Remembrance Day – by Tom Kozar

November 9, 2016
John "Topsy" Kozar

John “Topsy” Kozar

Blast from the Past is an ongoing series of posts reprinting articles from historical issues of The Volunteer.

“Remembrance Day” by Tom Kozar, November 11, 1988

Originally published in The Volunteer, V. 10, no. 3, December 1988.

Today is Remembrance Day[i] and as I woke to the sounds of Vera Lynn’s voice singing the words “Some sunny day…” my thoughts focused on the two amazing people who would become my mother and father.

But fought in the war against fascism, half a world apart, but none-the-less in the same war. My mother, Jean Ewen[ii], returned to China a second time in January of 1938 with Dr. Norman Bethune, and served as a nurse with the medical team and she worked with the Eighth Route Army and the New Fourth Army in the Chinese people’s fight against the aggression of the Japanese Imperial Army as Japan pushed the flood-tide of fascism in Asia.

My father, John Kozar, was an American seaman from New York who was a veteran of the Abraham Lincoln Brigade and went to Spain in May 1937 to fight in the same war against world fascism. My mother returned to Canada from China in 1939 and my father returned to New York in December of 1938 after the International Brigades were withdrawn from the Spanish Civil War in 1938.

The plan for peace in Spain and the policy of non-intervention in the “Spanish conflict,” supported by the great democracies failed miserably, and the world still suffers from the wreckage left by the rage of unbridled fascism turned loose in World War II.

John Kozar and Jean Ewen did not meet until late 1939, when John Kozar came to Canada and joined the Canadian Merchant Service and once again got back into the fight against world fascism, when Canada joined with England in declaring war against Hitler in 1939. John Kozar was lost at sea on January 14th, 1942 enroute to Murmansk, eight days before I was born. His ship, the Friar Rock, was one of 58 Allied ships sunk in January 1942 by half a dozen Nazi submarines operating off the east coast of the United States and Canada.

I knew my mother, Jean Ewen, but I never knew my father, John Kozar. In the past 10 years I have learned a lot about him from people who knew him as a seaman and soldier in Spain. I like what I know about the man and woman who became my parents.

Periodically as I grew up I can recall being told one should honor their mother and father. Two events in 1988 drew me to do that in an appropriate way.

My mother, Jean Ewen, ended her Long March on October 31st 1987 and my sister Laura and I made arrangements to carry out her last wishes. With the assistance of the Consul-General Mr. Juan Jin, the Government of the People’s Republic of China graciously extended an invitation to our family and in May, 1988, we returned our mother’s ashes to China, where she had worked with and fought alongside the Chinese people in their fight against fascism and Japanese aggression.

Jean Ewen’s ashes are interred at a site near the Memorial and resting place of Norman Bethune in the Revolutionary Martyrs Cemetery for North China in the Hopei Province.

We were able to return our mother’s ashes to a place she had been when she was alive, a place that she loved and among a people she came to love because of their struggle, which became her struggle in the years she spent in China.

As I think about my mother’s memorial in May 1988, this Remembrance Day and the honor extended to her and us, her family, by the government of the People’s Republic of China, I recall her as a wonderful, gallant, brave woman, whose spirit will never leave me.

In October, 1988 I travelled to Barcelona, Spain with a group of Veterans of the Abraham Lincoln Brigade, family and friends, for the dedication of a monument to the International Brigades, who fought in Spain. My father, John Kozar, was one of those who in common cause with thousands of other volunteers in the first and only International Army, went to Spain to defend democracy and the Spanish Republic against the chafing terror of fascism in Europe, which first bared its teeth in Spain. The dedication of the monument was also to commemorate the 50th Anniversary of the withdrawal of the International Brigades in 1938.

On the morning of October 28th, 1988, we boarded the buses outside our hotel about 9:30 am and traveled through Barcelona toward the site of the monument. We went through a huge tunnel through one of the hills on the outskirts of Barcelona – sort of like the Holland Tunnel without tiles.

Just outside the tunnel a small park on a piece of ground between the roadways the site where the monument is erected. The monument stands at one of the gates of the city of Barcelona. Thousands of people will drive by it each day as they go in and out of the city.

We approached the monument from the back side in the buses. The sun struck the bronze torso of David on the top of a 20 foot high pedestal. The polished portion of the torso shone in the sun like gold. It was a massive bronze and as the buses pulled up I could see the rest of the sculpture. The severed head of the philistine/fascist at the base of the column with the smooth stone from David’s sling embedded in the center of Goliath’s helmeted forehead. The torso of David at the top of the column, his shield on the end of the foreshortened arm, muscles rippled in relief in bronze, strained in the run of victory.

Roy Schiffrin[iii], the American sculptor, had done a magnificent job on the massive work and I was impressed with his work in creating this great tribute to the triumph of good over evil, truth over terror, the boy over the bully; and I thought it was a fitting work and tribute to those volunteers of the International Brigades who fought to defend the infant Spanish Republic with essentially their bare hands.

The words of La Pasionaria’s speech to the Brigades given fifty years ago as they left Spain in 1938, are carved on a black stone tablet at the base of the monument:

“We shall not forget you, and when the olive tree of peace puts forth its leaves again, mingled with the laurels of the Spanish Republic’s victory, come back.”

John Kozar did not come back, but his son came back, in 1988, to take part in the dedication to honor my father and his comrades who fought in the International Brigades to make the world a safe and better place to be.

On these battlefields in Spain and on other battlefields in World War II, men and women fought against fascism and some paid a vicious price, and the monument to the Brigades appropriately commemorates and honors those who fought in that Good Fight.

One pays homage and honors brave and valiant people in different ways. I had an opportunity to honor my mother and father and their comrades in very extraordinary ways in 1988 in China and Barcelona.

[i] Remembrance Day is a Canadian national holiday originally marking the last day of World I. The holiday commemorates civilians and military personnel who lost their lives in armed conflicts.  It is often marked by the wearing of red poppies.  Remembrance Day is also commemorated in other commonwealth nations.

[ii] Jean Ewen was born in Scotland on December 24, 1911, and immigrated with her family to Canada as a child.  She grew up in Saskatchewan and studied nursing in Winnipeg.  A year after graduating from the nursing program she moved to China as a medical missionary.  In 1937 she briefly returned home and agreed to accompany Dr. Norman Bethune as his interpreter and assistant when he travelled to China to provide medical aid to the Chines Red Army. After returning to Canada in 1939 she married John Kozar. Kozar died in 1942 after his ship was sunk on the Murmansk run.  She married Mike Kovitch in 1946.  Tom Kozar was the second of her three children Laura Kozar and Michael Kovitch.  In 1981 her memoir China Nurse (in later editions Canadian Nurse in China) was published. Ewen died on October 31, 1987.

[iii] Roy Schiffrin’s David & Doliath is an eight foot by thirteen foot polished bronze sculpture honoring the memory of the International Brigades who fought for the Republic during the Spanish Civil War.  His website provides more information about the talented sculptor and his art.