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Joe Gordon


Gordon, Joe and Elias Begelman

Gordon, Joe. (Jacob Mendelowitz), b. January 27, 1914, CCC, Deserted from the US Army in order to go to Spain, Steel worker, YCL 1933, Sailed December 26, 1936 aboard the Normandie, Arrived in Spain on January 3, 1937, Served with the XV BDE, Lincoln BN. WIA in the head at Jarama, later at returned to the BN and fought at Brunete and was WIA in the leg, repatriated later summer early fall 1937, He returned to Spain in 1938, serving with the Lincoln-Washington BN, Co. 1 and later with the Plaza Mayor, rank Soldado, Ebro Offensive, WWII joined the Merchant Marines in 1942 and was killed later that year when his ship was torpedoed on the Murmansk Run, Brother of Leo Gordon.

Sources: Pay, RA, ALBA 133 Joseph and Leo Gordon Papers,Daniel Czitrom, Introduction, "Volunteers for Liberty: Letters from Joe and Leo Gordon, Americans in Spain, 1937-38," in Massachusetts Review 25 (Fall 1984). .

Photograph: Joe Gordon and Elias Begelman of Williamsburg, July 1938. The 15th International Brigade Photographic Unit Photograph Collection ; ALBA Photo 11; ALBA Photo number 11-0098. Tamiment Library/Robert F. Wagner Labor Archives. Elmer Holmes Bobst Library, 70 Washington Square South, New York, NY 10012, New York University Libraries; and RA Fond 545, Opis 6, Delo 901..



Born Joseph Mendelowitz in 1914, Joe was the son of Eastern European immigrants, and was raised in the Williamsburg section of Brooklyn. In 1931, soon after his mother died, Joe left home to find work. He hopped freight trains and hitchhiked his way across the country, landing in San Francisco. His brother Leo soon joined Joe out west. The brothers traveled together, working odd jobs in Arizona, New Mexico, Texas, and Louisiana. For a time, Joe had hopes of becoming a professional boxer in New Orleans. Eventually, Joe and Leo went to work for the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) in Tennessee, Idaho, and Wyoming. It was during this period that the brothers became politically radicalized, and around this time they adopted the last name Gordon (Joe refers to it in a letter as their "red name"). Joe began to organize cannery workers in San Diego, quickly rising to a leadership role in the union. In 1935, he was beaten up by the San Diego Police and kicked out of the city.

In December 1936 when he was 22, Joe Gordon sailed to France and hiked over the Pyrenees into Spain to join the International Brigades in the Spanish Civil War. He was soon on the front line in the Jarama Valley, where he made a name for himself as a tough and courageous fighter. A sniper shot to the forehead in February 1937 injured him in the eye, but after a short hospitalization Joe rejoined the Lincoln Battalion in the Brunete offensive. He was group leader in the infantry when he was wounded in his leg and sent back to the States to recuperate

Joe Gordon returned to Spain in June 1938, in part to search for his brother Leo, who had thus far only been reported missing. Joe continued to fight with the International Brigades until they were evacuated from Spain. He returned to the States in December 1938.

Back in New York, Gordon remained politically active as an organizer for the Communist Party, while making his living as a furrier. In 1942, he joined the Merchant Marines. His ship was torpedoed while delivering supplies to the Soviet Union on the Murmansk run, and Joe was killed.

- Biography courtesy of Tamiment Library, NYU. 





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Last Name Gordon
First/Middle Name Joe
Ethnicity Note
Immigration Status
AKA Last Name 1
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Education HS
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