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Isidore Irving Fajans


Fajans, Isidore Irving

Fajans, Isidore Irving. (“Toots”), Jewish, Single, Organizer Department Store Workers Employee’s Union, YCL 1932, received passport# 384046 on April 8, 1937 which listed his address as 268 & ½ Koseiusko Street, Brooklyn, New York, 24 yrs. old, Sailed April 21, 1937 aboard the Queen Mary, Arrived in Spain on May 22, 1937; Served with the XV BDE, Washington BN, Co. 1,  WIA July 9, 1937 Brunete.  After an extended recovery became a truck driver; WWII US Army, d. 1967, NYC.

Sources: Sail, SACB, Cadre, RA, ALBA 250 Irving Fajans Papers.

Photograph: Irving Fajans in WWII, Courtesy Harry Fisher.


Fajans was born into a working class family in Brooklyn, N.Y. In 1932, he joined the Young Communist League. About that time he took a job as a stock clerk at the Macy’s department store in Manhattan. Fajans soon became an organizer for the Department Store Employees Union, where he served as a shop steward and strike leader in the campaign to organize New York’s retail workers. He describes this experience in an unpublished autobiographical novel that is part of the Fajans collection.

Like many other YCLers, Fajans was recruited for the Lincoln Brigade and set sail for Spain in 1937. He served on the front lines at Jarama and Brunete, where he was severely wounded. After he recovered, he returned home in 1938 and resumed union and political work.

When Pearl Harbor was attacked, Fajans volunteered for the U.S. Army. He moved quickly from basic training to officer candidate school at Camp Benning, Georgia, where he was at the top of his class. Just before graduation he was abruptly assigned to laundry work when military intelligence labeled him as a possible security threat because of his Spanish Civil War service. Some of his letters on the subject of political discrimination in the army appear in the new book, The Good Fight Continues; others remain in manuscript as part of the ALBA collection.

In 1942, Fajans volunteered for the infantry and was wounded in the landing at Anzio (Italy). While in a hospital recovering from his wounds, Fajans was visited by Lincoln vet Irving Goff, who was working nearby for the Office of Strategic Services (OSS). The two arranged for Fajans to transfer into the OSS, where he joined Goff, Vincent Lossowski, and Milton Wolff building ties with the Italian partisan movement.

Fajans returns to New York City after World War II.

After the war, Fajans served as executive secretary of the Veterans of the Abraham Lincoln Brigade. He was instrumental in producing a facsimile edition of The Volunteer for Liberty, the brigade’s wartime newspaper. He also acted as editor of a literary anthology about the Spanish Civil War titled The Heart of Spain. But when Communist Party leaders persuaded the vets to expunge Ernest Hemingway’s homage “To the American Dead in Spain,” because the celebrated novelist had criticized party leaders, Fajans refused to go along and resigned from the VALB.

Fajans then built a new career in film making. Having used the GI Bill to learn film editing, he joined with a group of other blacklisted filmmakers on the production team of Salt of the Earth, a revolutionary and critically acclaimed documentary film about a zinc miners’ strike in New Mexico. The film, released in 1953, was sponsored by the International Union of Mine, Mill, and Smelter Workers, one of the unions that had been expelled from the CIO for alleged Communist-dominated leadership. Salt of the Earth, which depicts the struggles of miners’ wives for recognition, dignity, and equality, is now viewed as a major landmark in documentary filmmaking.


By the early 1960s Fajans, like many of the blacklisted filmmakers, began to find work as a free-lancer. During these years he also taught filmmaking in the School of Visual Arts in New York City. He died prematurely in 1968 at the age of 52 of a heart attack, at a time when his filmmaking talent was being recognized.

~Mike Nash, The Volunteer, December 2006.

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Full Database Record

Last Name Fajans
First/Middle Name Isidore Irving
Ethnicity Note
Immigration Status
AKA Last Name 1
AKA First / Middle 1
AKA Last Name 2
AKA First / Middle 2
Foreign Nation
Foreign Nation City
Alt Pob State, City
Family: Name
Family: Relationship
Family: Begin Date
Family: End Date
Family: Comments
Education HS
Education College / Univ 1
Education College/Univ Notes
Education College/Univ 2
Graduate or Doctoral Work
Graduate or Doctoral Work Notes
Prior Military Service
Passport #
Passport Series
Passport Reported Lost in Spain
Passport Age
Passport Date
PP or Known Address Street
PP or Known Address City
PP or Known Address State
ALT City
Alt State
Sail Date
Marital Status
Marital Notes
Vocation 1
Vocation 2
Vocation 3
Party Affiliation
Date Affiliation
ALT Affiliation
ALT date
ALT affiliation 2
Arrival (in Spain) Date
Units served with
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WWII Service
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KIA/MIA/Died other
KIA/MIA/Died other Date
KIA/MIA/Died other Location
KIA/MIA/Died other Battle
Additional Notes Was film editor on Salt of the Earth