lethargic_man: "Happy the person that finds wisdom, and the person that gets understanding."—Prov. 3:13. Icon by Tamara Rigg (limmud)
[personal profile] lethargic_man
I went to an interesting seuda shlishis yesterday; the ever-erudite Dr Colin Schindler spoke on the Jews who volunteered for the International Brigades during the Spanish Civil War. It seems this is a substantial group of people—had the Jews been counted separately, they would have had the biggest representation amongst the different nations that fought in the International Brigades—whose story has not been told. The Communists did not consider the Jews a nation, so did not count them separately, and the mainstream national Jewish organisations, such as the Board of Deputies, were rather embarrassed that these Jews were communists, so tended to keep quiet about them, as a result their story has fallen between the cracks.

Who they were seemed to be people who had sat idle whilst Hitler and Mussolini came to power in their respective countries, and were now determined to do something to prevent the same thing happening in Spain. (The historical background in a nutshell: a coalition of left-wing parties gained a fractionally higher share of the vote in in the 1936 general election than Franco's (fascistic) nationalists; following the assassination of high-ranking figures, the nationalists attempted a coup d'etat, which failed but plunged the country into all-out civil war. The rest of the world theoretically stayed neutral, but was generally biased against the communists, and eventually the nationalists won.)

One of those at the shiur was an old man who claimed he nearly went to Spain along with the first three British volunteers, who were all Jewish (can't remember their names, sorry), but the person whose bike he was borrowing to get to his (unspecified) transport out of the country managed to write it off in an accident the day beforehand. He said perhaps he was lucky: of the three he would have gone with, one got killed, one got a dum-dum bullet in the knee, and the third only escaped alive by throwing himself into the sea, swimming out to a ship and clinging onto the anchor. (Dr Schindler cited other examples: he quoted from a letter from an American volunteer to his mother, explaining why he felt compelled to fight; the volunteer got killed a month later, his brother, also fighting in the Spanish Civil War, got killed a year afterwards, and a third brother was killed in action in WW2.)

The speaker (the old man, not Dr Schindler) himself did not get a subsequent chance to go to Spain, he said, as he was too busy planning the Battle of Cable Street [in which counter-demonstrators, many of them Jewish, disrupted a march by Oswald Mosley's fascists in the East End of London]. He then talked a bit about his involvement in that. I hadn't realised just how much the Jewish community was opposed to standing up to the fascists in the run up to their march. Apparently the advice was to go home, keep everyone inside, lock up your doors, windows and shutters, and keep your head down. The Board of Deputies actually forbade anyone from going to the counter-demonstration, and used its influence on the unions. The speaker cited the chairman of a union (or club, I forget which) who (evidently having made clear his intention to join the counter-demonstration) was forbidden access to his club, and, on trying to enter anyway, got arrested and spent the night in police cells!

Sounds like the guy (the old man) had an interesting youth (in the sense of: interesting times). He said many Jews were Communists in the 1930s, but got disillusioned with communism after the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact (the non-aggression pact between Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union). He himself finally left the Communist Party, he said (IIRC, which is not necessarily the case), after the anti-Semitic Slánský trials in Prague. The following day there had been a Communist Party meeting in London; the speaker denied the Communist authorities would do any such thing. A member of the audience then stood up with a Czech newspaper and read the course of events out; and the Jews in the room got up and walked out, and that was the end of that.

Jewish learning notes index

Date: 2006-08-07 07:57 am (UTC)
ext_8103: (Default)
From: [identity profile] ewx.livejournal.com
Seems a little odd to call the losing side "the Communists" - they are more usually referred to as Republicans, Communists being only one faction among them (though a powerful one, because supported by the USSR). Equally the international volunteers were not all communists (although I read that communist parties around the world were instrumental in recruitment).

Date: 2006-08-07 08:04 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile] lethargic-man.livejournal.com
I'm not writing from a position of knowledge, and I was not able to take notes at the time; what I've written above is from memory, and therefore liable to mistakes like that.

Date: 2006-08-07 10:12 am (UTC)
ext_8103: (Default)
From: [identity profile] ewx.livejournal.com
I still have Homage To Catalonia on my shelves waiting to be read...

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