Jewish Volunteers in the Spanish Civil War

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Internationalism & the Spanish Civil War

During the 1930s, the rise and consolidation of Fascism and Nazism affected the basic context of European politics and diplomacy. Thus, the war that began in Spain in July 1936 was more than just a civil war or a struggle of the Spanish people to defend their democratic rights and national independence. Indeed, the Spanish Civil War came to embody the struggle of all peoples around the world against exploitation, oppression, and racism. The clearest example of this global connection was the decision by over 35,000 men and women from 52 countries to volunteer and fight in defense of the Spanish Republican government.

Jewish men and women accounted for over one fourth of all international volunteers and played a prominent role in most of the national groups that went to Spain including those from the United States. Among other countries, they came from France, Poland, Britain, Canada, and Palestine; they were Socialists, Communists, Zionists, or Bundists. 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 organized armed resistance against Fascism and Nazi anti-Semitism.

"Madrid will be the tomb of fascism." That slogan indicated the hope that a victory over Fascism and Nazism in Spain would prevent further aggression and avoid a second world war. But it was not to be. Unable to obtain sufficient weapons and aid from the western democracies and facing a professional Spanish army backed by Germany and Italy, the Spanish Republic died in March 1939. Fears of World War II proved justified, indeed the terror of that war exceeded the predictions made in the 1930s. Fifty million people died during World War II, including at least six million European Jews.