[Marxism] Moe Fishman
lnp3 at panix.com
Sun May 16 16:45:13 MDT 2004
NY Times, May 16, 2004
A Boy From Queens, a Mission in Spain
As told to DAN KAUFMAN
IN 1937, a 21-year-old from Astoria, Queens, named Moe Fishman joined
the Abraham Lincoln Brigade, a regiment of Americans who volunteered to
defend the democratically elected Spanish Republic from fascism. The
Lincolns were part of the International Brigades, which sent some 40,000
men and women from 52 countries to the Republic's aid. Roughly a third
of the American volunteers came from New York City.
Two weeks ago, Mr. Fishman, who now lives in Chelsea, and a dozen of the
70 surviving members of the brigade celebrated the group's 68th
anniversary at New York University's Skirball Center for the Performing
Arts. Afterward, he talked about his life as a radical.
I grew up in Astoria; my father was a hand laundryman. It was a one-man
operation, plus whatever the family members contributed. My father had
been a Socialist, he read The Forward. I would argue with him and kept
convincing him of this position and that position, and he started to
read The Freiheit, which was the Communist paper. My mother was apolitical.
If you remember the times that we were living in back in the 1930's, it
was the Depression and the conditions were so bad that it became pretty
natural to become radicalized. I joined the Young Communist League in
1934 when I was 18. One of the big factors that influenced me to join -
aside from the social dances that they ran, which were attended by
females, and I was chasing them, so that was a natural place to go - was
the fact that in the streets of New York, people were being evicted.
You'd see people with all their furniture down in the streets. Along
would come these young Communists after the marshals' horses departed.
They'd pick up the furniture, go up to the apartment, they'd have an axe
or a hammer, break the lock, and they'd put the family back in. The
landlord couldn't evict them again for another six months.
My father felt very badly about me going to Spain. He kept arguing,
"It's for the Europeans to do, not Americans," and when I told him they
were only taking men with armed experience, he was so relieved. Then
when I was accepted, I didn't tell him, thinking he might try to come
down to the ship or something.
I called him when I got off the subway, heading down to the dock, and my
father said, "Wait a minute, speak to your mother," and she started
crying and hollering, and I just hung up and went. My mother told me
later that afterwards, he put his hand on a shelf and cried. It was the
first and last time she ever saw him cry.
The ship I went on was a French ship - I don't remember the name - it
only had eight volunteers. I was designated as the leader and was given
a piece of white silk that I was supposed to give to our contact in
Paris. I presented it to this person and they put us up in a hotel.
Then we were broken up and I stayed on a farm in southern France for a
night - there must have been about 20 of us sleeping on hay. We were
taken by bus to the foothills of the Pyrenees. At that point, there was
80 or a hundred of us. We left at dusk and got to Spain when the sun
rose. We would climb for 55 minutes and then had five minutes when we
could open up a can of sardines and eat a piece of bread.
I was wounded in the Brunete action near Madrid, in a little town at
Villanueva de la Cañada in the first attack on the first day we besieged
the town. I was brought out on an improvised stretcher, two rifles
thrust through the sleeves of a coat. My X-ray showed I had 32 pieces of
bone and metal in my leg.
We didn't have a hell of a lot of contact with the Spanish public. I
felt their hospitality when I got wounded and wound up in the hospitals.
The Spanish nurses, the aides, when we went into town they couldn't do
enough for us.
We were getting the best of all the food; what was left over went to the
civilian population. We got garbanzos and burro meat, and this was the
high-class food. Imagine how they were starving. We fell in love with
the Spanish people.
I spent a year in the hospital in Spain. I came home in July of '38. I
spent another two years in and out of the hospitals in the United States
because they had to straighten out my leg. In 1940, I went to work for
the Joint Anti-Fascist Refugee Committee. I worked for them until I
shipped out in World War II in the Merchant Marine. In the McCarthy
period, the organization came under attack and we as individuals were
approached to be stool pigeons. During the trial against the Veterans of
the Abraham Lincoln Brigade, I would leave the house in the morning and
two well-dressed F.B.I. guys would come over and ask me, "Moe, are you
ready to talk to us?" I said "Sure, like every time you ask, as long as
I can bring my lawyer with me."
NO, we mean without a lawyer," they said. And I said: "Well that's too
bad. I won't go." So they'd walk away. Following week they'd be there
again. This went on for almost a year until our trial actually began.
Since Franco died in '75, I've been back to Spain seven times. The first
time was the 50th anniversary of the founding of the International
Brigades in 1986. Then we were greeted mostly by those who had been on
the side of the republic.
When we came back 10 years later, it was a cross section of the
population. They'd learned that these veterans were not what Franco had
called them, "mercenaries recruited from all the slums of Europe." On
the contrary, they had this strong feeling for these men who had come to
fight for an ideal.
Today there are 70 volunteers alive of the 2,800 Americans who
volunteered and fought in Spain. We're particularly proud of the fact
that the Lincoln Battalion was the first American military unit that was
completely integrated. It didn't happen to the United States Army until
Truman did it in 1948. You have to remember that all through World War
II, a million or more black Americans fought in segregated units.
As told to Dan Kaufman
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