struggle within the
struggle’: that of the Basques, who wanted more autonomy, and the Spanish anarchists
who were suppressed after the Barcelona May days of 1937.45
Shneiderman rarely discussed the experiences of Jewish volunteers in his articles
though he related them during a lecture he gave in the Arbeter Heym when he visited
Paris in March 1937.46 Shneiderman’s lecture was part of several support activities,
announced in Parizer Haynt, in which the Bundist Medem Farband or Linke Poale
Zion participated. Leaders of both parties visited Paris after battle front tours in Spain
to discuss their experiences. Thus, Bund leader Viktor Alter related his impressions of
the war during a meeting of the Medem Farband.47 Moshe Eres, a member of the
Central Committee of the Histadrut, who had visited Spain on behalf of Antifa (the
Jewish-Arab anti-fascist organization of Palestine), spoke in the Arbeter Heym.48 Both
organizations held campaigns to raise money that were part of larger support efforts,
organized by the SFIO or the International Aid Spain Committee. Of particular
importance in this respect was the campaign for the children of Bilbao that was held in
May and June 1937.49 Similarly, the young Bundists from Tsukunft participated in a
youth day organized in support of Spain by the SFIO youth.50
During the entire period that the International Brigades existed, few campaigns in
support of Jewish volunteers were ever mentioned on the pages of Parizer Haynt. This
might come as little surprise since the experiences of Jewish volunteers were not linked to
a broader political programme that the newspaper sought to advance. But given the
number of Jewish volunteers from Paris it is remarkable, and there can be little doubt that
a strong antipathy towards Jewish communists and Naye Prese is a major part of the
explanation. Though the experiences of Jewish volunteers were discussed in Parizer Haynt,
the newspaper hardly ever attached a particularly Jewish significance to their participation.
No direct mention was ever made of allegations of Jewish cowardice that were being
countered on the Spanish battlefields. Parizer Haynt did write about anti-Semitism in the
Dombrowski Battalion on one occasion, basing itself upon an article in a Polish newspaper
that cited the battalion’s newspaper Dabrowczak which had written about Francoist anti-
Semitic propaganda in its ranks: ‘Let us remember that behind the comrade, who is not
sufficiently aware and speaks out against Jews or soldiers of another nationality, stand the
agents of Franco and the Polish defensive’.51 Interestingly, this was one of the rare occasions
when Parizer Haynt explicitly connected the International Brigade with communism: the
title spoke of anti-Semitism in the ‘Polish communist Battalion’.
Parizer Haynt did not completely ignore the activities of Jewish communists in
Paris in support of Jewish volunteers. The exhibition for Jewish volunteers in September
1937 was even called a ‘dignified memorial for the Jewish freedom fighters’ in a review
that also noted the participation of Jewish volunteers from all over the world.52 Yet
while explaining that the exhibition was a prelude to a future museum about Jewish
volunteers to be named after Albert Nakhumi Weitz, no reference was made to the fact
that Weitz was a communist, nor to the fact that the whole enterprise was organized by
the Parisian Jewish communists. The latter was also ignored in an announcement that
appeared shortly before the exhibition’s opening, though it added that ‘this exhibition
is a very important enterprise and one should see it’.53
100 Jewish Volunteers, the International Brigades and the Spanish Civil War

* * *
Spain ceased to be a topic of major interest in Parizer Haynt after September 1937. This
was not only due to the situation of the Jewish community in mandate Palestine; the
dire predicament of Polish Jewry was of equal importance and took precedence over
Spain, as fittingly summarized in the title of an article about the economic boycott
(‘cold pogrom’) against Jewish merchants in Poland that read: ‘Worse than the
Inquisition in Spain’.54 At the same time a fierce row erupted between Parizer Haynt
and Naye Prese, following PCF leader Maurice Thorez’s ‘France aux Français’ speech
and Fraternité’s ‘C’est complet’ article, which lasted from October to mid-January, and
peaked in December 1937 when Parizer Haynt printed almost daily protests from
various Jewish organizations and leaders against the Fraternité article.
While Naye Prese carefully prepared the ground for its announcement of the
creation of the Botwin Company in early December 1937, no particular attention was
paid to the ongoing war in Spain in Parizer Haynt in that month, save for some calls to
participate in a SFIO campaign for Spain. The only event to note until late December
was the appearance of Pietro Nenni on the earlier mentioned 40th anniversary
celebration of the Bund, a significant event in Jewish Paris that took place on
12 December.55 No particular attention was given to the Botwin Company in the days
following its formation.56 In fact, hardly any references to the Botwin Company were
made until the dissolution of the International Brigades in the autumn of 1938. And
though this conforms to a pattern of low-level reporting on Jewish volunteers in this
period it is nonetheless striking. It was perhaps unsurprising that Parizer Haynt should
pay little attention to a key propaganda symbol for its Jewish communist adversaries
on the Parisian Yiddish newspaper market. Nevertheless, it is significant that the only
other Yiddish daily newspaper existing in France at that time virtually ignored the
company’s creation and existence. No matter how much propaganda was involved, this
was Jewish news, all the more so since several Jewish migrants from Paris fought in the
company’s ranks.
From autumn 1937 until autumn 1938 Parizer Haynt kept following the major
military developments on the Spanish battlefields. It also continued to publish on the
fate of Jews in Nationalist Spain and Spanish Morocco and covered the participation of
Bund and LPZ in SFIO support campaigns or those organized with the Jewish
communists in the Coordination Committee. When the SFIO decided to organize a
national day for aid to Spain on 26 December, to kickstart a special solidarity week, the
Poale Zion Hitachduth and the Bund in Paris issued appeals to join in.57 Published on
the same page of Parizer Haynt’s 25 December issue, these appeals represented a joint
call for help from socialist and Labour-Zionist Paris to its Jewish migrant population.
Two days later the International League of Jewish War Veterans joined in with another
appeal in which its Secretary added that the Ligue ‘which groups all Jewish combattants
in the struggle against anti-Semitism, wishes to underline that to aid the victims of
fascism is necessary in conjunction with the fight against Jew-hatred’.58
No particular attention, however, was given to the experiences of Jewish volunteers
in the International Brigades in this period. Such attention had already been scarce
before December 1937 but was virtually absent on Parizer Haynt’s pages until August
1938. The Botwin Company only became a news item in late February and early March
Jewish Volunteers in Parizer Haynt and Undzer Shtime 101

1938, when the Agreement Committee of the Bund, LPZ and Jewish communists
decided to organize a campaign in its support. Parizer Haynt published announcements
for the campaign’s preparatory and first general meeting.59 Similarly, an appeal of the
Medem Farband to its members and a call for a meeting of the LPZ and its affiliated
organizations was printed.60 Furthermore, when the Parisian Jewish youth and sports
organizations, among them Shtern and YASK , decided to join the campaign an
announcement was made.61 For the first joint meeting that resulted from this
cooperation, Stern and YASK also appealed in Parizer Haynt to all youngsters and
sportsmen to join the campaign in order to show their solidarity for the Jewish
volunteers ‘that fight for freedom and democracy’.62 Outside Paris a big concert evening
for Jewish volunteers was organized in Metz.63 Yet all these announcements were small
and limited to providing the basic factual details concerning the campaigns. Even
though several participating organizations were part of the Umfeld of Parizer Haynt,
no results of these campaigns were published nor a review of the meetings.
Every now and then, reports appeared about Nationalist anti-Jewish propaganda
and actions,64 or Jewish life on the Republican side, for example in a small announcement
of the creation of the first Beth Din (rabbinical court) in Barcelona since the expulsion
of 1492.65 But it was not until August 1938 that Jewish volunteers featured again in the
pages of Parizer Haynt. Once again the situation in mandate Palestine took precedence.
In early July 1938 much space was devoted to the execution of Shlomo Ben-Yosef by
the British authorities. Ben-Yosef was a member of the Irgun, the underground
paramilitary Jewish organization in Palestine, who had attacked a bus carrying Arab
civilians in retaliation for Arab attacks. If Parizer Haynt had any interest in martyrs for
a Jewish cause, it was people like Ben-Yosef instead of the likes of Nakhumi Weitz or
Leon Baum.
Only in mid-August did another article on Jewish volunteers appear in Parizer
Haynt, written by Y. Golomb, a reporter for the non-partisan Yiddish daily Der Tog
from New York.66 Golomb had visited Barcelona and spoken to several prominent
members of its Jewish community. He noted that there were only 3,000 Jews in Spain,
who had settled there in recent decades, yet still more than 3,000 Jews from all over the
world had died as volunteers in the Spanish freedom struggle. Golomb paid particular
attention to the story of a young Jewish pilot, a German-Jewish refugee who had been
an assistant professor at Barcelona University and now fought in the Republican army.
It was during the Munich crisis of September 1938 that Parizer Haynt radically
departed from the way in which it had previously represented Jewish volunteers. A year
and a half after it had last published correspondence from Jewish volunteers in Spain,
a poem and an appeal were printed that left very little to the imagination. The poem,
written by Kh. Stolnitz, was entitled ‘A letter from my friend in Spain’. Whether the
poem was an actual letter from a volunteer, set to rhyme by Stolnitz, or the product of
Stolnitz’s own creativity remains unclear.67 In any case, the poem’s anonymous ‘friend’
wrote that he had been assigned to the Botwin Company and that ‘the best sons of our
people’ were now fighting in Spain, having come from countries all over the world. He
related how the ‘legend of Jewish cowardice’ was nothing but a fabrication and that
the times of accepting blows ‘like a servant from his lord’ were over. He referred to the
deaths of volunteers, such as Baum and Weitz, and the heroic deeds of all those other
102 Jewish Volunteers, the International Brigades and the Spanish Civil War

Jewish volunteers ‘who had come from prisons’ and made arduous journeys to reach
Spain. The ‘friend’ continued to relate how each nation had its sons in each ‘freedom-
trench’ and explained how ‘the red flag would have waved freely’ in Spain were it not for
a lack of arms and hunger. He asked his Parisian friend Stolnitz how he was coping, as
the latter faced the new foreigner decrees. He closed with the battle greeting ‘No
Pasaran’, adding that he would soon be on his way to a new battle.
The poem read like a checklist of all the symbolism and tropes related to Jewish
volunteers and the Botwin Company that until then could only be found in Naye Prese.
The reference to ‘the best sons of our people’, who disproved the myth of Jewish
cowardice was all too familiar to Naye Prese’s readers. Similarly, the names of the fallen
volunteers that were mentioned were well-known martyrs for the cause in Jewish
communist circles. Of course the allusion to prisons was meant to highlight the plight
of Jewish communists who had been imprisoned in Poland, while the reference to the
unity of all peoples in the trenches recalled the Popular Front rhetoric of Naye Prese.
Two and a half weeks later, on 21 September, Parizer Haynt published ‘A Letter from
Jewish Fighters in the Spanish People’s Army’, a letter that was also published in Naye
Prese.68 Calling for unity, and demanding an end to expulsions, inquisitions, pogroms
and concentration camps, it was the only time during the brigades’ existence that
Parizer Haynt published an article so reminiscent of representations that hitherto
could only be found in Naye Prese.

Bundist representations: Undzer Shtime

In contrast to Parizer Haynt and its moderate labour–Zionist stance on the Spanish
conflict, it is much more difficult to analyse the view of the Bund in Paris. Not only was
Undzer Shtime an irregularly published periodical, its existing print runs are incomplete
and lack issues until May 1937 and from November 1938 until July 1939.69 This means
we only possess information for 1937 (two issues published in May and June) and from
April 1938 onwards. Two important periods are thus not covered: the start of the war
and the formation of the International Brigades on the one hand, and the months
before and after the creation of the Botwin Company on the other. All of this means
that an analysis of the Parisian Bundist stance on Spain is incomplete and fragmentary.
Since Undzer Shtime was not a daily newspaper, it offered summaries and reflections
on the ongoing events in Spain over a longer period of time. As a rule, meetings of the
Medem Farband were only announced in Naye Prese or Parizer Haynt and it is
impossible to see how day-to-day developments and interaction with other Parisian
Jewish organizations or media shaped Bundist attitudes and reactions.
The first issue of Undzer Shtime that dealt with Spain was published in May 1937
when the war was well under way and came after the bombardment of Guernica in
April. This action by the ‘Hitlerite robber gangs’ was recalled in a front-page editorial
in which the non-intervention policy was condemned in no uncertain terms, as was
the generally weak attitude of the SFIO.70 A special article discussed dissent within the
ranks of the SFIO with the party’s official policy and the campaign by the leader of its
left wing, Jean Zyromski, to push the party towards a condemnation of the government’s
Jewish Volunteers in Naye Prese 83

that the International Brigades are the highest expression of international solidarity
and fraternization, that only common struggle and commonly spilled blood can
bind closer and fraternize peoples; that the strongest foundation of understanding
between peoples is laid on the battleground. 17 months of common fighting
against fascism has done more in the struggle against racism, anti-Semitism
and fascism than decades of propaganda and agitation through brochures and
speeches.112

The gist, if not the wording, of the latter part of this passage was very similar to the
opinion of Stanislav Matuszczak quoted earlier, which suggests this was an agreed
upon formulation. Be that as it may, Bogen posited a clear message: Jewish volunteers
were fighting for their own emancipation and they were doing so by taking up arms.
The Botwin Company was the symbol of that struggle, its volunteers constituting the
‘vanguard of the vanguard’, so to speak.
The experiences of the Botwin Company were also related on Radio Barcelona in a
Yiddish language broadcast by Elski in March. Elski’s radio speech developed some of
the themes that can be found in a talk held almost a year earlier by Naye Prese
correspondent Honig.113 He delivered a rousing statement about the menace that
fascism posed for Jews, adding that racism had always been a feature of the politics of
those in power, and arguing that fascism and anti-Semitism were two sides of the same
coin. Jews had been expelled from Spain 500 years earlier, not by the Spanish people,
but by the church and ruling class, and their successor Franco had already taken
away the rights from Spanish-Moroccan Jews. Elski proceeded to explain that Jews in
fascist countries were suppressed by a new Inquisition. Jewish volunteers in Spain, in
his opinion, embodied the suffering and embitterment of the Jewish people but the
creation of the Botwin Company had given them a representative on the Jewish
battlefield like other nationalities. Elski told Jewish workers and ‘folks-mentshn’ that
Spain represented the line of defence that safeguarded their existence and added a call
to abandon internal strife and unite.114 He thus used the Jewish experience in Spain as
an explanatory model for modern day Jewish suffering: in Spain, like in Poland
or Romania, it was not the people but the ruling classes that caused Jewish suffering
and instigated pogroms. This classic communist explanation of anti-Semitism was
combined with an outspoken Jewish diasporic agenda: as Lerman had done earlier,
Elski emphasized that, in order to survive, Jews should defend themselves together
with ‘the people’ of the countries and places where they lived.
In order to highlight the broad attention and support the company received in the
Jewish world, a report by the Jewish Telegraph Agency was proudly quoted on the front
page of 11 February.115 It had a factual tone, characteristic of a press release, but
nevertheless spoke about ‘Jewish heroes’ and underlined their motivation.116 According
to the JTA , the creation of the Botwin Company followed a decision by the Spanish
government and ‘higher military powers’. Two weeks later Naye Prese quoted another
JTA press release about a Spanish government declaration dealing with ‘the Jewish
problem’, which stated that Jews were welcome in Spain. It also pointed to the expulsion
of 1492, and mentioned the large number of Jewish volunteers in the International
Brigades.117
104 Jewish Volunteers, the International Brigades and the Spanish Civil War

workers’ parties as opposed to the communist Popular Front, which allowed for the
inclusion of ‘bourgeois’ parties. While communists saw the Popular Front as the only
way to win the fight against fascism, especially in the case of Spain, to Bundists this
meant a betrayal of the interests of the working class and the destruction of the
revolutionary momentum in Spain. Against this background one should also see the
position of Undzer Shtime on the trial against POUM leaders, held in Barcelona in
October 1938. In July an article commented on the upcoming trial.79 The author,
quoting from an article in the SFIO journal Le Populaire, was especially critical of what
he called the ‘retrospective application of a law’: the POUM leaders were to be tried by
a ‘special tribunal against espionage and treason’ that had been founded after their
arrest. This tribunal was to be deplored all the more for its resemblance to similar
tribunals in Nazi Germany and fascist Italy.80 Such articles revealed the Bundist
preoccupation with the internal political dimension of the war and thereby the interests
of the Spanish people themselves; the international dimension of the conflict was
addressed solely in terms of fighting the rising threat of fascism in Europe.
Unsurprisingly then, Spain was not important as a model of anti-fascist action that
could inspire the Popular Front policy elsewhere.
This might also explain the absence of any reference to the International Brigades
or its volunteers. Only once did Undzer Shtime report on a Jewish volunteer in Spain,
‘Khaver L’, a Bundist from Lwów who was killed at the Estramadura front.81 A short
report explained that he had come from Poland ‘together with tens of other Jewish
workers – Bundists and communists’ to Spain. No mention was ever made, though, of
the Botwin Company. There are various indications, not only from communist sources,
that the number of Bundists fighting in the International Brigades was relatively
small.82 Given the identification of the Bund with Trotskyism, reinforced by Alter’s
defence of the POUM , this is not a surprise.83 It is likely that among those Bundists
who did go to Spain many chose not to identify themselves as such in order not to
arouse suspicions. Alexander Szurek recalls that in the French camp Gurs, where many
volunteers were imprisoned after the final retreat of the International Brigades, a
‘Company of Dissidents’ existed, a reference to the so-called Ninth Company in Gurs
(see Chapter 6). A volunteer who had openly declared he was a Bundist was ‘eased out
of the collective’ and transferred there.84 By contrast, David Diamant, in a paragraph in
his book in which he aimed to show that Jewish volunteers were not all communist,
contends that on the editorial board of Botvin, communists worked together with
Zionists and Bundists.85
The Medem Farband was active, however, in various support campaigns that were
organized in Paris, such as the Bilbao campaign in spring 1937 and others in the spring
and autumn of 1938.86 In all cases the Bundists joined campaigns that were initiated by
the SFIO or organized by the joint Popular Front organizations, usually coordinated
by the Agreement or Jewish-Spanish Committee. Bundists, for instance, also
participated in the solidarity week for Jewish volunteers in the last days of December
1937.87 As mentioned earlier, though, in the same month an incident happened during
the Bund’s anniversary celebration on 12 December (the same day as the official
formation of the Botwin Company) when Jewish communists attempted to collect
money for Jewish volunteers.88
Jewish Volunteers in Parizer Haynt and Undzer Shtime 105

Most of the SFIO campaigns in which the Medem Farband participated were
initiated by the Socialist International. There are indications that the Polish Bund
coordinated these campaigns as can be gleaned from a circular of the Bund’s Central
Committee, issued on 21 July 1937 in Warsaw.89 The memo, addressed to ‘all our
organisations’ announced a solidarity campaign (‘Spanish Week’) in support of the
Republic, which was to take place from 31 July to 7 August. This announcement
followed a decision from the Socialist International and thus the Polish Bund passed
on the call to its membership. The circular was intended for the Bund’s base in Poland
and described the conflict as a struggle against the ‘fascist intervention in Spain’ and
outlined the type of activities that should be developed.90 A supplement was enclosed
under the title ‘the meaning of a year of civil war in Spain’, which contained six theses
that might be used as a guideline for speeches. Whether this was simply a Yiddish
translation of guidelines of the International is unclear. In any case, they contained no
suggestion that the Spanish struggle was of particular importance to Jews and they
were clearly in tune with the opinions voiced in Undzer Shtime regarding the conflict.
It is not clear if a ‘Spanish Week’ was indeed organized by the Bund among Jewish
migrants in Paris but announcements from Parizer Haynt indicate that on 18 July 1937,
on the occasion of the war’s 1st anniversary, the SFIO organized a youth day in support
of Spain with a meeting taking place in the hall of the Arbeter Ring.91
As already mentioned, no issues of Undzer Shtime appeared between June 1937 and
April 1938. When the journal resumed publication after nearly a ten-month gap, the
military situation of the Republic had significantly deteriorated. As opposed to Naye
Prese, which always feigned optimism and tended to minimize coverage of Republican
defeats, Undzer Shtime was honest about the increasingly grim realities on the
battlefield.92 An editorial on the occasion of the second anniversary of the war explained
what the conflict was all about: a struggle for the freedom of the Spanish people and a
fight against international fascism.93 The Spanish people therefore also struggled for
‘our freedom’. The editorial also contained an allusion to ‘medieval obscurantism’ and
that was as close as Undzer Shtime ever came to hinting at Spain’s Jewish past. Articles
on Spain in Undzer Shtime never referred to the historical experiences of the Jews in
Spain, or its small Jewish population and their fate during the war, nor did they ever
discuss anti-Semitism in any kind of context. Its editors saw the resolution of the civil
war in Spain as a key determinant for the outcome of other conflicts, such as the
Sudeten Crisis.94 In sharp contrast to Jewish communist representations in Naye Prese,
the Spanish conflict was simply not related to the interests of Jews in general, or Jewish
workers in particular.
106
Part Three

Postwar: Becoming Jewish


Volunteers

107
108
6

Jewish Volunteers and Jewish Resistance:


Setting the Stage

From internment camps to the Holocaust

On 21 September 1938, Spanish prime minister Negrin announced his government’s


intention to withdraw foreign nationals from the battlefields in a speech to the League
of Nations. An agreement between the Spanish Republican government and the League
subsequently began the withdrawal process of the volunteers of the International
Brigades still fighting in Spain.1 Meanwhile, on 6 October, a state funeral took place for
the last foreign volunteer who had fallen on the Spanish battlefield, the Polish-Jewish
volunteer Chaskel Honigstein. The funeral turned into a mass demonstration in
support of the beleaguered Republic.2 The Spanish poet José Herrera Petere wrote a
poem in honour of Honigstein, praising the sacrifice of this ‘Pole, worker, Jew, son from
a dark country, fallen in the light of my Fatherland’.3 On 28 October a farewell parade
was organized in Barcelona where Dolores Ibárruri, better known as La Pasionaria,
made her famous farewell speech, telling the ‘Comrades of the International Brigades’,
‘You can go with pride. You are history. You are legend. You are the heroic example of
the solidarity and the universality of democracy.’4
By this time many volunteers had already left Spain. Those remaining who could
not be repatriated included Germans, Austrians, Czechoslovaks, Poles, Bulgarians and
Yugoslavs.5 A number of these volunteers staged a final comeback by regrouping in the
so-called Agrupación Internacional (International Group), which helped to cover
the civilian population fleeing towards the French border.6 Among them were also
the remnants of the Botwin Company, headed by Emmanuel Mink.7 When Spanish
refugees and former brigadistas began to cross the Pyrenees en masse in early 1939 the
French government created a number of camps to house them.8 Among these, Argelès,
Saint-Cyprien, Vernet and Gurs housed considerable numbers of former volunteers. In
Saint-Cyprien and Gurs, Jewish volunteers would publish their own magazine called
Hinter Stakheldrot (Behind Barbed Wires).
Jewish volunteers who ended up in the southern French internment camps
embarked upon various trajectories from there. Those that stayed in the camps would
end up under Vichy control; while some managed to escape and join the resistance
movement, others were ultimately deported to the Nazi extermination camps in
Poland. Volunteers that were transported to French camps in North Africa, such as

109
110 Jewish Volunteers, the International Brigades and the Spanish Civil War

Djelfa, escaped that fate and either managed to find their way back to Europe or stayed
until the camps’ liberation. Importantly, camp experiences and contacts also prefigured
the postwar transnational networks through which discussions about Jewish volunteers
would be shaped. Most former volunteers were initially interned in Argelès and Saint-
Cyprien before being moved to Gurs in April 1939. Within the camps, the communists
grouped along national lines and per baraque; among the various groups in Gurs was
also a Jewish one.9 Pre-internment in-fighting between communists and non-
communists in the brigades carried over in the formation, in Gurs, of the so-called
Ninth Company, which was, in the words of Alexander Szurek, ‘composed of misfits
and those who clashed with the other volunteers’. Apart from being a company of
suspected Trotskyists, real or imagined, there were also fears of Ovra (Italian secret
police) or Gestapo infiltrators.10 Though these tensions resulted mostly from the
attitudes of committed communists who were bent on maintaining party discipline
and vigilance, relations towards the Ninth Company changed over time. German
communists did come to recognize, for instance, that the initial hardline stance they
took should be moderated, and they came to differentiate those within the company.11
Inside the camps, political and cultural life was quickly organized in the same way
it had been in Spain. This entailed various sports activities, choirs and theatre groups
as well as courses ranging from languages to economics and drawing. An important
way of maintaining a sense of group coherence for the volunteers of different
nationalities were the various camp journals they edited. Like the Botwin Company’s
journal Botvin, the various issues of Hinter Shtakheldrot that have been preserved
mix accounts of camp experiences and activities with celebrations of events on the
communist revolutionary calendar, such as May Day, the Paris Commune and the
French Revolution.12 They also display a strong sense of continuity of struggle as a
means of restoring a sense of purpose and agency following the despondency and
demoralization caused by the volunteers’ retreat.13 Although these volunteers had no
possibility of engaging in the kind of struggle they had been involved in in Spain, they
established new imaginary fronts with a keen eye for what Nazi Germany’s future war
aims were in the post-Munich European era.
Within this context an appeal ‘To the Jewish workers and masses in Poland!’ is of
particular interest.14 It highlighted the threat posed by Nazi Germany to Poland’s
independence as well as Polish Jewry, following the Austrian Anschluss and phased
annexation of the Czech lands, and warned Polish Jews in no uncertain terms:
‘Hundreds of thousands of lives destroyed, thousands of tortured and murdered Jews,
the resurrection of the medieval Inquisition; this is what Polish Jews can expect if
Hitler succeeds in realising his plans.’ The group of former Jewish volunteers who
signed the appeal expressed their wish to be able to return to Poland to defend its
independence.
Solidarity campaigns for interned volunteers were launched by a number of Spanish
aid organizations all over the world. The Jewish section of the CIAPE in Paris and the
Friends of the Botwin Battalion, which was linked to Spanish Refugee Aid in New York,
arranged fund drives to send money, cigarettes, books and food to Jewish volunteers.
Both organizations also cooperated in these efforts. The Spanish-Jewish Committee in
Paris published the magazine Tsuhilf (Aid) to support fundraising efforts, in which the
Jewish Volunteers and Jewish Resistance 111

Figure 6.1 Title page of the magazine Mir Gedenken (We Remember) that was ‘dedicated
to the Jewish volunteers who were interned in the concentration camps in France’. The
central picture above features in the middle Gina Medem surrounded by other activists
involved in the 50,000-franc campaign (see Chapter 4). Below are two pictures of soldiers
of the Botwin Company
Source: © Collection YIVO Institute for Jewish Research (New York) – Bund Archive.
112 Jewish Volunteers, the International Brigades and the Spanish Civil War

Botwin Company figured prominently.15 Similarly, the Friends in New York issued the
bulletin Mir Gedenken (We Remember), which revolved completely around the Botwin
Company and highlighted Gina Medem’s role in rallying support for the Polish-Jewish
volunteers.16 Meanwhile in London, the Botwin Aid Committee also continued its fund
drive, now for the interned volunteers, and sent money to Paris.17 Hinter Shtakheldrot
subsequently published balance sheets showing how the money had been spent and
which items had been received. This was partly the result of recriminations among
Jewish communists and Bundists in Paris on how aid was distributed in the camps.18
Gina Medem also collaborated with others in the publication of Frayhaytskemfer –
Yidishe militsionern in Shpanye (Freedom Fighters – Jewish volunteers in Spain), which
contained a number of articles written during the war.19 The booklet was published
in 1939 in Buenos Aires by the Jewish Committee for Aid to the Spanish People,
which was part of the CIAPE . Buenos Aires was home to a sizeable Yiddish-speaking
community that was very active in organizing support for the embattled Spanish
Republic.20 Frayhaytskemfer contained a foreword by the Spanish ambassador in
Argentina in the form of a letter to Lazaro Braslavsky, a biochemist who helped to
organize the support activities in Argentina.21 Among other things the letter stated:

The unity of Jews from all over the world with the Spanish people has a clear basis:
love for freedom. For us, neither your religious beliefs nor private organisations are
important. You are men, carry an ideal and defend it, and therefore are entitled to
seek to live in peace. If only for this, Spaniards are on your side, facing the terrible
injustices of which you are victims, and with you we protest against the slaughters
and bestial persecutions you were made to suffer. Our beliefs may be different but
we love your right like our own.22

Following the German invasion of France in May 1940, and the final armistice of
22 June 1940, life changed considerably as the Vichy government assumed control of
the camps and they began to be filled with new categories of internees, notably foreign
Jews residing in France and political prisoners. A number of internees, among them
former volunteers, were transferred to the Vernet camp,23 which was intended for those
prisoners considered to be politically dangerous.24 During the course of 1941–43,
hundreds of former volunteers, mostly from Vernet, would subsequently be sent to the
Djelfa camp in North Africa.25 Following the British liberation of the camp in late 1942
former volunteers there made their way to the Soviet Union via the Middle East.26
Others ended up in the French Foreign Legion. In France itself several volunteers also
found themselves in the Foreign Legion or Polish Army in the making.
There was a broader context to this; many foreign Jews who, at the onset of the Second
World War, volunteered for the French army, or were pressured to do so, would
subsequently be enlisted in the Legion instead of the regular French army.27 Others were
pressured to join the Polish Army. This also happened to former Jewish volunteers.
Alexander Szurek recounts in his memoirs how he was told to volunteer for the Legion,
only to be rejected and told to enlist in the Polish Army.28 He even recalls how recruitment
took place in Gurs. Yet most Polish-Jewish volunteers were wary: ‘We had conditions for
them to meet: restoration of our Polish citizenship and retention of the rank we attained
Jewish Volunteers and Jewish Resistance 113

in the Spanish Army’.29 Nevertheless, Szurek did join the Polish Army in the end.30
Another way in which several Polish-Jewish volunteers managed to save themselves
from possible deportation was on account of their citizenship. Those Polish Jews that
came from former Polish territory occupied by the Soviet Union following the Molotow–
Ribbentrop pact had a right under the pact’s terms to acquire Soviet citizenship. Among
those who were subsequently repatriated was Pinkus Kartin, who gained fame as one of
the organizers of the Warsaw Ghetto uprising.31 Kartin (also known as Andrzej Schmidt)
would not live to witness the uprising; caught by the Gestapo he was tortured to death.32
Several former Jewish volunteers escaped the camps and took part in resistance
activities in France and Belgium.33 Among them were former Botwin Company fighters
such as Sevek Kirschenbaum, Abraham Lissner and Leo Pakin, who would play an
important role in the Jewish second detachment of the FTP-MOI (the migrant
division of the Francs-tireurs et partisans resistance organization).34 Those that
remained in the camps, and did not escape, faced a daunting fate. In August 1942 the
deportation of foreign Jews in the camps began.35 Many Jewish volunteers were now
sent eastward to the German extermination camps. Among these deportees we find
former Botwin Company commander Emmanuel Mink, who became part of the camp
underground, as did another former Botwinist, David Szmulewski. Szmulewski gained
postwar fame because of his involvement with the so-called Sonderkommando
photographs, the only pictures to have been taken by inmates in Auschwitz-Birkenau
to document the Nazi killing operation.36
In his memoirs, Szmulewski relates how former Jewish volunteers established
contact in Auschwitz and gradually formed a network that became the backbone of the
camp’s underground movement. Among the members of this network were Olek Nus,
Mink and Kirschenbaum. While Szmulewski talks about ‘Spanish “Botwin”-traditions
in the camp’ it is clear he uses ‘Botwin’ as a label for all Jewish volunteers who ended up
in Auschwitz and joined the underground. One of the people he lists, for instance, is
Hermann Langbein, a German communist who did not fight in the Botwin Company.37
When Szmulewski wrote his memoirs, the 1972 Tel-Aviv conference had already taken
place and his use of the name Botwin parallels the conference’s use of Botwin as a
catch-all phrase for Jewish volunteers.
The survival chances of former volunteers were often higher than average. Van
Doorslaer has argued that belonging to the communist milieu of former volunteers not
only was a prime factor explaining the continuity between their engagement in Spain
and later resistance work, but also helped to maintain cohesion and solidarity in the
camps, which at least partly explains their higher survival rates.38 Nonetheless, many
former Polish-Jewish volunteers would die during the war. Several of the survivors
stayed in Poland, or returned there after the war, while others would remain in France
and Belgium.

Commemorating Jewish volunteers in Yiddish

Interest in the experiences of Jewish volunteers after the Second World War was mostly
confined to circles of veterans and sympathizers. In addition to a few memoirs, Yiddish
114 Jewish Volunteers, the International Brigades and the Spanish Civil War

communist or socialist periodicals in Europe, Israel and the United States were the
main platforms in which the experiences of Jewish volunteers were commemorated.39
Gershon Dua-Bogen and Efraim Wuzek, both directly involved in the Botwin Company
during the civil war, published their memoirs with the Idish Bukh publishing house
in Warsaw in the early 1960s.40 Israel Centner, a Palestinian communist, published
his autobiography in Israel.41 Both Dua-Bogen and Wuzek highlighted the heroism of
Jewish volunteers and its importance within the Polish-Jewish context but also stayed
faithful to the communist view of the brigades. By contrast, the memoirs of Sigmunt
Stein, published in 1961, stand out for their critical tone and remarks about, for
instance, censorship within the brigades.42 Stein fought in the Botwin Company but left
the communist party after the war because of his disillusionment with communist
practices in Spain. His memoirs were first published as a feuilleton by the Yiddish
socialist New York daily, Forverts.
In 1967, on the occasion of the 30th anniversary of the start of the Spanish Civil
War, a first overview of the participation of Jewish volunteers in the International
Brigades appeared: David Diamant’s Yidn in shpanishn krig 1936–1939 (Jews in the
Spanish Civil War 1936–1939), was published by Idish Bukh in Warsaw, in collaboration
with the Oyfsnay publishing house of the Intersyndical Jewish Commission of the
CGT in Paris. Like the other Yiddish publications mentioned, Diamant’s book was
aimed at Jewish audiences that understood Yiddish. Diamant lived and worked in Paris
but his personal contacts in Poland and the nature of the topic made publication with
Idish Bukh a logical choice.43 His book was one of the last publications of the publishing
house as it closed its doors the following year as a result of the Six Days War and
the subsequent anti-Semitic campaign of 1967–68 (see Chapter 7).44 Diamant had been
the secretary of the Jewish-Spanish Aid Committee in Paris during the war and also
published a number of works on Jews in the French resistance movement, many of
whom were former interbrigadists.45 Indeed, he saw their participation in the
International Brigades as a prelude to their activitities in the French resistance during
the Second World War. His book was edited by Lerman, Naye Prese’s pre-war editor
and former member of the PCF ’s Jewish section.
In an anonymous foreword to the Yiddish edition, Jewish volunteers in the
International Brigades were said to have ‘continued the traditions of struggle of our
people’, but the book’s purpose was subsequently explained in political terms without
any specific reference to Jewish volunteers. This was followed by a fifty-page introduction
by Lerman, who outlined the history of the Spanish Civil War and the formation of the
International Brigades from a communist point of view. Yet he also framed the
participation of Jewish volunteers in the context of rising anti-Semitism in both Eastern
and Western Europe in the 1930s, highlighting that fascist anti-Semitic propaganda,
among other things, promoted the idea that Jews were pakhdonim, or cowards.
Continuing one of the main arguments in Naye Prese’s representations of Jewish
volunteers during the civil war, he asserted that it had been of great political significance
that Jewish anti-fascists fought in Spain, providing the best possible counter-argument
against such propaganda.46 Diamant himself, however, did not address such concerns in
his foreword. As he noted, his motivation to write it stemmed from a desire to keep the
memory of Jewish volunteers alive and he saw their participation as a continuation of a
Jewish Volunteers in Naye Prese 91

in the bosom of the French. Indeed, it signalled a readiness to defend, ‘with a gun in our
hands’, the achievements of the French working class against the fascist onslaught. The
final aim of this struggle was to ensure that Jews could be happy and free in France.
Without a Jewish section, Lerman was effectively the unofficial head of the Jewish
migrant communists in France and his speech was cleverly tailored to satisfy multiple
audiences. The PCF was reassured that the struggle of Jewish workers in Spain and
France served party and country first and foremost. Together with French workers,
their Jewish comrades were brothers in arms in the struggle against fascism in France.
At the same time, Jewish migrants were told that their struggle would assure them a
future in a free France that would welcome Jews in its midst. Within this context the
Botwin Company, ‘the vanguard of Jewish migrant workers in France’, represented a
readiness to fight for French as well as Jewish migrant interests. Lerman in fact pulled
off a fascinating balancing act, conveying a seemingly standard communist message
of au service du peuple that was cloaked in the ultimate symbol of Jewish prowess, a
Jewish military unit.
The themes in his speech were underlined by the other speakers. One of the
volunteers who received the Botwin flag, David Rothenberg, talked about the
heroism of the Botwin Company, ‘the vanguard of the fighting Jewish masses’. Jacques
Lederman, speaking on behalf of the Intersyndikale Komisye (Intersyndicalist
Committee, consisting of Jewish sections in the trade union CGTU ), saluted Naye
Prese and asserted that Jewish workers appreciated its role in defending their rights and
showing them the way to fight ‘together with the French workers’. Editor Charny
repeated the message by saying that the meeting was proof that Jewish workers showed
their readiness to fight, instead of panicking, and that the Popular front was the only
solution to threats of ‘the enemies of our people’. Underlining this message of a Jewish
readiness to fight, in her final speech Gina Medem quoted Spanish communist leader
Dolores lbárruri, better known as La Pasionaria, who famously said that it is better ‘to
die standing than to live on your knees’.
The outing in Garches thus firmly linked the Botwin Company, and the struggle of
its Jewish volunteers, to the political struggle that Jewish communists waged on the
Jewish street in Paris, against the background of mounting pressure on Jewish migrants,
rising anti-Semitism and a looming European war. Ten days after the outing in Garches,
Gina Medem also participated in an ‘evening dedicated to the Spanish reportage’,
which was organized on the occasion of the publication of Elski’s book Reports from
the Spanish Fronts and also included appeareances by Egon Erwin Kisch and A. Yalti.154
On 16 July, an exchange of letters was published between volunteer Abraham Lissner
and Marc Chagall. Lissner reacted to an earlier article in which Chagall had ventured
that Jewish contemporary culture did not only revolve around writers and intellectuals
but included ordinary Jews and workers who opposed ‘our enemies’ with ‘clenched fists’.
Lissner responded that, more than clenching their fists, Jews had actually taken up
arms in Spain to resist Hitler and anti-Semitism. In his response, Chagall hailed Lissner
and his comrades, writing that ‘your names will shine in our history’, and added that
their participation constituted a ‘new biblical motive’.155
A day later, exactly two years after the start of the Spanish revolt, Naye Prese
published a ‘manifesto of the Botwin Company to the Jewish population’.156 It contained
116 Jewish Volunteers, the International Brigades and the Spanish Civil War

as a publication platform for Soviet-Yiddish writers.53 While it generally toed the party
line, the newspaper ‘explored a greater number of Jewish issues after the period of
liberalization in 1956’.54 In that year former prime minister Gomulka returned to
power, now as Secretary of the PZPR , following the death of prime minister Boleslaw
Bierut who was known as a Stalinist hardliner. In the aftermath of Gomulka’s return to
power, and against the backdrop of an internal power struggle, which unveiled the
anti-Semitism of certain factions in the ruling party, many Jews were purged from
their party positions and many emigrated.55 Nevertheless, during the brief thaw in the
immediate aftermath of Khrushchev’s famous February 1956 speech, and revelations
about the repression of Jewish culture under Stalin, Folks Shtime editors seem to have
felt more freedom to report on Jewish issues as well as Israel.56
The latter is well illustrated by a May 1956 article by Ber Mark, the director of the
Jewish Historical Institute (ZIH ) in Warsaw, in a supplement to the newspaper. Ber
strongly emphasized the historical significance of the Botwin Company, which, in his
opinion, ‘underlined the organised participation of Jews as a national collective’.57 Ber
was a lawyer who had published several works on Jewish resistance and the Warsaw
ghetto uprising. A former member of the Jewish Anti-fascist Committee, he became
ZIH ’s director in 1949. Mark emphasized the importance of collecting materials on
Jewish volunteers and of encouraging historians to work on this aspect of the ‘Jewish
struggle against fascism’. Though Mark did not mention it, work to this effect was
undertaken at that time by Botwin Company veteran Efraim Wuzek, whose collection
of materials and documents was transferred to the ZIH in 1967.58 Mark contended
that Jewish volunteers, especially those from Eastern Europe and Germany who had
witnessed fascist anti-Semitism first hand, saw their participation as a proxy for their
own battle against anti-Semitism. Importantly, Mark established a Jewish resistance
genealogy that started in Spain, by asserting that the Warsaw ghetto uprising had been
preceded by the participation of Jewish volunteers in the International Brigades and
the formation of the Botwin Company. This connection had in fact already been made
shortly after the war; during the fifth anniversary of the uprising in 1948, the flag of the
Botwin Company was paraded through the streets of Warsaw.59
As the Spanish Civil War occupied an important place on the communist calendar,
Folks Shtime also highlighted the war’s anniversaries, paying particular attention
to Polish participation in the International Brigades, including that of its Jewish
volunteers. Celebrating the 20th anniversary of the formation of the Polish Dombrowski
Battalion on 24 October 1936, a series of articles appeared in October 1956, which paid
tribute to the battalion and its Jewish volunteers. Especially interesting was an article
by Israel Centner, a former volunteer from Palestine and Secretary of the Israeli branch
of the International Brigade Association, who spoke about the ‘important role’ of
volunteers from ‘Eretz-Israel’ among the Jewish volunteers.60 In various biographical
notes Centner related the experiences of a number of Jewish volunteers whose
participation he described as ‘defending the honour of the Jewish people’. In the same
month a reprint of an article by Gershon Dua-Bogen appeared (he had died in a car
accident in 1948), which celebrated one of the commanders of the Botwin Company,
Karol Gutman.61 Dua-Bogen praised Gutman’s dedication to both his class and people
before explaining that the Botwin Company had been a symbol of the ‘Jewish struggle
Jewish Volunteers and Jewish Resistance 117

for freedom’. He then recalled the death of Chaskel Honigstein. Folks Shtime also
printed the names of those with a Jewish background who were honoured during an
official celebration in Warsaw of the 20th anniversary of the Dombrowski Brigade
where various veterans received official state medals.62
Such coverage might create the impression that Jewish concerns dominated
the pages of Folks Shtime when the experiences of Jewish volunteers were related.
Indeed, it is clear that sensibilities about Jewish cowardice were firmly addressed in
the newspaper, not only in the context of the Spanish Civil War but also that of
the Second World War.63 But attention to Jewish volunteers’ achievements was always
firmly placed within the context of their communist background and convictions. In
an overview of Jewish volunteers for instance, M. Krempel explained the double
motivation of Polish-Jewish volunteers, most of whom were die-hard communists.64
Many had been imprisoned, in several cases in Kartuz-Bereza, an infamous prison
where many political prisoners were held and that was, for Polish communists, the
symbol of the pre-war regime’s oppression. Having been in ‘Kartuz’ therefore testified
to an individual’s political integrity and the strength of his convictions. In addition
to this specific background, Krempel explained that anti-Semitism and pogroms in
pre-war Poland influenced Jewish volunteers as well; they saw the Spanish conflict as a
fight for their own freedom. This, he continued, also explained their numbers in Spain
where they felt like equals among other volunteers. Like others, Krempel described the
Botwin Company as the key symbol of Jewish participation in the International
Brigades.
On the occasion of the 20th anniversary of the Botwin Company, on 12 December
1957, Folks Shtime devoted two full pages to its history. The lead article described Spain
as the place where the ‘best sons of the Jewish people’ had fought against fascism, a
struggle that constituted one of the most beautiful chapters in the freedom struggle
of ‘our people’. This description was similar to that used by Naye Prese during the war,
and in line with the way in which the Comintern sought to propagate the participation
of volunteers in the International Brigades. But there was a familiar Jewish subtext
too; articles about a visit from La Pasionaria to the Dombrowski Brigade and the
150th Brigade’s commander General Walter to the Palafox Battalion (both reprints
from Botvin) served to underline the attention the Polish volunteers, and by extension
those in the Botwin Company, had received from key individuals in the International
Brigades and Spanish Republic. Given the anti-Jewish purges going on at the time,
printing these articles can also be seen as a comment on the contemporary situation of
Poland’s Jews.
In October and November 1966 a series of articles appeared by pre-war Naye Prese
editor Lerman under the title ‘The Jewish participation in the Spanish Civil War’.
Lerman explained in these articles what activities Jewish communists in Paris had
organized in support of Spain, and how the Botwin Company was founded and
subsequently managed on the battlefield. Unsurprisingly, he described communists
as the main force behind the various support campaigns among the Jewish population
in Paris. Perhaps reflecting the changed political climate in Poland, Lerman was
constrained in his analysis. Save for one remark abour ‘our heroes’, he put no stress on
Jewish heroism, nor discussed the importance of Jewish participation in the light
118 Jewish Volunteers, the International Brigades and the Spanish Civil War

of stereotypes of Jewish cowardice. More important than the factual information


he provided, though, are the conclusions he drew about Jewish participation in the
brigades in his final article: that Jewish volunteers felt fully responsible for the fate of
the Jewish people. Lerman mentioned the previously cited appeal sent by Jewish
volunteers in the French internment camps to Poland, in which they warned that Hitler
planned the physical destruction of the Jews.65 Underlining his argument, he added a
list of names of former Jewish volunteers who had fallen as part of the French resistance
during the Second World War. This Jewish resistance genealogy was also put forward
by Abraham Kwaterko, editor of Folks Shtime, in a 1977 article that recalled the history
of the Botwin Company. Contrary to Lerman though, Kwarerko stressed Jewish
heroism in Spain and beyond. In his opinion, the spirit of unity that Jewish volunteers
had shown in Spain had been continued in the ghettos of Warsaw and Bialistok, in
Sobibor and Treblinka and all fronts of the Second World War.66

Jewish volunteers in the Yiddish socialist press:


Samuel Shneiderman in Forverts
Despite differences in representations of Jewish volunteers and the Botwin Company
in Folks Shtime, no doubt closely related to changes in Poland’s political climate and
official censorship in the decades following the Second World War, one constant
emerged: the participation of Jewish volunteers in the International Brigades was seen
as a precursor to Jewish resistance during the Second World War. Even so, coverage
of their experiences was faithful to the postwar communist analysis of the International
Brigades, which, it should be noted, also served to underline the anti-fascist credentials
that the states behind the Iron Curtain sought to establish.67 No attention was paid in
Folks Shtime to the actual fate of Polish-Jewish veterans during the anti-Jewish
outbursts of the late 1950s and 1960s. Non-communist Yiddish newspapers of course
faced no political constraints or official censorship and were free to represent and
advocate the role of Jewish volunteers without adhering to communist frameworks.
This is well illustrated by the work of journalist Samuel Shneiderman (1906–96),
whose articles on Polish-Jewish volunteers in various Yiddish newspapers constitute,
in their totality, a mini-history of their postwar fate. In the 1970s and 1980s the New
York Yiddish socialist Forverts published a number of Shneiderman’s articles in
which he strongly emphasized the importance of the participation of Jewish volunteers
during the Spanish Civil War. What distinguished Shneiderman’s work from that of
his communist colleagues was his criticism of the role communists had played in
the Spanish conflict and what he saw as their downplaying of the role of Jewish
volunteers. At the same time, in foregrouding their participation as Jewish resistance,
he was less far removed from representations in Folks Shtime than his criticisms
might suggest.
Shneiderman spent the period between 1931 and 1939 in Paris and, during the
civil war, served as a correspondent for the Warsaw Haynt and Parizer Haynt. At
that time Shneiderman was sympathetic to the Linke Poale Zion.68 A collection of
his writings in this period appeared as War in Spain in 1938.69 Shneiderman kept a
life-long interest in the Spanish Civil War and many of his articles on Spain were
Jewish Volunteers and Jewish Resistance 119

published in various newspapers and magazines.70 His investigative journalism was


characterized by a striking attention to detail as well as a critical distance from his
subject matter, which is not to say he did not have his own agenda.71 Shneiderman was
in fact the only reporter to interview former veterans from Poland and report about
their postwar experiences, something that was strikingly absent from Folks Shtime,
which concentrated mostly on the more distant, and glorious, past.
At the same time, Shneiderman was sensitive to the reception of Jewish volunteers
during the Spanish Civil War and the symbolism of their presence in Spain. Thus he
recalls a speech given by Catalan president Lluís Companys when the Botwin Company
paraded past the palace of the regional government of Barcelona (which, he added,
contained a fragment of a seventh-century Jewish tombstone in its front wall).
According to Companys ‘this company . . . links the golden chain of the fighting
Republican Spain with the famous Jewish chapter in the history of our country, which
has been so brutally destroyed by the Catholic Inquisition’.72
Shneiderman’s views on Jewish volunteers were neatly summed up in an article on
the occasion of the war’s 40th anniversary, in which he contended that their role in the
defence of the Spanish Republic had been understated, though they had often been a
driving force in their units.73 In his estimation, around a third of approximately 35,000
volunteers had been of Jewish descent. Jews, he wrote, had come to Spain as anti-
fascists and Jews ‘with a premonition that a catastrophe for European Jewry would be
unavoidable should fascism triumph on the Iberian peninsula’. Many of them, he
asserted, had changed their names to avoid creating the impression of a ‘Jewish
International’ at work in Spain. And many Jews in the Soviet Union had done so too for
another reason: this was the period of the Moscow trials and the beginning of the
liquidation of Jewish institutions. The latter remarks capture Shneiderman’s position
vis-à-vis the Soviet Union’s role in Spain: he was full of praise for the sacrifices made by
the many volunteers but critical of what he saw as the communist urge to dominate
Spanish politics that undermined unity in the pro-Republican camp, a position he
elaborated on more extensively in later articles. He also wrote about his own position
as a reporter in Spain, being regarded by the ‘communist-dominated censorship’
as a representative of the ‘bourgeois-nationalist world press’ because of his press
affiliations.74
Shneiderman was not only averse to communist dogmatics but also highly
suspicious of Stalin’s attitude towards Jews, a position originating from his Parisian
period in the 1930s. In unpublished autobiographical notes he related the story of
the earlier mentioned World Yiddish Culture Congress that was held in Paris in 1937
and gathered many leftist writers of the time. Among the Soviet delegates no Jewish
representative was present and Shneiderman, ‘realising that the aim had been to
eliminate any spokesman for the Yiddish writers in the Soviet Union, a fact ignored by
the Jewish Communists in Paris’, filled the gap on the spot. Shneiderman later spoke
with Soviet-Jewish journalist Ilya Erenburg who apparently confirmed his suspicion.75
Whatever the truth of this story, it shows that already during the 1930s, before the
trials and execution of Bund leaders Alter and Erlikh in the early 1940s, and the
postwar elimination of the Jewish Anti-fascist Committee, non-communist Jewish
intellectual circles were well aware of the repression of Yiddish culture in the Soviet
120 Jewish Volunteers, the International Brigades and the Spanish Civil War

Union, something consistently ignored or denied in the Yiddish communist press at


least up until Stalin’s death.76
During the Spanish Civil War itself, Shneiderman had of course written about
Jewish volunteers, yet the importance he attached to their participation in the
International Brigades was dramatically altered by the Second World War: ‘The
importance of the heroic Jewish deeds on the Spanish fronts becomes clear only with
hindsight [italics mine]. I still have a lively memory of the Jewish boys and girls that
quickly became a driving force in the various military units in the International
Brigades, that carried the names of Polish, German, Hungarian, American or French
revolutionaries and freedom-fighters.’77 He contended that communist historians and
autobiographers, among others, deliberately downplayed the role played by volunteers
with a Jewish background. For that reason he set out to preserve the memory of Polish-
Jewish volunteers as Jewish volunteers,78 who fought as Jews in Spain. He pointed out
the tragic history of many Polish-Jewish volunteers who had played such an important
role in the Polish Communist Party: they had fought in Spain, they had taken part in
the liberation of Poland during the Second World War, and had helped build the new
Poland, only to be purged and pressured to leave the country during the anti-Zionist
campaign of 1967–8.79
Of particular interest in this respect are Shneiderman’s remarks on Eugeniusz Szyr,
the real name of Misha Reger, the first political commissar of the Botwin Company and
later the Palafox Battalion. Shneiderman contended that his transfer to the Palafox
Battalion was not a regular military promotion but had occurred because Szyr
consciously left the Botwin Company, realizing that ‘Moscow’ did not look favourably
upon such utterances of ‘Jewish nationalism’.80 Shneiderman elsewhere recalled a
meeting of International Brigades veterans in Warsaw in 1946 where Szyr gave a speech
in which he praised the heroism of Polish volunteers without mentioning the number
of Jews among them, nor the existence of the Botwin Company.81 Shneiderman again
focused on Szyr in 1976. Szyr had been a member of the Polish polit-buro and was
vice-premier under Gomulka, but came under attack during the anti-Zionist campaign
of 1967–8 and was not re-elected to the polit-buro.82 Shneiderman alleged that there
were bitter feelings towards him among Polish-Jewish veterans who claimed that Szyr
had forbidden them to remind anyone about his role in the Botwin Company.83
In this context another article should also be mentioned that was published under
the telling title ‘Communist move to keep silent about Jewish resistance’.84 It was a
report on the International Brigades reunion in Florence in 1976 on the occasion of the
40th anniversary of the Spanish Civil War and Shneiderman used it to make a point
about what he considered to be the resistance of European communist parties against
perceived ‘Jewish nationalism’. During the discussion of a resolution that mentioned the
participation of International Brigades veterans in European resistance movements
during the Second World War, the Israeli delegates had proposed to include a reference
to the fighters in the Warsaw ghetto uprising, a proposal that was dismissed by
the presidium of the conference presidium (which included Szyr). According to
Shneiderman, a subsequent closed-door meeting resulted in the removal of any reference
to resistance, ‘so as not to have to mention the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising’. One of those
responsible for the proposal to include the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising, though, was the
Jewish Volunteers and Jewish Resistance 121

Israeli delegate, and communist Ber Balti, a former member of the KPP who had also
been on the politburo of the Israeli Communist Party. Interestingly, Balti himself did
not mention the ‘incident’ in an article published in Morgn Frayhayt.85
Elsewhere, Shneiderman also related his friendship with Marko Perić from
Yugoslavia, whom he knew from the International Brigades reunion held in Ljubljana in
1971. On that occasion Perić had expressed bitterness about the tendency in the
leadership of the veterans’ association to keep silent about the role of Jews in the
International Brigades.86 The same Perić would publish an article on Jewish volunteers
from Yugoslavia in the International Brigades in 1975.87 During the Ljubljana
conference, Shneiderman wrote, the contribution of various peoples to the defence of the
Republic was mentioned, except that of the Jews. The matter was also ignored by Dolores
Ibaruri in a speech in which she criticized Israel for its ‘aggression against the
Arab peoples’. Shneiderman allegedly embarrassed her when asking her privately
whether she had heard about any Arab volunteers in the International Brigades
and subsequently told her that 400 volunteers from ‘Eretz-Israel’ had joined the
International Brigades.

Beyond Yiddish: Jewish volunteers as Jewish resistance fighters

As Yiddish newspapers continued to publish autobiographical and journalistic


accounts recounting the experiences of Jewish volunteers in Spain, more systematic
historical narratives began to appear in languages other than Yiddish from the early
1970s onwards. Of particular importance were two articles, published by Josef Toch
and Alberto Fernandez, which would become seminal texts in debates about Jewish
volunteers in the years to follow. Toch was an Austrian-Jewish volunteer and communist
who left the Austrian Communist Party (KP Ö) in 1956 and later joined the Socialist
Party (SP Ö).88 His 1974 article Juden im Spanischen Krieg (Jews in the Spanish Civil
War) constituted the first attempt to provide a statistical and general historical overview
of Jewish volunteers that fought in the brigades. Almost every author since Toch has
used his oddly precise figure of 7,758 volunteers of Jewish origin. He also planned a
book on the topic but for health reasons never managed to finish it.89 Fernandez, on the
other hand, was an exiled Spanish republican who lived in Paris. He had been the
Secretary of Alvarez de Vayo, the Republic’s foreign minister, and was neither a veteran
nor of Jewish descent.90 Though basing his work on that of Toch, Fernandez estimated
the number of Jewish volunteers to have been higher than 8,500.91 In reaction to his
article, Albert Prago enthusiastically commented that it was published ‘by a Spanish
Catholic . . . while Franco was still alive!’92 Similarly, Shneiderman wrote that it could
never have been published in any communist country, and pointed out how remarkable
it was that it had been published, of all places, in Franco’s Spain.93 Elsewhere, he
reiterated his enthusiasm for Fernandez’s work since ‘the Jewish participation in the
Spanish Civil War is consciously suppressed by communist historians’.94
Nevertheless, several Jewish veterans and historians in communist Eastern Europe had
begun to undertake research on Jewish volunteers and managed to publish it. While
Botwin Company veteran Efraim Wuzek was gathering material about Polish-Jewish
Jewish Volunteers in Parizer Haynt and Undzer Shtime 97

articles would be published in Parizer Haynt in the course of the war. Since Nenni was
not a communist he was clearly an acceptable spokesperson for newspapers like Parizer
Haynt that were loath to credit the communists or emphasize their role.
That being said, Parizer Haynt did offer its readers the communist view on the
brigades when it published an interview with its chief political commissar, Mario
Nicoletti.31 Nicoletti provided the official Comintern version of the history of the
brigades: that of a spontaneously created army in which volunteers from various
political backgrounds were united in their fight against the common fascist enemy. It is
revealing to compare this Nicoletti interview with the one published in Naye Prese a
month earlier. In the Naye Prese interview, conducted by Elski, Nicoletti spoke about
the different nationalities in the brigades, its Jewish volunteers and early attempts to
form a Jewish unit, while emphasizing the courage of Polish-Jewish volunteers whose
participation negated stereotypes of Jews being incapable fighters. By contrast, the
Parizer Haynt interview was taken from the German Volkszeitung, the organ of the
Kommunistische Partei Deutschlands (German Communist Party, KPD ). It only dealt
in very general terms with the brigades and did not address the role of Jewish volunteers
at all. For Naye Prese, the interview clearly served to mobilize its readership in favour
of the Spanish cause, the International Brigades and its Jewish volunteers. For Parizer
Haynt’s editors this was of little importance, even if they undoubtedly knew of the Naye
Prese interview which, after all, had been published earlier.
After the publication of the interview with Nicoletti, which coincided with reports
on the International Conference for Aid to the Spanish Republic that was held in Paris
in February 1937, attention to the experiences of Jewish volunteers increased somewhat.
A group of Linke Poale Zion volunteers left Paris at the end of January and sent a letter
ten days later, explaining that they had been welcomed enthusiastically ‘by the non-
Jewish fighters and Spanish population’.32 Parizer Haynt’s Belgian correspondent,
Nirenberger, interviewed the Belgian socialist leader, Camille Huysmans, ‘who told me
facts about heroic Jews who distinguish themselves on the front’.33 Significantly, this
was a minor detail in the article even though it was highlighted in its subtitle. Yet while
Jewish participation, even heroism, was thus emphasized, this would never become a
key trope in reports about Jewish volunteers. Indeed, a letter of a Jewish volunteer
published in the same issue as the Huysmans interview underlined the participation of
Jewish volunteers in the fight against fascism: ‘Many are the Jewish youngsters from
France and other countries who, from the first day of the fascist attack on the Spanish
republic, can be found in the first lines of struggle in Spain.’34 Tellingly, however, Parizer
Haynt’s editors did not use the opportunity to frame the letter as an example of the
point made by Huysmans about ‘heroic Jews’.
Parizer Haynt also higlighted aspects of the volunteer experience that were absent
from the pages of Naye Prese. Some reports, for instance, noted that Jewish volunteers
had gone to Spain without notifying their family, as had been the case for Jacques
Menachem. The effect of these sudden disappearances on the volunteers’ relatives was
illustrated in a plea from a desperate father who wanted to know whether his son was
still alive. In a letter to Parizer Haynt he begged its readers to provide any information
they might have on his son’s whereabouts. His son, Maurice Levin, was a 22-year-old
former LICA activist who used to write regularly from Spain but had not done so for
Jewish Volunteers and Jewish Resistance 123

Wherever Jews lived, there were recognized Jewish leaders, and this leadership,
almost without exception, cooperated in one way or another, for one reason or
another, with the Nazis. The whole truth was that if the Jewish people had really
been unorganized and leaderless, there would have been chaos and plenty of
misery but the total number of victims would hardly have been between four and
a half and six million people.105

The public furore caused by the views of Bettelheim, Hilberg and Arendt fed into
emerging debates about wartime Jewish responses, which were also shaped by the
appearance of resistance as an object of scholarly attention around the 1970s more
generally.106 Both factors contributed to the organization of the first Conference on
Manifestations of Jewish Resistance that took place in Jerusalem in 1968.107 Importantly,
since then the concept of resistance has come to encompass much more than acts of
armed resistance.108
The Jewish resistance debate fundamentally shaped the way in which the experiences
of Jewish volunteers in the International Brigades would become framed. The question
now became, first and foremost, if Jewish participation in the International Brigades
constituted Jewish resistance. In relation to that, a second question about the nature of
Jewish volunteering for Spain came to the fore: if most Jewish volunteers had been
communists, then how could, or should, their Jewishness be foregrounded? Both issues
were heavily contested. The International Conference of Jewish Fighters in the
International Brigades in Spain, organized in Tel-Aviv in 1972, brought together a number
of Jewish veterans and others from Europe and the United States, including Fernandez
and Toch. The insistence of the organizers on framing Jewish participation in the
International Brigades as Jewish resistance proved divisive, however. The same was true
for the Polish pensions affair, which had been playing out since 1968 and was one of the
conference’s discussion points. It is no coincidence, then, that Victor Berch, head of special
collections at Brandeis University Library and as such also archivist of the Abraham
Lincoln Brigade Archives, made the following remarks in 1975, in a letter to Fredericka
Martin, who had been the chief nurse of the American medical volunteers in Spain:

There are two schools of thought about Jews in the SCW and I do not know
to which school of thought I adhere. . . . One is to emphasise every Jew that took
part, because this was actually the first armed struggle against fascism and any
Jew who took part in it should be remembered as a resistance fighter. The other
school of thought is that it should not be emphasised since it may tend to make
the SCW look like a Jewish war, caused and created by Jews. Of course that
train of thought is false but could readily be believed when so many Jewish
participants are pushed to the forefront. Take for example the Yugoslavians.
Of about 1700 Yugoslavian participants there may have been 20 to 30 Jews who
took part in the SCW. On the other hand, among the Polish volunteers, the
percentage is way, way higher. And not all these statistics are true statistics. Many
of the Poles lived in France and are counted both as Polish volunteers and French
volunteers. All of which makes a lovely mess of figures which means absolutely
nothing.109
124 Jewish Volunteers, the International Brigades and the Spanish Civil War

Berch was keenly aware of the heated discussions among American-Jewish veterans
that were prompted by the Polish pensions affair and the Tel-Aviv conference. He also
provided valuable research assistance to David Diamant, who was preparing a revised
French edition of his original Yiddish book about Jewish volunteers, and was part
of its Committee of Patrons, which revealed a huge network of Jewish veterans
and International Brigades organizations in the United States, Europe and Israel.
Despite the potential of the French edition to reach a much wider audience than the
Yiddish original, only 250 copies were printed and the publisher seems to have
been Diamant himself.110 Nevertheless, the book was successful in drawing attention
to the participation of Jewish volunteers among non-Yiddish speaking audiences.111
Fredericka Martin even pushed the VALB to publish an English edition, without
success though. Even so, Albert Prago drew extensively upon Diamant’s research, in
addition to that of Toch and Fernandez.112
Berch’s network thus comprised several veterans and historians who were looking
for information on Jewish volunteers that allowed him a qualified insight into the
sensitivities and concerns informing discussions about Jewish volunteers. Berch also
compiled an extensive bibliography on the topic in 1985, which is especially strong
in journalism, and includes books and articles from magazines and newspapers in
English, Yiddish, Polish, Russian, French, German and other languages.113 In the 1980s,
Arno Lustiger also received valuable assistance from Berch.114 Reflecting a broader
interest in the experiences of minorities within the International Brigades, Berch was
also co-editor of a volume on African Americans that fought in the Spanish Civil War,
published in the early 1990s.115
As an archivist he maintained a professional, but by no means indifferent, stance
towards the topic as the reflections he offered to Martin show, yet for those who relied
upon his services much was at stake. Following the Tel-Aviv conference, and against
the background of the Polish pensions affair, a heated debate between the two ‘schools’
that Berch alluded to erupted in the pages of the magazine Jewish Currents. Taking
place between the late 1960s and early 1980s, the pensions affair, conference and Jewish
Currents debate paved the way for the reconstruction of the participation of Jewish
volunteers as Jewish resistance fighters, a narrative that would be firmly solidified by
the late 1980s.
7

Debating Jewish Volunteers: The Long 1970s

The campaign for Polish-Jewish veterans

I must admit the whole truth. During the time between the Wars, from my first arrest
in 1927 until I joined Sikorski’s Army in 1939, I never suffered as a Jew in my
‘relations’ with the persecution apparatus: the police officers, prosecutors, judges,
wardens, and other officials. Not one of them, even if he was a convinced and beastly
anti-Semite, showed it. Only in People’s Poland did the ‘comrades’ make it clear and
remind me that I was unworthy and that I carried the Jewish hump. Under this
regime I felt frustrated, hurt, and in the end, I was spit at and turned out of the
country.1

In the period between June 1967 and late 1968, a series of events took place in Poland
that are often referred to as the anti-Zionist campaign.2 What began as an anti-Israel
campaign in June 1967, following the Six-Day War in the Middle East, quickly evolved
into a full-blown drive to purge the party and state institutions from those with Jewish
origins. This anti-Jewish campaign accelerated in particular after the student protests
of March 1968, which were harshly put down.3 Many Polish Jews, party members or
not, were purged from their positions and jobs. Since emigration, not coincidentally,
was allowed again, these Jews, faced with the choice of staying in a country where they
were under constant attack, or leaving, chose the latter. As Jaff Schatz put it: ‘Surrounded
by a massive wall of official hostility and a largely intimidated or indifferent society, for
most there was nothing to do but leave.’4 Leaving, however, meant forfeiting one’s
Polish citizenship and rights to pensions. Among those who left and migrated to Israel,
France and Sweden, were various Jewish veterans of the Dombrowski Brigade,
including Alexander Szurek and Emmanuel Mink, one of the Botwin Company’s
commanders, who went to France. In an article in Morgn Frayhayt about the anti-
Jewish campaign, aptly titled ‘Was Botwin a “Chauvinist”?’, A. Grosman related Mink’s
story.5 To further illustrate the anti-Jewish sentiments that had been unleashed he also
gave the example of a Jewish cooperative, named after Botwin, that had been founded
in 1946. In July 1968, the non-Jewish chairman of the cooperative proposed to rename
it since Botwin smacked of Jewish ‘national-chauvinist sentiments’.6 Having lost their
pensions, from previously held jobs as well as their participation in the anti-fascist
struggle in Spain, Jewish veterans who left Poland often lived in difficult circumstances,
sometimes aggravated by war-related handicaps or health problems.7 Importantly, by

125
126 Jewish Volunteers, the International Brigades and the Spanish Civil War

virtue of the cause of their predicament, the Jewish backgrounds of these veterans were
foregrounded when support began to be mobilized.
International Brigades veterans in Israel came almost immediately to the aid of the
newly arrived Polish-Jewish veterans. They organized meetings and also began to
mobilize support abroad. The bulletin of the Israeli Communist Party, for instance,
reported on a meeting held in August 1969 by eighty recently migrated veterans that
was intended to undertake action to restore their pension rights. At the same meeting
a decision was also made to ‘appeal to the Israeli government to grant the Spanish anti-
fascist fighters the same rights as all anti-Nazi fighters’.8 One of the first documented
contacts abroad concerning the pension issue was that between the Israeli International
Brigades Association (IBA ) and the London based Socialist Current, a Trotskyist
journal whose editor was Sam Levy.9 In a letter to the journal, Shalom Shiloni, secretary
of the Israeli IBA , explained what had happened to the Polish-Jewish veterans that had
recently come to Israel and what causes underlay their predicament. Shiloni was
himself a Polish Jew, who had migrated to France around 1930 to study. He fought in
the French Henri Vuillemin Battalion and later the Botwin Company.10 More letters
were sent in April 1970 by Gabriel Ersler on behalf of a special support committee for
Polish-Jewish veterans, registered at the address of a certain Schleyen in Tel-Aviv.
These names reveal that Polish-Jewish veterans themselves drove the initiative: Ersler,
also known as Gabriel Ersler Sichon, had been working for the medical staff of the
International Brigades as a doctor and, as already mentioned, later published several
articles about Jewish volunteers.11 Mieczyslaw Schleyen had been the editor of of the
first Yiddish brigades bulletin Frayhaytskemfer and later became editor of the
Dombrowski Brigade newspaper Dombrowchak, together with his wife Zofia.12
Ersler also sent a letter, with Shalom Shiloni, to American-Jewish veteran John
Gates with a request to get the Veterans of the Abraham Lincoln Brigade (VALB ) in
America involved.13 Gates was a one-time editor of the CPUSA’s Daily Worker but had
left the party in 1958 having become increasingly critical of the Soviet Union. Ersler
furthermore asked an anonymous friend to write to Dr Barsky in the United States in
order to obtain his support.14 Barsky had played an important role in organizing
medical support for the Spanish republic in America and became head of the medical
service of the International Brigades. One week later a letter went out from Nan Green,
Secretary of the British IBA , to Dr Barsky, on behalf of Len Crome, like Ersler a doctor
in the International Brigades.15 Thus, Barsky came into contact with the Israeli IBA .16
According to Gates, an ‘emissary’ of Barsky later met with the Polish-Jewish veterans in
Israel.17
Through John Gates, the correspondence was sent to veteran and VALB member
Saul Wellman who, in turn, asked Jewish Currents editor Morris Schappes to look into
the matter, especially in order to verify the claims of ‘forced migration’ from Poland.18
Thus, the VALB became involved, although it remains unclear if they were ever
formally approached as an organization.19 Schappes, through his contacts, was soon
able to confirm to Wellman that the problem was real and the Polish-Jewish veterans
had left Poland for good reason.20 Schappes also asked if Wellman had talked to Steve
Nelson, the National Commander of the VALB , and offered Wellman the opportunity
to publish an appeal for support in Jewish Currents. Wellman, however, made it clear
Debating Jewish Volunteers 127

that he was not sure what tactic to follow in order to ‘move others’ and wrote that ‘the
Vets’ knew the issue but added he did not know ‘why they have not moved’.
Wellman was acutely aware that helping the Polish-Jewish veterans in Israel would
cause problems, since it inevitably implied criticism of socialist Poland, something that
was sure to provoke opposition within the VALB . He explained to Schappes that he
was not against exposing ‘anti-Socialist actions taking place within the Socialist camp’
but felt this had to be done ‘in the context of moving forces within the Socialist camp
. . . that is the only way a breakthru [sic] can be made’. He added that he preferred ‘a
struggle within the Vets organisation than to start off with a public denunciation’.21
Further correspondence from Schappes makes clear that VALB commander Steve
Nelson was familiarizing himself with the situation.22 Schappes also contacted Schleyen
in Israel to make sure he would be informed directly about the matter and that Jewish
Currents could report on it.23
By June 1971, the pension issue was now on the agenda of progressive Jewish
America as well as, at least informally, the VALB . The next step was to mobilize the
VALB itself, which proved to be as contentious as Wellman had predicted. In early June
1971, Saul Wellman and veteran Milton Wolff, both Jewish, joined up and together
made a number of proposals to the new incoming board of the VALB .24 Wolff, who
had become famous as the last commander of the Abraham Lincoln Battalion in Spain,
had also been contacted by the Israeli IBA .25 The Wellman-Wolff proposal entailed: 1)
putting the pension matter on top of the agenda; 2) sharing information and
correspondence so far conducted; 3) petitioning the Polish government to restore the
pensions; and 4) the imposition of a deadline of 1 September 1971 to start things
moving.26 Wolff discussed these proposals later with the old board in a meeting where
it turned out all previous correspondence that had been sent to the VALB had been
‘discarded’ by its then chairman. Under pressure, a motion was adopted to the effect
that the new board would take up the proposals and be provided with copies of past
correspondence.27
Meanwhile, Wellman also kept in touch on the events with John Gates, who was
scathing in his criticism of the VALB and the way it operated with regard to the Polish-
Jewish veterans:

I hope the VALB will accept your recommendations [of Wellman and Wolff ]. It
will be a first step towards retrieving the honour of the VALB . What I mean is the
thunderous silence of the VALB (which is so loud in its condemnation of American
imperialism) with respect to the crimes committed by the Communist world not
only in general but especially towards veterans of the International Brigades and
the Jewish people. If we really believe in the motto we carry so proudly on our
banner – ‘that liberty shall not perish from the earth’ – we have to act accordingly
wherever and whenever and by whomever it is violated.28

The new board indeed undertook action and sent a letter to the Polish ambassador
to the United States, Jerzy Michalowski.29 Subsequently a VALB delegation met with a
member of the Polish mission to the United Nations in October 1971 but to no avail.30
Meanwhile the story was also picked up by Morgn Frayhayt.31 In January 1972 it
128 Jewish Volunteers, the International Brigades and the Spanish Civil War

published ‘An Appeal for Polish-Jewish Vets’, made by former Botwin Company
veterans during the 35th anniversary celebration of the founding of the International
Brigades in France.32 The VALB also decided to write to the Polish government and
other International Brigade Associations around the world.33
This news was received with a warm welcome by Fredericka Martin, who had
worked in Spain under Dr Barsky. Residing in Mexico, she was preparing a book on the
medical services of the IB , maintained correspondence with dozens of veterans, and
had taken an active interest in the affair. Her contributions to the pension campaign
(and also the Tel-Aviv conference of late 1972) were characterized by consistent
attempts to infuse the discussion with a more humane perspective that transcended
ideological divides. Thus she pointed out in a letter that she could well ‘imagine how
hard it will be to agree on words, commas, etc., in formulating letters’ but that the guide
should be ‘what the Polish veterans themselves want’.
Nonetheless, the issue remained controversial among the VALB membership. As
Peter Carroll has summarized the whole affair: ‘The Communists backed the Polish
government; the non-party members, charging anti-Semitism, urged compensation for
their fellow veterans’.34 Indeed, charging a ‘people’s democracy’ with anti-Semitism
proved controversial and some sought to solve the issue by ignoring the Jewish context
of the story altogether. As Martin wrote in a letter to Len Crome in the UK , ‘As one
die-hard vet just wrote me – “I don’t buy this anti-Semitism business. . . . we are asking
the Polish gov. to pay pensions to Poles in all lands, without mentioning the word
Jewish.” I find this omission shocking.’35 The identity of this veteran was not clear but a
similar line was taken by Milton Wolff who attempted to treat the matter in purely
technical terms, something for which he was taken to task by others: ‘What’s to say
about Milt’s position? “Botwin” – hell, he won’t use the word [. . .] After all the
rationalizations, Milton, aren’t you bothered – even a little bit.’36 As Wolff was of Jewish
origin himself, this example shows that the differences within the VALB could not
simply be reduced to personal backgrounds.
In view of all this it is hardly surprising that the letter that went out from the VALB
to other veterans organizations about the pension problem obfuscated the real issue
and spoke of ‘Polish-Jewish veterans of the anti-fascist struggle who found it necessary
to emigrate from Poland, thereby having to give up citizenship and pension rights’
(italics mine).37 Such a formulation clearly left open the question of why intervention
was required for veterans who themselves ‘found it necessary’ to emigrate. On the other
hand, openly speaking of Polish anti-Semitism at the time was sure to antagonize other
veterans organizations. It is clear that the VALB leadership was aware of the delicate
nature of the case and thus operated strategically. Indeed, other veterans organizations
were not very responsive to the matter.38 A letter from the East-German Solidarity
Committee for the Spanish People politely pointed out that no cases were known of in
the GDR , hardly an unexpected answer for an organization from Poland’s socialist
neighbour and fellow ‘people’s democracy’.39
The result of these efforts, then, was rather meagre. Via the Polish mission to the UN ,
the VALB managed to obtain an address in Poland to which it was told to write in order
to ask for restoration of pension rights. The address was forwarded to the Israeli IBA
and eventually thirteen applications were sent from Israel to Poland. Not all Polish-
Jewish Volunteers in Parizer Haynt and Undzer Shtime 103

non-intervention policy.71 These articles also highlighted the independence of the


French Bundists from the SFIO, as opposed to the Jewish communists who had to toe
the general PCF and Comintern line on Spain. In early May, Polish Bund leader Viktor
Alter visited Paris and spoke about the situation in Spain at a meeting of the Medem
Farband.72 Alter had been in Spain with Polish socialist leader Antoni Zdanowski as
Polish trade union representatives where they made a joint appearance with a
representative of the Polish Communist Party, Gustaw Reicher.73 For this reason, Alter
was attacked in the Polish right-wing press and he responded by denying that the
International Brigades were a Comintern army.74
Naye Prese also picked up on the story; the newspaper praised Alter for his stance
whereas less than a month earlier it had labelled him the ‘lawyer of the Spanish
Trotskyists’.75 This was not an isolated accusation. The Medem Farband, for instance,
was criticized when it organized a meeting with a speaker who denounced the anti-
Trotskyist trials that were staged in Moscow at the time. In an editorial, Spero criticized
the Medem Farband for turning their meetings into ‘pro-Trotskyist platforms’ and
advised them to follow the path of the French socialists who had turned down
Trotskyism.76 All of this meant, by implication, that the Parisian Bundists could not be
trusted, even if Naye Prese was careful not to accuse them directly, at least until the
formation of the Botwin Company. Such discussions were not without danger for
Bundist volunteers within the politicized atmosphere of the International Brigades
where alleged political dissent could result in repatriation to France or possible
internment. As Naye Prese was read in Spain, its articles contributed to a general
atmosphere of mistrust towards Bundists fighting in the International Brigades.
Differences between Bundist and Jewish communist assessments of the Spanish
Civil War centred around the role of the Soviet Union in Spain. The June issue of 1937,
published after the Barcelona May days in which intra-Republican strife had turned
violent, reflected these differences very well. It contained a factual overview of the
events in Barcelona, mostly based on a piece from the French newspaper Depeche de
Toulouse.77 However, an article by T. Dan entitled ‘The Spanish Crisis’ summed up the
Bundist position.78 After reviewing the political situation in the wake of the May days,
Dan discussed the increased strength of the Spanish Communist Party. He commented
that the PCE had only gained its new strength due to support of the Soviet Union and
thus in effect had become a Spanish supporter of ‘Stalin’s dictatorship’ and simply
carried out the latter’s policies. The result was that Spanish politics became subordinate
to the fight against the Soviet Union’s main enemy, Hitler’s Nazi Germany and its
supporters, and placed victory above all else. According to Dan, communist support
of the ‘bourgeois-democratic’ Republic effectively meant a betrayal of the interests
of the ‘proletarian mass movement operating under the anarcho-syndicalist banner’.
The PCE was, according to him, also responsible for importing Stalin’s struggle
against Trotskyists in Spain and could turn out to be a problematic factor in the
new Spanish government. Moreover, by taking away the prospect of a social liberation
from the Spanish masses, the party undermined a possible victory and the people’s
morale.
Behind this analysis lay a sharp ideological difference of opinion over the kind of
political alliance that was desirable to fight fascism. Bundists favoured a coalition of
130 Jewish Volunteers, the International Brigades and the Spanish Civil War

Spanish Civil War who stood up for Israel during the Six Day War’ in a letter to a
contact within the Jewish community of Cleveland where he lived.47 Clearly, Miller
tried to liken the cause of Polish-Jewish veterans to that of Israel in an attempt to
garner broad support. Yet his remarks were not only untrue, but also ran counter to
what was put forward by others within the VALB , namely that most of the Polish-
Jewish veterans were good communists until they had been forced to leave Poland.
Nonetheless, the VALB’s board in late 1977 was more inclined to openly engage the
problem, as previous passions seemed to have somewhat subsided. Thus, efforts were
renewed and Irving Weissman was appointed as the coordinator of a new ‘Botwin
Committee’. The very naming of the committee highlighted how the Botwin Company
had now become a pars pro toto for all Polish-Jewish volunteers as far as the VALB was
concerned. The new élan was welcomed by Israeli IBA secretary, Shiloni, who wrote to
Martin that ‘the fact of removing the domination of the extremist group may lead to the
desired success’, a reference to those who would not allow criticism of the ‘misdeeds of the
Polish government’.48 In Shiloni’s view those misdeeds had taken another cynical turn
with the publication of a book on the International Brigades in Poland in which, according
to him, ‘the names which sound Jewish have been eliminated so as to give the impression
that no Jews had participated’.49 Weissman sent out questionnaires to the Polish-Jewish
veterans in Israel and France to enquire about their situation and whether or not they
were still deprived of Polish pensions.50 By the end of 1977 there was a steady exchange of
information between Israel (mostly Shiloni), France (where veterans Alexander Szurek
and Emmanuel Mink lived) and the United States (Martin, Weissman and Miller).
The VALB board also asked Miller to provide information, probably because of his
network in Israel and knowledge of the case. Miller thereupon wrote a lengthy article,
‘The background of the Botwin pension problem’. He was rather pessimistic about the
chances for success but that, to him, was not the only important thing: ‘there is a
practical aspect to this endeavour: to bring the Botwins, all SCW vets, into Jewish
history, where they belong’.51 This time the board made efforts to actually involve the
VALB membership. Thus, details of the case were published in The Volunteer in several
issues of 1978 and 1979. Again, other veterans organizations were contacted but ‘only
the Swedish responded saying that they were too busy fighting fascism in Iran and
Indonesia’.52 During the 28–29 April 1979 VALB National Convention, Weissman gave
a report of VALB efforts undertaken so far, which was followed by an extensive, and
heated, discussion. The meeting finally adopted the following resolution in which,
ironically and cynically, ‘Botwin’ was now used as shorthand for Polish-Jewish veterans
without having to use the word ‘Jewish’:

VALB reaffirms its solidarity with the Botwin veterans. Regardless of any
differences which may have arisen between them and the Polish government, they
are comrades who fought alongside of us. We consider it unfortunate that while
the Polish government had modified its policy on pensions for others who have
left Poland, it has not seen fit to do so for the Botwins. We will continue our efforts
to persuade the People’s Republic of Poland to change this policy. International
solidarity demands it. We have a moral obligation to insist that the pensions and
honour which the Botwins have earned be restored to them.53
Debating Jewish Volunteers 131

Letters were also sent to Poland. Thus, the chair of the VALB Historical Commission,
Randall B. Smith, wrote to the official Polish war veterans organization, the Society of
Fighters for Freedom and Democracy (ZB oWiD), which denied any problems existed
by stating that ‘our state ideology excludes all forms of persecutions of anyone on the
ground of his national origin’, which also included Jewish Dombrowsky veterans.54 The
ZB oWiD also asserted that all former International Brigades soldiers received their
pensions and several special allowances. Of course, this circumvented the question of
what provision was made for those veterans who no longer resided in Poland. This
stance, however, was hardly surprising as the ZB oWiD chairman at the time was
Mieczysław Moczar, a former Polish general and key player in the anti-Jewish campaign
of 1967–1968. At the same time, the ZB oWiD under Moczar had few qualms about
instrumentalizing Jewish issues to further its nationalist agenda; in April 1978 the
organization hosted an award ceremony of Yad Vashem Righteous Gentiles medals in
connection with the opening of the new Jewish pavillion at the Auschwitz concentration
camp.55 The VALB also approached the Polish ruling party directly by sending a letter
to its first Secretary, Edward Gierek, to no avail.56
This new wave of activities, however, lost most of its momentum when Miller died
on 24 December 1977, and Weissman started a new job that left him much less time to
be involved with the pension issue. Martin partly took over his correspondence.57 It
was only in 1980 that the 1968 events became a topic of discussion in Poland itself,
following an open letter by a group of Polish intellectuals in the weekly Polityka, and it
took until 1986 before General Jaruzelski acknowledged past mistakes. When that
happened, the Israeli veterans once more tried to petition the Polish regime.58 Similarly,
Nelson and Weissman for the VALB wrote to Jaruzelski, once more reiterating their
request for pension restoration.59 Two years later, upon receiving news of Polish
acknowledgement of the ‘political error committed in 1967 and 1968’ and new
initiatives to combat anti-Semitism, they asked the Polish ambassador of the Polish
mission to the UN to take up the matter with Jaruzelski.60 No answer is among the
personal papers of those directly involved.61
A new chapter in the story, however, came in the post-communist era when Poland
began a reckoning with its communist past, which continues to this day. In 1990,
Eugeniusz Szyr wrote to the VALB with a request to support Polish veterans of the
International Brigades; the Polish parliament had voted to take away their war pension
rights since they had not fought ‘in the interest of the country’.62 Within a month, the
VALB had organized a campaign and sent money to its Polish sister organization.63
Efforts to limit the rights of Polish brigade veterans resurfaced in 2007, when the Polish
government prepared new war pensions legislation that, once again, included
discontinuation of payments to Spanish Civil War veterans.64 Around the same time,
then Polish president Lech Kaczynski promised to restore the citizenship of those Jews
who had been forced to leave the country in 1968 during a speech in commemoration
of the 40th anniversary of the anti-Zionist campaign.65 As a result, Polish-Jewish
veterans who had left Poland in 1968 were being welcomed back as Jews, but stood to
lose their pensions as International Brigades veterans.
Attempts to erase the memory of Polish volunteers did not only take place on a
legislative level. In the 1990s, inscriptions commemorating their struggles in the
132 Jewish Volunteers, the International Brigades and the Spanish Civil War

Spanish Civil War were also removed from the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier in
Warsaw and other monuments.66 In 2015 the City of Warsaw proposed to change the
name of a street named after the Dombrowski Battalion; a plan that was shelved
following protests by local campaigners and International Brigades veterans
organizations.67 As a result of these actions, on 1 March 2016, a performance was staged
in honour of the veterans of the Polish Dombrowski Brigade at the Tomb by Zuza
Ziółkowska-Hercberg, a young Polish artist whose grandfather fought in the Botwin
Company. The choice of date was not a coincidence; 1 March is a national holiday in
Poland during which the anti-communist resistance against the Polish regime that
was established in the aftermath of the Second World War is commemorated. The
performance aimed to ‘demonstrate that the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier should
be a memorial of collective history of the Polish citizens, fighting for the freedom
and independence at different fronts of war, and not be dependent on the changes of
the current political mood’.68 The event was thus intended to symbolically undo the
erasure of the memory of Polish volunteers. During the performance the poem ‘Glory
and Dynamite’ by Władysław Broniewski was read at the Tomb where a tricolour
flower wreath was laid, which symbolized the flag of the International Brigades. The
performance had a profound Jewish subtext, however. In addition to a reconstructed
banner of the Adam Mickiewicz Battalion, a flag of the Botwin Company was also
carried along, a copy made after the original that is kept in the Jewish Historical
Institute. As Ziółkowska-Hercberg later told, she did not refer to the use of the Botwin

Figure 7.1 Demonstration in Warsaw at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, 1 March 2016,
with flags of the Botwin Company (left) and Adam Mickiewicz Battalion (right)
Source: © Mikołaj Tym.
Debating Jewish Volunteers 133

flag in the official publicity for the performance as she ‘didn’t want the discourse around
the need to preserve the memory of the members of the International Brigades to
resolve into problems of minority particularly disliked by right-wing circles, which
have a monopoly in Poland now for creating the historical narration’. Indeed, the
inspiration for the event was profoundly personal for Ziółkowska-Hercberg and also a
tribute to her late grandfather. More than a commemoration of Polish volunteers, then,
the inclusion of the flag of the Botwin Company in the performance turned it into a
symbolic celebration of an all-inclusive Polish brigade in which Jews and Poles fought
together on equal footing.

Tel-Aviv 1972 – the International Conference of Jewish Fighters

The campaign for the restoration of the pension rights of Polish-Jewish veterans, while
unsuccessful, influenced future debates about Jewish volunteers in important ways.
Not only did it serve to connect a number of Jewish veterans in various countries; since
it foregrounded the Jewish identity of the veterans that were involved, albeit as a
reaction to specific postwar Polish anti-Semitic policies, it helped to focus, by extension,
on the question of what it had meant to be a volunteer of Jewish descent at the time of
the Spanish Civil War. Indeed, the pensions affair sowed the seeds for debates about
that very question in Jewish Currents, and played a prominent role in the International
Conference of Jewish Fighters in the International Brigades in Spain, which took place
in Tel-Aviv from 19 to 22 October 1972. The conference further cemented the
transnational network that had been established during the pensions campaign, while
its organizers explicitly foregrounded the volunteers’ Jewish identity: as far as the
organizers were concerned, all volunteers of Jewish origin, diverse as their backgrounds
may have been, were now, first and foremost, to be regarded as Jewish volunteers.
Under sponsorship of the Israeli Trade Union Federation Histadrut, the conference
was organized on the occasion of the 35th anniversary of the founding of the Botwin
Company. Yet it was much more than a simple commemoration.69 In order to better
understand the context in which the conference took place it is important to realize
that the Israeli veterans were composed of two main groups. One group consisted of
those volunteers who had come from Palestine and returned there after serving in the
International Brigades; another consisted of those who arrived in Israel after 1948. The
latter group included those Polish-Jewish veterans who had come after the events of
1967–8. It was this group that had a particular impact on the size and activities of the
Israeli IBA , and also assured that the fight for restoration of pension rights became
part of the meeting’s agenda.
In the run-up to the conference, divergent views emerged among its possible
participants as to the reasons for which it should, or should not, take place. The major
bone of contention revolved around the question of whether or not the participation
of Jews in the International Brigade should be singled out and stressed, as the organizers
intended to do. Another point of disagreement was the location of the meeting: Israel.
Several veterans could not separate between the intentions of the organizers on the one
hand, and the politics of the State of Israel on the other, and simply saw the conference
108
Debating Jewish Volunteers 135

ongoing events.76 Speaking about ‘our struggle for the liberation of the country from
the yoke of British imperialism’, the group argued in favour of the 1947 United Nations
partition plan that had sparked hostilities in Palestine. It called, to little effect, upon the
other associations to call for immediate intervention by the UN Security Council and
to support the demand of the Palestinian association for legalizing the Haganah, the
clandestine military organization created in 1920 that became the backbone of the new
Israeli army in 1948. Only in the summer of 1949 were efforts made to restore contacts
between the now Israeli IBA and its sister organizations.77
These anecdotes from the immediate post-war years reveal that the Palestinian/
Israeli IBA faced two problems. First, the question of how to create a broad awareness
of the Spanish Civil War inside Palestine/Israel when most inhabitants had other
concerns. Moreover, if Spain had not been not a major concern at the time of the civil
war, arousing enthusiasm for the Spanish cause in the late 1940s was obviously even
more difficult. Second, the question was how to maintain contact with other IBA s
while most of the (communist) Left was anti-Zionist. The major change that led the
Histadrut to support the 1972 conference was no doubt the much more significant role
the Holocaust had come to play in Israeli national identity in the wake of the 1961
Eichmann trial, coupled with the debate about Jewish resistance as it emerged in the
1960s that to a significant extent framed the conference agenda.
The official invitation to the 1972 conference, signed by Shalom Shiloni, clarified
that ‘until now the existence of this unit [the Botwin Company] has not been mentioned
and the anti-fascist struggle of Jews was not emphasised in relationship with the rest of
the national units in the International Brigades’ and so ‘commemorating the 35th
Anniversary of the formation of the Botwin Unit will stress the Jewish struggle in
Spain’.78 A questionnaire that was circulated among potential participants contained a
question that underlined the main purpose of the projected meeting: ‘Do you possess
any research material or factual information that may stress the participation of Jews
in the Spanish Civil War?’79 In addition to stressing ‘the participation of Jews in the
struggle against fascism’ another topic was ‘the plight of the Jewish I.B. in many lands’.80
Of course the latter referred especially to Polish-Jewish veterans now residing in Israel,
France and Sweden. Shiloni’s invitation letter was also sent to Jewish Currents, and
subsequently published with additional comments by the editors about the Polish
pensions issue: ‘Recently,’ they wrote in reference to Naftali Botwin, ‘his name is being
obliterated from the public memory in Poland.’81 This remark prompted a letter from
Milton Wolff, who explained to the editors that the Polish government’s treatment of
historic figures,‘in this case Naphtoli Botwin’, should not be connected to the celebration
in Israel: ‘Any attempt to turn this event into an attack against a socialist country will
only serve to disrupt the anti-fascist unity of veterans’ organisations in this country
and abroad.’82 Wolff also became a member of the VALB delegation to the conference.
Despite broader support in Israel for the experiences of Jewish volunteers, as
exemplified by the sponsorship of the Histadrut, opposition to the conference did exist.
This is evidenced by attempts that were made to stop the VALB delegation from
attending it. In the original VALB delegates’ report of the conference, a remarkable
story appeared: apparently a veteran at the airport in New York had handed a letter to
the delegation from the Israeli Association of Anti-fascist Fighters and Victims of
136 Jewish Volunteers, the International Brigades and the Spanish Civil War

Nazism.83 In this letter, several allegations were made about the conference and its
purpose. Though the letter seems lost, similar allegations were made in a statement sent
by the Association to the Daily World, the CPUSA’s newspaper.84 In this statement two
basic accusations were made: 1) the conference was intended to ‘split the internationalist
organisation of Spanish veterans’; and 2) ‘mobilise them for the support of the aggressive
policy of the Israeli government circles and for an anti-Soviet campaign’.
As to the first accusation, the statement noted the intention of the organizers of the
conference to emphasize the role of Jews in the IB and then explained that in the
Botwin Company there were also non-Jewish fighters. And allegedly the organizers
had also made accusations against the Yugoslav and French IBA s, that they were hiding
‘the participation of Jews in the Brigades’ at their meetings. The statement asserted that
‘such an attitude . . . and the classification of the fighters in Spain into Jews and non-
Jews is foreign to the spirit and the tradition of the Brigades’. The conference was
therefore dubbed a ‘congress of division’. No mention was made of the more specific
motives for stressing Jewish participation within the Israeli context, nor of the fact that
one third of the Israeli IBA consisted of recently migrated Polish-Jewish communists,
most of whom had been loyal communists in Poland.
As to the second accusation, the statement noted that the conference was financed
by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the Histadrut and the organizers supported
the government’s policies, adding that ‘it is interesting to note that support for the
conference comes from precisely the circles which in the Thirties maintained that
participation of Jews from Palestine in the anti-fascist fight in Spain was treason to the
national interests of the Jewish people’. Though this was basically true, it did not explain
the change in attitude from the previously disinterested ‘government circles’ towards
Jewish volunteers, nor why a tiny group of International Brigades veterans suddenly
represented such a significant strategic interest for these circles. Clearly though, the
Association alleged that the conference was instrumentalized by the Israeli government
in support of its policies.
The statement that was printed in the Daily World was not signed, but the letter
received by the VALB delegates was underwritten by Michael Perlman, a former
doctor in the International Brigades, and Hans Lebrecht. The Association, on behalf of
which they signed, was once allied to the Israeli Communist Party.85 As mentioned
above, the original letter is lost but the VALB report gives some interesting details and
notes; for example, that the letter also presented the conference as a plot to help the
Israeli government debunk the notion that Israel was ‘a fascist, imperialist country’. The
VALB delegation decided to follow up on some points and apparently received
reassurances that no government funds had been received to sponsor the conference.
More interestingly, it checked another accusation that was made in both the letter and
the statement printed in the Daily World: that the Israeli IBA had expelled several
members without giving any reasons. As it turned out this was about the supposed
expulsion of Dr Perlman, one of the letter’s signatories. Perlman told the VALB
delegates that he had ‘agreed to have his name used because he did believe the Congress
would give aid and comfort to the expansionist policies of the present Government in
Israel’.86 As Martin later pointed out, it was quite an absurd argument to hold the Israeli
IBA responsible for what its government did: ‘Would these same veterans’ associations
Debating Jewish Volunteers 137

have refused an invitation to a U.S. veterans’ meeting on the grounds of our responsibility
for the U.S. administration’s genocidal, earth destroying policy?’87
Nonetheless, there was a political side to the conference, as is clear from Shalom
Shiloni’s opening speech. Speaking about the Botwin Company, he ventured:

Its very existence expressed the identity of the Jewish People fighting against
fascism, and was a source of pride for combatants in other units. In view of a
growing tendency among political factors in various countries to ignore or
suppress these historical facts, our Association with its some 100 members – men
and women – deemed it its duty to hold this Convention, speak up the truth and
utterly reject the aspersion and disparagement cast upon the Jewish People by such
factors and expressed in such libellous terms as ‘Nazis’, or ‘Israeli Nazism’. Has there
ever been worse slander when every victim of this country has either been a victim
or a fighting enemy of Nazism?88

Significantly, the founding date of the Botwin Company in Shiloni’s speech was
mistakenly given as 22 September 1937, revealing the extent to which the company’s
symbolic status had become detached from the historical context in which it was
formed. Shiloni then set out the main aims of the conference:

1. Find the best way to emphasize Jewish participation in the anti-Fascist war in
Spain as well as on other fronts.
2. Decide on the most appropriate way of commemorating the Jewish Combatants
in Spain.
3. Demand from the Polish Government to pay back pension money of which the
Brigade Volunteers have been deprived.
4. Protest against both open and latent antisemitism wherever it exists.

While Shiloni did not explicitly mention Jewish resistance, the theme was very much
present in the various speeches and discussions. Albert Fernandez, for instance,
speaking on behalf of the Spanish Republican government in exile, immediately
brought up the fate of the Groupe Manouchian, part of the FTP-MOI within the
French resistance movement, half of whose members were Jewish.89 Josef Toch
ventured in his keynote lecture that Spain had been the place where the Jewish Left saw
the solution to the Jewish question through international solidarity, followed by Jewish
participation in various armies and resistance movements during the Second World
War. The next ‘big act’, however, had been the amalgamation of ‘nationalist Jews’ and
Jewish Left in the Warsaw ghetto uprising.90 Toch also talked about Israel and opined
that in hindsight ‘the Zionists were right’.
These themes were subsequently taken up and further developed by Ber Balti, who
suggested it was no coincidence that Toch had mentioned three interconnected
anniversaries: 25 years since the foundation of Israel, 30 years since the Warsaw ghetto
uprising, and 35 years since the Botwin Company’s formation. He asserted that Jewish
participation in Spain was no concidence, as the Jewish population in Eretz Israel
had been united in the anti-fascist struggle, and had been the precursor of the
138 Jewish Volunteers, the International Brigades and the Spanish Civil War

Jewish Brigade in the British Army that fought in Italy during the Second World War.
Therefore, Jewish volunteers from Palestine had not been deserters from the ‘national
cause’. Balti also ventured that it was no coincidence that Jewish volunteers had been
instrumental in the Warsaw ghetto uprising. Furthermore, he suggested that many of
the Botwin Company’s soldiers were volunteers from Palestine, which, again in his
opinion, was not a coincidence. He described the formation of the Botwin Company as
a historical event; this was the first Jewish military unit to fight fascism and its struggle
has been continued by the Jewish Brigade and Jewish units in the Warsaw ghetto. He
saw the issue of motivation at the time ultimately as irrelevant; probably the majority
of the Jewish volunteers did not go as Jews, but the important point was that their
participation had led to a recognition of Jewish participation in the struggle for
freedom, for how could anti-Semitism and racism be fought without such recognition?
Balti then linked the participation of Jewish volunteers to the establishment of the
State of Israel. Jewish participation in the international struggle against fascism, and its
recognition, had been a form of Jewish emancipation and true internationalism.
Because of this, a Jewish state was so important.91
Balti thus established a genealogy whereby Jewish participation in Spain had
not only been a precursor to Jewish resistance during the Second World War but also
constituted a form of Jewish emancipation that logically led to, and necessitated, the
establishment of the State of Israel. This interpretation was supported by several other
speakers, who even likened the Botwin Company to the Haganah. Not all participants
shared these views, however. Tellingly, the conference moderator repeatedly reminded
speakers that they should stick to the major theme of the meeting, Jewish participation
in Spain.
Balti later wrote a review of the conference in which he summed up his own views
in these words:

Today it is clear beyond doubt that the Jewish volunteers from Palestine were no
deserters from the front of national defense of the Jewish community during the
anti-Jewish riots that were raging in their own country at that time. In the contrary,
the war against fascism in Spain marked the struggle of the Jewish people for its
survival. The Warsaw Ghetto uprising and the War for Israel’s Independence are
highlights of this struggle for Jewish existence. The Jewish unit in the ranks of
the International Brigades in Spain 1936–39 is but a first link within this chain of
battles.
The establishment of the Jewish N. Botwin unit was also a proof that the
fighting International does not mean blurring the Jewish identity in the progressive
struggles all over the world. In the contrary, in this respect the Jewish unit served
as one of the nuclei of national independence of the people of Israel and of the
struggle for its recognition among the peaceful and freedom-loving peoples.92

The participation of Jewish volunteers in Balti’s view thus proved several things: that
Jews had not been passive but had actively resisted fascism already in Spain; that they
had done so in the interest of the Jewish people and Israel; and that it was certainly
possible to combine a socialist with a Jewish identity.
Debating Jewish Volunteers 139

The resolutions that were adopted at the conference underlined its contemporary
political dimensions, and included ‘the right of Israel to exist within safe and recognized
borders’. Among other things they also resolved to ‘safeguard for all citizens of Jewish
birth the right to live a national and cultural life recognized by all countries of east and
west’ and ‘safeguard the right of every Jew to emigrate to Israel if he so wishes’. Other
resolutions supported the ‘people of Spain in their fight against the Franco dictatorship’,
emphasized that the ‘rights of the combatants of the International Brigades to pensions
should be protected’ (referring to Poland as an example), and demanded from the
American government that it cease the war in Vietnam.93
The discussions that took place during the conference highlighted the different
perspectives of the American and European delegates, the latter having lived under,
and survived, Nazi persecution and the camps. The more distant, if not dispassionate,
attitude the Americans brought to the table was concisely summed up in the official
report of the VALB delegates: ‘Our Israeli comrades felt it was of over-riding importance
to emphasise this participation as an answer to the searing questions of young Jews
today re: the alleged submissiveness of the Jewish people during the Hitler Holocaust,
to set the record straight.’94 Similar observations were later made by delegate Saul
Wellman.95 Fredericka Martin later noted that several speakers approvingly quoted
from Luigi Longo’s foreword to the Medem booklet ‘because of the necessity of
establishing their historical roots as a Jewish association . . . the historical beginnings of
a recognised Jewish group’.96 Yet the divide between the American delegates and their
European comrades also revealed itself in a peculiar lack of historical awareness. Thus,
when Milton Wolff spoke on behalf of the VALB delegation he stated that ‘we are here
to celebrate the 35th anniversary of the “Butwin Unit, the Veterans of the war in Spain
in Israel”’.97 From a small unit mainly filled with Yiddish-speaking Polish Jews during
the Spanish Civil War, the Botwin Company was now transformed into a symbol
representing those Jewish veterans who resided in Israel.
In fact the VALB delegation, made up of Fredericka Martin, Bill Sennet, Milton
Wolff, Saul Wellman and Abe Osheroff, was highly divided. Their official report was
sent by the VALB board to the membership in December 1973, more than a year after
the conference in Tel-Aviv.98 The accompanying letter revealed the depth of
disagreements within the delegation.99 Described by Osheroff as a ‘consensus report of
the five members of the VALB who attended the Botwin celebration in Tel Aviv’, it
noted that Milton Wolff ‘has since asked that his name be removed as one of the
collaborators on the list’. As if that were not enough, the board also distanced itself
adding that ‘the opinions, comments and observations expressed in the report are
entirely those of the reporters. The Board as such takes no responsibility for its contents’.
Clearly the Board tried to prevent being plunged into yet more discussion and
controversy since, as the delegates noted in their report, ‘few events in the life of the
VALB provoked such sharp debate’.
This is clearly evident from the various versions of the final report that circulated
among the delegates, one of which even stated that they had only learned at Tel-Aviv
airport ‘that the meeting was billed as “A World Congress of Jewish volunteers who had
fought in Spain” ’.100 This suggests that not all VALB delegates initially realized what the
conference was supposed to be about; namely a commemoration of Jewish volunteers
140 Jewish Volunteers, the International Brigades and the Spanish Civil War

and not a general International Brigades reunion that happened to take place in Israel.
In a later, semi-final version of the report this sentence was edited out.101 This version,
however, specified more clearly what the position of the VALB delegation was, as they
had explained it to Shiloni and Salzman of the Israeli IBA during a pre-congress
meeting in their hotel: ‘participation on the basis of the invitation originally sent out’
and ‘concern for restoration of pensions to the Polish IB’ers in those instances where
such pensions had been granted and later revoked without cause’. There was no word
about Jewish volunteers. Nevertheless, individual members of the delegation were
clearly sensitive to the conundrum of Jewish volunteers coming from Palestine. Saul
Wellman, for instance, later described an incident that occurred when conference
delegates toured Jerusalem and met the mayor, Teddy Kolleck. They had been debating
whether they had been right to go to Spain in the midst of the Arab revolt and Kolleck
had his own answer to their discussion: ‘The question is not why they went, but rather
why didn’t we go as well?’102

Jewish Currents and Albert Prago

Both the campaign for Polish-Jewish veterans and the 1972 Tel-Aviv conference served
to focus attention on the question of how relevant Jewish identity had been for Jewish
volunteers who fought in the International Brigades. Yet this question proved to be
divisive, and nowhere more so than in the United States where, throughout the 1970s,
American-Jewish veterans debated it in the pages of Jewish Currents, ‘a secular
progressive bimonthly’, published by the Association for Promotion of Jewish
Secularism in New York.103 The identity question clearly stemmed from a need, felt by
several veterans, to acknowledge Jewish participation in the International Brigades as
the first Jewish armed resistance against fascism and Nazism. Former political
commissar of the 15th Brigade, Saul Wellman, for instance, published articles on both
the Polish-Jewish veterans campaign and the Tel-Aviv conference in which he stressed
that Jewish participation in Spain had constituted the first armed resistance against
Hitler.104 Similarly, in 1978 Irving Weissman wrote a review on the book International
Solidarity with the Spanish Republic, in which he noted the

almost complete silence on the role of Jewish fighters in the International Brigade
and in the resistance movements of the Second World War. This is in contrast to
the proper treatment given in the accounts of the Italian, Yugoslav, French,
Norwegian and other Internationals, where their continued fight under German
occupation is described. Complete silence is maintained on the Warsaw Ghetto
uprising, one of whose martyred leaders was Piotr Kartin (Andrej Schmidt), a
veteran of the Dombrovskis. To maintain silence on the important role of Jewish
fighters in the armed struggles against fascism is to lend credence to the slander
that Jews walked docilely into the gas chambers.105

During the Tel-Aviv conference, Balti had also complained that the Israeli IBA had
not been approached to provide information for the book on the Botwin Company or
Debating Jewish Volunteers 141

Jewish volunteers.106 The book itself, published by Progress Publishers in Moscow,


represented the official Soviet and communist interpretation of the war and a highly
idealized view on relations between the various nationalities fighting within the
International Brigades. Thus we find the following description in the chapter on
Poland:

the friendship that grew up between the Poles, Spaniards, Hungarians and French
excluded any friction on national grounds [. . .] Ties of warm friendship also
linked the Poles with representatives of other nationalities in the Polish state. The
Palafox Battalion included a Ukrainian-Byelorussian company named in honour
of Taras Shevchenko, the great Ukrainian poet and revolutionary democrat.
Another company in this battalion was predominantly Jewish and bore the name
of Naftali Botwin, a young revolutionary sentenced to death by a bourgeois Polish
court for killing a provocateur.107

This romanticized view of frictionless relations within the brigades, combined with
little emphasis on the participation of Jewish volunteers, was of course not exclusive to
Eastern bloc publications on the International Brigades. But Weismann’s real concern
was the downplaying of Jewish resistance during the Second World War, a tendency
which, it should be noted, owed much to the particularities of Polish Holocaust
historiography at the time, which focused predominantly on Jewish victimhood.108
The most important veteran to push for a recognition of the participation of Jewish
volunteers in the United States was Albert Prago (1911–93), a teacher who turned
academic after the Second World War, eventually earning his doctorate in 1976 at the
age of 65, who was also a life-long political activist. As secretary of the VALB in the
early 1970s he had already played a small role in the Polish pensions affair. From
the mid-1970s onwards, however, he became a vocal proponent of stressing Jewish
participation in the International Brigades as Jewish resistance. He expressed his stance
first in a report on the 1976 veterans reunion in Florence:

What comes to mind on uttering the phrase ‘Jewish soldier’? Until the resistance in
the Warsaw Ghetto, until the creation of Israel, the only concept was that of David
and other biblical figures and, perhaps, the heroes of the Masada. Yet, there had
been thousands of Jews who formed part of the International Brigades. Their
participation gives the lie to the charge that Jews did not resist fascism. That
portrait of the Jewish fighter has seldom been depicted, buried in the broader
vision of the international struggle against fascism and obscured in the emphasis
on the state origins of the volunteers. It was important to stress that there were
anti-Mussolini Italians, anti-Hitler Germans and anti-Pilsudski Poles, and so on.
Jewish identity was obscured, by accident or design.109

Interestingly, Prago had barely been interested in Jewish volunteers in the Spanish Civil
War’s immediate aftermath. In 1941 he wrote a booklet entitled We Fought Hitler,
published by the VALB .110 The timing of that publication was far from coincidental; it
appeared shortly after the Nazi attack on the Soviet Union in June 1941 and thus served
142 Jewish Volunteers, the International Brigades and the Spanish Civil War

to underscore that communists, following the August 1939 Molotov–Ribbentrop pact,


were once again fighting the ‘good fight’. The booklet contained no mention whatsoever
of Jewish volunteers. As with Samuel Shneiderman, Prago changed his outlook in
hindsight, crediting this change to his reading of Jewish Currents and especially his
meetings with Ber Balti and Emmanuel Mink at the 1976 reunion in Florence.111
In 1979, Prago published a two-part article on ‘Jews in the International Brigades’ in
Jewish Currents,112 in which he summed up his point of view in the following words:
‘The International Brigades became the vehicle through which Jews could offer the first
organised armed resistance to European fascism. . . . Not all went passively to the
concentration camps and crematoria.’113 Prago’s goal was to break what he described as
the ‘silence of 40 years in the English-speaking world’ on the topic. He stressed the
difficulties facing especially Eastern European volunteers to reach Spain, noting that
after their previous exile from Inquisition Spain ‘Jews, facing incredible dangers, were
making their tortuous way to aid the Spanish people to defend their newly-won
democracy’.
Yet while Prago emphasized Jewish participation in the International Brigades on
the one hand, he acknowledged the low level of Jewish consciousness among many
American-Jewish volunteers on the other: ‘Many of the Jews who came from England,
Canada, France and the United States did not identify as Jews [. . .] They went to Spain
as internationalists, as humanists, as anti-fascists, as communists – and while they may
not have denied their Jewish heritage, they did not go to Spain identifying as Jews. This
is particularly true for the American Jews’.114 According to Prago, this also fed into the
difficulties in creating a Jewish unit within the brigades prior to the establishment of
the Botwin Company: ‘One must add the factor [that] most Jews – especially those
coming from the English-speaking nations – did not identify as Jews, did not speak
Yiddish and would have little desire to be incorporated into a Yiddish-speaking unit.
Still, one regretfully notes that no attempt was made to ascertain the wishes of the Jews
in all the Brigades.’115 In other words, Prago seemed to suggest that despite not
identifying as Jews, or having an intrinsically Jewish motivation to fight in Spain, most
Jewish volunteers nonetheless wished for a Jewish unit. He also lamented the absence
of Jews in the work of International Brigades historians as it persisted even 40 years
after the war: ‘The low level of Jewish consciousness has persisted as though Hitlerism
and the Holocaust had never existed. The level of Jewish consciousness among much
of the left at the time was minimal. But now, so many years after the event, with
hindsight readily available, and with a clearer historical perspective, an historical
accounting is due.’116 The reasons were obvious to him: ‘Should not the full story be told
of the Jews of the International Brigades, and especially of the extraordinarily large
numbers originating from Poland, the United States, and France? Should not historians
examine the ample evidence that refutes the peculiar interpretations of the Arendts
and Bettelheims?’117 Prago’s work was thus a direct response to suggestions of Jewish
passivity made by the likes of Hannah Arendt and Bruno Bettelheim. Moving away
from alleged Jewish passivity, Prago questioned why

so few, proportionately, Germans, Poles, Latvians, Lithuanians, et  al. – all


immediately victims of Hitlerism – resist, especially compared to the relatively
Debating Jewish Volunteers 143

large numbers of Jews who did? Let us herald the fact that more Jews,
proportionately, fought in Spain, where the organised armed resistance to fascism
began (and in many resistance movements) – than any other minority or any other
nationality in Europe!118

Prago’s writings received a mixed reception among other VALB members who took
him to task for retrospectively stressing Jewish participation. One American veteran
even described Prago as a ‘born-again Jew’.119 His articles also triggered heated debate
among the readership of Jewish Currents. The magazine twice printed a selection of
comments it had received, accompanied by Prago’s replies.120 Thus to Prago’s claim that
‘Many of the Jews who came from England, Canada, France and the United States did
not identify as Jews’, Alvah Bessie added: ‘I would change that word “many” to “most”
and apply it to almost all the International Brigade Jews I ever met in any outfit.’ The
reason for this was, according to Bessie, because ‘they did not consider the fact of being
Jews germane to the job they were engaged in’.122 In his reply to Bessie, Prago accused
him of reducing Jewishness to religious practice and thus denying the existence of
secular Jews. The high percentage of volunteers of Jewish descent ‘was no historical
accident’, according to Prago, and regardless of whether or not they went as Jews, this
fact justified categorizing them as Jewish volunteers. He did not touch upon the high
number of Jewish CPUSA members as being an essential part of the historical context
and explanation. Yet his main concerns were, in the end, deeply personal:

I am trying now to avoid repetition of past errors. As an historian, as a humanist,


as an internationalist, as an American, as a Marxist, and as a Jew – I am concerned
with many social issues – domestic and foreign. However, aware of the events that
led to one holocaust, I have a concern in preserving Jewish heritage, I have a
concern with a new fearful growth of anti-Semitism, I have a concern with survival
as a Jew. Salud, Albert Prago.

In his response, Bessie maintained that for him ‘even the Jewish cultural practices
are founded in the religion’. However, he asserted that he was aware he was in Spain ‘to
fight fascism, and specifically Nazi-fascism, which I hated as much as Franco’s variety,
and this had something to do with my being a Jew’. He also pointed out that ‘it was not
my Jewish “nature” or “personality” or “unconscious” that brought me to fight in Spain’.
In a second round of discussions, Prago again lamented the absence of Jewish
consciousness among so many Jewish volunteers: ‘It appears that we were not Jews as
much as we were “internationalists.” That we could and should be Jewish internationalists
– as were the men of the Botwin Company – did not occur to us.’ His last significant
contribution in Jewish Currents was in 1992 when he published an article on the
Botwin Company and reiterated his position: ‘The heavy silence over the years, caused
by old-fashioned assimilationists who insist on evading Jewish identification, reduces
the significance of an historical event which should be the property of every thinking
person.’122
The debate in Jewish Currents, albeit taking place among a small group of American-
Jewish veterans, revolved around much more than questions of Jewish-leftist identity
116 Jewish Volunteers, the International Brigades and the Spanish Civil War

as a publication platform for Soviet-Yiddish writers.53 While it generally toed the party
line, the newspaper ‘explored a greater number of Jewish issues after the period of
liberalization in 1956’.54 In that year former prime minister Gomulka returned to
power, now as Secretary of the PZPR , following the death of prime minister Boleslaw
Bierut who was known as a Stalinist hardliner. In the aftermath of Gomulka’s return to
power, and against the backdrop of an internal power struggle, which unveiled the
anti-Semitism of certain factions in the ruling party, many Jews were purged from
their party positions and many emigrated.55 Nevertheless, during the brief thaw in the
immediate aftermath of Khrushchev’s famous February 1956 speech, and revelations
about the repression of Jewish culture under Stalin, Folks Shtime editors seem to have
felt more freedom to report on Jewish issues as well as Israel.56
The latter is well illustrated by a May 1956 article by Ber Mark, the director of the
Jewish Historical Institute (ZIH ) in Warsaw, in a supplement to the newspaper. Ber
strongly emphasized the historical significance of the Botwin Company, which, in his
opinion, ‘underlined the organised participation of Jews as a national collective’.57 Ber
was a lawyer who had published several works on Jewish resistance and the Warsaw
ghetto uprising. A former member of the Jewish Anti-fascist Committee, he became
ZIH ’s director in 1949. Mark emphasized the importance of collecting materials on
Jewish volunteers and of encouraging historians to work on this aspect of the ‘Jewish
struggle against fascism’. Though Mark did not mention it, work to this effect was
undertaken at that time by Botwin Company veteran Efraim Wuzek, whose collection
of materials and documents was transferred to the ZIH in 1967.58 Mark contended
that Jewish volunteers, especially those from Eastern Europe and Germany who had
witnessed fascist anti-Semitism first hand, saw their participation as a proxy for their
own battle against anti-Semitism. Importantly, Mark established a Jewish resistance
genealogy that started in Spain, by asserting that the Warsaw ghetto uprising had been
preceded by the participation of Jewish volunteers in the International Brigades and
the formation of the Botwin Company. This connection had in fact already been made
shortly after the war; during the fifth anniversary of the uprising in 1948, the flag of the
Botwin Company was paraded through the streets of Warsaw.59
As the Spanish Civil War occupied an important place on the communist calendar,
Folks Shtime also highlighted the war’s anniversaries, paying particular attention
to Polish participation in the International Brigades, including that of its Jewish
volunteers. Celebrating the 20th anniversary of the formation of the Polish Dombrowski
Battalion on 24 October 1936, a series of articles appeared in October 1956, which paid
tribute to the battalion and its Jewish volunteers. Especially interesting was an article
by Israel Centner, a former volunteer from Palestine and Secretary of the Israeli branch
of the International Brigade Association, who spoke about the ‘important role’ of
volunteers from ‘Eretz-Israel’ among the Jewish volunteers.60 In various biographical
notes Centner related the experiences of a number of Jewish volunteers whose
participation he described as ‘defending the honour of the Jewish people’. In the same
month a reprint of an article by Gershon Dua-Bogen appeared (he had died in a car
accident in 1948), which celebrated one of the commanders of the Botwin Company,
Karol Gutman.61 Dua-Bogen praised Gutman’s dedication to both his class and people
before explaining that the Botwin Company had been a symbol of the ‘Jewish struggle
8

Fifty Years: Jewish Volunteers as Jewish Resistance

Israel: the Herzog speech and the grove in Beit Shemesh

If questions of Jewish identity, and of representing Jewish volunteers as Jewish


resistance fighters, were still contested during the 1970s, they had been answered and
resolved by the time of the Spanish Civil War’s 50th anniversary in 1986. In that year,
a number of events took place in Israel, Spain and France that honoured Jewish
volunteers as the first Jews to have resisted Hitler with arms, thus having set a precedent
that was continued during the dark years of the Second World War.1 The first of these
events was held in Israel where the Lavon Institute for Labour Research of the Histadrut
organized a meeting on 29 September, during which Israeli president Chaim Herzog
gave a speech in which he honoured Jewish volunteers that had fought in Spain.2
The Lavon Institute also patronized the planting of a forest dedicated to the fallen on
1 October, and an exhibition that opened on 8 October. Interestingly, Arno Lustiger
later claimed that the Institute’s flurry of activities was partly the result of his efforts to
convince the director of the Institute (and former Histadrut chairman) to ‘counter the
dismissive and indifferent attitude of the Israeli public towards the Jewish volunteers
and give them the recognition and honour they deserved’.3
Herzog’s speech was published relatively widely in the Jewish press and hailed as a
belated ‘rehabilitation’ though most commentators would ignore the way in which he
interpreted the story of Jewish volunteers to fit a specific Israeli context. What, then, did
Herzog say? Herzog began his speech by explaining the Spanish Civil War as a struggle
of fascism versus democracy and spoke about ‘history’s warning trumpets’ that were
sounded in Spain 50 years earlier. He added that at the time 55 million people were still
alive who would die during the Second World War and continued: ‘There were also six
million of our brethren still alive in Europe who did not yet realise that a sword was
poised over their necks.’ Herzog thus immediately linked the Spanish conflict to the
fate of European Jewry on the eve of the Second World War. He went on to say that
‘there were people who realised just what a fascist victory in Spain would mean.
Courageous men from many nations volunteered to help the Republicans; Among
them were Democrats, Socialists, Communists. They united in a common front
and fought against the perdition and the Holocaust that was threatening the world’.
He then proceeded to talk about Jewish volunteers and those that had come from
mandate Palestine: ‘Typically there was a relatively high number of Jews among the
volunteers – the highest number of any other group. There were even a few hundred

145
146 Jewish Volunteers, the International Brigades and the Spanish Civil War

from the tiny fledgeling community in the land of Israel.’ Herzog did not elaborate
further, however, on the volunteers coming from Palestine nor did he mention the
general attitude in Palestine in those days regarding volunteering for Spain.
He made clear that ‘we’ owe something to the volunteers, ‘in coming here today . . .
we are paying them a debt of esteem and honour’. That debt was due because of the
sacrifices made by the volunteers ‘but first and foremost . . . for what they taught us’.
What followed was an explanation of the lessons that could be drawn from the Spanish
Civil War; that democracies should defend themselves and should act forcefully against
both external and internal threats. Then, however, came a crucial part in which he
linked the Spanish past to contemporary Israeli concerns. Herzog outlined the new
challenge the world was facing: ‘the spectre of international terrorism that harbours the
seeds of perditions and is a grave threat to democracy’. As had been the case during the
Spanish conflict, he ventured that ‘the West’ failed to see that terrorism was not just a
threat for Israel but for the world at large and, he continued, the ‘free world must defend
itself . . . in an air of common responsibility, mutual purpose, daring and resolve’ in
order to stop that threat. Only in that way could ‘international terror’ be stopped and
‘the gravest threat to world peace and cultural life’ extinguished. This was, according to
Herzog, the most important moral lesson to be drawn from the Spanish Civil War.
Herzog thus put the struggle against fascism in the 1930s and that against terrorism in
his own time on a par. Then followed his final tribute:

In the name of the people of Israel, the principal victims of the Nazis and fascists,
I hereby pay homage to the honour and glory of all those volunteer fighters who
used their bodies as a dam against a wave of evil, – to all those who gave their lives
in this cause, and to those who continued the fight from that day – to those
survivors, may they enjoy a good and long life. Here I salute them as comrades in
arms against the Nazis; they are the bearers of the vision of the spirit of mankind,
the guardian of the image of humanity; and the defenders of human culture.

Herzog ended his speech by ‘acknowledging the faith of those who initiated
the evening, and all the participants’ and specifically named three individuals: ‘the
Hon. Yerucham Meshel, the friends of Israel Kessar, and Mr. Salzman, the head of the
fighters’ organisation’. Meshel was the former Secretary-general of the Histadrut and
now the director of the Lavon Institute for Labour Research, while Israel Kessar was its
secretary-general. Salmen Salzman was the president of the Israeli IBA . Meshel and
Salzman were the co-organizers of the meeting.
Herzog’s speech was notable, not only for what he said but especially for what he did
not say. He did not mention the non-Jewish volunteers from Palestine that went to fight
in Spain.4 Furthermore, he carefully avoided any reference to the Jewish–Arab fighting
in Palestine between the years 1936–9, which had made volunteering for Spain
so contentious. Indeed, he referred almost in passing to ‘the few hundred’ from
‘the community of Israel’ while, at the end of his tribute, he only spoke in general terms
about ‘all those volunteer fighters’. During and after the Spanish Civil War era the
volunteers from Palestine were castigated for having chosen ‘Madrid before Hanita’.
Now, 50 years later, they were rehabilitated by casting them as fighters against terrorism
Jewish Volunteers as Jewish Resistance 147

avant la lettre, not only as premature anti-fascists but as premature defenders of the
State of Israel’s most important enemy and, thus, ultimately, as guardians of Israel’s
national interests. They had become the premature defenders of a cause they had
supposedly abandoned 50 years earlier. From deserters in the fight against ancient
‘terrorism’ they had become part of the collective that laid the moral foundation for the
fight against its contemporary variant.
A functionalist explanation would have it that Herzog made an ingenious speech:
he used the occasion to pay tribute to Jewish volunteers, and appropriate their
experiences, while avoiding an unequivocal rehabilitation of those who had come from
Palestine. Had he confronted the specifics of their case, he could not have delivered
that message for it would have meant addressing the thorny issue of why they had
‘abandoned’ Hanita. Indeed, the speech is much less outspoken than might be expected
from the way it has been hailed by some. One also wonders how the speech was
received by those veterans that were present and had dealt with this criticism for
decades. Moreover, the list of people that were thanked in the final paragraphs of the
speech is striking for those it omits. Herzog did not thank anyone associated with the
Israeli Communist Party, whose representatives were present, yet most Palestinian-
Jewish volunteers had been communists and party members. In that sense his remark
that ‘Democrats, Socialists, Communists’ volunteered to help the Spanish Republic was
also revealing.
Still, even though Herzog only went half way in addressing their plight, the speech
provided these veterans with a new moral standing and a way of legitimizing their past
actions that could not be ignored by their past critics, not only because Herzog was the
head of state but also because of his own military record. Some contemporary authors
were indeed full of praise. Arno Lustiger pointed out that Herzog was ‘the only Head of
State to honour the Jewish volunteers by his participation’.5 Speaking of his ‘distinguished
war record in the struggle to defeat Hitlerism’, Manus O’Riordan commented that ‘the
President of Israel . . . fully understood the significance of the stand taken by the
International Brigades, especially by the 7,000 Jewish anti-fascists who filled their ranks’.
In the German-Jewish periodical Aufbau, veteran journalist Schraga Bar-Gil wrote a
lengthy article (containing many factual errors) on Jewish volunteers, noting that: ‘These
days Israel celebrated a big reconciliation for the first time. The former fighters for Spain,
abandoned for years, were honoured as heroes of the people for the first time in an
official celebration in the presence of Israeli president Chaim Herzog.’ He added solemnly
that only now did Israel honour its volunteers ‘who were decried as deserters for decades’.6
In Forverts, Samuel Shneiderman emphasized the part of the speech in which Herzog
spoke about the proportionally large number of volunteers with a Jewish background.7
Morgn Frayhayt published a report of the speech, which mentioned Herzog’s
comments about non-intervention to the effect that, without that policy, the Second
World War could have been prevented. It also mentioned the lesson that he drew in the
speech that ‘peace-loving people should fight united against fascism’.8 This was a rather
selective representation of the speech since Herzog had also explicitly spoken about
fighting contemporary terrorism, something that Frayhayt had ignored. Frayhayt also
devoted almost half of its report to an article that had been published about the meeting
by the CPUSA newspaper Daily World. According to Frayhayt, the Daily World had
148 Jewish Volunteers, the International Brigades and the Spanish Civil War

written that among the initiators of the meeting were ‘victims of fascism in Israel’.
Furthermore, the Daily World had supposedly quoted Herzog as saying that a struggle
was needed against the Israeli government and its politics ‘vis-à-vis its Arab neighbours’.
But how, the Frayhayt editor asked, could one imagine the Israeli president criticizing
his own government and, more generally, writing about fascism in Israel? And how
could one conceive of the president of a ‘fascist country’ coming to greet ‘anti-fascist
fighters’? Finally, the editor asked rhetorically if there was ‘really no limit to
licentiousness?’ It is clear that Frayhayt spoke out against a fictitious summary of the
speech, as published in the Daily World, in which Herzog had allegedly used the
meeting to criticize his own country and government. Yeruchem Meshel, in his capacity
as chairman of the Lavon Institute, wrote a letter to Frayhayt editor Paul Novick,
praising the newspaper’s response while strongly denouncing the report that the Daily
World had published, calling it ‘a complete lie from beginning to end’.9
In a later article in Frayhayt about Jews in the Spanish Civil War, Shlomo Tsirulnikov
also discussed Herzog’s speech.10 He concurred with Herzog that ‘in these times
international terror ha[s] taken the place of fascism as a threat to world peace’.
Tsirulnikov also gave an interesting description of the exhibition about Jewish
volunteers, which followed the commemoration during which Herzog spoke. Among
the items on display were not only proclamations calling for people to volunteer, as well
as a survey of support activities for Spain, but also ‘many newspaper clippings of that
period which reflect the great love of the settlement in Eretz Yisroel for the Spanish
fighters’. Tsirulnikov also referred, however, to the ‘conflict existing within the
settlement’ towards Spain and wrote that ‘the majority opposed the concept of serving
in the International Brigade’.
Two days after Herzog’s speech, the official inauguration of the so-called Grove
of Peace and Friendship took place at Beit Shemesh. The initiative to construct the
forest was taken by Salmen Salzman, who had already begun efforts to create it at the
time of the Tel-Aviv conference in 1972.11 By the early 1980s the grove contained more
than 1,000 trees, planted in memory of a similar number of volunteers, nearly half of
whom were American.12 In recent years ceremonies have been held in the forest on 9
May, in commemoration of the day when Nazi Germany formally surrendered.13
Symbolically speaking, the grove thus links the experiences of Jewish volunteers
directly to the victory over Nazi Germany. Planting a grove as a monument for
Jewish volunteers followed a tradition; one of the oldest Holocaust monuments in
Israel is the so-called Martyr’s Forest (1954, located north of Beit Shemesh) where the
first national Holocaust commemorations were held before they moved to Yad
Vashem.14 The location of the grove was also important, as Beit Shemesh was and is
part of the district of Jerusalem and prides itself on a history of Jewish settlement going
back to biblical times.
Furthermore, the form of the monument, a forest, is highly significant. The symbolic
importance of trees in Jewish tradition has biblical roots, and trees became powerful
icons of the Zionist enterprise in pre-state Palestine. As Zerubavel puts it, trees ‘became
an icon of national revival, symbolising the Zionist succes in “striking roots” in the
ancient homeland’.15 In a context where the act of tree planting became an important
ritual, another function also emerged; that of the forest as a ‘living memorial for
Jewish Volunteers as Jewish Resistance 149

Figure 8.1 Plaque of the Peace and Friendship Grove at Beit Shemesh, Israel (1986)
Source: Jewish National Fund © Moshe Pinto, KKL -JNF Photo Archive.

the dead’. Tree planting also has particular political connotations and trees have been
part of the struggle between Jews and Arabs since the Arab revolt of 1936–9.16
Thus in various ways the Beit Shemesh memorial links the experiences of Jewish
volunteers to a narrative of Jewish heroism in which survival is inextricably linked to
the Jewish state.
150 Jewish Volunteers, the International Brigades and the Spanish Civil War

Worth mentioning in the Israeli context is finally the more recent work undertaken
by Rajel Sperber, daughter of a former volunteer, at the Hebrew University in
Jerusalem.17 She was also involved in the educational web module entitled ‘Jewish
Volunteers in the Spanish Civil War’ that was available on the website of the Abraham
Lincoln Brigade Archives.18 As the introduction states: ‘Wherever they came from,
whatever their political convictions, all volunteers understood that fascism represented
the greatest threat for Jews and the rest of Humanity. The battlefields of Spain gave Jews
the first opportunity to offer organised armed resistance against fascism and Nazi anti-
Semitism.’19
Sperber was also the organizer of the exhibition NO PASARÁN! The International
Brigades and their Jewish Fighters in the Spanish Civil War 1936–1939, which was on
display in the Jewish National and University Library in Jerusalem in 2003.
Underscoring a point already made by Herzog, the exhibition catalogue emphasized
the contribution of Palestinian-Jewish volunteers as follows: ‘On the other hand, we
consciously stressed the participation of Jews in the various military frameworks,
including volunteers from Palestine – Eretz Israel. We did this because from their point
of view at the time – and in retrospect after the Holocaust – volunteering to fight in this
war was indeed a first battle against the murderers of their people.’20 As evidenced by
responses in the Israeli press, these activities clearly had an effect in raising awareness
about Jewish volunteers as anti-Nazi fighters in Israel.21

Networking Jewish volunteers: meetings and monuments

Shortly after the Israeli commemoration, on 18 October 1986, an international meeting


of Jewish volunteers took place as part of the general International Brigades reunion
held in Madrid. Initiated by Bernard ‘Dov’ Liebermann, a Belgian-Jewish volunteer and
former resistance fighter, a special meeting was organized in which between 150 and
300 former Jewish volunteers took part. Liebermann had been a founding member and
chairman of the Belgian Jewish sports club YASK from Antwerp. YASK was linked to
the Jewish section of the Belgian communist party and Liebermann was part of the
club’s delegation to the Workers Olympiad in Barcelona. He gave a speech on the Plaza
de la Republica during the farewell for the foreign sportsmen, in which he recalled the
persecution of Jews in Spain 450 years earlier, and added that the Jewish and Spanish
people were fighting a common enemy, fascism.22 In the early 1980s, Liebermann had
already been actively involved in several commemorative activities dedicated to Jewish
volunteers during his work as chairman of the Union des Anciens Résistants Juifs de
Belgique (Union of Former Jewish Resistance Fighters in Belgium, UARJB ).23 He also
organized a meeting in Brussels that took place after the Madrid reunion in which
Albert Prago participated as speaker.24 For Liebermann these meetings served to ‘define
the Jewish participation in the fight against Hitler’ between 1933 and 1945. Historical
study was instrumental in his view to deny ‘the unjustified allegations according [to]
which the European Jews went to the abattoir like sheeps’. To do so, historians should
‘study the actuality of the Jewish fighters’. Liebermann wrote these words in a letter to
Abe Smorodin, then secretary of the VALB , in which he also outlined the meetings
Jewish Volunteers as Jewish Resistance 151

that were to take place in 1986. Tellingly, he added: ‘We hope that those lines and ideas
will not be shocking for you and that you will understand how important for the
European and even world-wide judaism, the fact [is] of the actual fight of the Jews
against fascism.’25
Lieberman understood very well that within the VALB the issue of Jewish resistance,
and more generally the participation of Jewish volunteers in the brigades, only had a
limited resonance, as had become so evident during the Polish pensions affair and
Tel-Aviv conference. In fact, American-Jewish veteran Ed Lending had tried to organize
a meeting dedicated to Jewish volunteers during 1982–3 and was unsuccessful.
Lending, who had left the CPUSA in 1943, was known within the VALB for his critical
stance on communism. Outspoken in style, he discussed his ‘king-sized dream’ with
American-Jewish veterans such as Irving Weissman, Jewish Currents editor Morris
Schappes, Shalom Shiloni, and Micha Skorupinski, a Polish-Jewish veteran who had
left Poland for Israel in 1968:

Amongst the images: A gathering of Jewish vets, from all over Europe, Israel, and
the USA , in the Valley of the Fallen. . . . a Menorah materializes . . . in order, a
representative from each Brigade marches up, lights a candle to the memory of its
fallen (the Shamus candle belongs to the Botvins!) . . . a Kaddush is intoned . . . a
baritone tilts his head heavenward to thunder the ‘Lament of the Berdichev (?)
Rabbi’ (that unbearable litany of the Holocaust). All in the shadow of that
monumental (and, one assumes, astonished) Crucifix.26

Eliciting little response within the VALB , Lending soon abandoned the idea, arguing
that ‘even the most sympathetic among VALB’s goyish Jews had grave reservations’
while admitting that ‘Maybe they’re right. Maybe I’ve been carried away by my
own vision. Still – I would wish our indefatiguable political chochems had less
chochemkeit and more Yiddisher neshumah’.27 It seems that Lending never had any
contact with Albert Prago about his idea for a meeting. Prago, one of the main speakers,
co-organized the 1986 Madrid meeting with Arno Lustiger who acted as moderator.28
Prago later recalled the dissent about the event among the American veterans who
attended, which Lending had also run into: ‘Some Americans condemned the meeting
in Madrid . . . as divisive, tore down announcements in two of the hotels housing
American visitors, and circulated outrageous rumors that I, as the principal speaker at
that historical meeting, was an Israeli agent, a Zionist agent and other lies accompanied
by obscenities.’29 Lustiger nevertheless contended that they did manage to convince the
dissenting veterans of their good intentions by referring to Luigi Longo’s foreword in
Gina Medem’s booklet, Los judios voluntarios, from 1937.30 As already mentioned,
Prago also took part in a meeting in Brussels after the Madrid reunion where he
lectured on Jewish volunteers and repeated his earlier stance, rhetorically asking when
Jewish volunteers would be honoured in America now that this had been the case in
Israel, Spain, Belgium and France.
During the Madrid meeting ‘three principal subjects were developed’, which
concisely summarized the key points in decades of discourse and debate about Jewish
volunteers up until then:
152 Jewish Volunteers, the International Brigades and the Spanish Civil War

first, that not all Jews went like sheep to the Nazi crematoria, for it was in Spain that
thousands of Jews took up arms against fascism;
second, that Jews were particular targets of fascism and that this was a major
reason why a disproportionate percentage of the volunteers were Jews . . .;
and third, that brigade historians have regrettably failed to record Jewish
participation.31

Prago later also recalled an impromptu talk by Polish-Jewish volunteer Henri Szulewicz
during the farewell dinner of the Madrid reunion, a recollection that is worth quoting
at length:

The very last night in Madrid, Oct. 19, at the farewell dinner sponsored by the
Madrid community something out of the ordinary occurred. The last speaker was
the Polish Jew, Henri Sulewic (alias Largo), a veteran of the Dombrowski Brigade.
He devoted the whole of his brief talk, arranged for at the last moment, to the role
of the Jews in the I.B. He paid tribute to the Spanish people for having provided
Jews with the opportunity to take up arms against fascism; he explained the
significance of the formation of the Yiddish-speaking Botwin Company of the
Dombrowskis. He informed the audience of Israeli Pres. Haim Herzog’s talk in Tel
Aviv on Sept. 29, lauding the 300 Palestinian Jews who had gone to Spain 1936–37
(thus contradicting the Zionist stance that they had deserted the Palestinian
cause!), and he concluded by urging that the Jewish survivors help to inaugurate a
commemorative plaque for ‘the Jewish fighters who fell defending Madrid . . . we
ought never forget the dead who fell fighting for liberty and they ought not to
remain in their tombs as unknown soldiers’. Largo’s address stood in stark
contradiction to the posture of E. Szyr, head of the Polish delegation, who had not
uttered a word about Jewish participation in his several talks in Madrid, nor
subsequently in Barcelona, notwithstanding that 40% of the 5,000 Poles in the
International Brigades were Jews.32

The plaque that Prago alluded to here would indeed materialize 2 years after the 1986
reunion. It was unveiled in 1988 at the Fuencarral cemetery in Madrid, the burial place
of many brigade volunteers who died during the early battles for the city.33 Among the
fallen were several Jewish volunteers, most famously Albert Nakhumi Weitz, who
famously asked Luigi Longo for a Jewish unit within the International Brigades.34
Weitz’s name figures prominently on the monument that is dedicated to the ‘Jewish
volunteer combatants fallen in Spain’. Among the other names on the monument are
those of the Belgian-Jewish brothers Emil and Piet Akkerman who both fell in the
defence of Madrid.35 Several surrounding stones commemorate volunteers of different
nationalities, notably those with Central- and Eastern European background.36 The
plaque was inaugurated in the presence of Henri Szulevic, Dov Liebermann, Salmen
Salzman (then president of the Israeli IBA ) and the Israeli ambassador to Spain,
Shlomo Ben-Ami, among others.37
The way in which the ‘Jewish’ plaque is physically and visually situated is highly
symbolic: adjacent to another plaque dedicated to Polish volunteers and on top of a
Jewish Volunteers as Jewish Resistance 153

Figure 8.2 The monument for Jewish volunteers at the Fuencarral cemetery in Madrid (1988)
Source: © Olivia Orozco de la Torre.

massive memorial stone that is dedicated to all volunteers of the International Brigades.
Most of the volunteers mentioned on the plaque were Polish Jews who had come to
Spain via Belgium and France. The two adjacent plaques thus effectively symbolize the
non-Jewish and Jewish participation from Poland in the brigades, on a par with each
other. This Polish context is furthermore underlined by the inscription on the plaque,
which reads: ‘Here lie the Jewish volunteers, heroically fallen in Madrid in the course of
the Spanish Civil War in defence of your and our freedom (1936–1937)’, a reference to
the motto of the Polish volunteers in Spain. The prominence of Nakhumi Weitz’s name,
separated from the others, underscores the plaque’s assertion of Jewish military
prowess, given Weitz’s role in early attempts to create a Jewish unit within the brigades.
The plaque’s unveiling in the presence of then Israeli ambassador, later Foreign
Minister, Ben-Ami revealed that Jewish volunteers were now officially recognized as
having represented Jewish interests. At the same time, Ben-Ami’s interest was as personal
as it was political; he had been an academic and was a notable historian of Spain and the
Spanish Civil War before becoming ambassador. Salmen Salzman came in his capacity
as chairman of the Israeli IBA . Born in Jerusalem, he had not fought alongside Polish-
Jewish volunteers in Spain but in the Canadian MacKenzie-Papineau Battalion. He was
unique, however, among the Palestinian volunteers as he had been a member of the
right-wing Zionist-Revisionist youth organization, Betar.38 His presence did indeed
cause a certain uneasiness among the otherwise predominantly leftist veterans.39
154 Jewish Volunteers, the International Brigades and the Spanish Civil War

A very different monument was unveiled in Barcelona in 1990. The project was led
by Dov Liebermann and the UAJRB , who contacted a large number of individuals and
organizations to support its creation. Their effort was helped by the fact that the
campaign was not confined to circles of International Brigades veterans and
organizations, nor conducted on behalf of them. The UARJB was an organization of
former Jewish resistance fighters and a member of the International Federation of
Resistance Fighters and the World Federation of Jewish Fighters, Partisans and Camp
Inmates.40 The Honorary Committee that was put together reflects these networks and
consisted of prominent Jewish personalities and representatives of Jewish community
organizations, IBA s and resistance organizations. Among them were Willy Brandt
(president of the committee), Elie Wiesel, Abe Smorodin (VALB Secretary) and
Samuel Shneiderman (described as the ‘doyen of Jewish journalists 1936–39’).41
The monument was erected in the cemetery of Montjuïc in Barcelona, a hill on the
south-west side of the city. Meaning ‘Hill of the Jews’ in Catalan, Montjuïc was a former
Jewish cemetery and the site where the Inquisition once burnt Jewish ‘heretics’ at the
stake.42 By choosing to locate the monument here, Jewish resistance was thus
symbolically opposed to former Jewish victimhood. Montjuïc was also the site where
many fallen volunteers were buried and where the grave of murdered Catalan president
Lluís Companys can be found. The monument for Jewish volunteers is located between
Companys’ grave and that of Hans Beimler. Beimler was a German communist,
political commissar of the German Thälmann Battalion and German representative in
the Cadres Service of the International Brigades.43 He was killed during the battles
around Madrid in December 1936.44 Placing the monument here therefore conveyed a
double message: it placed Jewish volunteers within a general context of the many
foreign volunteers that had come to Spain to help defend the Spanish Republic. At the
same time it underlined that Jews had not only been victims of persecution in Spain
but had resisted their opponents and persecutors too.
This double message is also reflected in the monument itself, which represents a
Star of David composed of two triangular stars; one of these has the shape and colour
of the triangular red star that was the symbol of the International Brigades. On the
upper side are quotes about Jewish volunteers from Chaim Herzog and Luigi Longo;
on the lower side is a dedication in Spanish, French and English.45 Herzog’s words,
from his 1986 speech in which he referred to ‘the triumph of fascism in Spain’ as the
start of a process in which eventually six million Jews died, pay tribute to those
volunteers who stood up against fascism, with such a large contingent of Jews among
them. Longo’s words are taken from the introduction to the Medem booklet and
speak of the debt to ‘the Jewish heroes who wrote magnificent pages in all our brigades’.
The dedication pays ‘Homage to the Jewish heroes who, out of the 7000 Jewish
volunteers, from all countries, fighters of freedom, fell in Spain 1936–1939’.46 The
monument was inaugurated in the presence of delegations from France, Belgium,
America and Poland.47
Allegedly a monument also exists, or did exist, in Sofia, Bulgaria, dedicated to the
Bulgarian-Jewish volunteers that fought in the International Brigades.48 One thing
these monuments share is the timing of their establishment: around or after the 50th
anniversary of the Spanish struggle and in a period when the construction of Holocaust
Jewish Volunteers as Jewish Resistance 155

Figure 8.3 The monument for Jewish volunteers at Montjuïc in Barcelona (1990)
Source: © Marina García

monuments increased.49 But as James Young has remarked in his classic study on
Holocaust memorials, ‘In every nation’s memorials and museums, a different Holocaust
is remembered, often to conflicting political and religious ends.’50 The same holds true
for the memorials to Jewish volunteers in Beit Shemesh, Madrid and Barcelona that
reflect different contexts, concerns and interests.

Debating Jewish volunteers in Germany: Arno Lustiger

It is fitting to end this chapter with a discussion of the contribution of Arno Lustiger to
commemorations of and debates about Jewish volunteers. If concern with their
participation had by and large been an intra-Jewish affair until the 1980s, Lustiger’s
book Schalom Libertad! Juden im Spanischen Bürgerkrieg (Schalom Libertad! Jews in
156 Jewish Volunteers, the International Brigades and the Spanish Civil War

the Spanish Civil War), first published in 1989, aimed to draw the attention of a much
broader audience to their histories. A survivor of several concentration camps, co-
founder of the post-war Jewish community of Frankfurt am Main, honorary chairman
of the German Zionist Organization, businessman and self-made historian, Arno
Lustiger (1924–2012) published widely on Jewish resistance against fascism and
Nazism during the Second World War, motivated by a desire to counter claims of
Jewish passivity in the face of the Holocaust, especially within a German context.51
Lustiger summed up concisely what had provoked his interest in the topic of Jewish
volunteers in an article for the Leo Baeck Institute Yearbook in 1990:

The participation of large numbers of Jews in the defence of the Spanish Republic
has been a taboo subject, submerged in a general silence as to the part played by
Jews in the European resistance to fascism. The convenient picture of a passive
Jewry in the face of persecution and extermination remained all too persistent.
Mass murder of Jews is well documented; by comparison, Jewish resistance and
non-conformism is not. [. . .] German historians have left it to the Jews to seek the
evidence of resistance while they have concentrated their efforts on the
documentation of the Jews as victims of Nazism. But even Jewish historiography
has been tardy.52

The article remains Lustiger’s only major publication in English as translations of


Schalom Libertad! have appeared only in French and Spanish.53 The French edition was
officially presented at the French senate in September 1991 in the presence of former
resistance fighters as well as International Brigades veterans.54 In the revised 2001
edition the publisher, Aufbau Taschenbuch Verlag, wrote: ‘As he has done with his other
books, Arno Lustiger again fills a gap left by professional historians and corrects one-
sided points of view.’ This claim is clearly an exaggeration and part of a sales strategy,
but the disconnect between academia and ‘the public’ could hardly have been illustrated
better, nor could the question of the extent to which academic scholarship penetrates
the public realm have been raised more poignantly. As an outsider, Lustiger gained
academic recognition in Germany after receiving an honorary doctorate from the
University of Potsdam and was later offered a guest professorship by the Fritz
Bauer Institut for the History of the Holocaust at the University of Frankfurt.55
Much of his work can be seen as a comment on the research agendas of German
academic historians.
Indeed, Lustiger’s work should be seen within the specific context of Holocaust
debates in Germany, in which Jews for decades figured predominantly as victims.56 His
main intention was always to inform the German public at large about the existence of
Jewish resistance and counter ideas of Jewish passivity.57 In a speech given in 2005 in
the German parliament he explained: ‘The motivation for my research and books were
the largely unknown resistance of Europe’s Jews and the accusation that they did not
resist.’58 In an interview given in the same year he added: ‘I found this to be an insult to
the victims and the survivors of the Jewish resistance.’ He also asserted that, until the
publication of Schalom Libertad! in 1989, ‘this topic had been completely ignored by
leftist and Communist journalism and historiography’; a remarkable statement given
Jewish Volunteers as Jewish Resistance 157

the work of, for instance, David Diamant.59 As Prago had done before, though, he also
made clear that his interest went back to the early 1960s and was directly influenced by
Raul Hilberg:

In 1961 I read a book by Raul Hilberg about the annihilation of the Jews, in the
original. In this standard work about the annihilation of the Jews, claims are made
here and there which imply that the Jews acted passively. At the end of his book, in
the chapter ‘Conclusion’, he actually says that ‘The Jews cast themselves into their
own misfortune, the holocaust was no coincidence.’ An unbelievable statement.
The book is primarily based on references from those who committed the crimes.
References from the victims were not taken into account, although there is an
abundance of sources. The book was strongly criticised in other countries, but not
in Germany. In his second book, ‘Perpetrators, Victims, Onlookers’, Hilberg
repeated his theses.
When the German public once again did not respond and seemed to offer no
criticism of the work, I took a stand and published an essay in the ‘Spiegel’. Of
course this displeased the great author Hilberg very much and he got me back in
his last little book entitled ‘Unsolicited Memories’. In his book he made accusations
that I am still living in Germany, am a successful businessman and that my cousin
is a baptised cardinal in Paris. However, he didn’t comment on the points I made
in my essay. Incidentally, he has a very irrelevant polemic style. He attacks all his
critics personally.60

Lustiger’s motivation to write about Jewish volunteers was thus very similar to those
that went before him. At the same time, though, and more than any of the other actors
discussed in this book, he changed the parameters of the debate by moving it outside
Jewish circles and into the wider public realm.
158
Epilogue

In their graphic novel Les Phalanges de l’Ordre Noir, the French comics artist Enki Bilal
and writer Pierre Christin tell the fictional story of a group of former volunteers of
the International Brigades who decide to take revenge for an atrocity committed by the
fascist Falange.1 One of these volunteers is an Israeli who, after the civil war, embarked
on a career in the Israeli secret service Mossad. How Bilal and Christin came up with
this character is not clear but it might well be based on the life of David Karon, a Jewish
volunteer who came from Palestine to fight in the International Brigades, and
indeed worked for the Mossad after the war. Karon’s son is interviewed in the 2006
documentary Madrid Before Hanita in which Israeli filmmaker Eran Torbiner provides
us with a short history of Jewish volunteers that came from Mandate Palestine to fight
in the International Brigades.2 As Torbiner elaborates in his documentary, choosing to
defend Madrid instead of Hanita, a northern kibbutz that came to symbolize Jewish
resilience in the face of Arab attacks, was not looked upon favourably in Palestine at
the time.
The film embraces a less romanticizing approach than one would expect from its
motto, the famous words spoken by Dolores Ibarruri, better known as La Pasionaria, at
the brigades’ farewell ceremony in October 1938 where she told the parting volunteers:
‘you are history, you are legend’. We are mostly acquainted with the personal experiences
of Jewish volunteers who came from Palestine, predominantly communists but also
two Zionists, and tragedy is as much part of the story as heroism. While the documentary
clearly aims to preserve the memory of Jewish volunteers from Palestine for an Israeli
audience it simultaneously invokes the image of a group that was, and still is, marginal
within Israeli society, their story largely forgotten.
The film is perhaps most interesting for what is not told. No mention is made, for
example, of the speech that Israeli president Chaim Herzog gave in 1986 during the
commemoration of the 50th anniversary of the Spanish Civil War in Israel, in which
he paid tribute to the volunteers of the International Brigades, including those from
Palestine. Mentioning Herzog’s speech could clearly have helped to raise sympathy in
Israeli society for the film’s protagonists but perhaps Torbiner, who is also known for
documentaries about the anti-Zionist and socialist Isriel organization Matzpen and the
Bund, wished to avoid bringing national politics into the story, especially because
Herzog had used his speech to frame the participation of Jewish volunteers as ultimately
supportive of Israeli national interests. Herzog’s absence is nevertheless striking
because Torbiner does interview veteran Salman Salzman who played such an
important role in the 1986 commemorations of Jewish volunteers in Israel, and was
instrumental in creating the Grove of Peace and Friendship at Beit Shemesh in their
honour. As president of the Israeli International Brigades Association he is an obvious
interview partner. But he was also one of the rare, and probably the only, right-wing

159
160 Jewish Volunteers, the International Brigades and the Spanish Civil War

Zionist volunteer to put ‘Madrid before Hanita’ and while he features prominently in
the film his political background is never mentioned.3
In other scenes of the film Shmuel Segal tells the story of the Jewish Naftali Botwin
Company. He recalls how the company, two months after its creation, was virtually
wiped out near Badajoz during the Estramadura offensive in February 1938. Some of
its soldiers had come from Palestine, including two Arabs, one of whom spoke Yiddish
as he was a baker in Jerusalem with a Jewish clientele. But such details or the precise
link between the Botwin Company and the Palestinian volunteers are never really
explained, and neither is the meaning the company had for these volunteers. This is all
the more interesting because the film contains a highly revealing anecdote about a
Jewish volunteer who saw himself confronted with the anti-Semitism of a Polish
comrade and took him to task for it. And it was precisely the Botwin Company that was
presented as the symbol of Jewish participation in the International Brigades, and a
negation of the classic anti-Semitic stereotype of Jewish cowardice, by Jewish migrant
communists in Paris. To summarize, then, Torbiner focuses mostly on individual
experiences in a profoundly humane, and at times moving, story. At the same time his
documentary provokes many questions about the interplay between being Jewish and
communist, and how Jewish volunteers who served in the International Brigades
confronted and negotiated these identities.

In this book I have explored the participation of volunteers of Jewish descent in the
International Brigades during the Spanish Civil War, and the ways in which the
memory of their experiences came to be constituted and constructed after the Second
World War and the Holocaust. The main point I have sought to address can be
summarized in one question: why Jewish volunteers? What did it mean to speak about
Jewish volunteers during the Spanish Civil War and what does it mean after the Second
World War and the Holocaust? How do representations of Jewish volunteers that were
presented during the Spanish Civil War compare with the various ways in which Jewish
volunteers have been commemorated after the Second World War and the Holocaust?
In short: how did volunteers of Jewish descent become Jewish volunteers?
This journey is particularly well reflected in changing representations of the Botwin
Company. In 1937 the company was formed as a symbol of Jewish valour and fighting
zeal within the Polish Dombrowski Brigade, yet was firmly embedded in a Polish-
Jewish communist context; during the Polish pensions affair and the Tel-Aviv conference
of 1972 it was used as a pars pro toto for all Polish-Jewish volunteers or veterans
from Israel, and was linked to the Israeli independence struggle; come 1986, the
Botwin Company had become the prime example of Jewish leftist armed resistance
against fascism and Nazism and, for many, symbolized all Jewish volunteers who
fought in Spain.
As will be apparent by now, there is a clear symbolic continuity between postwar
discourse and debates about Jewish volunteers, and the way in which their experiences
were represented on the pages of Naye Prese during the Spanish Civil War: their
participation is seen as an argument against accusations of Jewish cowardice or
submissiveness. Discussions about alleged Jewish passivity during the Nazi years and
the Holocaust arguably have pre-war antecedents. Criticism of Jewish wartime
Epilogue 161

behaviour, as voiced by writers like Hilberg and Arendt, is reminiscent of debates about
traditional Jewish political practices against which, for instance in interbellum Poland,
a new generation of Jewish political leaders rallied. Moreover, the non-resistance myth
can be seen as a particular variant of the myth of Jewish cowardice insofar as both rest
on assumptions about Jewish submissiveness. Yet this continuity has to be qualified
and there is a crucial difference: the idea of Jewish cowardice was a Gentile prejudice
and part of general anti-Semitic discourse before the war, while the ‘sheep to the
slaughter’ argument was forwarded by Jewish writers and intellectuals who somehow
tried to come to terms with the Holocaust.
The two major debates within which my analysis was framed are epitomized in the
monument for Jewish volunteers that was unveiled in Barcelona in 1990. Here, Luigi
Longo’s words about ‘Jewish heroes’ in the International Brigades are juxtaposed with
those of Herzog, which underline that Jewish volunteers were the first armed Jewish
resistance fighters against the fascist menace that would culminate in the murder of six
million Jews during the Holocaust. While Longo wrote his remarks in 1937, Herzog
made his comments during a speech in 1986. Taken together, these inscriptions thus
constitute the parameters within which representations of, and debates about, Jewish
volunteers have moved in the 50 years since the outbreak of the Spanish Civil War. If
Herzog’s comments were intended to foreground Jewish volunteers as Jewish resistance
fighters after the Holocaust, Longo’s main concern was to address and counter anti-
Semitic prejudices about Jewish fighting capabilities during the Spanish Civil War,
which were such an important impetus for the formation of the Botwin Company.
Longo’s words were taken from his introduction to Gina Medem’s Los Judios
voluntarios de la libertad, a booklet that was published by the brigades’ Press Service in
order to counterbalance Nationalist anti-Semitic propaganda aimed at Spanish soldiers.
In his introduction, Longo also related his meeting with the young Polish-Jewish
communist Albert Nakhumi-Weitz, who sought to convince him to create a Jewish
military unit within the International Brigades. Nakhumi-Weitz made his request on
behalf of the Parisian Jewish communists, which brings us back to the historical
context in which the participation of Jewish volunteers in the brigades was situated
first and foremost: the experiences of Jews on the Left in the 1930s, particularly in the
communist movement. This context is particularly crucial for explaining the formation
and history of the Naftali Botwin Company, which can only be understood within the
context of the activities of Polish-Jewish migrant communists on the Jewish street in
Paris, and Polish-Jewish relations more generally.
The way in which the Parisian Jewish migrant communists represented the
experiences of Jewish volunteers on the Spanish battlefields in their newspaper Naye
Prese was firmly linked to efforts to bring about unity and promote the Popular
Front among Jewish migrants in France. As the fight against anti-Semitism became
the natural corollary of communist anti-fascism, merging communist and Jewish
allegiances had become much easier than before the Front’s advent. Yet while their use
of the phrase ‘Jewish volunteers’ initially reflected their self-identification and
understanding of belonging to a Jewish national minority, it is equally clear that in the
course of the war, in particular after the formation of the Botwin Company, the
meaning with which they imbued the label ‘Jewish volunteers’ began to change.
Debating Jewish Volunteers 135

ongoing events.76 Speaking about ‘our struggle for the liberation of the country from
the yoke of British imperialism’, the group argued in favour of the 1947 United Nations
partition plan that had sparked hostilities in Palestine. It called, to little effect, upon the
other associations to call for immediate intervention by the UN Security Council and
to support the demand of the Palestinian association for legalizing the Haganah, the
clandestine military organization created in 1920 that became the backbone of the new
Israeli army in 1948. Only in the summer of 1949 were efforts made to restore contacts
between the now Israeli IBA and its sister organizations.77
These anecdotes from the immediate post-war years reveal that the Palestinian/
Israeli IBA faced two problems. First, the question of how to create a broad awareness
of the Spanish Civil War inside Palestine/Israel when most inhabitants had other
concerns. Moreover, if Spain had not been not a major concern at the time of the civil
war, arousing enthusiasm for the Spanish cause in the late 1940s was obviously even
more difficult. Second, the question was how to maintain contact with other IBA s
while most of the (communist) Left was anti-Zionist. The major change that led the
Histadrut to support the 1972 conference was no doubt the much more significant role
the Holocaust had come to play in Israeli national identity in the wake of the 1961
Eichmann trial, coupled with the debate about Jewish resistance as it emerged in the
1960s that to a significant extent framed the conference agenda.
The official invitation to the 1972 conference, signed by Shalom Shiloni, clarified
that ‘until now the existence of this unit [the Botwin Company] has not been mentioned
and the anti-fascist struggle of Jews was not emphasised in relationship with the rest of
the national units in the International Brigades’ and so ‘commemorating the 35th
Anniversary of the formation of the Botwin Unit will stress the Jewish struggle in
Spain’.78 A questionnaire that was circulated among potential participants contained a
question that underlined the main purpose of the projected meeting: ‘Do you possess
any research material or factual information that may stress the participation of Jews
in the Spanish Civil War?’79 In addition to stressing ‘the participation of Jews in the
struggle against fascism’ another topic was ‘the plight of the Jewish I.B. in many lands’.80
Of course the latter referred especially to Polish-Jewish veterans now residing in Israel,
France and Sweden. Shiloni’s invitation letter was also sent to Jewish Currents, and
subsequently published with additional comments by the editors about the Polish
pensions issue: ‘Recently,’ they wrote in reference to Naftali Botwin, ‘his name is being
obliterated from the public memory in Poland.’81 This remark prompted a letter from
Milton Wolff, who explained to the editors that the Polish government’s treatment of
historic figures,‘in this case Naphtoli Botwin’, should not be connected to the celebration
in Israel: ‘Any attempt to turn this event into an attack against a socialist country will
only serve to disrupt the anti-fascist unity of veterans’ organisations in this country
and abroad.’82 Wolff also became a member of the VALB delegation to the conference.
Despite broader support in Israel for the experiences of Jewish volunteers, as
exemplified by the sponsorship of the Histadrut, opposition to the conference did exist.
This is evidenced by attempts that were made to stop the VALB delegation from
attending it. In the original VALB delegates’ report of the conference, a remarkable
story appeared: apparently a veteran at the airport in New York had handed a letter to
the delegation from the Israeli Association of Anti-fascist Fighters and Victims of
Epilogue 163

order to achieve equality in a movement that theoretically advocated internationalism


and railed against ‘ethnic chauvinism’. Yet Jewish communist activity in Paris in the
Spanish Civil War era is an excellent example of Yuri Slezkine’s thesis that Soviet
nationality policy effectively encouraged ethnic behaviour. It was an illusion to believe
that national form would not influence socialist content. The engagement of the
Parisian Jewish migrant communists with Jewish volunteers and the Botwin Company
clearly proves the point.
This specific context of Jewish engagement in the Left, in which the participation of
Jewish volunteers, and the glorification of their role by the Parisian Jewish communists,
should be seen has mostly been lost, however. This is well illustrated by the importance
that Luigi Longo’s praise of Jewish volunteers acquired in much post-Holocaust
discourse about their participation, as well as the inscription of his words on the
Barcelona monument. These words, however, conveying the appreciation of non-Jewish
brigade leaders for the sacrifices made by Jewish volunteers, were originally uttered
within a very particular context: that of a communist-run multinational army operating
during the Spanish Civil War. Crucially, they underlined the inseparable connection
between praise of Jewish valour and military prowess, and discourses of equality and
emancipation within that specific context. Conversely, Herzog’s words, as inscribed on
the monument, constitute a recognition of the sacrifices made by Jewish volunteers by
the postwar Jewish State of Israel, whose establishment is so often seen as an outcome
of that valour and prowess Taken together, Longo’s and Herzog’s words thus highlight
emancipation underway and emancipation achieved, albeit in very different contexts.
Jeffrey Olick has noted that ‘part of the struggle over the past is not to achieve
already constituted interests but to constitute those interests in the first place’.4 The
various forms that post-Holocaust commemorations of Jewish volunteers have taken,
as writing, as monuments or as meetings, were all part of a process of constituting their
interests. Indeed, many initiatives to commemorate and highlight the role of Jewish
volunteers in the International Brigades stemmed from individuals who felt that their
experiences had thus far been ignored. While several transnational networks were
established in the process of constructing the memory of Jewish volunteers, in every
instance the actors involved did so with recourse to particular national contexts.
Efraim Wuzek collected materials on Jewish volunteers in Poland with a view to
establish their legacy as equal fighters among their Polish brethren; David Diamant
and Dov Liebermann had been involved in the French and Belgian resistance
movements during the war; Lustiger sought to counter a narrative of Jewish victimhood
still dominating German Holocaust discourse; and Prago tried to link the participation
of American-Jewish volunteers to Jewish resistance in Europe during the Holocaust.
All these efforts illustrate the complexity of how memory is constructed and the
importance of social agency in processes of collective remembrance.
If, nevertheless, a master narrative developed it would be that Jewish volunteers
have become part of a sacred memory chain in which their participation in the
International Brigades begot Jewish resistance during the Holocaust, which ultimately
led to the creation of the State of Israel. The Israeli IBA that organized the 1972 Tel-
Aviv conference effectively aimed to constitute this particular memory by inscribing
the story of Jewish volunteers into a nation-building narrative which asserted that their
164 Jewish Volunteers, the International Brigades and the Spanish Civil War

struggle had earned Jews equality among the nations; the ultimate recognition of
which had been the establishment of a Jewish state. Almost 15 years later, Chaim
Herzog went so far as to describe Jewish volunteers as premature defenders of the
Zionist cause. His speech illustrates how intervention on behalf of the state can help
to advance a cause and the important role that is ascribed to the state in validating
memory.
As we have seen, discussions of the participation of Jewish volunteers were
fundamentally framed by emerging debates about Jewish resistance from the early
1960s onwards. Indeed, from early references to the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising in the
Polish communist Folks Shtime, to Samuel Shneiderman’s writings, and the
contributions of authors like Prago and Lustiger, the question of Jewish resistance
looms large in the background. In this book I have nonetheless argued that it is
impossible to speak of a specific category of Jewish volunteers within the International
Brigades, motivated by distinct Jewish concerns and animated by a clear Jewish
consciousness. While speaking about Jewish volunteers in terms of background or
more specific subgroups might make sense, the motivations of volunteers of Jewish
descent were complex and varied. Essentializing them ex post facto as Jewish volunteers
does not do justice to the array of backgrounds, experiences and identifications that
were involved during the Spanish Civil War period itself. Yet regardless of the meaning
with which one wishes to imbue the phrase ‘Jewish volunteers’, however, one cannot
speak of 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, as many contemporary observers would
have it, but it was the site where they fought one of the classic anti-Semitic stereotypes
of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries: that of the Jew as a coward, of someone who
will shy away from action when called upon. The example of the Botwin Company
shows that Spain became a battle ground to achieve inclusion and emancipation. In
that sense, the experiences of Jewish volunteers as recounted in this book, 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 eighteenth century onwards.
Notes

Introduction
1 Y. Lekhter, ‘Di yidishe kompanye vet zayn fun di beste’. Naye Prese, 3 January 1938, 2.
2 Albert Prago, ‘Jews in the International Brigades’, Jewish Currents (February 1979),
15–21, 16.
3 G.E. Sichon, ‘Les volontaires juifs dans la guerre civile en Espagne: chiffres et enjeux’, Les
Temps Modernes, 44/507 (1988), 46–62, 58. Hardly any work on Jewish support for the
Nationalists exists, let alone volunteering, which is both a reflection of the absence of its
occurrence and a more general trend in Spanish Civil War scholarship. Some remarks are
made in: Raanan Rein, In the Shadow of the Holocaust and the Inquisition: Israel’s Relations
with Francoist Spain (London: Frank Cass Publishers, 1997), 62; Raanan Rein, ‘Echoes of
the Spanish Civil War in Palestine: Zionists, Communists and the Contemporary Press’,
Journal of Contemporary History, 43/1 (2008), 9–23, especially 10–12. On the support of
some right-wing Jewish groups in Palestine for the Nationalists see also: Raanan Rein,
‘Tikkun Olam and Transnational Solidarity: Jewish Volunteers in the Spanish Civil
War’,10, no. 2 (2016), 207–230, 217–218. On volunteering for Franco see: Judith Keene,
Fighting for Franco: International Volunteers in Nationalist Spain During the Spanish Civil
War, 1936–1939 (New York: Leicester University Press, 2001); Christopher Othen, Franco’s
International Brigades: Adventurers, Fascists, and Christian Crusaders in the Spanish Civil
War (London: Hurst, 2013).
4 David Diamant, Combattants Juifs Dans L’armée Républicaine Espagnole, 1936–1939
(Paris: Éditions Renouveau, 1979), 193, notes 114 and 434.
5 ‘Report Spanish Rebels Plan to Expel Jews’, Jewish Telegraphic Agency, 3 August 1936.
Available at: http://www.jta.org/1936/08/03/archive/report-spanish-rebels-plan-to-
expel-jews (accessed 25 February 2014).
6 ‘ESPAGNE : La guerre civile et les juifs’, L’Univers Israélite, 21–28 August 1936, 752.
Available at: http://gallica.bnf.fr/ark:/12148/bpt6k56697239.image.langEN.
r=L%27Univers%20Isra%C3%A9lite (accessed 2 March 2014).
7 Isabelle Rohr, Spanish Right and the Jews, 1898–1945: Antisemitism and Opportunism
(Sussex: Sussex Academic Press, 2007), 20, 58.
8 ‘Der Bürgerkrieg in Spanien und die Juden’, Der Israelit, 13 August 1936, 6. Available at:
http://sammlungen.ub.uni-frankfurt.de/cm/periodical/titleinfo/2450941 (accessed 21
February 2014). ‘An vier Punkten der Erde. Genf: Jüdischer Weltkongress – London:
Exekutive des Councils for German Jewry – Spanien – Palästina’, CV-Zeitung.
Allgemeine Zeitung des Judentums, 20 August 1936, 2. Available at: http://sammlungen.
ub.uni-frankfurt.de/cm/periodical/titleinfo/2278171 (accessed 3 March 2014).
9 Rohr, Spanish Right and the Jews, 82.
10 For an overview of Nationalist anti-Semitism see: Javier Domínguez Arribas, El
Enemigo Judeo-masónico en la Propaganda Franquista, 1936–1945 (Madrid: Marcial
Pons, 2009); José Antonio Lisbona, Retorno a Sefarad: La política de España hacia sus
judíos en el siglo XX (Barcelona: Riopiedras, 1993), especially 98–102; Isabelle Rohr,

165
166 Notes

‘The Use of Antisemitism in the Spanish Civil War’, Patterns of Prejudice, 37/2 (2003),
195–211; Rohr, Spanish Right and the Jews, specifically chapter 3, 65–96. Such
propaganda had been an issue already in the February 1936 election campaign and
came as a shock to the Spanish-Jewish community: ‘During the February election
campaign, one of the right-wing parties put out violently anti-Jewish posters. As
Jew-baiting had not previously been an issue in Spain, the Jewish community was
shocked, and its leaders protested to the Civil Governor of Madrid as well as to the
Prime Minister.’ See: American Jewish Yearbook, 38 (1936–1937), 271.
11 Quoted in: Lisbona, Retorno a Sefarad, 98.
12 See Peter Monteath, ‘The Nazi Literature of the Spanish Civil War’ in: Luis Costa,
Richard Critchfield, Richard Golsan and Wulf Koepke, eds., German and International
Perspectives on the Spanish Civil War: The Aesthetics of Partisanship (Columbia:
Camden House, 1992), 129–148, 131.
13 Rohr, Spanish Right and the Jews, 57–58, 76–77. On Nazi propaganda more generally
see: Lorna Waddington, Hitler’s Crusade: Bolshevism and the Myth of the International
Jewish Conspiracy (London: I.B. Tauris, 2007).
14 Rohr, Spanish Right and the Jews, 87–88.
15 ‘Gov. Franco Asks Tetuan Jews to Disregard Anti-semitic Broadcasts’, Jewish
Telegraphic Agency, 17 August 1936. Available at: http://www.jta.org/1936/08/17/
archive/gov-franco-asks-tetuan-jews-to-disregard-anti-semitic-broadcasts (accessed
4 March 2014).
16 Julius Ruiz, ‘Fighting the International Conspiracy: The Francoist Persecution
of Freemasonry, 1936–1945’, Politics, Religion & Ideology, 12/2 (2011), 179–196,
181.
17 Robert Singerman, ‘American-Jewish Reactions to the Spanish Civil War’, Journal of
Church and State, 19 (1977), 261–278, 269.
18 Ibid., 275.
19 Adam Rayski, ‘Hilf far Shpanye!’, Naye Prese, 1 August 1936, 2.
20 ‘Fun Rambam biz Moris Skalka’, Naye Prese, 30 September 1937, 5.
21 From McKelvey-White’s introductory letter to a book with biographical portraits of
Jewish volunteers from New York: Betsalel Fridman ed., Lebns Farn Lebn. Vegn Di
Yidishe Volontirn in Shpanye (New York: Bronkser Mitelshul fun Internatsiyonaler
Arbeter Orden, 1939) 4.
22 My use of the phrase ‘Jewish street’ in this book is a direct translation from the Yiddish
‘der yidisher gas’, which was frequently employed by Naye Prese to describe its
activities among the Parisian Jewish migrant population.
23 Julian Jackson, The Popular Front in France. Defending Democracy, 1934–38
(Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1988), x.
24 Following Henri Lefebvre, space is understood here as a social product. See: Henri
Lefebvre, The Production of Space (Oxford: Blackwell, 1991). For a recent discussion of
transnational spaces in history: Michael G. Muller and Cornelius Torp,
‘Conceptualising Transnational Spaces in History’, European Review of History, 16
(2009), 609–617, 613–614.
25 See for a useful elaboration: Mathias Albert, Gesa Bluhm, Jan Helmig, Andreas
Leutzsch, Jochen Walter, ‘Introduction: The Communicative Construction of
Transnational Political Spaces’ in: Mathias Albert, Gesa Bluhm, Jan Helmig, Andreas
Leutzsch and Jochen Walter, eds., Transnational Political Spaces (Frankfurt am Main:
Campus-Verlag, 2009), 7–35; Willibald Steinmetz and Heinz-Gerhard Haupt, ‘The
Political as Communicative Space in History: The Bielefeld Approach’ in: Willibald
Notes 167

Steinmetz, Ingrid Gilcher-Holtey and Heinz-Gerhard Haupt, eds., Writing Political


History Today (Frankfurt am Main: Campus-Verlag, 2013), 11–36.
26 For more on the transnational aspects of Jewish history see: Ewa Morawska,
‘Immigrants, Transnationalism, and Ethnicization: A Comparison of This Great Wave
and the Last’ in: Gary Gerstle and John H. Mollenkopf, eds., E Pluribus Unum?
Contemporary and Historical Perspectives on Immigrant Political Incorporation (New
York: Russell Sage Foundation, 2001), 175–212; Moshe Rosman, ‘Jewish History Across
Borders’ in: Jeremy Cohen and Murray Jay Rosman, eds., Rethinking European Jewish
History (Oxford: Littman Library of Jewish Civilization, 2009), 15–30; Daniel Soyer,
‘Transnationalism and Mutual Influence: American and East European Jewries in the
1920s and 1930s’ in: ibid., 201–221; Rebecca Kobrin, Jewish Bialystok and its Diaspora
(Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 2010); Tobias Brinkmann, Migration und
Transnationalität (Paderborn: Schöningh, 2012).
27 Derek Penslar, Jews and the Military. A History (Princeton: Princeton University Press,
2013), 4. Stereotypes of Jews as unfit soldiers did not only focus on mental
characteristics such as their supposed lack of courage but also on physical attributes
and the state of the Jewish (male) body. The rise of racial anthropology and its
influence on late nineteenth-century nationalist discourse, coupled with a
Hellenistically inspired new body culture increased attention for the Jewish body,
especially in Western Europe. Thus, Jewish emancipation acquired a new dimension;
showing Jewish virility by good soldiership and patriotism became part of the
emancipatory project, an additional mode of acceptance. See for instance: Todd
Samuel Presner, ‘Muscle Jews and Airplanes: Modernist Mythologies, the Great War,
and the Politics of Regeneration’, Modernism/Modernity, 13/4 (2006), 701–728,
especially 701–712; Todd Samuel Presner, Muscular Judaism: The Jewish Body and the
Politics of Regeneration (New York: Routledge, 2007); Christopher E. Forth, ‘The
Scholar, the Soldier, and the Jew: Three Characters in Search of the Phallus’, Australian
Feminist Studies, 15 (21 December 2000), 335–342.
28 For an in-depth discussion of the relation between Jewish military service and Jewish
emancipation see, in particular: Penslar, Jews and the Military, chapter 2, 35–74.
29 See: Danny Duncan Collum and Victor Berch, eds., African Americans in the Spanish
Civil War: ‘This Ain’t Ethiopia, but It’ll Do’ (New York: G. K. Hall, 1992); Sarah
Sackman, ‘The Identity Politics of Jews and African-Americans in the Spanish Civil
War’ (MA thesis: Cambridge University, 2006).
30 See for example: David H. Weinberg, A Community on Trial. The Jews of Paris in the
1930s (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1977), x–xi. To be sure, Weinberg’s seminal
study on Parisian Jews in the 1930s is still crucial to anyone interested in the topic.
However, his basic theme (how have community leaders contributed to ‘create a
common awareness of the Jewish plight’ and their ‘failure to unify the native and
immigrant communities before the war’) imposes a moral framework that does little to
advance our understanding of the historical phenomena he analyses in such great detail.
31 Steinmetz and Haupt, ‘The Political as Communicative Space in History’, 17–18.
32 Jurgen Habermas, Sara Lennox and Frank Lennox, ‘The Public Sphere: An
Encyclopedia Article (1964)’, New German Critique (Autumn, 1974), 49–55. Derek
Penslar, speaking about the development of a Jewish public sphere in late eighteenth-
century Europe in the introduction to a thematic issue of Jewish History in 2000
about the press and the Jewish public sphere, wrote: ‘The history of the Jewish Press
represents a microcosm of the Jewish public sphere. Its late eighteenth-century origins
heralded the onset of Jewish modernity.’ See: Derek Penslar, ‘Introduction: The press
168 Notes

and the Jewish public sphere’, 3. Similarly, Schwarz has discussed the role of the press
in the development of a German-Jewish public sphere. See: Johannes Valentin
Schwarz, ‘The Origins and the Development of German-Jewish Press in Germany till
1850. Reflections on the Transformation of the German-Jewish Public Sphere in
Bourgeois Society’, 66th IFLA Council and General Conference Jerusalem, Israel,
13–18 August (2000). Available at: http://archive.ifla.org/IV/ifla66/papers/106-144e.
htm (accessed 20 March 2016). Tony Michels, discussing the Yiddish socialist press in
New York in the 1890s has stated that the ‘creation of a socialist-oriented public sphere
with the press at the centre would influence Jewish culture and identity (as workers,
Jews, Americans, men and women, etc.) for decades to come, in ways scholars have
only begun to examine’. See: Tony Michels, ‘ “Speaking to Moyshe”: The early socialist
Yiddish press and its readers’, Jewish History, 14/1 (2000), 51–82, 70. Michels explains
his use of the concept of ‘public sphere’ as such: ‘I use the idea of the public sphere to
apply to Yiddish-speaking immigrant workers in a way that includes not merely the
Jewish labour movement’s political parties and trade-unions, but the array of
working-class institutions (such as, self-educational societies, lecture halls, cafes)
where people assembled to discuss politics and other matters. This notion of the public
sphere includes the labour movement and its dedicated activists, but also a larger array
of institutions and associations that encompassed many more people than card-
carrying members of one or another organisation. As I explain in this article, the
Yiddish socialist press was the central institution in this Yiddish-speaking, working-
class version of Habermas’ public sphere and the labour movement.’ See: ibid., 74, n. 20.
Habermas’s original notion of Öffentlichkeit is sometimes erroneously reduced to a
spatial phenomenon. See, for instance: Tony Michels, A Fire in Their Hearts. Yiddish
Socialists in New York (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2005), 70–71. On
this problem and the resonance of the concept in the English-speaking world see:
Hans Kleinsteuber, ‘Habermas and the Public Sphere: From a German to a European
Perspective’, Razón y Palabra, 55 (2007). It should also be noted that applying the
concept of a ‘public sphere’ so broadly inhibits a closer look at the relationship between
segments of the Jewish/Yiddish press and its readers as audience is defined so broadly.
It is therefore more useful to speak of the multitude of communicative spaces that
were created and sustained by Jewish newspapers and periodicals. Furthermore, there
is a tendency to ascribe exclusivity to a phenomenon that was not specifically Jewish
but a general characteristic of modernity: the rise of a mass newspaper market.
33 Sarah Abrevaya Stein, Making Jews Modern: The Yiddish and Ladino Press in the
Russian and Ottoman Empires (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 2004), 4–5.
34 Susanne Marten-Finnis, ‘Die jüdische Presse in der osteuropäischen Diaspora: Eine
Typologie’ in: Susanne Marten-Finnis and Markus Bauer, eds., Die jüdische Presse:
Forschungsmethoden, Erfahrungen, Ergebnisse (Bremen: Edition Lumière, 2007), 75–86,
75–76. S. Simchowitz already alluded to this in 1928 when he noted: ‘As cultural
consciousness the press is not just message or opinion, it urges to practical reason, to
act.’ See: S. Simchowitz, ‘Einige Bemerkungen Über Presse Und Judentum’, Menorah,
6/7 (1928), 334–338, 334.
35 Susanne Marten-Finnis and Markus Winkler, ‘Location of Memory Versus Space of
Communication: Presses, Languages, and Education Among Czernovitz Jews,
1918–1941’, Central Europe, 7/1 (2009), 30–55, 53.
36 Susanne Marten-Finnis, Vilna as a Centre of the Modern Jewish Press, 1840–1928:
Aspirations, Challenges, and Progress (Oxford, 2004); Marten-Finnis, ‘Die jüdische
Presse in der osteuropäischen Diaspora’.
Debating Jewish Volunteers 141

Jewish volunteers.106 The book itself, published by Progress Publishers in Moscow,


represented the official Soviet and communist interpretation of the war and a highly
idealized view on relations between the various nationalities fighting within the
International Brigades. Thus we find the following description in the chapter on
Poland:

the friendship that grew up between the Poles, Spaniards, Hungarians and French
excluded any friction on national grounds [. . .] Ties of warm friendship also
linked the Poles with representatives of other nationalities in the Polish state. The
Palafox Battalion included a Ukrainian-Byelorussian company named in honour
of Taras Shevchenko, the great Ukrainian poet and revolutionary democrat.
Another company in this battalion was predominantly Jewish and bore the name
of Naftali Botwin, a young revolutionary sentenced to death by a bourgeois Polish
court for killing a provocateur.107

This romanticized view of frictionless relations within the brigades, combined with
little emphasis on the participation of Jewish volunteers, was of course not exclusive to
Eastern bloc publications on the International Brigades. But Weismann’s real concern
was the downplaying of Jewish resistance during the Second World War, a tendency
which, it should be noted, owed much to the particularities of Polish Holocaust
historiography at the time, which focused predominantly on Jewish victimhood.108
The most important veteran to push for a recognition of the participation of Jewish
volunteers in the United States was Albert Prago (1911–93), a teacher who turned
academic after the Second World War, eventually earning his doctorate in 1976 at the
age of 65, who was also a life-long political activist. As secretary of the VALB in the
early 1970s he had already played a small role in the Polish pensions affair. From
the mid-1970s onwards, however, he became a vocal proponent of stressing Jewish
participation in the International Brigades as Jewish resistance. He expressed his stance
first in a report on the 1976 veterans reunion in Florence:

What comes to mind on uttering the phrase ‘Jewish soldier’? Until the resistance in
the Warsaw Ghetto, until the creation of Israel, the only concept was that of David
and other biblical figures and, perhaps, the heroes of the Masada. Yet, there had
been thousands of Jews who formed part of the International Brigades. Their
participation gives the lie to the charge that Jews did not resist fascism. That
portrait of the Jewish fighter has seldom been depicted, buried in the broader
vision of the international struggle against fascism and obscured in the emphasis
on the state origins of the volunteers. It was important to stress that there were
anti-Mussolini Italians, anti-Hitler Germans and anti-Pilsudski Poles, and so on.
Jewish identity was obscured, by accident or design.109

Interestingly, Prago had barely been interested in Jewish volunteers in the Spanish Civil
War’s immediate aftermath. In 1941 he wrote a booklet entitled We Fought Hitler,
published by the VALB .110 The timing of that publication was far from coincidental; it
appeared shortly after the Nazi attack on the Soviet Union in June 1941 and thus served
170 Notes

4 Richardson, Comintern Army, 26; Skoutelsky, L’espoir guidait leurs pas, 52.
5 Alexander Szurek, The Shattered Dream (New York: Columbia University Press, 1989), 84.
6 Skoutelsky, L’espoir guidait leurs pas, 52–53; Giulio Ceretti, A L’ombre Des Deux T.: 40
Ans Avec Maurice Thorez et Palmiro Togliatti (Paris: Juillard, 1983), 167–170.
7 Skoutelsky gives two contradictory versions; the first, based on Ceretti, says the PCF
move happened without approval. In another article he speaks of Thorez actually seeking
Comintern approval. See: Skoutelsky, L’espoir guidait leurs pas, 53; Rémi Skoutelsky, ‘The
Comintern and the International Brigades’, The Volunteer, 24/1 (2002), 9–13, 10.
8 See for details on the Comintern decision: Skoutelsky, L’espoir guidait leurs pas, 50–55.
Daniel Kowalsky, ‘The Soviet Union and the International Brigades, 1936–1939’, The
Journal of Slavic Military Studies, 19/4 (2006), 681–704, 687.
9 More elaborately on the issue of recruitment: Richardson, Comintern Army, 31–47; Nir
Arielli, ‘Getting There: Enlistment Considerations and the Recruitment Networks of
the International Brigades During the Spanish Civil War’ in: Nir Arielli and Bruce
Collins, eds., Transnational Soldiers. Foreign Military Enlistment in the Modern Era
(Houndmills: Palgrave Macmillan, 2013), 219–233.
10 For an elaborate overview of the creation of the International Brigades see also: Rémi
Skoutelsky, Novedad En El Frente: Las Brigadas Internacionales En La Guerra Civil
(Madrid: Temas de Hoy, 2006).
11 Stéphane Courtois, Denis Peschanski, and Adam Rayski, Le Sang De L’étranger. Les
Immigrés De La M.O.I. Dans La Résistance (Paris: Fayard, 1989), 41.
12 Skoutelsky, ‘The Comintern and the International Brigades’, 12.
13 Peter Huber and Michael Uhl, ‘Politische Überwachung Und Repression in Den
Internationalen Brigaden (1936–1938)’, Forum für osteuropäische Ideen – und
Zeitgeschichte 2 (2001), 121–159, 135–141. For the work of the German section see
(with a focus on its control of volunteers): Michael Uhl, ‘Die Internationalen Brigaden
im Spiegel neuer Dokumente’, Internationale Wissenschaftliche Korrespondenz zur
Geschichte der Deutschen Arbeiterbewegung, 35/4 (1999), 486–518, 501–510.
14 See documents in the International Brigades archives in Moscow (RGASPI , Fond 545,
especially Opis 2 – Base Documents). What these lists actually reveal is contested. Peter
Carroll points out that they do not reveal much about ‘communist horrors’ in Spain as
some in the USA have alleged but, ‘No doubt, such epithets suggest serious problems
of morale within the ranks or, at least, that is the way the listmakers’ conclusions can be
interpreted. But what army has been without complainers or delinquents?’ This
effectively bypasses the whole issue of control and how the International Brigades was
run and, moreover, ignores the fact that such ‘problems of morale’ could lead to
repatriation. See: Peter Carroll, ‘The Myth of the Moscow Archives’, Science & Society,
68/3 (2004), 337–341, 339. Carroll’s comments should be placed in a particular
Anglo-Saxon context in which debates about the International Brigades are often
reduced to a pro-/anti-communist dichotomy. German historiography on the topic is
more critical in this respect yet is mostly ignored in Anglo-Saxon historiography. For
examples see the previous note. More generally on control within the Comintern see:
Peter Angerer, ‘ “Un petit peu Trotzkist”. Kaderüberwachung in der Kommunistischen
Internationale der dreißiger Jahre’ (MA thesis: Vienna, 2008).
15 Richardson, Comintern Army; S.P. Mackenzie, ‘The International Brigades in the
Spanish Civil War, 1936–9’ in: S.P. Mackenzie, Revolutionary Armies in the Modern Era
(London: Routledge, 1997), 116–134; Richard Baxell, ‘Myths of the International
Brigades’, Bulletin of Spanish Studies: Hispanic Studies and Researches on Spain,
Portugal and Latin America, 91/1–2 (2014).
Notes 171

16 Daniel Kowalsky, ‘Operation X: Soviet Russia and the Spanish Civil War’, Bulletin of
Spanish Studies, 91/1–2 (2014), 159–178; Skoutelsky, ‘The Comintern and the
International Brigades’, 12; Boris Volodarsky, ‘Soviet Intelligence Services in the
Spanish Civil War, 1936–1939’ (PhD thesis: London School of Economics, 2010). As
Skoutelsky aptly puts it: ‘All this apparatus gives the impression of a well-oiled
machine, where impulses given by Moscow or its representatives acting behind the
scenes follow through on the ground. This is a false impression – improvisation and
empirism ruled at all levels.’ Indeed, many documents of the IB base in the Moscow
Archives (Fond 545) show that there was no such thing as absolute control.
17 George Esenwein. ‘Freedom Fighters or Comintern Soldiers? Writing about the “Good
Fight” During the Spanish Civil War’, Civil Wars, 12, 1–2 (2010), 156.
18 As Stephen Schwartz, not uncontroversial himself, wrote: ‘The conflict itself ended on
April 1, 1939. Yet the war about the war – argument upon argument, frequently brutal
and hurtful – over what happened and why has yet to end.’ See: Stephen Schwartz, ‘The
Spanish Civil War in Historical Context’, Critique. A Journal of Socialist Theory, 32–33
(2000), 147–165, 151. For the second quote see: Helen Graham, ‘Review: The Spanish
Civil War’, The Historical Journal, 30/4 (1987), 989–993, 992.
19 For a recent discussion of the various estimates that have been advanced see:
Skoutelsky, Novedad En El Frente, 165–168.
20 See several examples in: Rudi van Doorslaer, ‘Tussen wereldrevolutie en joodse identiteit.
Joden uit België in de Spaanse burgeroorlog’, Cahiers-Bijdragen, 17 (1995), 13–87, 44–45.
21 An interesting case is that of Fanny Schoonheyt, a Dutch woman, and probably the
only female political commissar, at least according to journalist Samuel Shneiderman.
See: Samuel Shneiderman, Krig in Shpanyen (Warsaw: Yidishe Universal-Bibliotek,
1938), 83. See also her biography: Yvonne Scholten, Fanny Schoonheyt. Een Nederlands
Meisje Strijdt in De Spaanse Burgeroorlog (Amsterdam: Meulenhoff, 2011).
22 Richardson, Comintern Army, 23. Michael Jackson has pointed out that, ‘Though it is
safe to assume that all of them were anti-fascist, it is not safe to assume that anti-
fascism meant the same thing to all of them. By 1936 “fascism” was already a word
with as much emotional as cognitive content. Volunteers from the new world in
particular seem to superimpose the distant and dimly perceived fascisms of Europe on
to any and all indigenous movements of the right in a kind of Braque double vision’.
See: Michael W. Jackson, ‘The Army of Strangers: The International Brigades in the
Spanish Civil War’, Australian Journal of Politics & History, 32/1 (1986), 105–118, 107.
23 Baxell, ‘Myths of the International Brigades’, 17. See also chapter 2 in: Richard Baxell,
British Volunteers in the Spanish Civil War: The British Battalion in the International
Brigades, 1936–1939 (London: Routledge, 2004), 25–47.
24 Jeffrey Sharlet, ‘Trouble makers’, Pakn Treger (Fall 1998).
25 Van Doorslaer, ‘Tussen wereldrevolutie en joodse identiteit’, 29–30.
26 Nir Arielli, ‘Getting There: Enlistment Considerations and the Recruitment Networks
of the International Brigades during the Spanish Civil War’.
27 Helen Graham, The War and Its Shadow: Spain’s Civil War in Europe’s Long Twentieth
Century (Brighton: Sussex Academic Press, 2012), 75–76, 82.
28 Frank Caestecker and Rudi van Doorslaer, ‘Poolse vrijwilligers uit België in de
Internationale Brigaden’, Belgisch Tijdschrift voor Nieuwste Geschiedenis, 18/1–2 (1987),
215–241; Rudi van Doorslaer, ‘Joodse vrijwilligers uit België in de Internationale
Brigaden. Portret van een vergeten generatie?’, Belgisch Tijdschrift voor Nieuwste
Geschiedenis, 18/1–2 (1987), 165–185; Van Doorslaer, ‘Tussen wereldrevolutie en
joodse identiteit’.
172 Notes

29 Michael Petrou, ‘Canadian Volunteers in the Spanish Civil War: New Evidence from the
Comintern Archives’, Labour/Le Travail, 56 (2005); Michael Petrou, Renegades: Canadians
in the Spanish Civil War (Vancouver: UBC Press, 2008). A similar point has been made
by Frasier Ottanelli with regard to Italian-American volunteers. See: Frasier Ottanelli,
‘Anti-Fascism and the Shaping of National and Ethnic Identity: Italian American
Volunteers in the Spanish Civil War’, Journal of American Ethnic History, 27/1(2007), 9–31.
30 Richardson, Comintern Army, 88. Of course the words ‘Communist terror’ have been
the subject of much debate. See also note 50.
31 Skoutelsky, L’espoir guidait leurs pas, 82. An International Brigades report dated 11
August 1937 speaks of more Spaniards than foreign volunteers. See: RGASPI 545-1-1.
Lustiger speaks of 1244 ‘internationals’ and 1931 Spanish soldiers in the Polish
Dombrowski Brigade at the end of January 1938. See: Lustiger, Schalom Libertad!, 35.
32 Skoutelsky, ‘The Comintern and the International Brigades’, 13–14.
33 One problem was that often no distinction was made between political and military
discipline, a lack in the latter thus often being interpreted as a lack of the former. See:
Richardson, Comintern Army, 135.
34 According to Richardson the commissar’s involvement with practical affairs could
overlap with the responsibilities of the military command and sometimes caused
confusion. See: ibid., 119–136. The popularity of a commissar depended not only on
his political role. As veteran Irving Weissman writes with regard to the American
Lincoln Brigade: ‘while they knew from the start what they were fighting for, they
demanded to know what was going on at the moment. Knowledge, discussion and
understanding were critical for their morale. However, the commissar who limited
himself to speechifying soon earned the epithet “comic star”. On the other hand, one
who soldiered in accordance with the rule, “The commissar is the first to advance, the
last to retreat,” earned respect.’ See: Irving Weissman, ‘The Volunteers in Spain’, Jewish
Currents, 45/1 (January 1991), 22–24, 23–24.
35 The journalist Gina Medem broadcast in Yiddish on 24 July 1937. See her account in:
Gina Medem, Lender, Felker, Kampfn (New York, 1963), 295–301.
36 This is the dominant theme in Dan Richardson’s work; see Comintern Army and: Dan
R. Richardson, ‘The International Brigades as a Comintern Propaganda Instrument’,
Canadian Journal of History/Annales canadiennes d’histoire, 9/3 (1974), 311. Though
lacking access to the Moscow archives and endowing the Comintern/Moscow with too
much power in the Spanish arena, his main thesis of the central role of the Comintern
in the organization of the International Brigades, as well as its propagandistic value,
has been largely confirmed in recent years by the research of Rémy Skoutelsky and
Daniel Kowalsky (see the Bibliography).
37 Szurek, The Shattered Dream, 188. Szurek was the aide to General Walter, commander
of the Polish Dombrowski Brigade and later the 35th Division of the Republican
Army.
38 According to Richardson, the strong emphasis on discipline could cause problems for
volunteers who came from Western Europe and the United States who had expected a
more democratic structure: ‘Many Brigade men became embittered by the contrast
between the democratic, revolutionary fraternity of equals which they had expected
an army run by Communists to be and what the International brigades were in fact.’
See: Richardson, Comintern Army, 132.
39 Michael Alpert, A New International History of the Spanish Civil War (Basingstoke:
Palgrave Macmillan, 2004), 166.
40 The latter figure has been forwarded by Martin Sugarman. See: Martin Sugarman,
Against Fascism – Jews Who Served in the International Brigade in the Spanish Civil
Notes 173

War. There are various versions of this document circulating online. This version is
available at: https://www.jewishvirtuallibrary.org/jsource/History/spanjews.pdf
(accessed 28 February 2016).
41 Josef Toch, ‘Juden im Spanischen Krieg 1936–1939’, Zeitgeschichte, 1/7 (1974), 157–170.
42 Albert Prago, ‘The Botwin Company in Spain, 1937–1939’, Jewish Currents (1992),
7–11, 7; Lustiger, Schalom Libertad!, 61–67.
43 Sichon, ‘Les volontaires juifs dans la guerre civile en Espagne’, 58. See also a short
overview in which he discusses and categorizes the reliability of previous estimates in:
Żydowski Instytut Historyczny, Collection Wojna domowa w Hiszpanii 1941–1987,
332–7. In the latter document, dated May 1990, Sichon distinguishes between
1) well-founded numbers based upon serious research; 2) less likely numbers;
3) numbers that can only be estimated on the basis of testimonies and memoirs.
He ranks the numbers for America, Poland and the UK (and a few, very low, numbers
for some smaller countries like Yugoslavia) among the first category.
44 See for a seminal overview: Dan Michman, ‘Jewish Resistance During the Holocaust
and Its Significance: Theoretical Observations’ in: Dan Michman, Holocaust
Historiography. A Jewish Perspective. Conceptualizations, Terminology, Approaches and
Fundamental Issues (London: Vallentine Mitchell, 2003), 217–251.
45 Peter N. Carroll, The Odyssey of the Abraham Lincoln Brigade. Americans in the Spanish
Civil War (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 1994), 18. Sichon also mentions a figure
of 30 per cent: Sichon, ‘Les volontaires juifs’, 58. On the high number of British and
British-Jewish volunteers from London’s East End, see: Baxell, British Volunteers, 43.
On Jews in the CPGB from these areas, see: Jason L. Heppell, ‘Jews in the Communist
Party of Great Britain 1920–1948: Ethnic Susceptibility, Generational Divergence and
Party Strategy’ (PhD thesis: University of Sheffield, 2001), 139.
46 Sichon, ‘Les volontaires juifs’, 56, 58.
47 Jaff Schatz, The Generation. The Rise and Fall of the Jewish Communists of Poland
(Berkeley: University of California Press, 1991), 96.
48 See also: Toch, ‘Juden im Spanischen Krieg 1936–1939’, 158. This was true for Europe
as well as the United States.
49 Van Doorslaer, ‘Tussen wereldrevolutie en joodse identiteit’, 84.
50 Arno Lustiger, ‘German and Austrian Jews in the International Brigade’, Leo Baeck
Institute Yearbook, 35 (1990), 298.
51 In his seminal work on the myth of Jewish communism, André Gerrits distinguishes
between existential and circumstantial approaches to explain Jewish radicalism by
historians: ‘the existential interpretation starts from the idea that specific features of
Jewishness of a religious, cultural, or psychological kind correspond to the basic tenets
of radical political ideology. These characteristics predisposed Jews to revolutionary
sympathies [. . .] the circumstantial interpretation focuses on the environment as the
decisive factor in Jews’ decision to opt for radical political solutions. One of the crucial
arguments is that due to these restrictions young, impatient, and enterprising Jews had
relatively few options available’. See: André Gerrits, The Myth of Jewish Communism: A
Historical Interpretation (New York: Peter Lang, 2009), 107. See also: Schatz, The
Generation, 13, 19; Jason L. Heppell, ‘A Rebel, not a Rabbi: Jewish membership of the
Communist Party of Great Britain’, Twentieth Century British History, 15/1 (2004), 28–50.
52 Van Doorslaer, ‘Joodse vrijwilligers uit België’, 169. Van Doorslaer refers specifically to
Jewish communists who came from Belgium. Not all volunteers were (migrant)
communists, of course, though the majority were.
53 Colin Shindler, ‘No Pasaran; The Jews Who Fought in Spain’, Jewish Quarterly, 33/3
(1986), 34–41, 34.
174 Notes

54 A similar conclusion is also drawn by Jaff Schatz when he speaks about the generation
of Polish-Jewish communists he studied: ‘in retrospect, their Jewishness appears to
them as a factor that strongly influenced their lives’. See: Schatz, The Generation, 314.
55 Joshua Rothenberg, ‘The Jewish Naftali Botwin Company’, Jewish Frontier, 47/4 (1980),
14–19, 14.
56 Ibid., 15.
57 Jonathan S. Solovy, ‘Jewish American Volunteers and the Spanish Civil War: A Study of
Tripartite Identity’ (PhD thesis: University of Michigan, 1981), 34.
58 Saul Wellman, ‘Jewish Vets of the Spanish Civil War. Personal Observations of the
Spanish Civil War’, Jewish Currents, 27/6 (1973), 8–13, 11.
59 Alvah Bessie, Albert Prago, and Morris U. Schappes, ‘Readers’ Forum on Jews in the
International Brigades’, Jewish Currents, 43/2 (1980), 20–25/ 34–35, 20.
60 Irving Weissman, ‘A Flawed Book on International Brigades’, Jewish Currents, 32/4
(1978), 35–38, 37–38.
61 Hyman Katz and Michael Feller, ‘Letters from the Front in Spain, 1937–1938’, Jewish
Currents (April 1986), 5–9/32, 6.
62 Online lesson ‘Jewish Volunteers in the Spanish Civil War’, Abraham Lincoln Brigade
Archives: Resources. Available at: http://www.alba-valb.org/resources/lessons/
jewish-volunteers-in-the-spanish-civil-war/ (accessed 20 March 2016).
63 J. Soltin, chairman of the Jewish Buro of the CPUSA , wrote in in a 1938 party pamphlet
that ‘in this intensified onslaught of reaction and fascism, the Jews are the first to suffer’.
See: J. Soltin, The Struggle Against Anti-semitism. A Program of Action for American
Jewry (New York: Jewish Buro of the National Committee, Communist Party, 1938), 5.
64 Cary Nelson and Jefferson Hendricks eds., Madrid, 1937: Letters of the Abraham
Lincoln Brigade from the Spanish Civil War (New York: Routledge, 1996), 32. Also
partly quoted in: Katz and Feller, ‘Letters from the Front in Spain, 1937–1938’, Jewish
Currents (April 1986), 32, 6. On the way in which letters from the front were used as
propaganda back home, see: Richardson, Comintern Army, 158.
65 Paul Bagon, ‘Anglo-Jewry and the International Brigades: A Question of Motivation’
(MA thesis: Manchester University, 2001); Heppell, ‘Jews in the Communist Party of
Great Britain 1920–1948’, 117–118.
66 Rothenberg, ‘The Jewish Naftali Botwin Company’, 15.
67 Zvi Loker, ‘Balkan Jewish volunteers in the Spanish Civil War’, Soviet Jewish Affairs, 6/2
(1976), 71–82, 73–74.
68 Ibid., 75.
69 Sichon, ‘Les volontaires juifs’, 59. For a comparable take on Latvian-Jewish volunteers,
see: Ignacio de la Torre, ‘Latvian Volunteers in the Spanish Civil War’, Social Sciences
and Humanities: Latvia, 24/1 (2016), 51–78, 62–64.
70 Ibid., 59–60. An example of this attitude was Ilex Beller. See: Interview with Ilex Beller,
Paris, Winter 2004.
71 See especially: Van Doorslaer, ‘Joodse vrijwilligers uit België’; Van Doorslaer, ‘Tussen
wereldrevolutie en joodse identiteit’.
72 Ibid., 29, 78.
73 David Diamant, Yidn in Shpanishn Krig, 1936–1939 (Warsaws: Yidish Bukh, 1967),
103; Rein, ‘Echoes of the Spanish Civil War in Palestine’, 14.
74 Ibid., 17; Raanan Rein and Inbal Ofer, ‘Becoming Brigadistas: Jewish Volunteers From
Palestine in the Spanish Civil War’, European History Quarterly, 46/1 (2016), 92–112, 97.
Rein and Ofer argue that ‘The idea of affirming their Jewish identity was alien to them.
Reading their letters and testimonies, however, it becomes clear that their ethnic identity
as Jews was certainly a key factor in their decision to risk their lives in the Spanish
Notes 175

fratricide.’ They offer little convincing evidence for such a generalization though. See:
ibid., 105–109. Elsewhere Rein argues along similar lines: ‘In retrospect, I would argue
that the Jewish component of their identity, nonetheless, played a crucial role in their
decision to embark for Spain’, a claim that, again, remains mostly unsubstantiated.
See; Rein, ‘Tikkun Olam and Transnational Solidarity’, 223. Rein’s assertion that the
Jewish concept of tikkun olam (‘repairing the world’) somehow played a role in the
motivation of Jewish volunteers is reminiscent of theories explaining why Jews
gravitated towards socialist movements before World War II. As Schatz puts it: ‘several
elements of popular Marxist appeal strongly corresponded to certain values and traits
in the cultural heritage that formed part of the contemporary secular Jewish identity’.
See: Schatz, The Generation, 50–51. Note that Schatz sees this as a necessary but not
sufficient condition to explain Jewish attraction to the Left.
75 Sigmund Stein, Der birger-krig in Shpanye. Zikhroynes fun a militsioner (Paris: A.
Schipper, 1961), 80.
76 Ibid., 80.
77 Nir Arielli, ‘Induced to Volunteer? The Predicament of Jewish Communists in
Palestine and the Spanish Civil War’, Journal of Contemporary History, 46/4 (2011),
854–870, 854. See also: Rein, ‘Echoes of the Spanish Civil War in Palestine’.
78 Toch, ‘Juden im Spanischen Krieg’, 168.
79 Lustiger, ‘German and Austrian Jews in the International Brigade’, 297–320, 297.
80 As put forward by Weinberg who bases his work mostly on Michel Roblin’s (1952) Les
Juifs de Paris, see: Weinberg, A Community on Trial, 4. A similar figure is given by:
Nancy L. Green, ‘Les juifs d’Europe orientale et centrale’ in: Laurent Gervereau, Pierre
Milza, Emile Témime and Jean-Hugues Berrou, eds., Toute la France. Histoire de
l’immigration en France au xxe siècle (Paris: 1998), 58–64, 59. Robin’s book was severely
criticized by Szajkowsky for its supposed errors. See: Zosa Szajkowski, ‘Les Juifs De
Paris: Demographie-economie-culture by Michel Roblin’, Jewish Social Studies, 16
(1954), 181–182.
81 Weinberg, A Community on Trial, 4.
82 Weinberg, A Community on Trial, 14; Paula Hyman, From Dreyfus to Vichy. The remaking
of French Jewry, 1906–1939 (New York: Columbia University Press, 1979), 74–75.
83 Vicki Caron, ‘The Antisemitic Revival in France in the 1930s: The Socioeconomic
Dimension Reconsidered’, The Journal of Modern History, 70/1 (1998), 24–73, 27. She
adds: ‘To suggest that anti-Semitism was, at least in part, motivated by real
socioeconomic conflicts between Jews and non-Jews is not intended to justify or
excuse it. It is, however, an attempt to explain the degree to which anti-Semitism is
embedded in the socioeconomic structure and to show that it must be understood in
more than simply ideological terms.’
84 Gérard Noiriel, Immigration, Antisémitisme et Racisme en France (XIXe-XXe Siècle):
Discours Publics, Humiliations Privées (Paris: Fayard, 2007), 437–438.
85 Vicki Caron, ‘Prelude to Vichy: France and the Jewish Refugees in the Era of
Appeasement’, Journal of Contemporary History, 20/1 (1985), 157–176.
86 Ponty, Polonais méconnus, 319. See for the differences between Jewish and non-Jewish
Polish migrants and their different occupational activities: Janine Ponty, ‘L’émigration
des Juifs de Pologne dans l’entre-deux-guerres’, Yod, 23 (1987), 21–40.
87 Caron, ‘The Antisemitic Revival’, 54.
88 Weinberg, A Community on Trial, 130.
89 Ibid., 174–175, 182–185; Vicki Caron, ‘The Politics of Frustration: French Jewry and
the Refugee Crisis in the 1930s’, The Journal of Modern History, 65/2 (1993), 311–356,
330–331.
Jewish Volunteers as Jewish Resistance 147

avant la lettre, not only as premature anti-fascists but as premature defenders of the
State of Israel’s most important enemy and, thus, ultimately, as guardians of Israel’s
national interests. They had become the premature defenders of a cause they had
supposedly abandoned 50 years earlier. From deserters in the fight against ancient
‘terrorism’ they had become part of the collective that laid the moral foundation for the
fight against its contemporary variant.
A functionalist explanation would have it that Herzog made an ingenious speech:
he used the occasion to pay tribute to Jewish volunteers, and appropriate their
experiences, while avoiding an unequivocal rehabilitation of those who had come from
Palestine. Had he confronted the specifics of their case, he could not have delivered
that message for it would have meant addressing the thorny issue of why they had
‘abandoned’ Hanita. Indeed, the speech is much less outspoken than might be expected
from the way it has been hailed by some. One also wonders how the speech was
received by those veterans that were present and had dealt with this criticism for
decades. Moreover, the list of people that were thanked in the final paragraphs of the
speech is striking for those it omits. Herzog did not thank anyone associated with the
Israeli Communist Party, whose representatives were present, yet most Palestinian-
Jewish volunteers had been communists and party members. In that sense his remark
that ‘Democrats, Socialists, Communists’ volunteered to help the Spanish Republic was
also revealing.
Still, even though Herzog only went half way in addressing their plight, the speech
provided these veterans with a new moral standing and a way of legitimizing their past
actions that could not be ignored by their past critics, not only because Herzog was the
head of state but also because of his own military record. Some contemporary authors
were indeed full of praise. Arno Lustiger pointed out that Herzog was ‘the only Head of
State to honour the Jewish volunteers by his participation’.5 Speaking of his ‘distinguished
war record in the struggle to defeat Hitlerism’, Manus O’Riordan commented that ‘the
President of Israel . . . fully understood the significance of the stand taken by the
International Brigades, especially by the 7,000 Jewish anti-fascists who filled their ranks’.
In the German-Jewish periodical Aufbau, veteran journalist Schraga Bar-Gil wrote a
lengthy article (containing many factual errors) on Jewish volunteers, noting that: ‘These
days Israel celebrated a big reconciliation for the first time. The former fighters for Spain,
abandoned for years, were honoured as heroes of the people for the first time in an
official celebration in the presence of Israeli president Chaim Herzog.’ He added solemnly
that only now did Israel honour its volunteers ‘who were decried as deserters for decades’.6
In Forverts, Samuel Shneiderman emphasized the part of the speech in which Herzog
spoke about the proportionally large number of volunteers with a Jewish background.7
Morgn Frayhayt published a report of the speech, which mentioned Herzog’s
comments about non-intervention to the effect that, without that policy, the Second
World War could have been prevented. It also mentioned the lesson that he drew in the
speech that ‘peace-loving people should fight united against fascism’.8 This was a rather
selective representation of the speech since Herzog had also explicitly spoken about
fighting contemporary terrorism, something that Frayhayt had ignored. Frayhayt also
devoted almost half of its report to an article that had been published about the meeting
by the CPUSA newspaper Daily World. According to Frayhayt, the Daily World had
Notes 177

102 APPP, BA 1939, Report Les Communistes Étrangers dans la Région Parisienne,
December 1925, 3. See also Mariana Sauber, ‘Juifs communistes dans la MOE ’,
Combat pour la Diaspora, 18–19 (1986), 47–57, here 47 f. The CGTU had split from
the CGT in 1921.
103 For an in-depth discussion of the Jewish section see: Gerben Zaagsma, ‘The Local
and the International – Jewish Communists in Paris Between the Wars’, Simon
Dubnow Institute Yearbook 8 (2009), 345–365.
104 See several reports in: Centre Historique des Archives Nationales (henceforth
CHAN ), F7–13943, file Mouvements sionistes et Bound. Notes et presse
(1915–1935). See also: Szajkowski, ‘Dos yidishe gezelshaftlekhe lebn’, 213.
105 Archives Départementales de la Saint-St.Denis, Fonds des archives microfilmées du
PCF, 1921–1939 (henceforth ADPCF ), 3 Mi 6/35–250, Rapport de la section centrale
de la M.O.E. sur son activité pendant la période qui va du 25 avril au 25 mai.
106 Russian State Archive of Socio-Political History (henceforth RGASPI ), 517–1–1653,
Section Centrale de la Main d’Œuvre Immigrée, Rapport Main d’Œuvre Immigrée,
20 September 1934, 26 f.; RGASPI , 517–1–1653, Section Centrale de la Main
d’Œuvre Immigrée, La Section centrale de la M.O.I. – Aperçu sur sa composition son
travail, 1934, 57. The latter contains a more elaborate version of the state of the Jewish
section.
107 The following report is a good example: APPP, BA 1939, Les Communistes Étrangers
dans la Région Parisienne, December 1925.
108 ‘Circulaire de la Section du Travail parmi les étrangers’, Cahiers du Bolchevisme, 32
(1 December 1925), 22–32.
109 Courtois, Peschanski and Rayski, Le sang de l’étranger, 23 f.
110 RGASPI , 517–1– 1133, Section Centrale de la Main d’Œuvre Immigrée, Projet de
rapport sur la M.O.E., 18 January 1932, 63 f.
111 See for an overview of its early history: Zvi Y. Gitelman, Jewish Nationality and Soviet
Politics. The Jewish Sections of the CPSU, 1917–1930 (Princeton: Princeton University
Press, 1972), especially 105–151.
112 Maurice Rajsfus, L’an Prochain, La Révolution. Les Communistes Juifs Immigrés Dans
La Tourmente Stalinienne, 1930–1945 (Paris: Mazarine, 1985), 36.
113 Yuri Slezkine, ‘The USSR as a Communal Apartment, or How a Socialist State
Promoted Ethnic Particularism’, Slavic Review, 53/2 (1994), 414–452; Terry Martin,
The Affirmative Action Empire: Nations and Nationalism in the Soviet Union,
1923–1939 (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 2001); George O. Liber, ‘National
Identity Formation, Nationalism and Nationalist Tides in the Soviet Union: A Review
Article’ (2003). Available at: http://www.bu.edu/uni/iass/conf/George%20Liber.pdf
(accessed 22 January 2007).
114 Slezkine, ‘The USSR as a Communal Apartment’, 418. Slezkine furthermore argues
that an ethnic awareness was key to pre-revolutionary Bolshevik ideas of how to
organize the future Soviet state and a foundational principle of the new state.
Similarly, Liber points out that Soviet nationality policy has its roots in tsarist times.
115 See especially: David Shneer, Yiddish and the creation of Soviet Jewish culture
1918–1930 (New York: Cambridge University Press, 2004); Jeffrey Veidlinger, ‘Let’s
Perform a Miracle: The Soviet Yiddish State Theater in the 1920s’, Slavic Review, 57/2
(1998), 372–397; Gennady Estraikh, In Harness. Yiddish Writers’ Romance with
Communism (Syracuse: Syracuse University Press, 2005). On the early use of Yiddish
in the Polish socialist movement see for example: Rick Kuhn, ‘Henryk Grossman, a
Marxist Activist and Theorist: On the 50th Anniversary of his Death’ in: Paul
178 Notes

Zarembka, ed., Value, Capitalist Dynamics and Money (Bingley: Emerald Group
Publishing Limited, 2000), 111–170.
116 Yehuda Slutsky, ‘Yevsektsiya’ in: Geoffrey Wigoder, ed., Encyclopaedia Judaica
– CD -ROM Edition Version 1.0 (Jerusalem: Judaica Multimedia Ltd, 1997).
117 Philipp Kelly and Tom Lusis, ‘Migration and the Transnational Habitus: Evidence
From Canada and the Philippines’, Environment and Planning, A 38/5 (2006), 831–847.
118 As Loic Wacquant remarks when discussing the degree of integration of a specific
habitus: ‘persons experiencing transnational migration or undergoing great social
mobility often possess segmented or conflictive dispositional sets’. See: Loic
Wacquant, ‘Pierre Bourdieu’ in: Rob Stones, ed., Key Sociological Thinkers (New York:
Palgrave Macmillan, 2008), 261–277, 267.
119 See for an interesting exploration of how the value of different forms of capital is
spatially bound and affected by migration: Kelly and Lusis, ‘Migration and the
Transnational Habitus: Evidence from Canada and the Philippines’, 831.
120 Van Doorslaer is discussing Jewish communists in Belgium who, like Jewish
communists in France, were mostly post-First World War migrants from Poland.
While it is clear that he describes a certain habitus, his use of the word ‘ghetto’ to
denote it is rather problematic, given its conventional associations. See: Rudi van
Doorslaer, ‘Jewish Immigration and Communism in Belgium, 1925–1939’ in: Dan
Michman, ed., Belgium and the Holocaust: Jews, Belgians, Germans (Jerusalem: Yad
Vashem, 1998), 63–82, 82. See also: Van Doorslaer, Kinderen Van Het Getto. Joodse
Revolutionairen in België (1925–1940) (Antwerp: Amsab, 1995), 104.
121 It should be noted that the PCF archives in Moscow contain no MOI -related sources
after 1936 and the only information about the conference is a report by MOI leader
Giulio Ceretti, whose origins remain unknown. It is mentioned without a source in:
Courtois, Peschanski and Rayski, Le Sang de L’étranger, 45–46. This means that we
lack the sources to establish what really happened at the meeting. Several articles in
Naye Prese and Parizer Haynt document the dissolution and its consequences among
the Parisian Jewish migrant population, some of which were used by Weinberg. See:
Weinberg, A Community on Trial, 134–136 and 146, fn. 135–140. Since Courtois et al.
quote Weinberg, it remains a mystery as to why they ignore this evidence.
122 Y. Lerman, ‘Di komunistishe partey un di oyslender-frage 1. A nayer shrit faroys’, Naye
Prese, 2 February 1937, 3.
123 Rajsfus, L’an prochain, la révolution, 44. This is evidenced by the conference of the
‘Jewish communists from the Paris region’ held on 17–18 June 1937. The conference
also highlighted the new situation, however: Lerman gave a speech that was
subsequently published as ‘In Dinst Fun Folk’ (At the Service of the People) and,
according to a small editorial imprint, was ‘presented in the name of the Paris region
of the communist party’. The very title of the speech was simply the Yiddish
translation of the PCF motto Au service du peuple. See: Y. Lerman, In dinst fun folk.
Barikht gehaltn oyf der konferents fun yidishe komunistn fun Parizer gegnt dem 17-tn
yuni 1937 (Paris: S.N.I.E., 1937); Maurice Thorez, Au service du peuple de France.
Rapport prononcé le 10 juillet 1936, suivi du discours de clôture prononcé le 11 juillet
1936 et de l’appel voté par la conférence nationale du Parti communiste français (Paris:
Éditions du Comité populaire de propagande, 1936).
124 See an advert for a lecture of Lerman under the title ‘On the causes of the dissolution
of the foreigner groups of the Communist Party: A referat fun Y. Lerman, shef-
redaktor fun der “Naye Prese” vegn di sibes fun opshafn di oyslender-grupn bay der
kompartay’, Naye Prese, 6 April 1937, 5.
Notes 179

125 The Fraynt were modelled on the so-called Comités de défense de L’Humanité
(CDH ), which were created in support of the PCF newspaper. They were renamed
Amis de L’Humanité in 1938. See: Alexandre Courban, ‘Une autre façon d’être lecteur
de L’Humanité durant l’entre-deux-guerres: “rabcors” et “CDH ” au service du
quotidien communiste’, Le Temps des Médias, 2/7 (2006), 205–217.
126 Centre des Archives Contemporaines (henceforth CAC ), 20010216/38, 1014 & 1015,
Informations au sujet du journal communiste juif ‘Nouvelle presse’ édité à Paris.
According to Szajkowski, a group of Jewish communists was nominated immediately
after the dissolution who subsequently led the communist movement among Jewish
migrants. See: Szajkowski, ‘Dos yidishe gezelshaftlekhe lebn’, 213.
127 Weinberg, A Community on Trial, 119–123; Mariana Sauber, ‘Juifs Communistes
Dans La MOE ’, Combat pour la Diaspora 18–19 (1986), 47–57, 53–55; Audrey
Kichelewsky, ‘La Naïe Presse (La Presse Nouvelle). Quotidien juif et communiste,
1934–1939’ (MA thesis: Paris, 2000), 122–132.
128 See the front-page announcement: ‘A farshtendikungs-komisye fun yidishe
komunistn, Medem-Farband un Linke Poale-Tsyon’, Naye Prese, 25 July 1937, 1.
129 Ralph Schor, ‘Le parti communiste et les immigrés’, L’Histoire, 35 (1981), 84–86, 86;
Rita Thalmann, ‘Xénophobie et antisémitisme sous le Front populaire’, Matériaux
Pour L’histoire De Notre Temps, 6/1 (1986), 18–20, 19.
130 Ralph Schor, ‘Le parti communiste et les immigrés’, 86.
131 Edmund Silberner, Kommunisten zur Judenfrage. Zur Geschichte von theorie und
Praxis Des Kommunismus (Opladen: Westdeutscher Verlag, 1983), 234–239; Schatz,
The Generation, 98–103.
132 Jonathan Boyarin, Polish Jews in Paris: The Ethnography of Memory (Bloomington:
Indiana University Press, 1991), 42–43.
133 See: Enzo Traverso, The Marxists and the Jewish Question: The History of a Debate,
1843–1943 (Atlantic Highlands: Humanities Press, 1994), 192, 197.
134 See: Silberner, Kommunisten zur Judenfrage, 306; Friedl Furnberg, ‘La question juive
et l’antisemitisme’, L’International Communiste, 20/9 (September 1938). For a
thorough analysis see: Van Doorslaer, Kinderen van Het Getto, 119–121.
135 See: Naye Prese, 3 December 1936, 1; Zev Katz, ‘The Jews in the Soviet-Union’ in: Zev
Katz, Rosemarie Rogers and Frederic T. Harned, eds., Handbook of Major Soviet
Nationalities (New York: Free Press, 1975), 355–389, 381. Katz does not refer to the
speech by Molotov but notes that Stalin’s previous statement was made public by
Molotov in the Pravda of 30 November 1936. The speech was also printed in
L’Humanité, 6 December 1936, 3.
136 RGASPI , 495–20–944, First draft of the concept resolution on the Jewish question,
5 May 1937. My thanks go to Marja Boogert and Floribert Baudet for their translation.
137 The World Jewish Congress (WJC ) was established formally in 1936 during a
conference in Geneva and aimed to be a representative body for the defence of Jewish
interests.
138 Ershter Alveltlekher Yidisher Kultur-Kongres. Pariz, 17–21 September 1937 (Paris:
Yidisher Kultur Farband, 1937). For an overview, see: Sima Beeri, World Yiddish
Culture Congress of 1937, paper presented at International Conference Yiddish/
Jewish Cultures. Literature, History, Thought in Eastern European Diasporas, New
York University, 26–27 February 2006.
139 On the cultural politics of the PCF, see: Julian Jackson, The Popular Front in France.
Defending Democracy, 1934–38 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1988), 113–145.
140 Ershter Alveltlekher Yidisher Kultur-Kongres, 355.
180 Notes

141 The phrase is from Melech Epstein, who uses it in the context of a discussion of the
attention that Jewish-born communists in the USA began to pay to their Jewish
origins after the Comintern’s adoption of the Popular Front tactic (Epstein speaks of
‘Judaizing Communism’). Despite dissimilarities between USA and continental
Europe and the challenges facing Jewish communists there, it is an apt description of
the suspicion with which Jewish communists were often viewed within non-
communist Jewish circles in this period. See: Melech Epstein, The Jew and
Communism: The Story of Early Communist Victories and Ultimate Defeats in the
Jewish Community, U.S.A. 1919–1941 (New York: Trade Union Sponsoring
Committee, 1959), 318–319.
142 Mendes, ‘The Rise and Fall of the Jewish/left Alliance’, 483.
143 David H. Weinberg, ‘Left-Wing Jews and the Question of Assimilation: Immigrant
Jewish Communists in Paris in the 1930s’ in: Bela Vago, ed., Jewish Assimilation in
Modern Times (Boulder: 1979), 25–39, 37.

Chapter 2
1 See: Shindler, ‘No Pasaran’, 37.
2 Sackman. The Identity Politics of Jews and African-Americans in the Spanish Civil War,
26–27.
3 RGASPI 545-2-88, Letter from the Press Service to Luigi Longo, 5 August 1937.
4 Diamant, Combattants Juifs, 191–192, 269.
5 Press Service documents speak of an irregularly published ‘Buletin Juif ’ in November
1937. See: RGASPI , 545-2-88, Overview of International Brigades press publications,
12 November 1937. A similar overview from 29 November does not mention any
Yiddish bulletin.
6 Frayhaytskemfer, 7 August 1937, 4.
7 A. Yalti, ‘Di redaktsye in neyn sprakhn (tsum dershaynen fun “frayhayts kemfer”
– organ fun intern. brigades in yidish)’, Naye Prese, 18 August 1937, 3.
8 Before First World War, Galicia was a province within the Habsburg Empire. Most of
its Jewish population was Yiddish-speaking.
9 Misha Reger, ‘ “Palafoks” oyfn slakhtfeld’, Botvin, 5 (3 November 1938), 8.
10 A. Yalti, ‘Di redaktsye in neyn sprakhn’, 3.
11 Ibid.
12 Richardson, Comintern Army, 97.
13 From the ‘Proposals for the activity of the Historical Section’ as published in: Albert
Schreiner, ‘Zwei Dokumente über die historische Sektion im Stab der Internationalen
Brigaden in Albacete’, Zeitschrift für Geschichtswissenschaft, 3 (1956), 587–594, 588.
These two documents were in private possession of Schreiner (known under the nom
de guerre ‘Schindler’ in Spain) who worked for the commission and wrote the
workplan in October 1937.
14 Ibid., 589 (from ‘Dokument I’).
15 Quoted in: Richardson, Comintern Army, 156. The quote is taken from: Nuestros
Espagnoles (Madrid: Comisariado de las Brigadas Internacionales, 1937).
16 RGASPI , 545-1-6, Undated letter from Luigi Longo to the ‘Comrades Delegate
Commissars of War of the International Brigades’.
17 Letter to comrade Juanita, Commissariat des BI , 27 January 1938, RGASPI , 545-1-5.
18 Gina Medem, Lender, Felker, Kampfn (New York, 1963), 326.
Notes 181

19 See for a short biography: S.R., ‘Gina Medem’, Morning Frayhayt, 20 February 1977, 15.
Medem grew up in a Jewish middle class, Polish-speaking family, and only learned
Yiddish when she became involved in the socialist movement in order to be able to
communicate with Yiddish-speaking Jewish workers. Morgn Frayhayt editor Melech
Epstein once described her as: ‘Gina Medem, attractive widow of the Bundist leader,
Vladimir Medem, a fiery but irresponsible speaker’. He does not substantiate this; see:
Epstein, The Jew and Communism, 175. Epstein is not the only man to allude to
Medem’s physical appearance in writing. It is certainly clear that hers was a strong and
determined character: American nurse, Fredericka Martin, was in contact with her for
her prospective book on the IB medical units. She only managed to visit
Medem on her death bed but a friend of Martin, who often saw Medem in the
convalescent home where she spent her last years, once wrote to Martin: ‘Gina was no
sweet old lady. Her iconoclasm, expressed in salty terms, when confronted with
pomposity, bureaucrats and stuffed shirts in general, was refreshing. Her contempt for
the hospital administration was blistering, and I can only imagine what her comments
might have been about the fellow Pole who became Pope.’ See: Martin Papers, ALBA
001, box 21, folder 22.
20 RGASPI , 545-2-162, Letter to André Marty, undated.
21 Medem, Lender, Felker, Kampfn, 326. The Cagoule (hood) was a French terrorist
right-wing organization that attempted to overthrow the Blum government. It was
linked to various French fascist organizations. See for an overview: Joel Blatt, ‘The
Cagoule Plot, 1936–1937’ in: Kenneth Mouré and Martin S. Alexander, eds., Crisis and
Renewal in France, 1918–1962 (New York: Berghahn Books, 2002), 86–104.
22 Gina Medem, Los Judios voluntarios de la libertad. Un año de lucha en las Brigadas
Internacionales (Madrid: Ediciones del Comisariado de las Brigadas Internacionales,
1937). The dedication is dated ‘octobre 1937’.
23 Ibid., 55.
24 See for a press service distribution list of the booklet: RGASPI , 545-2-86. Medem
herself made sure some copies were sent to a patronat in Poland, see: Medem, Lender,
Felker, Kampfn, 326. Patronatn were organizations that helped political prisoners and
existed among various migrant groups (in Italian they were called Patronati). In
Antwerp, for example, they published their own magazine. See: ‘Tentative list of Jewish
periodicals in Axis-Occupied Countries’, Jewish Social Studies (Supplement), 9/3
(1947), 1–44, 12. For an overview of activities in Belgium: Van Doorslaer, Kinderen van
Het Getto, 49–50. For France: Weinberg, A Community on Trial, 31.
25 The Historical Commission made plans for other ‘national brochures’ about
Czechoslovaks, Jugoslavs, Austrians and Hungarians, but I have not been able to verify
their actual release and publication language. See: RGASPI , 545-2-162, undated letter
to André Marty about the commission.
26 Medem, Los Judios voluntarios de la libertad, 36.
27 Ibid., 46.
28 Rohr, ‘The Use of Antisemitism in the Spanish Civil War’, 200.
29 Rohr, Spanish Right and the Jews, 74.
30 Arribas, El Enemigo Judeo-masónico en la Propaganda Franquista, 1936–1945,
203–204.
31 ‘El judaísmo, aliado de la anti-España’, ABC de Sevilla (1938).
32 Van Doorslaer, ‘Tussen wereldrevolutie en joodse identiteit’, 23–24.
33 Goodman sent the clipping later to Manus O’Riordan. See the whole story in: Manus
O’Riordan, ‘Irish and Jewish Volunteers in the Spanish Anti-Fascist War’ (1987).
182 Notes

Available at: http://www.geocities.com/IrelandSCW/ibvol-MoR1.htm (accessed: 28


May 2008). O’Riordan cannot help but comment in this lecture that ‘obviously, rabid
anti-Semites find bespectacled Jews particularly menacing!’, seemingly missing the
point: Jews are presented here as intellectuals who, by implication, do not fight. This is
one of two examples used in: Rohr, Spanish Right and the Jews, 74. The other is from a
newspaper article published in October 1938 and thus can hardly have been important
in establishing new ‘facts’.
34 O’Riordan, ‘Irish and Jewish Volunteers in the Spanish Anti-Fascist War’. Geiser inter
alia cites Carl Geiser’s account of such an experience: Carl Geiser, Prisoners of the
Good Fight: The Spanish Civil War, 1936–1939 (Westport, Conn: L. Hill, 1986), 146.
This is not to suggest that only German agents in Spain conducted such experiments,
Nationalist doctors did too.
35 See: Christophe Eykman, ‘The Spanish Civil War in German publications during the
Nazi years’ in: Luis Costa, Richard Critchfield, Richard Golsan and Wulf Koepke, eds.,
German and International Perspectives on the Spanish Civil War: The Aesthetics of
Partisanship (Columbia: Camden House, 1992), 166–178, 169. In this regard, Arno
Lustiger mentions a chapter from Das Rotbuch über Spanien (The Red Book about
Spain, published by the Anti-Komintern in 1937) that is devoted to Jews. Yet this
chapter does not talk about Jewish volunteers but about how the ‘Jewish leadership
of the Soviet-Union and Communist International’ control the Soviet Union and
Spanish Republican government, which is subsequently ‘proven’ by the presence of
Soviet agents in Spain, many of them allegedly Jewish. Furthermore, the chapter on the
International Brigades in the Rotbuch does not single out Jewish volunteers but
stresses how the mix of nationalities in the brigades constitute ‘the Jewish ideal of a
Bolshevist army’. See: Lustiger, Schalom Libertad!, 59; Arno Lustiger, ‘Quelques notes
sur l’engagement des Juifs dans la guerre d’Espagne’, Plurielles, 8 (2001), 40–46, 40;
Alfred Gielen, G. Dohms and E.H. Bockhoff, eds., Das Rotbuch über Spanien. Bilder,
Dokumente, Zeugenaussagen (Berlin: Nibelungen-Verlag, 1937), 227–235, 264–274.
36 Lustiger, Schalom Libertad!, 60.
37 For an example of Spanish soldiers harboring prejudices about Jews and Jewish
volunteers, in this case in the Botwin Company, see: Rein, ‘Tikkun Olam and
Transnational Solidarity’, 222. In his recent book on Jews and the Spanish Civil War,
Isidro González does not add new information on this issue but mostly bases himself
on Lustiger. See: Isidro González García, Los Judíos y La Guerra Civil Española
(Madrid: Hebraica Ediciones, 2009), in particular 166–178.
38 Medem, Los Judios voluntarios, 6.
39 Ibid., 5–6.
40 T. Elski, ‘Botvin-kompanye darf vern a batalyon derklert unz der inspektor fun di
internatsyonale brigaden Gallo’, Naye Prese, 15 March 1938, 3.
41 Diamant, Combattants Juifs, 305–307. Diamant gives two dates for his death:
15 November 1936 and, elsewhere, January 1937 (42).
42 See: Toch, ‘Juden im Spanischen Krieg 1936–1939’, 161. Toch, an Austrian-Jewish
volunteer, was part of this group.
43 Diamant, Yidn in shpanishn krig, 191–192; Diamant, Combattants Juifs, 142. Diamant
mentions two other volunteers who were involved: Ankraut from Austria and
Arshenbaum from Poland. I have not been able to find more information about them.
44 Israel Centner has published a letter from Longo, dated 16 July 1946, to the Israeli
International Brigades Association in which Longo again speaks of the heroism of ‘the
small sons of the Maccabees’ in the brigades who gave a ‘crushing refutation, well
152 Jewish Volunteers, the International Brigades and the Spanish Civil War

first, that not all Jews went like sheep to the Nazi crematoria, for it was in Spain that
thousands of Jews took up arms against fascism;
second, that Jews were particular targets of fascism and that this was a major
reason why a disproportionate percentage of the volunteers were Jews . . .;
and third, that brigade historians have regrettably failed to record Jewish
participation.31

Prago later also recalled an impromptu talk by Polish-Jewish volunteer Henri Szulewicz
during the farewell dinner of the Madrid reunion, a recollection that is worth quoting
at length:

The very last night in Madrid, Oct. 19, at the farewell dinner sponsored by the
Madrid community something out of the ordinary occurred. The last speaker was
the Polish Jew, Henri Sulewic (alias Largo), a veteran of the Dombrowski Brigade.
He devoted the whole of his brief talk, arranged for at the last moment, to the role
of the Jews in the I.B. He paid tribute to the Spanish people for having provided
Jews with the opportunity to take up arms against fascism; he explained the
significance of the formation of the Yiddish-speaking Botwin Company of the
Dombrowskis. He informed the audience of Israeli Pres. Haim Herzog’s talk in Tel
Aviv on Sept. 29, lauding the 300 Palestinian Jews who had gone to Spain 1936–37
(thus contradicting the Zionist stance that they had deserted the Palestinian
cause!), and he concluded by urging that the Jewish survivors help to inaugurate a
commemorative plaque for ‘the Jewish fighters who fell defending Madrid . . . we
ought never forget the dead who fell fighting for liberty and they ought not to
remain in their tombs as unknown soldiers’. Largo’s address stood in stark
contradiction to the posture of E. Szyr, head of the Polish delegation, who had not
uttered a word about Jewish participation in his several talks in Madrid, nor
subsequently in Barcelona, notwithstanding that 40% of the 5,000 Poles in the
International Brigades were Jews.32

The plaque that Prago alluded to here would indeed materialize 2 years after the 1986
reunion. It was unveiled in 1988 at the Fuencarral cemetery in Madrid, the burial place
of many brigade volunteers who died during the early battles for the city.33 Among the
fallen were several Jewish volunteers, most famously Albert Nakhumi Weitz, who
famously asked Luigi Longo for a Jewish unit within the International Brigades.34
Weitz’s name figures prominently on the monument that is dedicated to the ‘Jewish
volunteer combatants fallen in Spain’. Among the other names on the monument are
those of the Belgian-Jewish brothers Emil and Piet Akkerman who both fell in the
defence of Madrid.35 Several surrounding stones commemorate volunteers of different
nationalities, notably those with Central- and Eastern European background.36 The
plaque was inaugurated in the presence of Henri Szulevic, Dov Liebermann, Salmen
Salzman (then president of the Israeli IBA ) and the Israeli ambassador to Spain,
Shlomo Ben-Ami, among others.37
The way in which the ‘Jewish’ plaque is physically and visually situated is highly
symbolic: adjacent to another plaque dedicated to Polish volunteers and on top of a
184 Notes

64 Efraim Wuzek, Zikhroynes fun a Botvinist (Warsaw: Yiddish Bukh, 1964), 9.


65 Benjamin Lubelski, Yidn in Shpanishn birgerkrig, 1936–1939. Fartseykhenungen fun a
Yidishn frayvilikn (Tel-Aviv: H. Leyvik-Farlag, 1984), 198.
66 Stein, Der birger-krig in Shpanye, 214.
67 Ibid., 214.
68 As an example, Stein refers to a Polish Jewish communist nicknamed Abraham
‘Komintern’; who had lived for some time in Paris, where he was a popular speaker. He
had come to Spain despite suffering from poor eyesight. According to Stein, he was
sent there. See: Stein, Der birger-krig in Shpanye, 214. Abraham ‘Komintern’ also figures
in the memoirs of Alexander Szurek (the personal adjutant of General Walter), who
writes that ‘Abram was so nearsighted I could not understand how he could be a
soldier in Spain’. Did Abraham go to Spain of his own volition or was he given orders
by the party that were impossible to reject? See: Szurek, The Shattered Dream, 75.
69 Faïvel Schrager, Un Militant Juif (Paris: Imprimerie des Éditions polyglottes, 1979),
45–50, 47. Schrager left the PCF in early 1938.
70 ‘Notes on the Situation in the International Units in Spain Report by Colonel Com.
Sverchevsky (Walter)’, 14 January 1938, in: Ronald Radosh, Mary Habeck and Grigori
Sevostianov, Spain Betrayed: The Soviet Union in the Spanish Civil War (New Haven:
Yale University Press, 2001), 436–461, 448–449.
71 An International Brigades report dated 11 August 1937 speaks of more Spaniards than
foreign volunteers, see: RGASPI , 545-1-1. Lustiger speaks of 1,244 ‘internationals’ and
1,931 Spanish soldiers in the Polish Dombrowski Brigade at the end of January 1938.
See: Lustiger, Schalom Libertad!, 35.
72 M. Matsyak, ‘Yidishe heldn fun Dombrovski-batalyon’, Naye Prese, 18 April 1937, 3.
73 ‘Czarna Sotnia Przy Pracy . . .’, Dabrowszczak, 21 June 1937 (RGASPI 545-3-195).
I am grateful to Iwona Guść for translating this passage.
74 See a report based on this article in Parizer Haynt: ‘Antisemitishe propagande in
Poylishen komunistishen batalyon in Shpanyen’, Parizer Haynt, 7 August 1937, 2.
75 ‘Poylishe kemfer gegn antisemitism’, Naye Prese, 2 August 1937, 1. The journal of the
so-called Tchapaiev Battalion also published a declaration from Polish, Jewish and
Spanish volunteers who emphasized their united anti-fascist battle. To prove the latter
they announced several donations to the solidarity funds of Naye Prese, Dziennik
Ludowy (the journal of the Polish section of the PCF ) and Dombrowczak. See for the
declaration (undated): Diamant, Combattants Juifs, 216.
76 ‘Dombrovtshakes far di naye prese’. Yiddish version of article that appeared in
Dabrowszczak, 25 June 1937, RGASPI 545-3-310. For the original article see:
RGASPI 545-3-195.
77 On 9 March 1936, a pogrom took place in Przytyk that spread to the town’s
surroundings and cost the lives of around 80 Jews. Subsequently the victims
themselves were blamed for instigating the violence and several men were tried and
convicted. It therefore became a symbol, not only of anti-Jewish violence but also of
the injustice of the Polish regime. Similarly, on 13 May 1937, a pogrom took place in
Brest that garnered international attention.
78 ‘Yidishe frayvilike in di poylishe eynhayten in di shpanishe armey’, 12 September 1937,
RGASPI 545-3-310.
79 As told by his son Yehuda Karon in Eran Torbiner’s documentary Madrid before
Hanita (JMT Films Distribution, 2006).
80 For various examples see: Waldemar Rezmer, ‘Ethnic issues in the army in the District
Commander of Corps no. VIII Toruń (1920–1939)’ in: Jan Sziling, Mieczysław
Notes 185

Wojciechowski and Katarzyna Mrozowska-Linda, eds., Neighborhood Dilemmas: The


Poles, the Germans and the Jews in Pomerania Along the Vistula River in the 19th and
20th Century. A Collection of Studies (Toruń: Wyd. Uniw. Mikołaja Kopernika, 2002),
101–127. In his study on ‘Jewish Delinquency in Poland’ Hersch found three out of
forty kinds of crime where Jews were more prominent than non-Jews, one of these
being ‘crimes against compulsory military service, where the ratio of Jewish criminality
is two-fifths higher than that of non-Jews’. See: Liebmann Hersch, ‘Complementary
Data on Jewish Delinquency in Poland. General Considerations Suggested by Its Study’,
Journal of Criminal Law and Criminology, 27/6 (1937), 857–873, 859–860. Kehilla
leaders in Bialystok, fearing ‘overtly nationalist legislation’ in the newly constituted
Polish state encouraged Jews to resist the draft. See: Rebecca Kobrin, Jewish Bialystok
and Its Diaspora (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 2010), 139.
81 Mateusz Rodak, ‘Zydowska przestępczość kryminalna w Wojsku Polskim w
województwie lubelskim w latach 1918–1939’, Kwartalnik Historii Źydów, 243/3 (2012),
360–379.
82 Raphael Mahler analysed the ‘discrimination practiced against Jews in government
service’, based upon the Polish 1921 census and shows how few Jews were among the
Polish army’s officers. See: Raphael Mahler, ‘Jews in Public Service and the Liberal
Professions in Poland, 1918–39’, Jewish Social Studies, 6/4 (1944) 302.
83 ‘Rozkaz Dzienny 13 Brigada im. J. Dabrowskiego’, Za Wolność, December 1937,
RGASPI , 545-3-349.
84 Yiddish version: ‘Mit koved un honor trogen Botvins nomen’, 7 January 1938, RGASPI
545-3-311.
85 Dabrowszczak, 59, 1 February 1938. Yiddish version: ‘Di shevtshenko kompanye tsu di
botvin kompanye’, RGASPI 545-3-311.
86 Gershon Dua-Bogen, ‘Der geburt fun der Botvin kompanye’, RGASPI 545-3-311.
87 Rein and Ofer, ‘Becoming Brigadistas’, 107.
88 ‘Meldungen – Muzey’, Naye Prese, 29 May 1937, 6.
89 See for an overview of the Polish migrant press in France: Andrzej Paczkowski, ‘La
Presse des Emigrés Polonais en France, 1920–1940’, Revue du Nord, 60/236 (1978),
151–163. On the journal of the Union, see: Edmond Gogolewski, ‘Le Kupiec polski we
Francji, organe des commerçants et artisans polonais en France 1934–1969’ in: Daniel
Beauvois, ed., La Presse polonaise en France. Prasa polska we Francij 1918–1984
(Villeneuve d’Ascq: Univ. de Lille III , 1988), 115–140, 130–132.
90 ‘A Poylishe antisemitishe tsaytung hetst kegn di Parizer yidishe arbeter’, Naye Prese,
23 July 1937, 3. For an article on the ambulance see: ‘Ambulans far Shpanye fun
yidishn koordinir-komitet iz oysgeshtelt oyfn Aveni Matirez-Moro’, Naye Prese, 18
April 1937, 1. Siła was created in 1925, see: Joël Michel, ‘Aux origines de la presse
polonaise du Nord/Pas-de-Calais: Le transfert-de Westphalie après la première guerre
mondiale’ in: Beauvois, ed., La Presse Polonaise en France, 45–61, 56.
91 The comments from Siła were also mentioned in the article that appeared on the
occasion of the publication of the first issue of the Yiddish journal Frayhaytskemfer: ‘A
yidishe militsyonern-tsaytung hot ongehoybn dershaynen in Shpanye’, Naye Prese, 17
August 1937, 1.
92 This also shows that not all Jewish communists from Poland were active in circles
around the Jewish section and Naye Prese. See Kartin’s biography in: Lustiger, Schalom
Libertad!, 156–159, 157.
93 As Norman Davies comments: ‘That beautiful slogan “FOR YOUR FREEDOM
AND OURS ” was coined to express the contention that revolution in Russia and
186 Notes

independence for Poland were essential to the overthrow of Tsarism.’ See: Norman
Davies, God’s Playground: A History of Poland: Volume II: 1795 to the Present (Oxford:
Oxford University Press, 2005), 50.
94 Diamant, Combattants Juifs, 137–138; Lustiger, Schalom Libertad!, 140–141.
95 Slezkine argues: ‘Even in 1936–1939, when hundreds of alleged nationalists were being
sentenced to death, “the whole Soviet country” was noisily celebrating the 1000th
anniversary of Firdousi, claimed by the Tajiks as one of the founders of their (and not
Persian) literature; the 500th anniversary of Mir Ali Shir Nawaiy (Alisher Navoi),
appropriated by the Uzbeks as the great classic of their (and not Chaghatay) culture;
and the 125th anniversary of Taras Shevchenko, described by Pravda as “a great son of
the Ukrainian people” who “carried Ukrainian literature to a height worthy of a
people with a rich historical past”. The few national icons that suffered during this
period were attacked for being anti-Russian, not for being national icons.’ See: Yuri
Slezkine, ‘The USSR as a Communal Apartment’, 448.
96 Unless indicated otherwise, most of the following biographical information is based
on: ‘Botvins erklerungen farn shtand-gerikht’, Ovnt Kuryer, 7 August 1925; Abraham
Kwaterko, ‘Zayn nomen vet oyf eybik lebn in undzere hertser’, Folks Shtime, 2 August
1986, 6; Ber Grin, Naftali Botvin. Tsu zayn tsentn yortsayt (New York: Farlag fun der
Idisher Byuro bam Tsentral-Komitet fun der Komunishtisher Partay, 1935), 3–7. The
number of children in the family is variously given as six or eight. The Ovnt Kuryer is
accessible online via Epaveldas – Lithuanian Cultural Digital Heritage: http://www.
epaveldas.lt/
97 Botwin had initially retracted this statement during police interrogations. See:
‘Botvins erklerungen farn shtand-gerikht’, Ovnt Kuryer, 7 August 1925, 2.
98 ‘Botvin farmishpet tsum toyt durkh shisn. Der toyt-urteyl iz oysgefirt gevorn
donerstog baytog’, Di Tsayt, 7 August 1925, 1; ‘Oysgefirt gevorn Botvin’s toyt-urteyl’,
Di Yidishe Shtime, 10 August 1925, 2.
99 See assertions to this effect in: Kwaterko, ‘Zayn nomen’.
100 ‘Nekomeh far Botvinen’, Ovnt Kuryer, 183 (9 August 1925), 2.
101 Leybl Tiger, ‘Ayngekritste zikhroynes fun mayn umfargeslekhn shtetl’ in: M.W.
Bernstein, ed., Pinkas Zyrardow, Amshinov un Viskit (Buenos Aires: 1961), 192–197,
195. See also online: http://www.jewishgen.org/Yizkor/Zyrardow/zyr188.html. I cite
the latter translation with some minor modifications.
102 ‘Botvins erklerungen farn shtand-gerikht’, Ovnt Kuryer, 7 August 1925, 2.
103 Grin, Naftali Botvin, 6.
104 Alan Astro, ‘Wolf Wieviorka: Parisian Writer and Forverts Contributor’, Yiddish,
11/1–2 (1998), 18–29, 18.
105 Avraham Vieviorka, Naftoli Botvin: Drame in fir aktn (Minsk: Vaysruslendisher
melukher-farlag, 1929); Avraham Vieviorka, Undzer Yat Naftole: Drame far yatn un
yatlekh (Kharkov: Melukhe-farlag far di Natsyonale minderhaytn in USRR , 1932).
106 See: Dov-Ber Kerler, Politics of Yiddish: Studies in Language, Literature, and Society
(Walnut Creek, CA : Altamira Press, 1998), 129, 144. A stage photograph can be found
in: Zalmen Zylbercweig, Albom fun Idishn teater (New York, 1937), 59. For more on
Artef in general see: Edna Nahshon, Yiddish Proletarian Theatre: The Art and Politics
of the Artef, 1925–1940 (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1998).
107 Moshe Teyf, ‘Naftali Botvin’, Yidish Kultur (October 1960), 43. Teyf was also a
contributor to Sovietish Heymland.
108 Schatz, The Generation, 95–97.
109 There were other names possible too, see: Schatz, The Generation, 112–113. Schatz
does not name Botwin among his mini-pantheon of Jewish communist heroes.
Notes 187

110 The journalist Samuel Shneiderman suggests the idea of using the name Bar Kokhba
indeed caused problems. See: Samuel Shneiderman, ‘Bar Kokhba tsu Botvin’, Forverts,
21 November 1986. Simon Bar Kokhba was the leader of a Jewish revolt (AD 132–135)
against the Roman Empire, following emperor Hadrian’s implementation of various
measures aimed at Hellenization of the Jews in Palestine. Bar Kokhba was killed in the
war but subsequently became a Jewish (military) hero, not least owing to the ‘vicious
suppression of the rebellion [which] brought an end to known insurrections by Jews
against Roman rule, but left in the surviving Jewish literature from Late Antiquity an
abiding image of Rome as bloodthirsty and oppressive’. See: Martin Goodman, ‘Trajan
and the Origins of Roman Hostility to the Jews’, Past & Present, 182 (2004), 3–31, 8.
Important in contributing to the heroic aura of Bar Kokhba in the Yiddish world was
Abraham Goldfaden’s play Bar Kokhba. See: Seth L. Wolitz, ‘Forging a Hero for a Jewish
Stage: Goldfadn’s Bar Kokhba’, Shofar, 20/3 (2002), 53–65.
111 Wuzek, Zikhroynes fun a Botvinist, 15.
112 As was apparently the case with Shloyme Elboym, who was displeased with his
assignment to another company upon his return from hospital. He obeyed the orders
but wrote an article about his yearning for the Botwin Company: Shloyme Elboym,
‘Mayn benkshaft’, Botvin, 4, 12 June 1938, 6.
113 Wuzek, Zikhroynes fun a Botvinist, 105–110; collection Wojna domowa w Hiszpanii
1941–1987, Żydowski Instytut Historyczny, 332–335.
114 Some attention was paid to the Spaniards in Botvin, 4, 12 June 1938, 12–13. These
articles are printed in both Spanish and Yiddish.
115 Diamant, Yidn in shpanishn krig, 204; Diamant, Combattants Juifs, 148–149.
116 According to the official organ of the 35th Division (of which the Dombrowski
Brigade was a part), as quoted in: Botvin, 5, 3 November 1938, 30. Wuzek speaks of
sixty survivors. See: Wuzek, Zikhroynes fun a Botvinist, 23.
117 This led to great confusion among the men. During the speech of the Spanish
commander, a rumour started about the number of rifles. The soldiers spoke in
Yiddish, so their concerns had to be translated to the commander, who then made his
audacious remark. See: Stein, Der birger-krig in Shpanye, 230.
118 Wuzek, Zikhroynes fun a Botvinist, 19.
119 Stein, Der birger-krig in Shpanye, 237.
120 Wuzek, Zikhroynes fun a Botvinist, 34.
121 There was considerable suspicion towards former Foreign Legion soldiers, but
Halbersberg appears to have become quite popular, despite this background.
122 Botvin, 5, 3 November 1938, 31.
123 Szurek, The Shattered Dream, 262. Szurek recalls that ‘the fascists penetrated the
trenches of the Botvin and Shevchenko companies and the fight with hand grenades
and hand-to-hand combat began’. See: ibid., 259–260.
124 Lustiger, Schalom Libertad!, 75.
125 For the ‘red devils’ reference, see: Wuzek, Zikhroynes fun a Botvinist, 56.
126 See: Misha Reger, ‘Yidishe militsionern – mutike kemfer’, Naye Prese, 8 October
1937, 3.
127 Gina Medem, ‘A grus der “Naye Prese” ’, Naye Prese, 29 January 1938, 3.
128 Rothenberg, ‘The Jewish Naftali Botwin Company’, 16.
129 Samuel Shneiderman, ‘Ershte yidishe kamf kegn di natsis iz geven in Shpanye’,
Forverts, 10 August 1976. ‘Goldene tkufe’ refers to the twelfth to thirteenth centuries
when Jews in Spain enjoyed relative autonomy and Jewish culture blossomed.
130 ‘Toes hazetser’, Botvin, 3 November 1938, 27.
131 Y. Lekhter, ‘ “Botvin” – organ fun ale yidishe kemfer!”, Botvin, 4, 2.
188 Notes

132 Rothenberg, ‘The Jewish Naftali Botwin Company’, 17.


133 Quote from Morgn Frayhayt as reprinted in: Botvin, 5 (3 November 1938), 31.
134 ‘Di frayhayt muz men oyskemfn’, Botvin, 4 (12 June 1938), 4.
135 Wall newspapers could be found throughout the Brigades and were considered as
important as the regular Brigade press. See: Richardson, Comintern Army, 137. A
description of the choir activities can be found in Botvin, 5. See: ‘Undzer soldatn-
khor’ and ‘Ven Botvintses vayln zikh’, Botvin, 5, 3 November 1938, 12, 16–17.
136 Diamant, Yidn in shpanishn krig, 318.
137 This reference was made in an article dedicated to a name-giving-ceremony for
a machine gun in honour of a fallen comrade. See: ‘A koyln-varfer i.n. fun
Y. Rubinshtayn’, Botvin, 4 (12 June 1938), 6.
138 See: ‘Oyf opru’, Botvin, 4 (12 June 1938), 7.
139 Aron Ginsburg, ‘Mir makhn a vant-tsaytung’, Botvin, 5 (3 November 1938), 16–17.
140 Botvin, 4 (12-06-1938), 16. Another song, written by Yiddish writer Moshe Shulstein
and set to music by H. Kon, can be found in: RGASPI , 545-3-312.
141 ‘Ven Botvinistn vayln zikh’, Botvin, 5 (3 November 1938), 16–17. Szurek recalls a
meeting with Tulman in 1975. Tulman, then a rabbi, told him: ‘You can’t imagine how
much I suffered and how much I still suffer. They call me “The Red Rabbi”.’ See:
Szurek, The Shattered Dream, 287.

Chapter 3
1 Both Naye Prese and Undzer Shtime renewed publication after the Second World War
and were published until 1994 and 1995 respectively. See: Judith Wolfthal, ‘Snapshot
of the Parisian Postwar Jewish Left. The Evidence of Naye Presse and Undzer Shtime’
(MA thesis: Oxford, 2002).
2 ‘Tentative List of Jewish Periodicals in Axis-Occupied Countries’, 16–19. Zosa
Szajkowski counts in the whole of France from 1923 onwards 127 Yiddish
publications. See: Zosa Szajkowski, ‘150 Yor Yidishe Prese in Frankraykh –
Bibliographye Fun Der Yidisher Prese in Frankraykh Un in Di Kolonyes’ in:
A. Tcherikover, ed., Yidn in Frankraykh. Shtudyes un Materialn (New York: YIVO,
1942), 236–308, 243.
3 Joanna Nalewajko-Kulikov, ‘ “Di Haynt-mishpokhe”: Study for a Group Picture’ in:
Glenn Dynner and François Guesnet, eds., Warsaw. The Jewish Metropolis: Essays in
Honor of the 75th Birthday of Professor Antony Polonsky (Leiden: Brill, 2015), 256–258.
4 See for a general overview: Audrey Kichelewsky and Aline Benain, ‘Parizer Haynt
et Naïe Presse, les itinéraires paradoxaux de deux quotidiens parisiens en langue
yiddish’, Archives Juives. Revue d’histoire des Juifs de France, 36/1 (2003), 52–69.
For the early years: Shmuel Bunim, ‘Lettres de Lecteurs, chroniques et faits divers
d’un quotidien yiddish. Parizer Haynt 1926–1932’ (Masters thesis: University of
Paris I, 1997). For a more personalized account of a former editor see: Aaron
Alperin, ‘The Yiddish press in Paris’ in: David Finker, ed., The Jewish Press that Was.
Accounts, Evaluations and Memories of Jewish Papers in Pre-Holocaust Europe
(Tel-Aviv: World Federation of Jewish Journalists, 1980), 370–377. On Haynt see for
instance: Nalewajko-Kulikov, ‘ “Di Haynt-mishpokhe”: Study for a Group Picture’,
252–271.
5 At least seven publications are listed in: ‘Tentative list of Jewish periodicals in
Axis-Occupied Countries’, 16–19.
Notes 189

6 See: Szajkowski, ‘150 Yor Yidishe Prese in Frankraykh’, 277.


7 According to Szajkowski, the Linke Poale Zion published some issues of its journal
Arbeter Vort in July and August 1936 but nothing afterwards. See: ibid., 250.
8 See an MOE report from 1927: Archives Départementales de Seine-St. Denis, Archives
PCF 1921–1939, 3 Mi 6/35, no. 250.
9 See for example an announcement about these correspondents: Naye Prese, 19
September 1936, 1.
10 Jeremy Hicks, ‘Worker Correspondents: Between Journalism and Literature’, Russian
Review, 66/4 (2007), 568–585. See also: Gennady Estraikh, ‘The Yiddish-Language
Communist Press’ in: Jonathan Frankel, ed., Dark Times, Dire Decisions. Jews and
Communism (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2004), 62–83, 65–66. For a more
elaborate analysis see also: Anna Shternshis, Soviet and Kosher: Jewish Popular Culture in
the Soviet Union, 1923–1939 (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 2006), chapter 2.
11 See the postscript by his son Friedrich in the recent edition of his 1944 novel
Totenjäger: Leo Katz and Friedrich Katz, Totenjäger (Aachen: Rimbaud Verlag, 2005),
382–403.
12 Correspondence of Frayhayt editor Paul Novick with Naye Prese shows there were
regular contacts between the two newspapers in the postwar period. See: Novick
Archive, YIVO, RG 1247, box 12, folder 193.
13 According to Weinberg: ‘A reading of the movement’s paper, Undzer Shtime, which
began publication in 1936, however, reveals that interest continued to centre mainly on
political events in Poland.’ This is not quite true; the journal also paid significant
attention to Jewish leftist politics in Paris, of which it was also a part. See: Weinberg, A
Community on Trial, 42.
14 Szajkowski, ‘150 Yor Yidishe Prese in Frankraykh’, 246.
15 See for a discussion of the different opinions on the latter: Weinberg, A Community on
Trial, 55–58.
16 Nathan Weinstock, Le pain de misère. Histoire du mouvement ouvrier juif en Europe.
Tome III. L’Europe centrale et occidentale 1914–1945 (Paris 1986), 136.
17 According to Alperin, Shnoer decided as a result of this case to found the short-lived
Yiddish daily Parizer Morgnblat. See: Alperin, ‘The Yiddish press in Paris’, 374.
18 Naye Prese spoke of course about ‘Palestine’ whereas Parizer Haynt wrote about ‘Erets
Israel’.
19 Weinberg, ‘Left-Wing Jews and the Question of Assimilation: Immigrant Jewish
Communists in Paris in the 1930s’, in: Bela Vago, ed., Jewish Assimilation in Modern
Times (Boulder: Westview Press, 1979), 25–39.
20 Naye Prese, 26 October 1936, 3.
21 See: Weinberg, A Community on Trial, 55–56; Kichelewsky, ‘La Naïe Presse’, 55–56.
Weinberg does not seem to realize this was simply a matter of following PCF policy.
22 As for example suggested in: Bat-Ami Zucker, ‘The Jewish Bureau: The Organization of
American Jewish Communists in the 1930s’, Bar-Ilan Studies in History, 3 (1980),
135–147.
23 See for a discussion of the relation between Yiddish press and Yiddish writers in
general the introduction to: Leonard Prager, Yiddish Literary and Linguistic Periodicals
and Miscellanies. A Selective Annotated Bibliography (Darby, PA : published for the
Association for the Study of Jewish Languages by Norwood Editions, 1982). Online
version: http://yiddish.haifa.ac.il/reference/Biblio/introduc.htm (accessed, 15 May
2007). For Yiddish writers and the communist press in particular see: Estraikh, In
Harness. Yiddish Writers’ Romance with Communism.
190 Notes

24 For an in-depth analysis of Soviet-Yiddish spelling see: Gennady Estraikh, Soviet Yiddish.
Language Planning and Linguistic Development (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1999).
25 Quoted from: Wilbur Schramm, ‘The Soviet Communist Theory of the Press’ in: Fred
S. Siebert, Theodore Peterson and Wilbur Schramm, eds., Four Theories of the Press:
The Authoritarian, Libertarian, Social Responsibility, and Soviet Communist Concepts of
What the Press Should Be and Do (Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1963), 105–146,
116. For a more in-depth analysis of Lenin’s views and their link to Karl Marx’s ideas
on the press see: Hansjürgen Koschwitz, ‘Die Presse in der UdSSR’, Gewerkschaftliche
Monatshefte, 2 (1969), 93–102, 96–99.
26 Françoise Thom, Newspeak: The Language of Soviet Communism (London: The
Claridge Press, 1989), 25–32. Unfortunately Thom is so keen on condemning
‘newspeak’ and communism in general that she falls prey to the same ‘good versus evil’
simplism of which she accuses the world of communism and its ‘newspeak’. Even her
definition of ideology seems tailored to suit her condemnation of totalitarian
ideologies (p. 57. note 2). For a sustained critique of such binary evaluations see:
Alexei Yurchak, ‘Soviet Hegemony of Form: Everything Was Forever, Until It Was No
More’, Comparative Studies in Society and History, 45/3 (2003), 480–510, especially
480–486. For a much more nuanced discussion of the same problematic see the work
of Daniel Weiss: Daniel Weiss, ‘Was ist neu am “Newspeak”? Reflexionen zur Sprache
der Politik in der Sowjetunion’ in: Renate Rathmayr, ed., Slavistische Linguistik 1985:
Referate des XI. Konstanzer Slavistischen Arbeitstreffens Innsbruck 10. bis 12.9.1985
(München: 1986), 247–325; and especially: Daniel Weiss, ‘Stalinist vs. Fascist
Propaganda: How Much Do they Have in Common?’ in: Louis de Saussure and Peter
Schulz, eds., Manipulation and Ideologies in the Twentieth Century: Discourse,
Language, Mind (Amsterdam: J. Benjamins, 2005), 251–270.
27 Ibid., 255–256.
28 Thing paraphrases Martin Andersen Nexø. See: Morten Thing, ‘The Signs of
Communism – Signs of Ambiguity. Language and Communism’ in: Tauno Saarela and
Kimmo Rentola, eds., Communism National & International (Helsinki: Suomen
Historiallinen Seura, 1998), 241–257, 245.
29 Ibid.

Chapter 4
1 Adam Rayski, Nos illusions perdues (Paris: Balland, 1985), 50. Note the different
emphasis in the French and German titles of the book: Adam Rayski, Zwischen Thora
und Partei. Lebensstationen eines jüdischen Kommunisten (Freiburg: Herder Verlag,
1987).
2 Adam Rayski, ‘Shpanye’, Naye Prese, 22 July 1936, 3.
3 Adam Rayski, ‘Di natsis viln an intervents kegn Shpanye’, Naye Prese, 24 July 1936, 3.
4 Carlos Serrano, L’enjeu espagnol: PCF et guerre d’Espagne (Paris: Messidor/Editions
sociales, 1987), 37–39. In fact the head of the propaganda section of the PCF, Jacques
Duclos, commented from the very beginning that ‘in Spain, like in France, the main
enemy is fascism’. See: Jacques Duclos, ‘Insurrection fasciste au Maroc Espagnol’,
L’Humanité, 19 July 1936, 1.
5 Paul Vaillant-Couturier, L’Humanité, 24 July 1936, 1. On 3 August, L’Humanité
published a manifesto that summed up its stance under the title ‘Avec L’Espagne pour
la securité de la France’. It paid particular attention to what it described as Hitler’s
Notes 191

agents and traitors of France. See: ‘Avec L’Espagne pour la securité de la France’,
L’Humanité, 3 August 1936, 6.
6 Ibid.
7 Gabriel Colomé and Jeroni Sureda, ‘Sports and international relations (1919–1939):
the 1936 Popular Olympiad’, online article: Barcelona: Centre d’Estudis Olímpics UAB .
See: http://olympicstudies.uab.es/pdf/wp020_eng.pdf (accessed: 30 July 2007), 6, 10.
According to Jewish veteran Henri Szulevic the Olympiad was organized by the
Jewish Cultural Association in Barcelona. Szulevic, born in 1915, was a Polish-Jewish
communist who had lived in France before moving to Barcelona in 1935. There he
worked for Szaja Kinderman who became an International Brigades organizer. In
close contact with Moscow, Szulevic was involved in the creation of the Association.
See a biography and interview in: Lustiger, Schalom Libertad!, 233–238, especially
234–235.
8 ‘Naye Prese brengt ershte bashraybung fun di blutike gasn-kamfn in Bartselona’, Naye
Prese, 26 July 1936, 1/2. On the same day such an account appeared in L’Humanité:
‘Aux frontières d’Espagne. Le récit d’un des sportifs perpignanais revenant de
Barcelone’, L’Humanité, 26 July 1936, 1/4.
9 See the foreword by Egon Erwin Kisch in: Elski, Oyf di frontn fun Shpanye.
Reportazshn (Paris: Farlag fun A.B. Tserota, 1939), 11–12. Little other biographical data
on Elski exists. See also: Lustiger, Schalom Libertad!, 333–335. This is mostly a
translation of Kisch’s foreword.
10 See also Lerman’s memoirs: Louis Gronowski-Brunot, Le Dernier Grand Soir. Un Juif
de Pologne (Paris: Le Seuil, 1980), 84.
11 ‘T. Elski in Pariz’, Naye Prese, 24 September 1936, 1; ‘Unzer Shpanisher korespondent
T. Elski’, Naye Prese, 30 March 1937, 1.
12 ‘Hilf far di Shpanishe frayhayt-kemfer’, Naye Prese, 2 August 1936, 1.
13 Thus on 3 August the so-called Commission de Solidarité du Rassemblement Populaire
pour l’aide au Peuple Espagnol was formally established while the PCF had already on
24 July decided to look at possibilites for aiding republican Spain. See: Serrano, L’enjeu
espagnol, 40; Skoutelsky, L’espoir guidait leurs pas, 109–110.
14 Adam Rayski, ‘Hilf far Shpanye!’, Naye Prese, 1 August 1936, 2.
15 André Marty, ‘En Espagne, comme pendant la grande Revolution française: la liberté
ou la mort!’, L’Humanité, 1 August 1936, 3.
16 ‘Helfn dem Shpanishn republik heyst rateven dem velt-sholem’, Naye Prese, 20 August
1936, 2.
17 P. Korn, ‘A vagon mit shpayz farn shpanishn folk’, Naye Prese, 3 August 1936, 2. For his
memoirs see: P. Korn, ‘Der yid. vagon shpayz’, Naye Prese, 20 August 1936, 2.
18 Ibid.
19 Ts. Rubinstein, ‘In shtet fun shayterhoyfns’, Naye Prese, 19 August 1936, 4; ‘In der tsayt
ven shpanye hot aroysgetribn ale yidn’, Naye Prese, 25 August 1936, 4/6.
20 T. Elski, ‘Aroystraybn ale yidn fun Sphanye’, Naye Prese, 5 August 1936, 1.
21 Jewish Labour Council, ‘Spain and the Jewish People’, September 1936, Marx Memorial
Library, International Brigades Archive, box B-4, file G/8.
22 Henry Srebrnik, ‘ “Salud di heldn!” Jewish communist activity in London on behalf of
the Spanish Republic’, Michigan Academician, 16/3 (1984), 371–381, 379.
23 ‘Yidn antloyfn fun shpanishn maroko’, Naye Prese, 21 August 1936, 1; ‘Naye
kontributsye oyf yidn . . .’, Naye Prese, 31 August 1936, 1.
24 ‘Sharfer teror kegn yidn in shpanishn maroke unter francos hershaft’, Naye Prese,
23 October 1936, 3.
192 Notes

25 ‘Raykhe yidn in franz. Maroko helfn shpanishe fashistn un antisemitn!’, Naye Prese,
9 September 1936, 1.
26 T. Elski, ‘Yidishe arbeter fun Bartselona kemfn oyf di frontn fun Shpanye’, Naye Prese,
12 August 1936, 1/4.
27 T. Elski, ‘Oyfn veg tsum front’, Naye Prese, 13 August 1936, 4/6.
28 L’Humanité also had a reporter in Spain, Gabriel Peri, but he only wrote about the
events of the war or the Spanish militias. See for instance: Gabriel Peri, ‘Milicien,
pour quoi te bats-tu?’, L’Humanité, 9 August 1936, 3.
29 See for a list of its members based on information from Emmanuel Mink (the last
commander of the Botwin Company): Lustiger, Schalom Libertad!, 68–69.
30 ‘A flamikn grus der “Naye Prese” fun di transheyen arum Saragosa shikt iber a grupe
yidishe militsyonern’, Naye Prese, 7 August 1936, 1.
31 Van Doorslaer, ‘Tussen wereldrevolutie en joodse identiteit’, 15–16.
32 Y. Lekhter, ‘Abrasha, yidisher arbeter fun Brisl provyant-shef oyfn Hueska-front’, Naye
Prese, 17 October 1936, 1/3.
33 Ilja Rot, ‘Abrasha Krasny. Heldisher yidisher militsioner gefaln in kamf kegn fashizm’,
Naye Prese, 23 June 1937, 3; Van Doorslaer, ‘Tussen wereldrevolutie en joodse
identiteit’, 16–18.
34 Lustiger, Schalom Libertad!, 69.
35 Marx Memorial Library (henceforth MML ), IB box 2-B, 51. An ambulance was later
dedicated to the memory of Masters who died at the battle for Brunete in July 1937.
See: Srebrnik, ‘ “Salud di heldn!” ’, 376.
36 ‘Di Telman-grupe fun Hueska shikt a bagrisung der “Naye Prese” ’, Naye Prese,
14 October 1936, 2.
37 T. Elski, ‘Mit yidishe fravilike fun Pariz oyfn veg keyn Barcelona’, Naye Prese,
11 October 1936, 4; 12 October 1936, 4/6.
38 ‘Yidishe frayvilike forn avek’, Naye Prese, 23 September 1936, 5.
39 ‘Leon Boym lebt? Yidishe kemfer fun Pariz shver farvundet in S. Sebastyan’, Naye Prese,
4 September 1936, 1. See for the announcement: T. Elski and Abrasha Krasni, ‘Dr. Kuba
Bakhran gefaln oyfn Hueska-front’, Naye Prese, 24 October 1937, 1/2. For an obituary:
Adler, Yankl, ‘Dr. Kuba Bakhrakh’, Naye Prese, 24 October 1936, 2.
40 See the announcement: ‘Leon Boym [advert]’, Naye Prese, 8 September 1936, 1. An
obituary appeared later: ‘Leon Boym’, Naye Prese, 9 September 1936, 5.
41 ‘Der Belvil baert dem umgekumenem Leon Boym’, Naye Prese, 18 September 1936, 2.
42 See: Itsik Fefer, ‘A lid vegn Leon Boym’, Naye Prese, 11 October 1936, 3. For more on
Fefer, see: Gennady Estraikh, ‘Itsik Fefer: A Yiddish Wunderkind of the Bolshevik
Revolution’, Shofar, 20/3 (2002), 14–31. Fefer was one of the members of the Jewish
Anti-fascist Committee executed in Moscow on 12 August 1952, after a secret trial. See:
Joshua Rubenstein and Vladimir Naumov, Stalin’s Secret Pogrom: The Postwar Inquisition
of the Jewish Anti-Fascist Committee (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2005).
43 Yankl Adler, ‘Dr. Kuba Bakhran gefaln oyfn Hueska-front’, Naye Prese, 24 October
1936, 1/2; Van Doorslaer, ‘Tussen wereldrevolutie en joodse identiteit’, 19.
44 Ibid., 19–21. As Victor Berch remarked: ‘Dr. Bachrach must have been seriously
wounded, since he lives in England at the present time.’ Victor A. Berch, Contributions
towards a Bibliography of Jewish Participation in the Spanish Civil War (Waltham:
Brandeis University Library, 1985), 27.
45 A. Doverman, ‘Mayn bagegenish mit Dr. Kuba Bakhrakh dem musterhaftn yidishn
kemfer in Shpanye’, Naye Prese, 22 October 1937, 1/3. The fact that Naye Prese paid
tribute to Bachrach is interesting because he would face accusations of Trotskyism,
Notes 193

apparently because of contacts with a suspected spy for the Nationalists and ended up
in the so-called ‘Ninth Company’ in the camp of Gurs where those who did not ‘adjust’
were placed. See: Szurek, The Shattered Dream, 289–291; Van Doorslaer, ‘Tussen
wereldrevolutie en joodse identiteit’, 62–63.
46 ‘Leo Katz’ in: Primus-Heinz Kucher and Karl Müller, eds., Österreichische Exil-
Literatur seit 1933. Lexikon (Salzburg: Universität Salzburg, 2002). Online at: http://
www.literaturepochen.at/exil/ (accessed 15 April 2016).
47 ‘Unzer mitarbeter B. Lekash nekhtn opgeforn keyn Shpanye. “Naye Prese” hot itst 3
korespondentn in Shpanye’, Naye Prese, 16 August 1936, 1. Lecache did not know
Yiddish and his articles were translated according to Rayski: Interview with Adam
Rayski, Paris, 2 May 2005.
48 ‘Photo of T. Elski and Melekh Epstein’, Naye Prese, 19 September 1936, special
addendum. To my knowledge no article of Epstein, who left Spain by the end of 1936,
was ever published in Naye Prese so it might have been an intention that never
materialized or simply a good photo opportunity that showed the transnational
network of the newspaper. Epstein himself only briefly speaks about Spain in his
memoirs: Epstein, The Jew and Communism, 304–309, 305.
49 Celebrated on 3 September in Mutualité. For a report see: Naye Prese, 4 September
1937, 2/5. See the issue of 2 September for several articles devoted to the Jewish
Popular Front.
50 I have not been able to locate this issue of Undzer Shtime.
51 Y. Lerman, ‘Ver iz der soyne?’, Naye Prese, 20 September 1936, 3.
52 ‘Far a frayntlekher diskusye tsvishn di arbetndike (a briv fun der yidisher komisye tsu
di Linke P. Ts.)’, Naye Prese, 27 September 1936, 6.
53 See especially the issue of 11 September 1936.
54 ‘Hitler vil farshklafn Frankraykh un di yidn’, Naye Prese, 22 August 1936, 1.
55 Maurice Thorez, ‘Des Avions pour l’Espagne!’, L’Humanité, 27 August 1936, 4.
56 ‘A kapitel fun “Mayn kamf ”. Frankraykh un di yidn zenen undzere greste soynim’, Naye
Prese, 23 August 1936, 4.
57 G. Kenig, ‘Di lere fun Niremberg’, Naye Prese, 15 September 1936, 2.
58 See an editorial by the same Kenig of a food collection for Spain: G. Kenig, ‘Der yid.
vagon shpayz’, Naye Prese, 20 August 1936, 2. Aiding Spain, stated Kenig, implied
fighting international anti-Semitism.
59 Y. Lekhter, ‘Abrasha, yidisher arbeter fun Brisl provyant-shef oyfn Hueska-front’, Naye
Prese, 17 October 1936, 1/3.
60 Y. Lekhter, ‘Mit a yidishe grupe kemfer oyf dem aragonishn front’, Naye Prese,
27 October 1936, 3.
61 ‘La colonne internationale qui lutte aux cotés des défenseurs de Madrid adresse son
salut chaleureux à tous les antifascistes du monde’, L’Humanité, 13 November 1936, 1.
62 The Communist International (1937), 330.
63 L’Humanité, 7 December 1936, 1.
64 Y. Lekhter, ‘A bagegenish mit a yidishn militsioner komisar fun koylnvarfer-brigade’,
Naye Prese, 16 November 1936, 1/3.
65 T. Elski, ‘Intervyu mitn politishn komisar fun der internatsyonaln brigade’, Naye Prese,
8 December 1936, 1/4.
66 Mario Nicoletti, ‘Der heroizm fun di yidishe kemfer hot farnikhtet oyf shtendik di
legende vegn rasn-untersheyd’, Naye Prese, 22 April 1937, 1.
67 Y. Izkaray, ‘Yidishe kemfer in Shpanye loyt der Madrider tsaytung “Mondo Obrero” ’,
Naye Prese, 11 December 1936, 2.
194 Notes

68 Sholem Konsul, ‘A grus fun yidishe kemfer in Madrid shikt iber der militsioner Sholem
Konsul’, Naye Prese, 12 March 1937, 1/3.
69 ‘Entuziastish artikel in Shpanisher tsaytung vegn dem heroizm fun di yidishe kemfer’,
Naye Prese, 1 August 1937, 3.
70 ‘Poylishe regirung-prese hetst kegn Dombrowsky-batalyon’, Naye Prese, 19 June 1937,
2. Interestingly, Naye Prese now used Alter’s presence at the occasion to counter the
accusation that the Dombrowski Battalion was an exclusively communist affair,
whereas Alter otherwise was a regular target because of his alleged Trotskyist
sympathies. See for a photo of Alter’s visit at the front: Samuel A. Portnoy, ed., Henryk
Erlich and Victor Alter. Two Heroes and Martyrs for Jewish Socialism (New York: KTAV,
Jewish Labor Bund, 1990). The photo can be found in the documents section between
pages 184–185.
71 Janek, ‘Der Dombrowski batalyon far der Poylish-yidisher dernenterung. Bageystert
artikel vegn der “Naye Prese” in der tsaytung fun dem batalyon’, Naye Prese, 4 July
1937, 1/2.
72 This is the same article in which the positive opinion of Battalion commissar
Matuszczak was related, see: Y. Lekhter, ‘A bagegenish mit a yidishn militsioner
komisar fun koylnvarfer-brigade’, Naye Prese, 16 November 1936, 1/3. Inzelstein died
at Madrid during the summer, see: ‘Leon Inzelstein yidisher komisar iz heldish gefaln
bay farteydikn Madrid’, Naye Prese, 11 July 1937, 4.
73 ‘Yidishe kemfer stolts fun unzer folk’, Naye Prese, 18 July 1937, 5.
74 Naye Prese, 27 July 1937, 1/4.
75 John McCannon, ‘Positive Heroes at the Pole: Celebrity Status, Socialist-Realist
Ideals and the Soviet Myth of the Arctic, 1932–39’, Russian Review, 56/3 (1997),
346–365, 347.
76 See also Beller’s autobiography: Ilex Beller, De mon shtetl à Paris (Paris: Editions du
Scribe, 1991).
77 ‘Yidishe Pariz gefayert 3 yor “Naye Prese” ’, Naye Prese, 9 February 1937, 3/4.
78 ‘Unzere Shpanishe korespondent – T. Elski vet bazukhn folgende shtet’, Naye Prese,
17 March 1937, 2.
79 ‘A muzey fun yidishn militsyoner in Shpanye vet geshafn vern in Pariz’, Naye Prese,
10 May 1937, 1.
80 ‘Komitet fun yid militsionern in Shpanye oyfn nomen fun Albert Vayts (Nakhumi)’,
Naye Prese, 14 May 1937, 5.
81 See the following article in which the committee asked for materials relating to
particular volunteers: ‘Meldungen – oysshtelung’, Naye Prese, 2 September 1937, 6.
82 The word ‘lid’ in Yiddish can mean both ‘song’ and ‘poem’ but since the article also calls
upon Yiddish poets to send their material one can assume the latter is meant.
83 See also for a short description of the exhibition: Diamant, Yidn in shpanishn krig,
383–391; Diamant, Combattants Juifs, 217–221. According to Diamant the materials of
the exhibition that were kept for the museum were buried shortly before the outbreak
of the war and could not be recovered. One gets the impression he himself had to rely
on Naye Prese as well for his description.
84 Zylberberg was born in Plotzk and moved to Paris before the war. He was captured
during the war and died in Auschwitz. See: Eliyahu Eisenberg, ed., Plotzk; toldot kehila
atikat yomin be-Polin (Tel-Aviv: ‘Hamenora’ Publishing House, 1967). Online English
translation at: http://www.jewishgen.org/Yizkor/plock/Plock.html; for a recent
discussion of the Exhibition’s Jewish Culture Pavilion see: Nick Underwood,
‘Exposing Yiddish Paris: The Modern Jewish Culture Pavilion at the 1937 World’s Fair’,
East European Jewish Affairs, 46/2 (2016) 160–175.
Notes 195

85 ‘Oyfboyen dem muzey fun yidishn militsioner iz der khoyev legabe di heldn fun
unzer folk’, Naye Prese, 10 July 1937, 4.
86 See: Laura Jockusch, Collect and Record! Jewish Holocaust Documentation in Early
Postwar Europe (New York, NY: Oxford University Press, 2012), 21.
87 David Kutner, ‘A goldn bletl’, Naye Prese, 11 September 1937, 1.
88 Fishl Fefer, ‘A yidisher kemfer’, Naye Prese, 11 September 1937, 1.
89 ‘Der grandyezer kontsert-ovnt in zal Alboi tsu der derefenung fun muzey fun yidishn
militsyoner’, Naye Prese, 13 September 1937, 4.
90 The International Workers Order (1930) was a communist-affiliated fraternal order
with several language sections, founded after a split with the socialist Workmen’s
Circle in the United States.
91 David Kutner, ‘Oyf der oysshtelung fun yidishn militsyoner in Shpanye’, Naye Prese,
9 September 1937, 5.
92 ‘Fun shayterhoyfn biz Shpanishn transey (bazukh oyf oysstelung fun yidishn
militsyoner)’, Naye Prese, 3 September 1937, 4.
93 According to numbers published in Naye Prese. In addition, until 13 October, twenty
groups had visited with an unspecified number of people. Since this was the count
before the final weekend it seems reasonable to assume a total number of visitors of
at least 1,500. See: ‘Shabes un zuntik – oysshtelung’, Naye Prese, 13 October 1937, 4.
94 ‘Fun Rambam biz Moris Skalka’, Naye Prese, 30 September 1937, 5.
95 ‘ “S’vert geshafn a yidishe kompanye in Shpanye” derklert unz kapitan Olek’, Naye
Prese, 6 December 1937, 3. Note the subtitle, ‘Der yidisher adyudant fun Poylishn
general Walter’.
96 ‘Idishe militsionern in Shpanye far der prese-aktsye’, Naye Prese, 12 December 1937, 1.
97 ‘Rezolutsye ongenumen oyf a farzamlung fun 150 idishe frayvilikn oyf dem Aragoner
front’, Naye Prese, 12 December 1937, 3.
98 ‘Zshak Kaminsky brengt a grus fun idishe kemfer in Shpanye’, Naye Prese,
12 December 1937, 5.
99 ‘Zshak Kaminsky brengt a grus fun idishe kemfer in Shpanye 2’, Naye Prese,
13 December 1937, 3.
100 RGAPSI 545-2-72, Letter from Lambert to Lampe, 24 December 1937.
101 Adam Rayski, ‘ “Oyf dayn keyver, a monument” ’, Naye Prese, 1 January 1938, 6.
102 Karol Gutman, ‘ “Mir veln vert zayn Botvins nomen” ’, Naye Prese, 1 January 1938, 6.
103 Y. Lerman, ‘A historishe gesheenish’, Naye Prese, 1 January 1938, 6.
104 Bernard, ‘Tsu di idishe maler – a briv fun militsioner Bernard’, Naye Prese,
28 December 1937, 6.
105 Adam Rayski, ‘Dos kemfndike lebn un der heldisher toyt fun Naftali Botvin’, Naye
Prese, 9 January 1938, 4. The second part was published on 14 January.
106 Y. Lekhter, ‘Di yidishe kompanye vet zayn fun di beste’, Naye Prese, 3 January 1938, 2.
107 Olek Nus, ‘Di historishe nakht ven di Botvin-kompanye iz gegrindet gevorn’, Naye
Prese, 16 January 1938, 4.
108 T. Elski, ‘Mit di yidishe frayvilike tsvishn eyn atake un der tsveyter’, Naye Prese,
4 January 1938, 3.
109 Efraim Wuzek, ‘Shef fun Botvin-kompanye shraybt unz fun front’, Naye Prese,
11 January 1938, 4.
110 See a letter from a Jewish volunteer in: ‘2 briv fun yidishe militsionern vegn dem lebn
un kamf in Shpanye’, Naye Prese, 18 January 1938, 3.
111 Gina Medem, ‘Shpanishe miniaturn’, Naye Prese, 9 February 1938, 3/4.
112 Gershon Dua-Bogen, ‘Di plats fun yidn in dem Shpanishn kamf ’, Naye Prese,
20 January 1938, 3.
196 Notes

113 See for the announcement of Honig’s radio speech: ‘Di “Naye Prese” in radio fun
Bartselona’, Naye Prese, 16 February 1937, 1. On 20 April a report on the speech
appeared; it is not completely clear if this was about the 6 February talk or a later,
second, radio appearance that Honig made. See: Y. Honig, ‘Redndik fun Shpanye tsu
der velt (baym mikrofon fun Bartseloner radio)’, Naye Prese, 20 April 1937, 4.
114 ‘Rede fun T. Elski in radio Bartselona’, Naye Prese, 16 March 1938, 3/4.
115 The JTA was founded in 1914 in The Hague as the Jewish Correspondence Bureau.
In 1919 it was re-established as the Jewish Telegraph Agency in London and moved
to New York in 1922. See: ‘Jewish Telegraphic Agency’ in: Geoffrey Wigoder, ed.,
Encyclopaedia Judaica – CD-ROM Edition Version 1.0 (Jerusalem: Judaica Multimedia
Ltd, 1997).
116 ‘Vegn der geshafener Botvin-kompanye di “Yidishe Telegrafn-Angentur” ’, Naye Prese,
11 February 1938, 1.
117 ‘Ofitsyele derkelrung vegn yidn fun Shpanishr regirung-agentur’, Naye Prese, 1 March
1938, 1.
118 ‘Poylishe tsaytung in Shpanye vegn der Botvin-kompanye’, Naye Prese, 1 March 1938, 4.
119 T. Elski, ‘Gesprekh mit general Walter oyf dem front fun Teruel’, Naye Prese, 4
February 1938, 3.
120 T. Elski, ‘Botvin-kompanye dar vern a batalyon derklert unz der inspektor fun di
internatsyonale briagden Gallo’, Naye Prese, 15 March 1938, 3.
121 ‘A grus fun der Botvin-kompanye’, Naye Prese, 28 December 1937, 1.
122 Skoutelsky, L’espoir Guidait Leurs Pas, 272; Diamant, Combattants Juifs, 310–311.
123 Y. Spero, ‘Helfn unzere brider in Shpanye’, Naye Prese, 25 December 1937, 3.
124 ‘Tsuhilf di yid kompanye in Shpanye. An aktsye far 200 kompletn’, Naye Prese, 3
February 1938, 1.
125 Serrano, L’enjeu espagnol, 135–137. The Jeunesse communiste, for example, organized
a money collection in early February. Three weeks later, Naye Prese published a
report on a meeting of YASK and Shtern that had met to discuss a Jewish youth
campaign. See: ‘Di yidishe yugnt-org far Botvin-kompanye’, Naye Prese, 27 February
1938, 1.
126 See for example: ‘Les Républicains combattent héroiquement mais ils ont faim et ils
ont froid’, L’Humanité, 6 February 1938, 3.
127 ‘Kleydung shukhvarg un vesh far 50 toyznt frank far der yid kompanye “Naftali
Botvin” ’, Naye Prese, 5 February 1938, 1.
128 ‘Solidaritet-aktsye far Botvin-kompanye – an ern-oyfgabe farn yidishn Pariz!’, Naye
Prese, 6 February 1938, 1.
129 ‘Farshtarkt di aktsye far di rumfule “Botvintses”!’, Naye Prese, 15 March 1938, 1.
130 ‘Es rufn zikh tsu bateylikn in solidaritet-tog’, Naye Prese, 5 March 1938, 1.
131 ‘Apel tsu di yidishe folks-masn fun di yidishe kemfer in Shpanye’, Naye Prese, 5 March
1938, 3.
132 Y. Spero, ‘A historish dokument’, Naye Prese, 12 March 1938, 3.
133 ‘Zamlung fun 50 toyznt frank far di militsyonern un zeyere familyes’, Naye Prese,
15 May 1938, 1. On the International Red Aid see: Kurt Schilde, ‘ “First Aid in the
Class Struggle”. The “International Red Aid” and Selected National Sections in
Comparison’ in: Sabine Hering and Berteke Waaldijk, eds., History of Social Work in
Europe (1900–1960): Female Pioneers and Their Influence on the Development of
International Social Organizations (Opladen: Leske + Budrich, 2003), 139–150.
134 ‘Réunion organisé par le “Comité Juif d’Entr’Aide pour l’Espagne” ’, 4 June 1938, in:
Révolution espagnol, APPP, BA 1664. n5 – Réunions et meetings.
Notes 197

135 ‘Morgn – in Lankri groyser kontsert miting’, Naye Prese, 2 June 1938, 1; ‘Impozanter
kontsert-ovnt in zal Lankry tsu fayern 6 monat Botvin-kompanye’, Naye Prese, 7 June
1938, 5.
136 ‘Kongres fun “amikal fun frayhayt-volontern” ’, Naye Prese, 4 August 1938, 5.
137 ‘Amikal fun yidishe frayvilike in Shpanyen letstns gegrindet gevorn in Pariz’, Naye
Prese, 8 August 1938, 4.
138 ‘Yidish-Shpanishe komitetn fun ale arond. Haltn op 25-tn a groyse konferents
letoyves 3 toyzent tsoler’, Naye Prese, 19 August 1938, 6.
139 Henry Srebrnik, ‘ “Salud di Heldn!” Jewish Communist Activity in London on Behalf
of the Spanish Republic’, Michigan Academician, 16/3 (1984), 371–381, 377.
140 ‘Zaml-tog far idishe militsionern in Shpanye’, Naye Prese, 21 December 1937, 6.
141 Jacques Kaminsky, ‘Di Botvin kompanye bagrist di “Naye Prese” tsu ir yubiley’, Naye
Prese, 30 January 1938, 1.
142 ‘Apel tsu di yidishe folks-masn fun di yidishe kemfer in Shpanye’, Naye Prese, 5 March
1938, 3.
143 ‘Haynt – di konferents. 60 sosyetes un organisatsyes shikhn zeyere delegatn’, Naye
Prese, 24 April 1938, 1.
144 ‘Polit. komisar Misha Reger shikt a grus fun Shpanishn front’, Naye Prese, 24 April
1938, 1.
145 G. Kenig, ‘Far di kemfer fun der frayhayt’, Naye Prese, 19 May 1938, 1.
146 ‘Morgn konferents far der aktsye letoyves di yidishe frayvilike’, Naye Prese, 19 May
1938, 1.
147 M. Matsyak, ‘Yo, zikh kegnshteln hayst zign! (A briv fun Shpanye)’, Naye Prese,
19 May 1938, 1.
148 ‘Réunion organisé par le “Comité Juif d’Entr’Aide pour l’Espagne” ’, 4 June 1938, BA
1664/5.
149 This location was also used by the PCF and L’Humanité. See for instance: ‘La
province aussi sera à Garches! (Le 30 Aout, grand rassemblement autour de
‘L’Humanité’)’, L’Humanité, 8 August 1936, 6.
150 ‘Di Botvin-kompanye bagrist dem yidishn folks-yontev in Garsh’, Naye Prese, 11 June
1938, 1.
151 ‘6 khadoshim Botvin-kompanye vert haynt gefayert in Garsh’, Naye Prese, 12 June
1938, 1.
152 ‘Toyznter yidishe arbetndike in Garsh fayern 6 khadoshim Botvin-kompanye oyfn
oysflug fun der “Naye Prese” ’, Naye Prese, 13 June 1938, 1.
153 ‘Entuziastisher miting untern frayen himl far solidaritet mit di kemfer un zeyere
familyes’, Naye Prese, 13 June 1938, 1.
154 ‘Groyser ovnt fun shpanishn reportazsh’, Naye Prese, 21 June 1938, 3. For Elski’s book:
T. Elski, Oyf di frontn fun Shpanye. Reportazshn (Paris: Farlag fun A.B. Tserota, 1939).
Its publication was originally planned for 1937: Naye Prese, 23 October 1937, 4. It was,
however, delayed, as reported later: Naye Prese, 30 April 1938, 4. Elski and Winogura
were the only ‘locals’. Kisch, a communist of Jewish origin, was a famous journalist
who had written the foreword to Elski’s book. The inclusion of Ayalti is especially
interesting since he was not a communist and wrote for a variety of Yiddish
periodicals including, notably, the Bundist Forverts. Yet he had published several
articles in Naye Prese and was an anti-fascist writer who fully supported the Spanish
republican cause. Ayalti had also addressed the International Writers Congress for the
Defence of Culture that took place in various cities in Spain in July 1937. When Naye
Prese printed his speech it commented that he had spoken on behalf of the anti-fascist
198 Notes

writers, ‘who, without doubt, will agree with the glorification of the Jewish fighter
although A. Yalti has not been mandated by them’. See: ‘Far der farteydikung fun der
kultur kemfn toyznter yidishe militsionern oyf di Shpanishe frontn’, Naye Prese, 17 July
1937, 4. Note that in the Naye Prese article he is referred to as ‘A. Yalti’, whereas his
pseudonym was in fact ‘Hanan Ayalti’. For more on the Congress see: Thornberry,
Robert S., ‘Writers Take Sides, Stalinists Take Control: The Second International
Congress for the Defense of Culture (Spain 1937)’, The Historian, 62/3 (2000), 589–606.
Elski’s book was not the only Yiddish publication devoted to Spain. Two booklets
appeared with original poems by Peretz Markish and Yacov Glants, and a collection
of translated poetry was edited by Aaron Kurts. All three publications bore a clear
communist imprint: the Kurtz collection was published by the publishing house
of the International Workers Order (IWO ), a fraternal aid organization linked to
the CPUSA . Glantz’s collection appeared under the auspices of the Mexican Gezbir
(Society for the Support of Jewish Colonisation in Birobidzhan) and Markish was a
well-known Soviet-Yiddish poet whose collection was published by the Emes
Publishing House in Moscow. See: Peretz Markish, Lider vegn Shpanye (Moscow:
Farlag ‘Emes’, 1938); Yaacov Glantz, Fonen in blut, Shpanye 1936. Lider un poemen
(Mexico: Gezbir, 1936); Aaron Kurtz, No-pasaran. Lider, balades un poemes fun
Shpanishn folk in zayn kamf kegn fashizm (New York: Cooperative People’s Publishing
House of the International Workers Order, 1938).
155 ‘Interesanter briv-oystoysh tsvishn mark shagal un a yidishn militsyoner’, Naye Prese,
16 July 1938, 4. See also: Diamant, Combattants Juifs, 202–203.
156 ‘Manifest fun Botvin-kompanye tsu yid. Bafelkerung’, Naye Prese, 17 July 1938, 1/2.
The manifest is reprinted in: Diamant, Yidn in shpanishn krig, 529–535.
157 ‘Apel fun yidishe militsyonern’, Naye Prese, 23 September 1938, 4. The appeal is
reproduced in: Diamant, Yidn in shpanishn krig, 535–538 (not reprinted in the French
edition).

Chapter 5
1 M. Yarblum, ‘Der kamf zvishn fashiszm un demokratye in Shpanyen. Der nitsokhn
fun der Shpanisher republik’, Parizer Haynt, 24 July 1936, 2.
2 M. Yarblum, ‘Der Hitlerizm un fashizm gegen der Shpanisher republik’, Parizer Haynt,
14 August 1936, 3.
3 Y. Khamsky, ‘Es iz mehr vi Shpanyen’, Parizer Haynt, 16 August 1936, 3.
4 Kh. Ashkenazi, ‘Fashistisher oyfshtand in Shpanyen un di lage fun di Shpanishe iden’,
Parizer Haynt, 1 August 1936, 2/4.
5 ‘A naye geyresh fun iden hoben gegreyt Shpanishe fashisten’, Parizer Haynt, 2 August
1936, 1.
6 ‘ “Iden un andere paraziten zolen nisht hershen in Shpanyen” ’, Parizer Haynt,
3 September 1936, 1.
7 ‘ “Ongrif ” kleybt nakhes fun der iden-hetse fun di Shpanishe fashisten’, Parizer Haynt,
31 December 1936, 2. During the Nazi Party Congress in Nuremburg in September
1936 Hitler had also announced that Jews ‘were responsible for the bloodshed in
Spain’. See: ‘Review of the Year 5697’ in: American Jewish Year Book (1938–1939),
272.
8 ‘Shpanishe fashisten hoben arestirt ale mizrekh-eyropeyishe idn in Maroko’, Parizer
Haynt, 5 August 1936, 2.
Notes 199

9 See for instance: ‘Men robirt yidn’, Parizer Haynt, 6 August 1936, 1.
10 ‘Di idishe befelkerung in Shpanyen leydt fun birger-krig’, Parizer Haynt, 3 September
1936, 2.
11 ‘Di yidishe arbeyter-yugend in Pariz hot oysgedrikt ihr solidaritet dem frayen
Shpanye’, Parizer Haynt, 22 March 1937, 3.
12 ‘Anti-Nazi World Olympic Games in Spain on July 19. Hapoel Athletes Leave for
Barcelona’, The Palestine Post (1936), 1; ‘Arbeyter-sportler fun Erets-Israel ferhaltn in
Shpanyen tsulib oyfshtand. Gekumen a delegatsye keyn Pariz’, Parizer Haynt, 22 July
1936, 3.
13 ‘Der miting fun “Poale Tsion” vegen der fashistishen oyfshtand in Shpanyen’, Parizer
Haynt, 30 July 1936, 3.
14 ‘Les sportifs étrangers manifestent à Barcelone’, L’Humanité, 24 July 1936, 3.
15 See for example the announcement of a meeting in: ‘Meldungen – Di geshehenishn in
Shpanyen un di idishe sportler’, Parizer Haynt, 7 August 1936, 5.
16 ‘Di Poylish-Idishe kombatanten far di frayhayt kemfer in Shpanyen un di sholem
farteydiger in Brisel’, Parizer Haynt, 23 August 1936, 4. The Ligue was known in
Yiddish as the Algemeyner Yidisher Kombatanten-lige tsu farshtarken dem kamf
gegen Antisemitizm und farn sholem tsvishn di felker (General Jewish Ligue of
Combattants to strenghten the fight against anti-Semitism and for peace between
the peoples).
17 ‘Bay di Poylish Idishe kombatanten’, Parizer Haynt, 25 August 1936, 3.
18 ‘Iden tsvishn di frayhayts-kemfer in Shpanyen’, Parizer Haynt, 7 August 1936, 1.
19 ‘Idisher yungerman fun Frankraykh zuhn fun emigranten gevorn a militer-komandir
in Shpanye un kemft gegen di fashisten’, Parizer Haynt, 3 September 1936, 3.
L’Intransigeant was the creation of Henri Rochefort (1831–1913) who, interestingly,
was an anti-Dreyfusard. It was one of the largest Parisian newspapers of
the 1930s.
20 Skoutelsky, L’espoir guidait leurs pas, 36.
21 ‘Merere Parizer idishe arbeter gefohren farteydigen Madrid’, Parizer Haynt, 28 October
1936, 3.
22 ‘Biro-bidzshan tsu hilf Shpanyen’, Parizer Haynt, 28 October 1936, 2.
23 Y. Khamsky, ‘4 idishe militsioneren fun Pariz zenen gefalen vi heldn, oyfn Shpanishn
front git iber der idisher ofitsir Zshak Menashem’, Parizer Haynt, 26 November 1936,
1/3. On Menachem see also: Lustiger, Schalom Libertad!, 33; Skoutelsky, L’Espoir
guidait leur pas, 36.
24 ‘Birger-krig in Shpanyen. Oysshtelung fun dokumenten un bilder’, Parizer Haynt,
12 December 1936, 3. Before the First World War this address was also used by a
Yiddish theatre group, see: Pnina Rosenberg, ‘The World of Yiddish Theater in France’
(s.d.). See: http://www.jewish-theatre.com/visitor/article_display.aspx?articleID=2288
(accessed 6 September 2007).
25 Parizer Haynt, 26 December 1936, 3.
26 Y. Ski, ‘Franko dershist Frantsoyzen un di Frantsoyzishe reaktsyonern hoben gornisht
gegen dem’, Parizer Haynt, 18 December 1936, 2.
27 ‘Poylishe iden tseykhenen zikh oys beym farteydigen Madrid’, Parizer Haynt,
25 December 1936, 2.
28 The source of this article might well have been Arthur Koestler, who was of
Hungarian-Jewish descent and worked for the News Chronicle at the time. See:
Kristiaan Versluys, ‘Arthur Koestler’s Spanish Testament’, Revue Belge De Philologie Et
D’histoire, 65/3 (1987) 552–561.
160 Jewish Volunteers, the International Brigades and the Spanish Civil War

Zionist volunteer to put ‘Madrid before Hanita’ and while he features prominently in
the film his political background is never mentioned.3
In other scenes of the film Shmuel Segal tells the story of the Jewish Naftali Botwin
Company. He recalls how the company, two months after its creation, was virtually
wiped out near Badajoz during the Estramadura offensive in February 1938. Some of
its soldiers had come from Palestine, including two Arabs, one of whom spoke Yiddish
as he was a baker in Jerusalem with a Jewish clientele. But such details or the precise
link between the Botwin Company and the Palestinian volunteers are never really
explained, and neither is the meaning the company had for these volunteers. This is all
the more interesting because the film contains a highly revealing anecdote about a
Jewish volunteer who saw himself confronted with the anti-Semitism of a Polish
comrade and took him to task for it. And it was precisely the Botwin Company that was
presented as the symbol of Jewish participation in the International Brigades, and a
negation of the classic anti-Semitic stereotype of Jewish cowardice, by Jewish migrant
communists in Paris. To summarize, then, Torbiner focuses mostly on individual
experiences in a profoundly humane, and at times moving, story. At the same time his
documentary provokes many questions about the interplay between being Jewish and
communist, and how Jewish volunteers who served in the International Brigades
confronted and negotiated these identities.

In this book I have explored the participation of volunteers of Jewish descent in the
International Brigades during the Spanish Civil War, and the ways in which the
memory of their experiences came to be constituted and constructed after the Second
World War and the Holocaust. The main point I have sought to address can be
summarized in one question: why Jewish volunteers? What did it mean to speak about
Jewish volunteers during the Spanish Civil War and what does it mean after the Second
World War and the Holocaust? How do representations of Jewish volunteers that were
presented during the Spanish Civil War compare with the various ways in which Jewish
volunteers have been commemorated after the Second World War and the Holocaust?
In short: how did volunteers of Jewish descent become Jewish volunteers?
This journey is particularly well reflected in changing representations of the Botwin
Company. In 1937 the company was formed as a symbol of Jewish valour and fighting
zeal within the Polish Dombrowski Brigade, yet was firmly embedded in a Polish-
Jewish communist context; during the Polish pensions affair and the Tel-Aviv conference
of 1972 it was used as a pars pro toto for all Polish-Jewish volunteers or veterans
from Israel, and was linked to the Israeli independence struggle; come 1986, the
Botwin Company had become the prime example of Jewish leftist armed resistance
against fascism and Nazism and, for many, symbolized all Jewish volunteers who
fought in Spain.
As will be apparent by now, there is a clear symbolic continuity between postwar
discourse and debates about Jewish volunteers, and the way in which their experiences
were represented on the pages of Naye Prese during the Spanish Civil War: their
participation is seen as an argument against accusations of Jewish cowardice or
submissiveness. Discussions about alleged Jewish passivity during the Nazi years and
the Holocaust arguably have pre-war antecedents. Criticism of Jewish wartime
Notes 201

45 For the latter see a series on anarchism in the province of Aragon published in Parizer
Haynt on 6, 20 and 22 August 1937.
46 See the advert: ‘Oyf di shlakht-felder fun Shpanyen. Forlezung funm bavusten
zshurnalist un reporter Sh. L. Shnayderman’, Parizer Haynt, 28 March 1937, 1 1, 3.
47 ‘Viktor Alter brengt a grus fun Shpanyen’, Parizer Haynt, 4 May 1937, 5.
48 ‘Vos hob ikh gezehn oyf di Shpanishe fronten? Referat fun Poale Tsion firer Moshe
Erem’, Parizer Haynt, 2 August 1937, 1.
49 See for instance: ‘Helft di karbones fun Shpanishn fashizm! Apel fun sots. Medem-
Farband’, Parizer Haynt, 10 May 1937, 3; ‘Aktsye far di kinder fun Bilbao. Linke Poale
Tsion rufen a groyse baratung’, Parizer Haynt, 20 May 1937, 3.
50 ‘Sotsyalistishe yugend-tog far Shpanyen’, Parizer Haynt, 15 July 1937, 3.
51 ‘Antisemitishe propagande in Poylishen komunistishen batalyon in Shpanyen’, Parizer
Haynt, 7 August 1937, 2.
52 ‘Muzey fun idishen militsyoner in Shpanyen. A virdiger denkmal far di idishe
frayhayts-kemfer’, Parizer Haynt, 4 September 1937, 2.
53 ‘Muzey fun idishn militsyoner in Shpanyen. Shabes di erefenung fun der oysshtelung’,
Parizer Haynt, 11 September 1937, 3.
54 Jacob Lestchinsky, ‘Erger, vi di inkvizitsye in Shpanyen’, Parizer Haynt, 22 June
1937, 2.
55 ‘Pietro Neni, komisar fun der inter-brigade in Shpanyen oyf der yubl-fayerung fun
“Bund” ’, Parizer Haynt, 8 December 1937, 3.
56 It should be noted however that in the print run used for this analysis in the Bibliothèque
nationale de France, which is the most complete one that is available to my knowledge,
the issues of 19, 21, 22 and 26 December are missing. The possibility therefore exists that
an announcement was made during one of these days in Parizer Haynt.
57 The appeal of the SFIO was published in French in Parizer Haynt. See: ‘Apel fun
Frantsoyzisher sotsyalistisher partey (S.F.I.O.) tsum natsyonalen hilfs-tog far di
Shpanishe kinder’, Parizer Haynt, 25 December 1937, 2. For the PZH appeals see:
‘Tsu di idishe folks-masen. Oyfruf fun “Poale Tsion Hitachduth” ’, Parizer Haynt,
25 December 1937, 2, and an earlier announcement by PZH General Secretary
Baumgold: ‘Folks-zamlung far di kinder fun der Shpanisher republik. Vendung fun
tsentral-komitet “Poale – Tsion – Hitachduth” tsu ale orts-grupen in Frankraykh’,
Parizer Haynt, 23 December 1937, 3. For the Bund appeal see: ‘Apel fun Medem-
Farband vegen der aktsye far di Shpanishe frayhayts-kemfer’, Parizer Haynt,
25 December 1937, 2.
58 Ben-Tsyon Fridman, ‘Oyfruf fun der kombatantn-lige tsu shtitsen di hilfs-aktsye far di
Shpanishe karbones’, Parizer Haynt, 27 December 1937, 3.
59 ‘Farshtendikung-komitet fun idishe arbayter-partayen nehmt unter an aktsye letoyves
der Botvin-kompanye in Shpanye’, Parizer Haynt, 21 February 1938, 3; ‘Hilf far di
Shpanishe kemfer’, Parizer Haynt, 25 February 1938, 4.
60 ‘Zuntog zamel aktsye far di idishe militsyoneren in Shpanyen’, Parizer Haynt, 4 March
1938, 4; ‘Meldungen – A farzamlung vegen der Botvin-kompanye’, Parizer Haynt,
4 March 1938, 4.
61 ‘Di idishe yugend un sport-organizatsyes tsu hilf der Botvin-kompanye’, Parizer Haynt,
28 February 1938, 3.
62 ‘Fareynigter kom. Fun id. Yugend un sport arb. Tsuhilf di idishe militsyonern in
Shpanyen’, Parizer Haynt, 12 March 1938, 3.
63 ‘In Metz. Folks ovend letoyves di idishe frayvilike in Shpanyen’, Parizer Haynt, 5 March
1938, 4.
202 Notes

64 ‘Franko halt az men darf oysroten ale iden’, Parizer Haynt, 5 May 1938, 1; Di batsihung
tsu iden oyf bayde zayten in Shpanyen’, Parizer Haynt, 11 May 1938, 2; ‘Masen-
ekzekutsyes iber iden in Franko’s Shpanyen’, Parizer Haynt, 22 July 1938, 1.
65 ‘Ershter Beth-Din in Bartselona zint dem ershten geyresh Shpanye’, Parizer Haynt,
27 August 1938, 4.
66 Y. Golomb, ‘Di heldishe idishe volonteren vos kemfen far der frayhayt fun Shpanyen’,
Parizer Haynt, 15 August 1938, 3.
67 Kh. Stolnits, ‘A brif fun mayn khaver in Shpanyen’, Parizer Haynt, 6 September 1938, 3.
68 ‘A brif fun idishe kemfer in der Shpanisher folks-armey tsum “Parizer Haynt” ’, Parizer
Haynt, 21 September 1938, 4.
69 According to Szajkowski, the journal was published more or less regularly from
December 1935 until September 1936; only two issues appeared in 1937, and
publication resumed again on a regular basis in April 1938. See: Szajkowski, ‘150 Yor
Yidishe Prese in Frankraykh – Bibliographye’, 246–247.
70 A.E., ‘Tsi vet der ruf fun Shpanye derhert vern?’, Undzer Shtime, May 1937, 1.
71 ‘Sots. kegn der “nisht-intervents” ’, Undzer Shtime, May 1937, 4. For a more elaborate
discussion of Zyromski’s efforts (he even founded a journal devoted to Spain called
L’Espagne Socialiste) see: Irwin M. Wall, ‘French Socialism and the Popular Front’,
Journal of Contemporary History, 5/3 (1970), 3–20.
72 ‘Geshlosene informatsye farzamlung vegn der lage in Shpanye –fun kh Viktor Alter’,
Undzer Shtime, May 1937, 5.
73 Alexander Erlich, ‘The Life of Victor Alter’ in: Portnoy, ed., Henryk Erlich and Victor
Alter, 43–71, 51. A photo of the two men among volunteers is in the photo section of
the book.
74 Gertrud Pickhan, Gegen den Strom. Der Allgemeine Jüdische Arbeiterbund Bund in
Polen 1918–1939 (Stuttgart: Deutsche Verlags-Anstalt, 2001), 406.
75 G. Kenig, ‘Viktor Alter – advokat fun di Shpanishe Trotskisten’, Naye Prese, 27 May
1937, 3.
76 Y. Spero, ‘Fartrakht zikh gut khaveyrim fun Medem-Farband’, Naye Prese, 10 February
1937, 2.
77 ‘Farloyf fun di gesheenishn in Bartselona’, Undzer Shtime, June 1937, 2.
78 T. Dan, ‘Der shpanisher krizis’, Undzer Shtime, June 1937, 3/7.
79 ‘Der protses fun “Poum” ’, Undzer Shtime, 23 July 1938, 3.
80 See for a report on the outcome of the trial: ‘Der protses fun “Poum” in Barselone’,
Undzer Shtime, 5 November 1938, 1.
81 ‘Tsum ondenk fun a gefalenem held’, Undzer Shtime, April 1938, 7.
82 Van Doorslaer, ‘Joodse vrijwilligers uit België’, 174. For a comment by an eyewitness:
Szurek, The Shattered Dream, 234.
83 See for Alter’s attitude on the POUM : Pickhan, Gegen den Strom, 404.
84 Szurek, The Shattered Dream, 234.
85 Diamant, Combattants Juifs, 204.
86 ‘Ale tsuhilf di heroishe kemfer in Shpanye. Bateylikt zikh in der hilfs aktsye far Bilbao’,
Undzer Shtime, June 1937, 2; ‘Bateylikt zikh in der aktsye letoyves Shpanye’, Undzer
Shtime, 8 May 1938, 7; ‘Farshtarkt di zamlungen letoyves Shpanye’, Undzer Shtime, 6
August 1938, 1; ‘Bateylikt zikh in der aktsye far di Shpanishe frayhayt-kemfer’, Undzer
Shtime, 17 September 1938, 1.
87 ‘Apel fun Medem-Farband vegen der aktsye far di Shpanishe frayhayts-kemfer’, Parizer
Haynt, 25 December 1937, 2.
Notes 203

88 In this period there were also conflicts between the Bund and Jewish communists in
the joint Aid Spain committee in Brussels. See: Van Doorslaer, ‘Joodse vrijwilligers uit
België’, 172.
89 ‘Tsirkuler nr. 62’ (21 July 1937) YIVO, Bund Archive, RG 1400, box 635, folder 10/4.
90 This becomes clear from a remark about censorship that made it impossible to
announce the solidarity week in the socialist press. It also refers to a campaign
proclamation made in Poland by the Polish Socialist Party.
91 ‘Sotsyalistishe yugend-tog far Shpanyen’, Parizer Haynt, 17 July 1937, 3.
92 ‘Di oyszikhtn fun Shpanishn krig’, Undzer Shtime, April 1938, 1/7; ‘Di Shpanishe
republik in klem’, Undzer Shtime, 18 June 1938, 1/4; ‘Oysrekhenungen un Siurfrizu’,
Undzer Shtime, 2 July 1938, 1/4.
93 ‘Tsum tsveyten yor-tog fun Shpanishn birger-krig’, Undzer Shtime, 23 July 1938, 1.
94 ‘Nokhn regirung-krizis in Shpanye’, Undzer Shtime, 20 August 1938, 1.

Chapter 6
1 Michael Alpert, A New International History of the Spanish Civil War (Basingstoke:
Palgrave Macmillan, 2004), 166. See also: ‘Situation in Spain: Withdrawal of Non-
Spanish Combattants from Spain: Report of the Committee of Three’, League of
Nations – Official Journal (February 1939), 59–65; ‘Withdrawal of Non-Spanish
Combattants from Spain’, League of Nations – Official Journal – Annexes (February
1939), 124–143.
2 Lustiger, Schalom Libertad!, 399–402.
3 Diamant, Combattants Juifs, 362–363.
4 For this translation, see: Baxell, British Volunteers, 4.
5 See for example: Szurek, The Shattered Dream, 264.
6 Diamant, Combattants Juifs, 244–247; Szurek, The Shattered Dream, 269–277; Lustiger,
Schalom Libertad!, 404–406.
7 Wuzek, Zikhroynes fun a Botvinist, 63–67.
8 Anne Grynberg, Les Camps de la Honte: Les Internés Juifs des Camps Français,
1939–1944 (Paris: La Découverte, 1991), 40–41.
9 Diamant, Combattants Juifs, 254; Ilic Ljubomir, ‘Interbrigadiste dans les Camps
Français’ in: Karel Bartosek, René Gallissot, Denis Peschanski and Raya Adler-Cohen,
eds., De L’exil à La Résistance: Réfugiés et Immigrés D’Europe Centrale en France
1933–1945; Colloque International, Centre De Recherche De L’Université De Paris VIII,
Institut D’histoire Du Temps Présent (CNRS) (Saint-Denis: Presses Universitaires de
Vincennes, 1989), 131–143, 132.
10 Szurek, The Shattered Dream, 288–291. See also: Dieter Nelles, ‘Die Unabhängige
Antifaschistische Gruppe 9. Kompanie Im Lager Gurs. Zur Gruppenspezifischen
Interaktion Nach Dem Spanischen Bürgerkrieg’ in: Helga Grebing and Christl Wickert,
eds., Das ‘andere Deutschland’ Im Widerstand Gegen Den Nationalsozialismus: Beiträge
Zur Politischen Überwindung Der Nationalsozialistischen Diktatur Im Exil Und Im
Dritten Reich (Essen: Klartext-Verlag, 1994), 56–85.
11 Dustin Elliott Stalnaker, ‘The Post-Conflict Odyssey of the German Communist
Veterans of the Spanish Civil War, 1939–1989’ (MA Thesis; University of Chicago,
2013), 37–38.
12 The issues consulted can be found in the Archiwum Akt Nowych in Warsaw
(issues 1–3, dated 7 and 16 April and 1 May 1939, collection Wojna domowa w
204 Notes

Hiszpanii – zbiór akt 1936–1939 (1940–1947), 182-V-5 & 11, and the RGASPI in
Moscow, 545-4-16.
13 Stalnaker, The Post-Conflict Odyssey, 22–23.
14 ‘Tsu di yidishe arbeter un folks-masn in poyln’, Hinter Shtakheldrot, 1, 7 April
1939, 3.
15 Tsu Hilf (Paris, January, 1939). In 1941 the Organisation of Patronatn in New York
independently issued a magazine, Tsu Hilf, to support the interned Jewish volunteers
in France. See: Tsu Hilf (New York: Patronatn Organisatsye, January, 1941).
16 Mir Gedenken. Buletin Gevidmet Di Yidishe Frayvilike in Kontsentratsye Lager in
Frankraykh (New York: Komitet ‘Fraynt fun Botvin Batalyon’, 1939).
17 Srebrnik, ‘ “Salus di Heldn!” ’, 379.
18 See various articles in Undzer Shtime, 28 July and 18 August 1939.
19 Gina Medem, ed., Frayhayts-kemfer. Idishe militsyonern in Shpanye (Buenos Aires:
C.I.A.P.E., 1939).
20 Raanan Rein, ‘A Trans-National Struggle with National and Ethnic Goals: Jewish-
Argentines and Solidarity with the Republicans during the Spanish Civil War’, Journal
of Iberian and Latin American Research, 20/2 (2014), 171–182.
21 Personal correspondence with his daughter, Silvia Braslavsky, 21 February 2005.
22 Medem, ed., Frayhayts-kemfer.
23 Diamant, Combattants Juifs, 257–258; Ljubomir, ‘Interbrigadiste dans les camps
Français’, 137–38.
24 Brigitte Thomas, ‘The Vernet Concentration Camp, 1939–1944’, The Volunteer, 23/5
(Winter 2001), 12–13. Szurek also points out that leading Party members were
separated and sent to Vernet. See: Szurek, The Shattered Dream, 291.
25 Ibid.
26 Szurek, The Shattered Dream, 284; Lustiger, Schalom Libertad!, 99–100.
27 Zosa Szajkowski, ‘The Soldiers France Forgot’, Contemporary Jewish Record, 5/6 (1942),
589–596, 591.
28 Szurek, The Shattered Dream, 298.
29 Ibid. See also: Diamant, Combattants Juifs, 257.
30 Ibid., 354.
31 Lustiger, Schalom Libertad!, 158.
32 Toch, ‘Juden Im Spanischen Krieg’, 165.
33 Lustiger, Schalom Libertad!, 370–396; Van Doorslaer, ‘Tussen wereldrevolutie en joodse
identiteit’, 67–68.
34 Lustiger, Schalom Libertad!, 370–371; David Diamant, Les Juifs Dans La Résistance
Française, 1940–1944 (avec armes ou sans armes) (Paris: Le Pavillon, 1971), 74–75.
35 Grynberg, Les Camps de la Honte, 295–310.
36 Dan Stone, ‘The Sonderkommando Photographs’, Jewish Social Studies, 7/3 (2001),
132–148.
37 David Szmulewski, Zikhroynes Fun Vidershtand in Oyshvits-Birkenau (Pariz:
D. Shmulewski, 1984), 102–106. See also: David Szmulewski, ‘Les Anciens De La
Compagnie ‘Botvin’ À Auschwitz’, AMIF. Revue de l’Association des Médecins Israélites
de France, 247 (1976), 82–86.
38 Van Doorslaer, ‘Joodse vrijwilligers’, 181–182.
39 The one exception I know of is a booklet about Palestinian volunteer Mark Milman,
already published in 1945: M. Avi-Shaul, Mark Milman. Jewish Captain in Fighting
Spain (1936–38) (Tel-Aviv, 1945).
Notes 205

40 Dua-Bogen, Oyf di shpuren fun gvure; Wuzek, Zikhroynes fun a Botvinist. Wuzek’s book
has recently been translated in French as: Efraim Wuzek, Combattants Juifs Dans La
Guerre D’Espagne: La Compagnie Botwin (Paris: Syllepse, 2012).
41 Israel Centner, Mi-Madrid ‘ad Berlin: Lohamim Erets-Yisre’elim Be’ad Ha-hofesh
Shelahem Ve- shelanu (Tel-Aviv, 1966).
42 Stein, Der birger-krig in Shpanye. Recently translated in French as: Sygmunt Stein, Ma
Guerre D’Espagne Brigades Internationales: La Fin D’un Mythe (Paris: Seuil, 2012).
43 For an overview of Yiddish publishing after 1945 see: Zachary M. Baker, ‘Yiddish
Publishing after 1945’ in: Joseph Sherman, ed., Yiddish after the Holocaust (Oxford:
Boulevard Books, 2004), 60–74.
44 Joanna Nalewajko-Kulikov, ‘The Last Yiddish Books Printed in Poland. Outline of the
Activities of Yidish Book Publishing House’ in Elvira Grözinger and Magdalena Ruta,
eds., Under the Red Banner: Yiddish Culture in the Communist Countries in the Postwar
Era (Wiesbaden: Harrassowitz, 2008), 119–120.
45 See for example: David Diamant, Héros juifs de la Résistance française (Paris: Éditions
Renouveau, 1962); David Diamant, Les juifs dans la Résistance française, 1940–1944
(avec armes ou sans armes) (Paris: Le Pavillon, 1971).
46 Diamant, Yidn in shpanishn krig, 49.
47 Ibid., 59–60.
48 Piotr Wróbel, ‘From Conflict to Cooperation: The Bund and the Polish Socialist Party,
1897–1939’, in: Jack Jacobs, Jewish Politics in Eastern Europe. The Bund at 100 (New
York: Palgrave, 2001), 155–171, 167.
49 Moshe Shklar, ‘The Newspaper Folks-shtime (The People’s Voice) 1948–1968: A Personal
Account’ in: Grözinger and Ruta, eds., Under the Red Banner, 135–146; Nathan Cohen,
‘The Renewed Association of Yiddish Writers and Journalists in Poland, 1945–48’ in:
Sherman, ed., Yiddish after the Holocaust, 15–37, 18; Dos Naye Lebn was the organ of the
newly established Central Committee for Polish Jews. See: Yosef Goldkorn, ‘Yiddish
Journalism in Poland after the Second World War’, Our Press, 8 (1991), 9–14,
50 Shklar, ‘The Newspaper Folks-shtime’, 137.
51 Jaff Schatz, ‘Communists in the “Jewish Sector” in Poland: Identity, Ethos and
Institutional Power Structure’ in: Grözinger and Ruta, eds., Under the Red Banner,
13–27, 32 and 38; Schatz, The Generation, 233.
52 Shklar, ‘The Newspaper Folks-shtime’, 138.
53 See: Emanuelis Zingeris, Proceedings of the Colloquy on Yiddish Culture, 3–5 May 1995,
Lithuanian Seimas, Vilnius (Vilnius: Council of Europe, 13 February 1996): ‘In general,
Folks-shtime played an important role in the post-Stalin revival of Soviet Yiddish
culture. Ironically, this pro-Communist publication had, in the eyes of Soviet Jews, a
nonconformist reputation. In 1956–1961 it was almost the only place where Soviet
Yiddish writers could publish their works.’
54 Avraham Greenbaum, ‘Newspapers and Periodicals’ in: Gershon Hundert, ed., YIVO
Encyclopedia of Jews in Eastern Europe (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2008).
55 Schatz, The Generation, 264–282; André Gerrits, The Myth of Jewish Communism: A
Historical Interpretation (New York: Peter Lang, 2009), 170–171.
56 Shklar, ‘The Newspaper Folks-shtime’, 143.
57 Mark Ber, ‘Idn in dem Shpanishn frayhayt kamf ’, Morning Frayhayt, 5 May 1956.
58 Jewish Historical Institute, collection 332: Spanish Civil War 1941–1987.
59 Oliver Ypsilantis, ‘Les Juifs dans la Guerre Civile d’Espagne’, Zakhor Online (2012).
Available at: http://zakhor-online.com/?p=2880 (accessed 4 July 2015).
206 Notes

60 Israel Centner, ‘In nomen fun internatsyonale solidaritet’, Folks Shtime, 23 October
1956. According to Raanan Rein, Centner is the main source for the (too) high
estimates of the number of volunteers from Palestine. See: Rein, ‘Echoes of the Spanish
Civil War in Palestine’, 17, note 34.
61 Gershon Dua-Bogen, ‘Yidishe kemfer oyf di slakhtfelder fun Shpanye’, Folks Shtime,
27 October 1956.
62 ‘Hoykhe melukhishe oyszeykhenungen far yidishe kemfer fun di Dombrowski-brigade
in Shpanye’, Folks Shtime, 30 October 1956.
63 See various examples mentioned in: Mordechai Altshuler, ‘Jewish Warfare and the
Participation of Jews in Combat in the Soviet Union as Reflected in Soviet and
Western Historiography’ in: Yisrael Gutman and Gideon Grief, eds., The
Historiography of the Holocaust Period. Proceedings of the Fifth Yad Vashem
International Historical Conference (Tel-Aviv: Yad Vashem, 1987), 217–238.
64 M. Krempel, ‘Der onteyl fun yidishe frayvilike in Shpanishn frayhayts-kamf ’, Folks
Shtime, 31 October 1956.
65 Y. Lerman, ‘Der Yidisher onteyl in Shpanishn birgerkrig – 12’, Folks Shtime,
3 December 1966.
66 Abraham Kwaterko, ‘Der onteyl fun idn in kamf gegn fashizm in Shpanye’, Morning
Frayhayt, 12 January 1977. The article was republished from Folks Shtime.
67 See for instance: Michael Uhl, Mythos Spanien: Das Erbe der Internationalen Brigaden
in der DDR (Bonn: Dietz, 2004).
68 According to his widow Eileen: Eileen Shneiderman, ‘Eileen Shneiderman’s
Description of the Collection and Personal Account’, S. L. and Eileen Shneiderman
Collection of Yiddish Books (6 August 1998). Available at: http://www.lib.umd.edu/
SLSES/donors/es_letter.html (accessed 30 May 2008).
69 Shneiderman, Krig in Shpanyen.
70 These include: Di Prese, Yidishe Nayes, Letste Nayes, Undzer Vort and Yidisher Kemfer.
71 Zachary Baker, former YIVO librarian, who knew Shneiderman characterizes him as
follows: ‘The writer who made the most formidable impression was the journalist S. L.
Shneiderman, who continued to write for the Forverts well into the 1990s. A graduate
of Warsaw University, Shneiderman was a crusty, sharp-tongued, pugnacious, and
formidable presence by any stretch of the imagination. He applied his acute analytical
and polemical skills in articles about contemporary Eastern European – especially
Polish and Soviet – politics. In addition he was the author of the classic postwar
travelogue Ven di Vaysl hot geredt Yidish, which was translated into English as The
River Remembers. He ruffled many a feather, and refused to be troubled by that fact.’
See: Zachary M. Baker, ‘Getting in on the Ground Floor: Confessions of a Yiddish
Impersonator’, Rosaline and Meyer Feinstein Lecture Series (2006).
72 Samuel Shneiderman, ‘Ershte yidishe kamf kegn di natsis iz geven in Shpanye’, Forverts,
10 August 1976.
73 Samuel Shneiderman, ‘Di role fun idn in dem Shpanishn birgerkrig’, Forverts, 3 August
1976, 3.
74 Samuel Shneiderman, ‘In Shpanye mit 50 yor tsurik’, Forverts, 14 November 1986.
Shneiderman was accredited reporter for Der Tog (New York), Di Prese (Buenos Aires),
Davar (Tel-Aviv), Haynt (Warschau) and four Polish-Jewish newspapers.
75 Samuel Shneiderman, ‘Notes for an Autobiography’ (2001). Available at: http://www.
lib.umd.edu/SLSES/donors/autobio.html (accessed 17 November 2006).
76 The Alter & Erlikh case caused an uproar among Jewish socialists, see for example the
memorial volume edited by the Jewish labour Bund: Portnoy, ed., Henryk Erlich and
Notes

Introduction
1 Y. Lekhter, ‘Di yidishe kompanye vet zayn fun di beste’. Naye Prese, 3 January 1938, 2.
2 Albert Prago, ‘Jews in the International Brigades’, Jewish Currents (February 1979),
15–21, 16.
3 G.E. Sichon, ‘Les volontaires juifs dans la guerre civile en Espagne: chiffres et enjeux’, Les
Temps Modernes, 44/507 (1988), 46–62, 58. Hardly any work on Jewish support for the
Nationalists exists, let alone volunteering, which is both a reflection of the absence of its
occurrence and a more general trend in Spanish Civil War scholarship. Some remarks are
made in: Raanan Rein, In the Shadow of the Holocaust and the Inquisition: Israel’s Relations
with Francoist Spain (London: Frank Cass Publishers, 1997), 62; Raanan Rein, ‘Echoes of
the Spanish Civil War in Palestine: Zionists, Communists and the Contemporary Press’,
Journal of Contemporary History, 43/1 (2008), 9–23, especially 10–12. On the support of
some right-wing Jewish groups in Palestine for the Nationalists see also: Raanan Rein,
‘Tikkun Olam and Transnational Solidarity: Jewish Volunteers in the Spanish Civil
War’,10, no. 2 (2016), 207–230, 217–218. On volunteering for Franco see: Judith Keene,
Fighting for Franco: International Volunteers in Nationalist Spain During the Spanish Civil
War, 1936–1939 (New York: Leicester University Press, 2001); Christopher Othen, Franco’s
International Brigades: Adventurers, Fascists, and Christian Crusaders in the Spanish Civil
War (London: Hurst, 2013).
4 David Diamant, Combattants Juifs Dans L’armée Républicaine Espagnole, 1936–1939
(Paris: Éditions Renouveau, 1979), 193, notes 114 and 434.
5 ‘Report Spanish Rebels Plan to Expel Jews’, Jewish Telegraphic Agency, 3 August 1936.
Available at: http://www.jta.org/1936/08/03/archive/report-spanish-rebels-plan-to-
expel-jews (accessed 25 February 2014).
6 ‘ESPAGNE : La guerre civile et les juifs’, L’Univers Israélite, 21–28 August 1936, 752.
Available at: http://gallica.bnf.fr/ark:/12148/bpt6k56697239.image.langEN.
r=L%27Univers%20Isra%C3%A9lite (accessed 2 March 2014).
7 Isabelle Rohr, Spanish Right and the Jews, 1898–1945: Antisemitism and Opportunism
(Sussex: Sussex Academic Press, 2007), 20, 58.
8 ‘Der Bürgerkrieg in Spanien und die Juden’, Der Israelit, 13 August 1936, 6. Available at:
http://sammlungen.ub.uni-frankfurt.de/cm/periodical/titleinfo/2450941 (accessed 21
February 2014). ‘An vier Punkten der Erde. Genf: Jüdischer Weltkongress – London:
Exekutive des Councils for German Jewry – Spanien – Palästina’, CV-Zeitung.
Allgemeine Zeitung des Judentums, 20 August 1936, 2. Available at: http://sammlungen.
ub.uni-frankfurt.de/cm/periodical/titleinfo/2278171 (accessed 3 March 2014).
9 Rohr, Spanish Right and the Jews, 82.
10 For an overview of Nationalist anti-Semitism see: Javier Domínguez Arribas, El
Enemigo Judeo-masónico en la Propaganda Franquista, 1936–1945 (Madrid: Marcial
Pons, 2009); José Antonio Lisbona, Retorno a Sefarad: La política de España hacia sus
judíos en el siglo XX (Barcelona: Riopiedras, 1993), especially 98–102; Isabelle Rohr,

165
208 Notes

101 See several essays in: Bruno Bettelheim, Surviving, and Other Essays (New York:
Knopf, 1979). For a short but instructive overview and contextualization of
Bettelheim’s ideas on survival and inmate behaviour and his critics: Paul Marcus,
‘Bruno Bettelheim (1902–1990)’ (2006). Available at: http://www.routledge-ny.com/
ref/ holocaustlit/brunobettelheim.pdf (accessed 21 September 2007). See also David
Biale’s review of Surviving: David Biale, ‘Surviving and Other Essays, by Bruno
Bettelheim (Book Review)’, Commentary, 68/4 (1979), 79–82.
102 Miklós Nyiszli, Auschwitz: A Doctor’s Eyewitness Account (Greenwich: Fawcett
Crest, 1960).
103 Quote taken from: Albert Weisbord, ‘Professor Bruno Bettelheim’s Foreword to
“Auschwitz” ’, La Parola del Popolo (August/September 1961).
104 Raul Hilberg, The Destruction of the European Jews (London: Holmes & Meier, 1961),
663, 666.
105 Hannah Arendt, Eichmann in Jerusalem. A Report on the Banality of Evil (New York:
Penguin Books, 1994), 125. Arendt’s preoccupation with armed resistance began in
the early 1940s with her support for a Jewish army that should defend Palestine. She
saw its establishment as the first step on the way to an army that would struggle
against Hitler ‘as Jews, in Jewish units, under the Jewish flag’. She felt Jews had a duty
to actively resist, following the principle ‘that you can only defend yourself as that for
which you are being attacked’, or, as she would later say in an interview: ‘when one is
attacked as a Jew, one must defend oneself as Jew’. According to Walter Laqueur,
Arendt’s ideas about a Jewish army appeared during the time of the Spanish Civil
War. They seem to have been stimulated by, and maybe even originated from, a letter
from her then-lover, and later husband, Heinrich Blücher, who wrote her a letter on
what he called ‘the Jewish war’ on 20 August 1936. In this letter he stated the time had
come for Jewish revolutionaries to pick up arms against fascism and proceeded to ask
the question: ‘Why do the Jews refuse to go to Spain?’. He even suggested the
formation of a Jewish fighting unit in Spain. Whether or not Blücher and Arendt were
informed about the fact that such a unit, the Botwin Company, would be established
in December 1937 is unclear. Yet, given that she was a friend of Hanan Ayalti, at a
time when he was writing on the Spanish Civil War, it seems highly unlikely that she
was not aware of the participation of Jewish volunteers in the International Brigades.
See: Hannah Arendt, ‘Die juedische Armee – der Beginn einer juedischen Politik?’,
Aufbau, 7/46 (14 November 1941), 1; Michael R. Marrus, ‘Hannah Arendt and the
Dreyfus Affair’, New German Critique, 66 (Autumn 1995), 147–163, 149; Walter
Laqueur, ‘The Arendt Cult: Hannah Arendt as Political Commentator’, Journal of
Contemporary History, 33/4 (1998), 483–496, 487; Lotte Kohler, Hannah Arendt and
Heinrich Blücher: Within Four Walls: The Correspondence between Hannah Arendt
and Heinrich Bluecher, 1936–1968, first US edn (New York: Harcourt, 2000), 13–19;
Elisabeth Young-Brühl, Hannah Arendt, For Love of the World (New Haven: Yale
University Press, 1982), 123.
106 Michael R. Marrus, ‘Jewish Resistance to the Holocaust’, Journal of Contemporary
History, 30/1 (1995), 83–110, 14.
107 See for the proceedings: Meir Grubsztein, ed., Jewish Resistance during the Holocaust:
Proceedings of the Conference on Manifestations of Jewish Resistance, Jerusalem, April
7–11, 1968 (Jerusalem: Yad Vashem, 1971).
108 For a seminal overview see: Michman, ‘Jewish Resistance during the Holocaust
and its Significance’. See also: Roger S. Gottlieb, ‘The Concept of Resistance: Jewish
Resistance during the Holocaust’, Social Theory and Practice, 9/1 (1983), 31–49.
Notes 209

109 Letter of Victor Berch to Fredericka Martin, December 1975, Fredericka Martin
Papers, Tamiment Library, ALBA 001, box 22, folder 1. Fredericka Martin was an
American nurse who worked on a book on the medical services of the International
Brigade and amassed an impressive amount of materials which form part of the
ALBA archives at the Tamiment Library and Robert F. Wagner Labour Archives at
New York University Library.
110 Diamant never explained why he decided to publish a new edition but it took place
against the backdrop of a controversy that erupted in the early 1970s about the role
of Jewish communists in the French resistance movement during the Second World
War. According to Adam Rayski, editor of Naye Prese before the war and wartime in
France, the polemic started in 1973 and put the Jewish groups of the immigrant
resistance, organized by the PCF within the so-called FTP-MOI , on trial for ‘having
neglected specifically Jewish concerns’. See a special paragraph entitled ‘Rewriting
the History of the Resistance’ in: Adam Rayski, The Choice of the Jews under Vichy:
Between Submission and Resistance (Notre Dame: University of Notre Dame Press,
2005), 276–278. For another rebuttal in the context of a discussion on Jewish
communism see Aronowicz who contends that this ‘controversy is well expressed in a
work such as Annette Wieviorka’s Ils etaient juifs, resistants, communistes, in which
she continually points out that the Jews in the communist resistance in France during
the Second World War sacrificed the interests of the Jewish people to the interests of
the party, thus betraying their own people for the sake of a power-hungry institution.
See: Aronowicz, ‘Haim Sloves’, 95; Annette Wieviorka, Ils étaient juifs, résistants,
communistes (Paris: Denoël, 1986). For a good summary of the debate see: Michael R.
Marrus, ‘Jewish Leaders and the Holocaust’, French Historical Studies, 15/2 (1987),
316–331. In December 2006 a conference took place in the Paris city hall, organized
by the Musée de la Résistance Nationale under the title: ‘Les Juifs ont Résisté en
France 1940–1945 (sous la présidence d’honneur d’Adam Rayski)’. Several papers
were related to the FTP-MOI . See for the programme: http://pagesperso-orange.fr/
ujre/PDF/Programme%20rencontres%202006%2012%2015.pdf. For a recent
overview of migrants and foreigners in the French resistance, with significant
attention for the role of Jews, see: Robert Gildea, Fighters in the Shadows: A New
History of the French Resistance (London: Faber & Faber, 2015), especially Chapter 8,
entitled ‘The blood of others’, 205–240.
111 See correspondence between Fredericka Martin and David Diamant in: Martin
Papers, ALBA 001, box 23, folder 3.
112 See: Prago, ‘Jews in the International Brigades’, 17.
113 Victor A. Berch, Contributions towards a Bibliography of Jewish Participation in the
Spanish Civil War (Waltham: Brandeis University Library, 1985). This bibliography
was never published and can be found in the ALBA vertical file ‘Jews in SCW ’ at
Tamiment Library.
114 Lustiger, Schalom Libertad!, 13.
115 Collum and Berch, African Americans in the Spanish Civil War.

Chapter 7
1 Szurek, The Shattered Dream, 354.
2 Stola has noted the new meaning this term acquired following the 1952 Slansky trial in
Czechoslovakia, in which most of the defendants were Jewish: ‘Moreover, the trial
210 Notes

introduced “anti-Zionism” into the official vocabularies of communist regimes as a code


name for any anti-Jewish speech and action. The terms Zionism and Zionist no longer
denoted Jewish nationalism, which the Communists, including Jewish
Communists, had long opposed, but became labels to be freely applied to any person of
Jewish origin whom the regime targeted for attack. They became part of the communist
Orwellian “newspeak”: their meaning flexible and threatening, their application ritual
and instrumental, both determined by the party leadership.’ Stola therefore places ‘the
terms Zionist, Zionism and anti-Zionism in quotation marks whenever they are used
within this particular, totalitarian language’. See: Dariusz Stola, ‘Anti-Zionism as a
Multipurpose Policy Instrument: The Anti-Zionist Campaign in Poland, 1967–1968’,
The Journal of Israeli History, 25/1 (2006), 175–201, 177.
3 Good (English) overviews are: Schatz, The Generation, 282–312; Stola, ‘Anti-Zionism
as a Multipurpose Policy Instrument’. While Stola focuses more on the politics of the
campaign, Schatz provides more historical background and details on the effects,
espcially for Polish-Jewish communists. See also: Stanislaw Krajewski, ‘The March
Events of 1968 and Polish Philosophy’, Praxis International (1982), 106–110;
Wlodzimierz Rozenbaum, ‘The Anti-Zionist Campaign in Poland, June–December
1967’, Intermarium, 1/3 (1997), 218–236.
4 Schatz, The Generation, 311. Given the situation faced by many Jews, the discussion on
whether or not they were forced to leave becomes rather academic.
5 A. Grosman, A, ‘Iz Botvin Geven a “Shovinist”?’, Morning Freiheit (1969).
6 The fact that Morgn Frayhayt printed an article that openly addressed anti-Jewish
politics in communist Poland can be seen as proof of the newspaper’s changed course
vis-à-vis the broader communist movement in this period. See for an elaborate
discussion: Gennady Estraikh, ‘Metamorphoses of Morgn-frayhayt’ in: Gennady
Estraikh and Mikhail Krutikov, eds., Yiddish and the Left. Papers of the Third Mendel
Friedman International Conference on Yiddish (Oxford: Legenda, 2001), 144–167.
7 As specified by Martin in undated comments made after the 1972 Tel-Aviv congress,
in: Martin Papers, ALBA 001, box 23, folder 4.
8 See: ‘Eighty veterans of the International Brigades in Spain’, Information Bulletin
(September 1969), 23.
9 Letter of Shalom Shiloni, Secretary of the Israeli veterans’ organization, to the Editorial
Board of Socialist Current, 3 January 1970, in: Saul Wellman Papers, Tamiment Library,
ALBA 139, box 2, folder Poland Spanish Veterans. The letter was a reply to an earlier
letter from Socialist Currents, which suggests that first contact was established
sometime in late 1969. It is not clear on whose initiative.
10 Letter of Shalom Shiloni to Fredericka Martin, 14 March 1972, Martin Papers, ALBA
001, box 23, folder 4.
11 See: Sichon, ‘Les volontaires juifs’; G. E. Sichon, ‘Polonais d’origine juive volontaires de
la Guerre civile en Espagne 1936–1939’, Matériaux pour l’Histoire de Notre Temps, 73
(2004), 44–48.
12 Lustiger, Schalom Libertad!, 330; Szurek, The Shattered Dream, 87; Rajel Sperber, No
Pasarán! The International Brigades and Their Jewish Fighters in the Spanish Civil War
1936–1939. Exhibition Catalogue (Jerusalem: The Avraham Harman Institute of
Contemporary Jewry, 2003), 12.
13 Letter from G. Ersler and [Shalom Shiloni?] to John Gates, 29 April 1970, in: Wellman
Papers, ALBA 139, box 1, folder ‘SCW – IB – Poland’. Gates was born Israel
Regenstreif and of Jewish origin.
14 Letter from G. Erlser to Anonymous, 29 April 1970, in: Weissman Papers, ALBA 165,
box 2, folder 9–12.
Notes 211

15 Letter from Nan Green to Dr Barsky, 8 May 1970, in: Ibid., box 2, folder 9–12. For more
on Crome see: Paul Preston, ‘Two Doctors and One Cause: Len Crome and Reginald
Saxton in the International Brigades’, International Journal of Iberian Studies, 19/1
(2006), 5–24.
16 As evidenced by a letter from the organization to him, 8 September 1970, in:
Weissman Papers, ALBA 165, box 2, folder 9–12. The letter is not complete.
17 Letter from John Gates to Saul Wellman, 15 April 1971, in: Wellman Papers, ALBA
139, box 1, folder SCW – IB Poland.
18 Letter from Saul Wellman to Morris Schappes, 31 March 1970, in: Ibid., box 1, folder
SCW – IB Poland.
19 Gates advised them to get in contact with the VALB but could not certify that they did:
Letter from Gates to Wellman, 15 April 1971, in: ibid., box 1, folder SCW – IB Poland.
20 By coincidence, Schappes had a lunch with the Israeli correspondent of the American
Yiddish communist Morgn Frayhayt shortly after he received Wellman’s material. The
correspondent knew Schleyen and could confirm that ‘the material is authentic’
(referring to the original letters from Israel from January and April 1970). See: Letter
from Morris Schappes to Saul Wellman, 16 April 1971, in: ibid., box 1, folder
SCW – IB Poland.
21 Letter from Saul Wellman to Morris Schappes, 20 April 1971, in: ibid., box 1, folder
SCW – IB Poland.
22 Letter from Morris Schappes to Saul Wellman, 1 May 1971, in: ibid., box 1, folder
SCW – IB Poland.
23 Letter from Morris Schappes to Mr. Schleyen, 1 May 1970, in: ibid., box 1, folder
SCW – IB Poland.
24 Letter from Saul Wellman and Milton Wolff, 12 June 1971, in: ibid., box 1, folder
SCW – IB Poland.
25 Letter from John Gates to Saul Wellman, 15 April 1971, in: ibid., box 1, folder
SCW – IB Poland.
26 See note 24.
27 Letter from Milton Wolff to Saul Wellman, 29 June 1970, in: ibid., box 1, folder
SCW – IB Poland.
28 Letter from John Gates to Saul Wellman, 13 July 1971, in: ibid., box 1, folder
SCW – IB Poland.
29 Letter from Moe Fishman and Steve Nelson (treasurer and national commander of the
VALB ) to ambassador Jerzy Michalowski, 20 July 1971, in: Weissman Papers, ALBA
165, box 2, folder 9–12. Fishman and Nelson also claim that they had written ‘some
months’ before, as had Dr Barsky, but without any result.
30 Letter from Steve Nelson to Mr Ludwiczak (Councillor of the Polish mission to the
United Nations), 28 December 1971, in: ibid., box 2, folder 9–12; Letter from Robert
Taylor (commander of the Detroit Post of the VALB ) to ambassador Jerzy Michalowski,
1 January 1972, in: Wellman Papers, ALBA 139, box 1, folder SCW – IB Poland.
31 See a letter from Milton Wolff to the editor of Morgn Frayhayt in which he expressed
his appreciation for publishing on the plight of the Polish-Jewish veterans,
4 September 1971, in: Weissman Papers, ALBA 165, box 2, folder 9–12.
32 ‘An Appeal for Polish-Jewish Vets’, Morgn Frayhayt, 2 January 1972, in: Wellman
Papers, ALBA 139, box 1, folder SCW – IB Poland.
33 Letter from Fredericka Martin to the National Executive of the VALB , 4 March 1972,
in: Weissman Papers, ALBA 165, box 2, folder 9–12.
34 Peter N. Carroll, The Odyssey of the Abraham Lincoln Brigade. Americans in the Spanish
Civil War (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 1994), 370.
212 Notes

35 Letter from Fredericka Martin to Len Crome, 5 April 1972, in: Martin Papers, ALBA 001.
36 See a letter from Ed Lending in: The Volunteer, 2/1 (1979), 8, 10. As cited in: Alan
Stuart Rockman, ‘Jewish Participation in the International Brigades in the Spanish
Civil War 1936–1939’ (MA thesis: California State University, 1981), 90–91.
37 Letter from Moe Fishman and Steve Nelson (treasurer and national commander of the
VALB ), 15 March 1972, in: Weissman Papers, ALBA 165, box 2, folder 9–12.
38 Letter from [Saul Wellman?] to Jim [?], 18 April 1972, in: Wellman Papers, ALBA 139,
box 1, folder SCW – IB Poland.
39 Letter dated 7 April 1972, in: Weissman Papers, ALBA 165, box 2, folder 9–12.
40 Letter from the VALB (Nelson/Fishman) to Piotr Jaroszewicz, chairman of the Polish
Council of Ministers, 17 March 1972, in: Ibid., box 2, folder 9–12.
41 Albert Prago, ‘Jews in the International Brigades 2’, Jewish Currents (March 1979), 6–9/
24–27, 9; Solovy, Jewish American Volunteers and the Spanish Civil War, 52.
42 Letter of David Miller to Arthur J. Lelyveld, July 1973, in: Weissman Papers, ALBA
165, box 2, folder 9–12.
43 Letter from Saul Wellman to Sal [Salmen?], 27 September 1972, in: Wellman Papers,
ALBA 139, box 1, folder SCW – IB Poland.
44 See a letter from David Miller to Emmanuel Mink, 5 November 1977, in: Weissman
Papers, ALBA 165, box 2, folder 9–12.
45 Martin Papers, ALBA 001.
46 Berl Balti, ‘Konferents Fun Shpanishe Internatsionale Brigades’, Morgn Frayhayt (1976).
47 Letter from David Miller to Jordan C. Band (a Cleveland lawyer and Jewish community
leader), 23 June 1977, in: Weissman Papers, ALBA 165, box 2, folder 9–12. This seems
to have been more than a tactic to get the AJC involved. He asserts basically the same
in an article for Jewish Currents in 1975, see: David Miller, ‘Communication from a
Lincoln Brigade veteran’, Jewish Currents, 29/4 (April 1975), 31–34, 33.
48 Letter from Shalom Shiloni to Fredericka Martin, 29 October 1977, in: Martin Papers,
ALBA 001, box 23, folder 4.
49 The book referred to is the Polish edition of International Solidarity with the Spanish
Republic, 1936–1939.
50 See for instance: Letter from VALB /Weissman, 14 October 1977, in: Weissman Papers,
ALBA 165, box 2, folder 9–12. A copy of this letter was sent to David Diamant.
Weissman also contacted Emmanuel Mink in France, the Botwin Company’s last
commander. The French connection was made via Fredericka Martin who knew about
the impending publication of Diamant’s book in French.
51 Letter from David Miller to Irving Weissman, 13 November 1977, in: ibid., box 2,
folder 9–12.
52 ‘Botwin pensions – Report by Irv Weissman’, April 1979, in: ibid., box 2, folder 9–12.
This seems in fact a partial reflection of Weissman’s speech at the April 1979 VALB
National Convention.
53 ‘National Conference held on April 28 & 29, 1979 (A Partial Report)’ by Albert
Prago (Rec. Sec’y) in: ibid., box 2, folder 9–12. The minutes of this meeting, made by
Albert Prago, were rewritten so that individual contributions to the discussion could
not be discerned anymore. Prago did not agree to this (‘all the years of struggle will
go down the drain’) but seems to have managed to keep the list of ‘names of the
discussants opposing and supporting the Botwin motion’ in the minutes. See: Letter
from Albert Prago to Robert Steck, undated, in: Steck Papers, ALBA 104, box 3,
folder 45; Letter from Albert Prago to Robert Steck, 7 September 1979, in: ibid.,
box 3, folder 45.
Notes 213

54 Letter from Antoni Slupik, Head of the International Cooperation Department of the
ZB oWiD, to Randall B. Smith, 19 October 1977, in: Weissman Papers, Tamiment
Library, ALBA 165, box 2, folder 9–12. Slupik is also honorary president of the
Internationale Rombergparkkomitee (IRPK ), which deals with war crimes in the final
phase of the Second World War.
55 Alexander Zvielli, ‘Poland Shows New Friendliness’, Jerusalem Post, 25 April 1978.
Article to be found in: Weissman Papers, ALBA 165, box 2, folder 9–12.
56 Letter from Steve Nelson (VALB National Commander) to Edward Gierek,
15 September 1978, in: ibid., box 2, folder 9–12. A copy was sent to the Polish
ambassador in the USA .
57 Letter from Fredericka Martin to Alexander Szurek, 16 February 1978, in: Martin
Papers, ALBA 001, box 23, folder 4.
58 Letter from Salman Salzman (Secretary of the Israeli IBA ) to General Jaruzelski,
undated, in: Weissman Papers, ALBA 165, box 2, folder 9–12.
59 Letter from the VALB (Steve Nelson and Irving Weissman as chairman of the
Botwin Committee) to General Wojciech Jaruzelski, 31 January 1986, in: ibid., box 2,
folder 9–12. Two letters were written, one to Jaruzelski as Head of Council of State
(addressed ‘Dear Sir’); the other to Jaruzelski as First Secretary of the Party (addressed
‘Dear Friend’).
60 Letter from Steve Nelson and Irving Weissman for VALB to Ambassador Eugeniusz
Noworyta, 8 February 1988. See also the following article: ‘Poles Said Ready to Admit
Error in Purging Jews from Party in 60’s’, The New York Times, 6 February 1988, 5. The
admission was delivered to a conference on Polish Jews in Israel by the historian Jozef
Gierowski who read a statement, authorized by General Jaruzelski, containing the
following words: ‘The Polish political leadership accepted the decision of recognition
of the great contribution of the Polish Jews to our heritage. . . . In the next weeks it will
publish an official decision on the political error committed in 1967 and 1968, with a
condemnation of all forms of anti-Semitism and discrimination.’
61 Apart from an acknowledgement of receipt from the Polish consulate in New York.
See: Letter from Consul Mieczyslaw Bak to Steve Nelson, 15 March 1988, in: Weissman
Papers, ALBA 165, box 2, folder 9–12.
62 Letter from Eugenio Szyr, president of the Commission de los Veteranos de la Guerra
en Defensa de la Republica Espanola, to ‘the veterans of the Abraham Lincoln Brigade’,
20 December 1990, in: Albert Prago Papers, Tamiment Library, ALBA 135, box 2,
folder 118.
63 Letter from Abe Smorodin (VALB Secretary) to board members, 25 January 1991, in:
ibid., box 2, folder 119.
64 The action prompted a unanimous motion in defence of Polish IB veterans from the
Spanish parliament. See: El Pais, 23 March 2007.
65 ‘Poland to welcome expelled Jews’, BBC News (8 March 2008). Available at: http://news.
bbc.co.uk/go/pr/fr/-/2/hi/europe/7285304.stm (accessed 8 March 2008).
66 Magdalena Macińska, ‘Dąbrowszczacy – Disavowed Among Disavowed’. Available at:
http://www.zuzaziolkowska.com/?portfolio=wykleci-wsrod-wykletych-dabrowszczacy
(accessed 24 April 2016); Jim Jump, ‘Poles honour their “unknown soldiers” ’, IBMT
Newsletter, 42/2 (May 2016), 7.
67 Ibid.
68 Personal correspondence with Zuza Ziółkowska-Hercberg, 15 March 2016.
69 As the cover page of the minutes read: ‘International Conference of Jewish Fighters in
the International Brigades in Spain on the occasion of the 35th anniversary of the
214 Notes

foundation of the Jewish unit called after “Botwin” under the sponsorship of the
General Federation of labour in Eretz Israel.’ See: International Conference of Jewish
Fighters in the International Brigades in Spain (Tel-Aviv, 19–22 October 1972). It seems
some kibbutzim also sponsored the event. See for instance: Letter from Salman
Salzman (Hospitality Committee) to Saul Wellman, 27 August 1972, in: Wellman
Papers, ALBA 139, box 1, folder SCW – IB Poland. The letter is one of several sent
out to American veterans.
70 ‘The parties represented in the Histadrut (General Jewish Federation of Labour) were
naturally favourably inclined toward the Spanish Republic which was defending itself
against its enemies, but only very few members of Hashomer Hatzair and other
Zionist left-wing parties allowed this sympathy to take the form of volunteering.’ See:
Sperber, No Pasarán!, 16. On Histadrut activities in favour of Spain at the time of the
war see also: Rein, ‘Echoes of the Spanish Civil War in Palestine’, 13.
71 Sperber, No Pasarán!, 16. See also: Rein, ‘Echoes of the Spanish Civil War in Palestine’,
16. This attitude was also true for the Palestinian Communist Party (PCP ), which was
preoccupied with the ‘struggle against British and Zionist imperialism’. See: Rein and
Ofer, ‘Becoming Brigadistas’, 96–97.
72 Letter from Israel Bryn and Isaac Meirovic to the International Brigade Association in
London, 9 March 1946, in: International Brigades Archive, Marx Memorial Library,
box 24b-IS /4.
73 Letter from Bryn to the International Brigade Association in London, 8 June 1946, in:
ibid., box 24b-IS /6.
74 Letter from Bryn and H. Adler to the IB Association, 28 August 1946, in: ibid.,
box 24b-IS /7.
75 Letter from Herskovicz to British IBA , 22 July 1947, in: ibid., box 24b-IS /8.
76 Letter from Shlomo Schleyen and Israel Centner for the Israeli IBA to other IBA s,
21 January 1948, in: ibid., box 24b-IS /9. As an aside, it is interesting to note the
differences in the letterhead of the Israeli IBA between the English, Hebrew and Arabic
versions. Interestingly, the English version speaks of ‘Palestine’, the Hebrew version refers
to ‘Eretz-Isroel’ and the Arab version omits any reference to a country. My thanks to Rob
Leemhuis and Olivia Orozco de la Torre for translations from the Arabic.
77 Letter from Centner to British IBA , 11 August 1949, in: ibid., box 24b-IS /9. Centner
asks the British to send archival materials ‘concerning the participation of Jews in
these brigades, especially the fighters from Palestine, the date of their death and the
place of burial’.
78 Invitation letter from Shalom Shiloni, general secretary of the Israeli branch of the
International Brigades Association, in: Martin Papers, ALBA 001, box 23, folder 1.
79 Questionnaire enclosed with a letter of 21 August 1972 from Shalom Shiloni to
‘delegates and friends’ in: ibid., box 23, folder 1.
80 As Salzman formulated it in his letter to Wellman, 27 August 1972, in: Wellman Papers,
ALBA 139, box 1, folder SCW – IB Poland.
81 ‘Attention: Veterans of the Lincoln Brigade’, Jewish Currents (May 1972), 12. Shiloni
had added a cover letter to the invitation that JC printed in which he mentioned
the call made by former ‘Botwin brigaders’ during the 35th anniversary of the IB in
France.
82 Letter from Milton Wolff to the editor of Jewish Currents, 3 June 1972, in: Weissman
Papers, ALBA 165, box 2, folder 9–12.
83 ‘Report of the delegates of the Veterans of the Abraham Lincoln Brigade on
the convention of veterans of the International Brigades in Israel, held in
Notes 215

Tel-Aviv, October 19–22, 1972’ in: Martin Papers, ALBA 001, box 23, folder
4, 1–8, 1.
84 ‘Israel Group Rejects Attempt to Divide Vets’, Daily World, 21 September 1972. To be
found in: Weissman Papers, ALBA 165, box 23, folder 1.
85 See the finding aid to the Collection Israeli Peace Movement kept at the International
Institute for Social History: http://www.iisg.nl/archives/en/files/i/10752691.php.
86 Report of the Delegates of the Veterans of the Abraham Lincoln Brigade on the
Convention of Veterans of the International Brigades in Israel, held in Tel-Aviv,
October 19–22, 1972, in: Martin Papers, ALBA 001, box 3, folder 4.
87 ‘A Few Comments on the October Reunion of the International Brigade Veterans in
Israel on the Anniversary of the Botwin Unit’ by Fredericka Martin, in: ibid., box 23,
folder 1. Martin probably refers to the Vietnam War.
88 Shalom Shiloni, ‘Word of the Jewish Volunteer of the International Brigades’, 19 October
1972, in: Martin Papers, ALBA 001, box 23, folder 1. For the Hebrew version:
International Conference of Jewish Fighters in the International Brigades in Spain, 1–3.
89 Ibid., 8.
90 Ibid., 23.
91 Ibid., 70–73.
92 Berl Balti, ‘Let Us Prove to the Fascists how We Jews Can Fight!’, 1972. Article without
date and name of newspaper, to be found in: MML , IB , box 26a, file JW 4.
93 ‘Resolutions of the convention held in Israel on the 21.10.1972’, Martin Papers, ALBA
001, box 23, folder 1.
94 ‘Report on the Tel-Aviv Convention October 1972’, in: ibid., box 2, folder 9–12.
95 Wellman, ‘Jewish Vets of the Spanish Civil War’, 10. The discussion centred around
the question of how to counter the theory of submissiveness, of supposed Jewish
passivity during the Holocaust; a question now asked by young Israelis. Israeli
veterans responded to this question by stressing that the SCW was ‘the first serious
international expression of military resistance to Hitler, a struggle in which
thousands of Jews took part’.
96 Notes by Fredericka Martin in: Martin Papers, ALBA 001, box 23, folder 4.
97 Remarks by VALB at public meeting in: Weissman Papers, ALBA 165, box 2, folder
9–12.
98 ‘Report on the Tel-Aviv Convention October 1972’ in: ibid.
99 Letter from Daniel Groden/VALB to the members, December 1973, in: Weissman
Papers, ALBA 165, box 2, folder 9–12.
100 Report of the Delegates of the Veterans of the Abraham Lincoln Brigade on the
Convention of Veterans of the International Brigades in Israel, held in Tel-Aviv,
October 19–22, 1972, in: Martin Papers, ALBA 001, box 3, folder 4.
101 Report on Thirty-fifth Anniversary of Israeli Veterans of the International Brigades
held in Tel-Aviv October 16–19, 1972; being a consensus of the five members of the
VALB who attended in various capacities, in: Wellman Papers, ALBA 139, box 2,
folder Israeli Vets.
102 Wellman, ‘Jewish Vets of the Spanish Civil War’.
103 Once communist in inspiration, Jewish Currents merged in 2006 with its former
adversaries of the (socialist) Workmen’s Circle. See: Joseph Berger, ‘Jewish Currents
Magazine and a Longtime Adversary Decide to Merge’, New York Times, 13 April
2006; Lawrence Bush, ‘Once-feuding Blood Relatives, United in a Marriage of Ideals’,
Forward, 12 May 2006. Both articles can be found on the JC website: http://www.
Jewish-currents.org/
216 Notes

104 Saul Wellman, ‘Lincoln Vets Support Botwin Unit Back Pension Rights for Emigré
Polish-Jewish Vets’, Jewish Currents, 26/8 (September 1972), 20–22; Wellman, ‘Jewish
Vets of the Spanish Civil War’, 8–13.
105 Weissman, ‘A Flawed Book on International Brigades’, 36. The book under review is:
International Solidarity with the Spanish Republic, 1936–1939 (Moscow: Progress
Publishers, 1974).
106 International Conference of Jewish Fighters in the International Brigades in Spain, 68.
107 Ibid., 239.
108 As Natalia Aleksiun writes: ‘In Polish historiography, there existed a tendency to
present the suffering of the Jews as part of the general Polish fate under Nazi
occupation. Polish and Jewish versions particularly differed with respect to the scope
of the aid said to have been given to the Jews by individual Poles and by Polish
underground groups. Holocaust scholarship published in Poland from the 1950s
through to the 1980s focused primarily on the “widely understood martyrology of
the Jewish nation, Nazi plans for extermination of the Jews, and the carrying out of
these plans. . . . Such writings touched only to a lesser extent on the Jewish resistance,
and only incidentally on the everyday life in the ghettos (hardly at all outside of the
ghetto) and on various forms of assistance extended to those persecuted”.’ See: Natalia
Aleksiun, ‘Polish Historiography of the Holocaust – Between Silence and Public
Debate’, German History, 22/3 (2004), 410.
109 Prago, ‘A Fortieth Anniversary in Florence’, 7. Prago used the presence of a replica
of Michelangelo’s David on Piazzale Michelangelo to bridge the narrative gap
between his description of the reunion itself and his elaboration on Jewish-born
volunteers.
110 Albert Prago, We Fought Hitler (New York: Veterans of the Abraham Lincoln
Brigade, 1941).
111 Alvah Bessie, Albert Prago and Morris U. Schappes, ‘Readers’ Forum on Jews in the
International Brigades’, Jewish Currents, 43/2 (February 1980), 20–25/34–35, 24.
112 Prago, ‘Jews in the International Brigades’; Albert Prago, ‘Jews in the International
Brigades 2’, Jewish Currents (March 1979), 6–9/24–27. The articles were subsequently
issed as a special reprint. An abridged version appeared in a book about the Abraham
Lincoln Battalion as: Albert Prago, ‘Jews in the International Brigades’ in: Alvah Cecil
Bessie and Albert Prago, eds., Our Fight. Writings by Veterans of the Abraham Lincoln
Brigade, Spain, 1936–1939 (New York: Monthly Review Press, 1987), 94–103.
Interestingly, the Israeli Ministry of Defence asked Jewish Currents for a copy of the
article to complete their collection on ‘Jewish Fighters’. See: letter from Dr Z. Ostfeld
on behalf of the Archives of the Ministry of Defence dated 14 May 1984 to the
editors of Jewish Currents in: Weissman Papers, ALBA 165, box 1, folder 74.
113 Prago, ‘Jews in the International Brigades’, 16.
114 Ibid., 18.
115 Ibid., 21.
116 Prago, ‘Jews in the International Brigades 2’, 9.
117 Ibid., 27.
118 Prago, ‘Jews in the International Brigades 2’, 27.
119 Undated note on Prago: Robert Steck Papers, Tamiment Library, ALBA 104, box 2,
folder 15.
120 Bessie, Prago and Schappes, ‘Readers’ forum on Jews in the International Brigades’;
Edward I. Lending, Molly C. and Albert Prago, ‘Readers’ forum on Jews in
Internationale Brigades’, Jewish Currents (1981), backcover/ 31–34.
Notes 217

121 Bessie, Prago and Schappes, ‘Readers’ forum on Jews in the International Brigades’, 20.
122 Prago, ‘The Botwin Company in Spain’, 7.
123 Rothenberg, ‘The Jewish Naftali Botwin Company’, 14.
124 Samuel Shneiderman, ‘Heldishe idn varten oyf onerkenung’, Forverts, 23 November
1976, 3.
125 Shindler, ‘No Pasaran’, 34–35.
126 Ibid., 34. The figure of 8,000 ‘Jewish volunteers’ he gives is much too high. See the
discussion in Chapter 1.

Chapter 8
1 See for an overview: Barbara Seib, ‘Der Spanische Bürgerkrieg – Veranstaltungen
Zum 50. Jahrestag Seines Beginns Im Juli 1936’ in: Ernst Loewy et al.,
Nachrichtenbrief/Newsletter Gesellschaft für Exilforschung/Society for Exile Studies
(Berlin: De Gruyter, 1995), 52–54, 54.
2 See for a copy of the speech: Bund Archives – Spain 1936–1939, RG 1400, box 2,
folder 3.
3 Lustiger, Schalom Libertad!, 17.
4 Rein, ‘Echoes of the Spanish Civil War in Palestine’, 19.
5 Lustiger, Schalom Libertad!, 201.
6 Schraga Har-Gil, ‘Jüdische Freiwillige im spanischen Bürgerkrieg’, Aufbau, 24 October
1986, 8.
7 Samuel Shneiderman, ‘In Shpanye mit 50 yor tsurik’, Forverts, 14 November 1986.
8 ‘Israel-prezident Hertsog bagrist veteranen fun krig in Shpanye’, Morning Frayhayt,
12 October 1986.
9 Yeruchem Meshel, ‘Hertsog’s rede bay der fayerung fun Shpanye-kemfer in Israel’,
Morning Frayhayt, 30 August 1987. Meshel’s letter is dated 23 July 1987 so it seems
likely that the Frayhayt article was only brought to his attention months after it had
been published.
10 Yiddish version: Shlomo Tsirulnikov, ‘Idn fun Israel un der velt in der Shpanisher
milkhome’, Morning Frayhayt, 2 November 1986, 3. Published in the English section
of Morgn Frayhayt two weeks later as: Shlomo Tsirulnikov, ‘Jews of Israel and the
World in the Spanish Civil War’, Morning Frayhayt, 16 November 1986, 2. According
to Lustiger he was a member of the Israeli Antifascist Committee. See: Lustiger,
Schalom Libertad!, 338. Tsirulnikov was at one point also a member of the League for
Friendship with the USSR . See: Yehoshua Freundlich, ‘A Soviet Outpost in Tel Aviv:
The Soviet Legation in Israel, 1948–53’, The Journal of Israeli History, 22/1 (2003),
37–55, 53, note 25.
11 As mentioned in a letter from Livia Alon, director of the library of the Lavon
Institute of Labour Research (of the Histadrut) to Dov Liebermann, 17 June 1986, in:
Novick Archive – RG 1247, folder 147 – Dov Liebermann.
12 Letter from Fredericka Martin to Salmen Salzman, 22 August 1984, in: Martin Papers,
ALBA 001, box 2, folder 56.
13 See: Yossef Algazi, ‘In the Forest of Beit Shemesh. A Tour with the Last Jewish Soldiers
that Fought in the Spanish Civil War’, Ha’aretz, 10 May 2004. My thanks to Itai
Rabinowitz for his translation from the Hebrew original.
14 Dalia Ofer, ‘The Strength of Remembrance: Commemorating the Holocaust During
the First Decade of Israel’, Jewish Social Studies, 6/2 (2000), 24–55, 37.
218 Notes

15 Yael Zerubavel, ‘The Forest as a National Icon: Literature, Politics, and the Archaeology
of Memory’, Israel Studies, 1/1 (1996), 60–99, 60.
16 Ibid., 82.
17 Her most recent work is: Raquel Ibáñez Sperber, ‘Judíos en las Brigadas
Internacionales. Algunas Cuestiones Generales’, Historia Actual Online, 9 (2006),
101–115.
18 Peter N. Carroll, Fraser Ottanelli., and Sperber, Rajel, ‘For Your Liberty & Ours. Jewish
Volunteers in the Spanish Civil War’ (2002). Retrieved from: http://www.alba-valb.org/
curriculum/index.php (accessed 23 November 2003). The module was available online
until 2009 and was intended for students as well as the public at large. A new online
lesson is available at: http:// www.alba-valb.org/resources/lessons/jewish-volunteers-
in-the-spanish-civil-war/ (accessed 20 March 2016).
19 Ibid.
20 From the foreword to: Sperber, No Pasarán!.
21 See: Lauren Gelfon, ‘Fighting Franco with Kosher Hands’, Jerusalem Post, March 27,
2003. The introduction begins: ‘An Israeli historian struggles to keep alive the memory
of those Jewish volunteers who joined the first fight against fascism.’ Also: Algazi, ‘In
the Forest of Beit Shemesh’. My thanks to Itai Rabinowitz for pointing out the article
and translating it.
22 See: Van Doorslaer, ‘Joodse vrijwilligers uit België’, 173.
23 See for a short history of the UARJB : Daniel Dratwa, ‘Genocide and Its Memories: A
Preliminary Study on How Belgian Jewry Coped with the Results of the Holocaust’ in:
Dan Michman, ed., Belgium and the Holocaust: Jews, Belgians, Germans (Jerusalem:
Yad Vashem, 1998), 523–559, 538–539.
24 See Prago’s recollection in: Prago, ‘Fifty Long Years Later. Commemorating the Spanish
Civil War’, Jewish Currents (March 1987), 4–8, 8.
25 Letter from Dov Liebermann to Abe Smorodin, National Secretary of the VALB , 18
August 1986, in: Novick Archive, YIVO, RG 1247, folder 147.
26 Letter dated 23 April 1983 in: Ed Lending Papers, ALBA 068, box 2, folder 20.
27 Letter from Ed Lending to Mischa Skorupinski, 24 April 1983, in: Ibid.
28 See: Lustiger, Schalom Libertad!, 407–408; Prago, ‘Fifty Long Years Later’, 4–5.
According to Lustiger almost 300 people attended; Prago speaks of 180.
29 See: Hyman R. Cohen and Albert Prago, ‘Spanish Civil War and Jews (Letters from
Readers)’, Jewish Currents (February 1988), 38–42, 41. See also: Prago, ‘Fifty Long Years
Later’.
30 See: Lustiger, Schalom Libertad!, 408.
31 Prago, ‘Fifty Long Years Later’, 5.
32 Ibid., 7.
33 For a short description and picture of the ceremony see: Lustiger, Schalom Libertad!,
410–411.
34 See for more names: Diamant, Combattants Juifs, 96.
35 See: Rudi van Doorslaer, ‘Israel Piet Akkerman, De Diamantzager (1913–1937). Een
Joodse Militant Van De Derde Internationale in Antwerpen’, Belgisch Tijdschrift voor
Nieuwste Geschiedenis 22/3–4 (1991), 721–782; Van Doorslaer, ‘Tussen wereldrevolutie
en joodse identiteit’. According to Alicia Benmergui, four out of the nineteen names
were added later (see Fig 8.2 on the right). See: Alicia Benmergui, ‘Los Judíos Y La
Guerra Civil Española’, Milim Revista Digital (15 February 2006). Available at: http://
www.milimcultural.com.ar/articulos/gce.htm (accessed 25 June 2007).
36 Among the memorials there is a monument for Soviet volunteers and plaques for
Polish, Jewish and Yugoslav volunteers.
Notes 219

37 I have been unable to find more information on who took the initiative to construct
the plaque.
38 Sperber, ‘Judíos en las Brigadas Internacionales. Algunas Cuestiones Generales’, 114,
note 40. He served with the Canadian Mackenzie-Papineau Battalion in Spain and later
fought for the USA in the Second World War. He returned to Israel after the war. See:
Rockman, ‘Jewish Participation in the International Brigades’, 62. Rein points out that
he did not agree with ‘the “distorted” interpretation given by some for the motives
that led the youths of Jewish Palestine to go to Spain’, meaning those who pointed out
that many Palestinian-Jewish volunteers were communists and that several went after
expulsion by the British (and with actual pressure to go to Spain). See: Rein, ‘Echoes of
the Spanish Civil War in Palestine’, 17, also note 35.
39 As reflected in correspondence from American volunteers. He is also virtually ignored
by authors like Lustiger and Sperber.
40 Various official documents from the UAJRB regarding the project alternately
mentioned the UAJRB and the Federation as initiators. See: Wellman Papers, ALBA
139, box 1, folder Monument Spain.
41 See undated information material in: Ibid., box 1, folder Monument Spain. Lustiger
confuses both monuments and mistakenly connects the Honorary Committee to the
monument in Madrid.
42 Elka Klein, ‘Barcelona’ in: Norman Roth, ed., Medieval Jewish Civilization: An
Encyclopedia (New York: Routledge, 2003), 79–82, 80.
43 For more on the Cadres Service see Chapter 1.
44 A special brochure was made about Beimler, which indicates that he was made an
iconic figure in the IB . See for various IB press service documents regarding the
brochure: RGASPI , 545-2-87.
45 The French and English translations are literal from the original Spanish and were
added at the last moment. See: Letter from Dov Liebermann to Ed Lending, 12 June
1990, in: Edward Isaac Lending Papers, Tamiment Library, ALBA 068, box 2, folder 19.
46 See the design in: Wellman Papers, ALBA 139, box 1, folder Monument Spain. A
photo appears in: Lustiger, Schalom Libertad!, 412.
47 See: ibid., 412–413. To speak of an American delegation seems rather overstated as the
only American veteran present at the ceremony was Ed Lending, who had initiated a
plan in the early 1980s to create a monument in Spain dedicated to Jewish volunteers,
only to abandon it after some time because ‘it was a victim of my own organisational
ineptness, and my comrades’ disinterest or hostility’, see: Letter from Ed Lending to The
Volunteer, 15 December 1989, in: Lending Papers, ALBA 068, box 2, folder 19. Though
present at the unveiling of the monument, Lending’s lack of tact led to a severing of ties
with Liebermann. See several letters between them in: ibid., box 2, folder 19.
48 The existence of this monument is mentioned in: Report of the Delegates of the
Veterans of the Abraham Lincoln Brigade on the Convention of Veterans of the
International Brigades in Israel, held in Tel-Aviv, 19–22 October 1972, in: Martin
Papers, ALBA 001, box 3, folder 4. I have found no other references and the
monument is not mentioned in: Moshev, ‘Forty years since the Spanish Civil War’.
49 See: James E. Young, The Texture of Memory: Holocaust Memorials and Meaning (New
Haven: Yale University Press, 1993), viii–x.
50 Ibid., ix.
51 In addition to several articles, his most important books are: Arno Lustiger, Zum
Kampf auf Leben und Tod. Das Buch vom Widerstand der Juden 1933–1945 (Köln:
Kiepenheuer, 1994); Arno Lustiger, Sing mit Schmerz und Zorn. Ein Leben für den
Widerstand (Berlin: Aufbau-Verlag, 2005); Arno Lustiger, Rotbuch, Stalin und die Juden
220 Notes

(Berlin: Aufbau-Verlag, 2001); Arno Lustiger, Wir werden nicht untergehen: zur
jüdischen Geschichte (München: Ullstein, 2002).
52 Lustiger, ‘German and Austrian Jews in the International Brigade’, 297–320, 297. These
words have become something of a motto for those researching the topic in the UK .
They are paraphrased by Sugarman (‘Whilst 20th century history documents well the
mass murder of Jews, Jewish resistance by comparison is feebly recorded’) and literally
cited by Bagon, both without reference to Lustiger’s original quote. See: Sugarman,
‘Against Fascism – Jews Who Served in the Spanish Civil War’; Bagon, Anglo-Jewry
and the International Brigades, 6.
53 Van Doorslaer published a highly critical review of the French edition of Schalom
Libertad! in 1991. See: Van Doorslaer, ‘Shalom libertad! Les juifs dans la guerre civile
espagnole by Arno Lustiger’, Vingtième Siècle. Revue d’histoire, 35 (1992), 115–116.
Interestingly, Lustiger was in contact with Van Doorslaer but neither text nor
bibliography of the 2001 edition mentions him or his writings.
54 Lustiger, Schalom Libertad!, 413–415.
55 ‘Prof. Dr. h.c. Arno Lustiger. Gastprofessur am Fritz Bauer Institut’ (s.d.). Available at:
http://www.fritz-bauer-institut.de/gastprofessur/lustiger.htm (accessed 22 June 2007).
56 See the work of Arnold Paucker on this topic: Arnold Paucker, Deutsche Juden Im
Widerstand 1933–1945. Tatsachen Und Probleme 2nd ed. Beiträge zum Widerstand
1933–1945 (Berlin: Gedenkstätte Deutscher Widerstand, 2003); Arnold Paucker,
‘Researching German-Jewish Responses and German-Jewish Resistance to National
Socialism: Sources and Directions for the Future’, Leo Baeck Institute Yearbook 51, 1
(2006), 193–208.
57 See for example also: Lustiger, Zum Kampf auf Leben und Tod. Das Buch vom
Widerstand der Juden 1933–1945.
58 Arno Lustiger, ‘Rede anlässlich der zentralen Feier des Gedenkens für die Opfer des
Nationalsozialismus am 60. Jahrestag der Befreiung von Auschwitz im Deutschen
Bundestag am 27 January 2005’ (27 January 2005). Available at: http://www.bundestag.
de/aktuell/presse/2005/pz_0501271.html (accessed 3 November 2005).
59 ‘Interview with the Author Arno Lustiger’, Jewish Berlin Online (3 November 2005).
Available at: http://www.juedisches-berlin.de/english/Culture/Arno_Lustiger.htm
(accessed 3 November 2005).
60 ‘Interview with the Author Arno Lustiger’.

Epilogue
1 Enki Bilal and Pierre Christin, Les Phalanges De L’Ordre Noir (Neuilly-sur-Seine:
Dargaud, 1979). Published in English as: The Black Order Brigade.
2 Eran Torbiner, Madrid Before Hanita (JMT Films Distribution, 2006).
3 On Salzman’s background, see: Sperber, No Pasarán!, 18.
4 Jeffrey K. Olick, ‘Introduction: Memory and the Nation: Continuities, Conflicts, and
Transformations’, Social Science History, 22/4, Special Issue: Memory and the Nation
(1998), 377–387, 381.
Bibliography

Archives

Paris
Archive de la Préfecture de Police de Paris (APPP )
BA 1939: Parti Communiste Francais – Groupes, cercles, associations communistes
1926–1950.
BA 1664: Révolution Espagnol, Archive de la Préfecture de Police de Paris.

Archives Départementales de la Seine-St.Denis


Fonds des archives microfilmées du PCF, 1921–1939: 3 Mi 6/35: BMP 35/250 Main
d’Oeuvre Etrangère: rapports, correspondances, tracts (1927).

Centre Historique des Archive Nationales (CHAN )


F7-13943: Mouvements sionistes et Bound. Notes et presse (1915–1935)

Centre des Archives Contemporaines (CAC )


20010216/38: Renseignements relatifs à la surveillance policière de la presse
communiste – Juifs

London
Marx Memorial Library
International Brigades Archive
Box 2: Aid Spain Movement: File B: Local Aid Committees
Box 24b: Correspondence with organisation abroad: File IS : Palestine/Israel
Box 26a: Aid Spain Movement in other countries: File JW: Jews/Israel

Warsaw
Archiwum Akt Nowych
Collection Wojna domowa w Hiszpanii – zbiór akt 1936–1939 (1940–1947)

221
222 Bibliography

Żydowski Instytut Historyczny


Collection 332: Wojna domowa w Hiszpanii 1941–1987

New York
YIVO Institute for Jewish Research
RG 1247: Archive Paul Novick
RG 1400: Bund Archive – Spain (newly catalogued since the time of original research;
notes refer to the old box numbers).

Tamiment Library & Robert Wagner Labor Archives


(New York University)
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Vertical Files Jews & SCW
ALBA 001: Fredericka Martin Papers
ALBA 068: Edward Isaac Lending Papers
ALBA 104: Robert Steck Papers
ALBA 135: Albert Prago Papers
ALBA 139: Saul Wellman Papers
ALBA 165: Irving Weissman Papers

Moscow
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Comintern Archive
Fond 517: Parti Communiste Français
Fond 545: International Brigade Records 1936–1939 (online at: http://sovdoc.rusarchives.
ru/#tematicchilds&rootId=94999)

Main newspapers
Botvin
Hinter Stakheldrot
L’Humanité (accessible online through Gallica: http://www.gallica.bnf.fr)
Naye Prese
Parizer Haynt
Undzer Shtime

Interviews
Interview with Ilex Beller, Paris, Winter 2004.
Interview with Adam Rayski, Paris, 2 May 2005.
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Film
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102 APPP, BA 1939, Report Les Communistes Étrangers dans la Région Parisienne,
December 1925, 3. See also Mariana Sauber, ‘Juifs communistes dans la MOE ’,
Combat pour la Diaspora, 18–19 (1986), 47–57, here 47 f. The CGTU had split from
the CGT in 1921.
103 For an in-depth discussion of the Jewish section see: Gerben Zaagsma, ‘The Local
and the International – Jewish Communists in Paris Between the Wars’, Simon
Dubnow Institute Yearbook 8 (2009), 345–365.
104 See several reports in: Centre Historique des Archives Nationales (henceforth
CHAN ), F7–13943, file Mouvements sionistes et Bound. Notes et presse
(1915–1935). See also: Szajkowski, ‘Dos yidishe gezelshaftlekhe lebn’, 213.
105 Archives Départementales de la Saint-St.Denis, Fonds des archives microfilmées du
PCF, 1921–1939 (henceforth ADPCF ), 3 Mi 6/35–250, Rapport de la section centrale
de la M.O.E. sur son activité pendant la période qui va du 25 avril au 25 mai.
106 Russian State Archive of Socio-Political History (henceforth RGASPI ), 517–1–1653,
Section Centrale de la Main d’Œuvre Immigrée, Rapport Main d’Œuvre Immigrée,
20 September 1934, 26 f.; RGASPI , 517–1–1653, Section Centrale de la Main
d’Œuvre Immigrée, La Section centrale de la M.O.I. – Aperçu sur sa composition son
travail, 1934, 57. The latter contains a more elaborate version of the state of the Jewish
section.
107 The following report is a good example: APPP, BA 1939, Les Communistes Étrangers
dans la Région Parisienne, December 1925.
108 ‘Circulaire de la Section du Travail parmi les étrangers’, Cahiers du Bolchevisme, 32
(1 December 1925), 22–32.
109 Courtois, Peschanski and Rayski, Le sang de l’étranger, 23 f.
110 RGASPI , 517–1– 1133, Section Centrale de la Main d’Œuvre Immigrée, Projet de
rapport sur la M.O.E., 18 January 1932, 63 f.
111 See for an overview of its early history: Zvi Y. Gitelman, Jewish Nationality and Soviet
Politics. The Jewish Sections of the CPSU, 1917–1930 (Princeton: Princeton University
Press, 1972), especially 105–151.
112 Maurice Rajsfus, L’an Prochain, La Révolution. Les Communistes Juifs Immigrés Dans
La Tourmente Stalinienne, 1930–1945 (Paris: Mazarine, 1985), 36.
113 Yuri Slezkine, ‘The USSR as a Communal Apartment, or How a Socialist State
Promoted Ethnic Particularism’, Slavic Review, 53/2 (1994), 414–452; Terry Martin,
The Affirmative Action Empire: Nations and Nationalism in the Soviet Union,
1923–1939 (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 2001); George O. Liber, ‘National
Identity Formation, Nationalism and Nationalist Tides in the Soviet Union: A Review
Article’ (2003). Available at: http://www.bu.edu/uni/iass/conf/George%20Liber.pdf
(accessed 22 January 2007).
114 Slezkine, ‘The USSR as a Communal Apartment’, 418. Slezkine furthermore argues
that an ethnic awareness was key to pre-revolutionary Bolshevik ideas of how to
organize the future Soviet state and a foundational principle of the new state.
Similarly, Liber points out that Soviet nationality policy has its roots in tsarist times.
115 See especially: David Shneer, Yiddish and the creation of Soviet Jewish culture
1918–1930 (New York: Cambridge University Press, 2004); Jeffrey Veidlinger, ‘Let’s
Perform a Miracle: The Soviet Yiddish State Theater in the 1920s’, Slavic Review, 57/2
(1998), 372–397; Gennady Estraikh, In Harness. Yiddish Writers’ Romance with
Communism (Syracuse: Syracuse University Press, 2005). On the early use of Yiddish<