Spanish Civil War Volunteers Revisit Battlegrounds
JACKI LYDEN, host:
This year marks 70 years since the outbreak of the Spanish Civil War, and this weekend, international volunteers who fought in the first great battle against Fascism of the 20th century were honored at a reunion in Spain. Only five surviving members of the American Abraham Lincoln Brigade were able to attend. Jerome Socolovsky went to speak with them. We hear first from Mo Fishman, who's now 91 years old.
Mr. MO FISHMAN (American Abraham Lincoln Brigade): When you're 21, there is no bullet that was made for you, and here was a chance to do something about fascism. Some men were running away from bad martial or love situations, but what united all of us was that we hated fascism.
JEROME SOCOLOVSKY: During the Spanish Civil War, tens of thousands of young men and women came from around the world to fight against the military uprising led by General Francisco Franco.
(Soundbite of singing)
SOCOLOVSKY: Like these German volunteers, only a few hundred are still alive, and about 30 of them came to an old battlefield in (foreign name) near Madrid to dedicate a monument. They were known as the International Brigades, and they included around 2,800 Americans in the Abraham Lincoln and George Washington Battalions.
Mr. CARL GEIZER (Spanish Civil War Veteran): (Unintelligible) hundred years old.
SOCOLOVSKY: Carl Geizer is 96, to be exact. With his white beard and black beret, he looks like Hemingway might of in a wheelchair. When Geizer joined the brigadistas he was in his late twenties. He recalls being taken prisoner up north at San Pedro de Cardinia(ph) by Italian troops. They had been sent by Mussolini, who, like Hitler, was aiding Franco.
Mr. GEIZER: (Unintelligible) you'd be shot.
SOCOLOVSKY: If you were American, you'd be shot, Geizer says. He thought it was the end. Canadian Jules Pavio(ph) fought for a time in the Lincoln Battalion. He and Geizer ended up facing the same Italian firing squads.
Mr. JULES PAVIO (Spanish Civil War Veteran): Miracles do happen. I mean suddenly whatever general came with a limousine and slowed down and saw this happening. They backed up and his aide de camp called the officer of the firing squad. What are you doing? Oh, we're killing (unintelligible). Oh, no, no, no. We are capturing all the internationals that we can to exchange for Italian prisoners that the government has. So we were saved.
SOCOLOVSKY: A third of all the American brigadistas did fall on the battlefield, and nearly everyone else was wounded.
Mr. GEORGE SISANCO(ph) (Spanish Civil War Veteran): Most of us didn't have any training. They give me a gun and they give me 100 bullets and they send me to fight.
SOCOLOVSKY: At the age of 16, George Sisanco ran away from home in France to join an anarchist battalion in the Aregon region of Spain. Now he lives in Atlanta, Georgia.
Mr. SISANCO: My training was to have five shots, try (unintelligible) piece of paper, that was my training. They send me to fight against one of the best army in the world, which was the Spanish.
SOCOLOVSKY: And the brigadistas are irked by the way America treated them after the war. Jack Shaferon(ph) was 19 when he went to fight. During the McCarthy era, he and his fellow comrades were tarred as leftists. He says the FBI had him fired from several jobs and he was also denied a U.S. passport for decades. In the '90s, Spain granted Shaferon honorary citizenship. It made him feel very proud. He remembers the speech by the head of the Spanish Communist Party, a woman known as La Pasionaria.
Mr. JACK SHAFERON (Spanish Civil War veteran): La Pasionaria, the speech that has been paraphrased many times in Barcelona, when we were leaving, if I remember right, she ended, you are legends, you are part of Spain. (Coughs) Excuse me. You are part of Spain. (Unintelligible) I'm sorry, it's difficult. Emotions.
SOCOLOVSKY: This is a very emotional reunion for these brigadistas. For many it's likely to be the last.
For NPR News, I'm Jerome Socolovsky in (foreign name), Spain.
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