Jewish Volunteers in the Spanish Civil War

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Spanish Civil War Veterans after World War II

After World War II, Jewish veterans of the Spanish Civil War typically returned to their home countries, in whose economic and political infrastructure some of them reached high positions. This was not the case for all of them. In the Soviet Union, many Soviet Jewish advisors to the Spanish Republic became victims of Stalin's purges in the late 1930s. Among them were Yaakov Shmushkevitch, who had helped organize the Spanish Republican Air Force, Grigori Stern, chief military adviser, Mikhail Koltzov, correspondent of Pravda during the SCW, and Marcel Rosenberg, Soviet ambassador to Spain.

In the late 1940s in the Soviet Union General Manfred Stern, who had commanded the International Brigades on the Madrid front, was accused of "Zionism" and Jewish nationalism and sent to Siberia where he died. In other Soviet bloc countries anti-Semitic campaigns were among the factors that led to the arrest and persecution of Jewish brigadiers including Arthur London, then Deputy of Foreign Affairs in the Czech government, who was sentenced to life imprisonment (rehabilitated in 1955), and forced Eva and Benko Litwak, who had served as medical doctors in Spain, to flee the German Democratic Republic.

In Poland the anti-Semitic campaign escalated after the Six Days War of 1967. The government accused all Jews, including veterans of the Spanish Civil War, of disloyalty as supporters of Israel. Ostracized from posts and places of work, many Spanish veterans lost their pensions and other social services and some were forced to renounce their Polish citizenship and to emigrate to Israel. The Veterans of the Abraham Lincoln Brigade formally protested the Polish government's policy toward Jewish veterans.

With the defeat of Hitler and Mussolini, the Lincoln Brigade felt vindicated in their struggles against Fascism and Nazism. However, many remained bitter and frustrated that the victorious Allies permitted Franco to remain in power in Spain. After World War II, U.S. presidents accepted Franco as part of the anti-communist alliance of the Cold War. The Veterans of the Abraham Lincoln Brigade (VALB) nevertheless continued to support Franco's opponents inside Spain and celebrated the dictator's death in 1975.

During the Cold War era, both the VALB organization and individual Lincoln vets faced government investigations for alleged communist ties as well as private harassment by employers. Since about 70 percent of the members of the brigade had been affiliated with the Communist party (or a related group), all were treated as potential subversives. Many Lincoln vets broke with the party during the 1940s and 50s. In the 1960s, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in favor of the VALB's protest against being listed as a subversive organization. Meanwhile, as individuals and as a group, veterans of the Lincoln Brigade remained political activists, taking public stands in favor of the civil rights movement, against the war in Vietnam, opposing the Pinochet coup in Chile, protesting U.S. support for the contras in Nicaragua in the 1980s, and providing humanitarian aid for Cuba and countries in Central America.

As they aged, Lincoln veterans paid more attention to their personal heritage both as radicals and, in many case, as Jews. Some, like the Ukrainian-born musician Lan Adomian, focused primarily on Jewish themes in their work.

Another veteran, Albert Prago, presented historical research that questioned whether Communists who were also Jews should not be also considered Jews who were also Communists. His essay, "Jews in the International Brigades," republished in the anthology of the Veterans of the Abraham Lincoln Brigade Our Fight, edited by Alvah Bessie and Albert Prago (1986), emphasized the role of a Jewish consciousness in inspiring individuals to volunteer in the fight against fascism. Many other surviving veterans acknowledge the importance of Prago's research. "Let us herald the fact," he wrote, "that more Jews, proportionately, fought in Spain than any other minority or any other nationality in Europe!"