IB Monument Unveiled in Paris

December 3, 2016


On a sunny Saturday, October 22, the French International Brigades Association, ACER (Amis des Combattants en Espagne Républicaine), corrected a longstanding injustice. The city of Paris, home of the main recruiting and screening center for international volunteers from 1936 to 1938, had no public monument to the International Brigades. While a monument to the French IB volunteers was unveiled at the Museum of National Resistance in the suburbs of Champigny-sur-Marne in 1997, its distance from Paris essentially relegated the museum to hidden treasure status. The site of the new monument is quite the contrary. Located on the Cour de Seine just outside the Austerlitz train station, the gargantuan lava stone sculpture by French artist Denis Monfleur, weighing more than six metric tons, is plainly visible.

The location is highly symbolic and extremely fitting. First, the Gare d’Austerlitz is located in the 13th district of Paris. A former MP for this district was none other than André Marty, member of the Comintern and figurehead of the IB. Perhaps most importantly, the majority of volunteers who departed from Paris took the 10:17 pm train from this very station. Despite efforts by IB organizers to maintain a low profile concerning the flow of men to Spain, this nightly train was nicknamed “le train des Volontaires.” It was also at this location that a large contingent of French IB veterans were welcomed home in mid-November 1938 following the “Despedida” two weeks earlier in Barcelona.

The monument by Denis Monfleur. Photo Jeanne St. Martin, ACER.

The monument by Denis Monfleur. Photo Jeanne St. Martin, ACER.

Over 500 people attended the dedication ceremony, including delegations of IB organizations from various countries. The ALBA delegation included board members Ellyn Polshek, Nancy Wallach, and Robert Coale, as well as other family members and friends of the Lincoln Brigade.

The mayor of Paris was represented by municipal councilwoman Catherine Vieu-Charier in charge of Veterans affairs, who gave the opening speech. The Spanish Embassy in France was also represented, as were the CGT Railway worker’s union and the French railroad company. The Secretary General of the CGT, Philippe Martinez, whose father was an IB veteran, also attended the event. The mayor of Madrid, Manuela Carmena sent her greetings to the gathering, as did other IB associations. Several past and present members of French parliament and sons of IB veterans attended the unveiling, namely Jean-Claude Lefort and François Asensi. Cécile Rol-Tanguy, aged 97, widow of Henri Rol-Tanguy, political commissar of the 14th Brigade, “La Marseillaise” during the Ebro battle and later commander of the French Underground in Paris during the uprising that led to liberation of the city in August 1944, was also in attendance. Mrs. Rol-Tanguy actively participated in the Parisian uprising of 1944 alongside her husband and holds the rank of Grand Officer of the Legion of Honor in her own right. Her daughter, Claire Rol-Tanguy, secretary of ACER, addressed the crowd in a poignant speech which related the details of the monument project.

She closed with words that many IB associations could call their own: “We do not see our role as an association dedicated to memory as one destined to maintain a myth or a legend. What we want above all is to illustrate freely and without taboos, the names and the individual stories of these incredibly courageous men and women, their undertakings and their values. We do so with the firm conviction that we are serving the interests of the present at a time when we need a generous and clear-headed Europe, a Europe in fraternity and solidarity with all its peoples.”

ALBA Board member Robert Coale teaches at the University of Rouen in France.