Memorial for Matti Mattson

March 19, 2011

August 26, 2010. Matti Mattson (right) with Spain's Consul in New York, Fernando Villalonga, in the Spanish Consulate, the day Matti submitted his papers to become a Spanish citizen.

The haunting strains of “El Cant dels Ocells” – a Catalonian folk song orchestrated by the great cellist and Spanish Civil War refugee Pau Casals—were the overture to the memorial service for Lincoln vet, Matti August Mattson, held yesterday, March 18, in the auditorium of NYU’s King Juan Carlos I of Spain Center.

The words and reminiscences of friends and family painted a collective portrait of a talented, principled and courageous man, whose life, in the words of Matti himself, (which were reproduced in the Memorial program) was “an honest effort to fulfill the teachings my immigrant parents gave me:  try to leave the Earth in better condition than you found it.”  Matti had pronounced those words when, on January 29, 2010, he was honored by the Fitchburg State College –in his Massachussetts home town—with the college’s Presidential Medal of Honor.

Remarks by Ilona Mattson (daughter), Dolores Drewniak (friend and daughter of a Lincoln vet), Jim Williams (son-in-law), Sam Sills (friend), and Timo Palonen (friend) brought to light, with humor and tenderness, the many different aspects of this extraordinary man:  father, friend, painter, sculptor, printer, golfer, translator, philosopher, handyman, citizen of the US, Finland, Spain and of the People’s Republic of Brooklyn, veteran of the Spanish Civil War –where he served as an ambulance driver—and World War II –where, like many Lincoln vets, he suffered discrimination for having been a “pre-mature antifascist.”

The formal tributes culminated with the moving words of grandson Mischa Williams, who explained that he and his wife are expecting a child, and that they plan to name the boy “August” in honor of his great-grandfather.  Mischa used the forthcoming challenge of raising August to structure his remarks on the extraordinary legacy left behind by Matti.

Lise Vogel, Georgia Wever and Bill Gilson (of Veterans for Peace) also paid tribute to the memory of Matti with brief remarks.  Lise read a passage from the memoir of her father, Sidney, a doctor with the Lincolns, in which he praised the extraordinary efforts of ambulance drivers like Matti.  Georgia evoked Matti’s friendship, his activism, and his staunch support of the Friends and Family of the Abraham Lincoln Brigade.  Mr. Gilson paid tribute to Matti, and mentioned that several chapters of his organization are named after Lincoln vets.

A recording of John McCutcheon and Bill Laymon’s rendition of the song “The Abraham Lincoln Brigade” concluded the service.

“No pasarán, no pasarán”

so sang the Abe Lincoln Brigade

‘Cross the years and the oceans

We still sing your song

of the Abraham Lincoln Brigade.


2 Responses to “ Memorial for Matti Mattson ”

  1. Joseph fernandez on March 24, 2011 at 1:26 pm

    A friend of mine and former teacher wrote a letter to the editor of Times Herald Record a few years ago. Here it is:
    A veteran of the Abraham Lincoln Brigade was recently featured in an article in your paper. He and his fellow Brigadistas were wrongly portrayed as heroes. In reality they are communist thugs.
    The International Brigades were recruited in the 1930’s by the Communist International to help impose a reign of Red genocide against Catholic Spain. The Boshevik government of the Loyalists conducted a war of extermination against Catholism unmached since the bloody persecution of the Emperoe Nero.
    Hundreds of thousands of Catholics(clerical,religious and lay)were martyered by firing squads,by torture and mutilation,by burning and burying alive and even crucifiction.Over a thousand churches and religious houses were burned or desecrated by Catholic hating Loyalist Red operatives.
    The Left’s double standards never cease to amaze the rational mind. When Nazi savages burned synagogues and murdered Jews in Germany, they are rightly stigmatized as vermin. When Communist beasts torch churches and slaughter Catholics in Spain, they are treated as heroes. What is wrong with this picture? End of letter.
    I was not a witness to these horrors but my mother Maria , who died in 2000 at the age of 102, was. And she never let us forget.

  2. Grover Furr on April 6, 2011 at 6:09 pm

    The statements in the post above are anticommunist lies.

    1. The most reliable study of religious persecution during the Civil War, by Fr Antonio Montero, claims that 6,832 members of the clergy and religious orders were murdered or executed. That’s total, by everybody and all sides.

    2. Communist policy was to oppose the destruction of churches and, of course, the killing of clergy.

    Despite Ronald Radosh’s meretricious and incompetent “commentary” in his extremely anticommunist book _Spain Betrayed_, the book is useful insofar as it does contain 81 interesting Comintern documents.

    In one of those documents, No. 21, a communist informant, writing to the Comintern military advisor, reports on Anarchists executing priests even after promising to spare them in return for a ransom. The ransom was paid, but 40 priests were executed anyway. The Communists were opposed to this.

    Since this fact tends to make the Communists look good, and R.’s sole purpose appears to be to traduce the Communists, Radosh makes little of this fact. Had the communists been responsible for these murders of priests, Radosh would have shouted it to high heaven. Since they opposed it, he passes over it quietly.

    The Spanish Catholic Church was extremely oppressive against the peasantry and working classes, and supported both the landowners and, later, the fascists. The Church, and many individual priests, were widely hated.

    But the communists wanted to win the civil war, and did not want to alienate those who might be won to support the Republic but who remained loyal Catholics. Therefore the communists opposed these atrocities.

    Fascist propaganda, however, blamed the communists for such massacres. That propaganda is the source of the false claims made in the post above.