Fallen Sparrows: The International Brigades in the Spanish Civil War
The Odyssey of the Abraham Lincoln Brigade
Prisoners of the Good Fight: The Spanish Civil War, 19361938
Another Hill: An Autobiographical Novel
This year’s spectacular commemoration of the Normandy landings was preceded by the publication or re-issue of a number of books dealing with that great enterprise, even though, to Americans of younger generations, the Second World War, something that occurred before the American wars in Korea, Vietnam, and the Gulf (not to mention military operations in Grenada and Panama), must seem like ancient history. The Spanish Civil War which began in July 1936, and in which America took no official part, must seem to them like prehistory. And yet, as if to herald the approach of the sixtieth anniversary of its outbreak, books by and about participants in that far-off war are beginning to appear on both sides of the Atlantic.
There is even a film, Chronicles of Hope, made by Michkan World in Paris, that has already been shown on French and Belgian television; it consists of interviews with survivors of the Republican Army and the International Brigades. Among them are Enrique Lister, one of the Republic’s best generals; Artur London, who after his service in Spain became vice-minister for foreign affairs in Prague and was one of the victims of the Slan-sky purge in 1949, but survived imprisonment to publish in Paris L’Aveu, an account of his interrogation and trial that was made into a stirring film by Costa-Gavras; Henri Tanguy, commander of the XVth Brigade of French volunteers and later, in 1944, of the FFI in the fighting for the liberation of Paris; Bill Alexander, commander of the British Battalion at Teruel; Milton Wolff, Sam Wellman, and others of the Lincoln Brigade, and also the author of this review (unless, as often happens to people in the celluloid world, I got left on the cutting room floor at the last moment—I have not seen the film).
The books are either by or about members of the International Brigades that were organized, under the direction of the Comintern, in the autumn of 1936. When the remnants of these brigades marched in Barcelona in October 1938, in a ceremony marking their withdrawal from the fighting—a move the Negrín government hoped might produce pressure on Italy and Germany to follow suit—La Pasionaria made a farewell address which concluded with the words: “You can go proudly. You are history. You are legend.” And legend they have become, as contradictory myths have been woven around them, presenting them as idealistic champions of democracy on the one hand or as either “dupes” (J. Edgar Hoover’s word) or victims of the cynical maneuvers of the Kremlin. Michael Jackson’s Fallen Sparrows, which is Volume 212 of the prestigious Memoirs of the American Philosophical Society, announces itself as “an attempt to peel off some of the layers of myth that have obscured the International Brigades…myths concern[ing] factual questions of their number, nation, class, age, and political associations” and others concerning “the meaning of their commitment.”
The numbers of course have been wildly exaggerated or underestimated depending on …