[Marxism] Moe Fishman

Louis Proyect 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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