George Zoul: Reconstructing the Life of a Volunteer

June 24, 2017
George Zoul. Veterans of the Abraham Lincoln Brigade Photograph Collection; ALBA Photo 15; Series I Photographs 1930s-1990s, Box 3, Folder 97. Tamiment Library/Robert F. Wagner Labor Archives. Elmer Holmes Bobst Library, 70 Washington Square South, New York, NY 10012, New York University Libraries.

George Zoul. Veterans of the Abraham Lincoln Brigade Photograph Collection; ALBA Photo 15; Series I Photographs 1930s-1990s, Box 3, Folder 97. Tamiment Library/Robert F. Wagner Labor Archives. Elmer Holmes Bobst Library, 70 Washington Square South, New York, NY 10012, New York University Libraries.

Compiling a biographical entry for a volunteer often involves a complicated process of locating data points from a wide variety of sources and assembling them into a coherent structure.  George Zoul’s entry took several years to assemble.   In 2012, I ran an internet query on George Zoul a volunteer on whom I had very little information.  I came a across a link to a blog by Gordon Stettinius a photographer and historian, who coincidentally lives in Richmond, Virginia, my hometown.  Stettinius was working on a book featuring photographs by Gita Lenz who had been married to Zoul.[i]  On his blog, Stettinius noted that Zoul was “shot in combat and was buried in Spain.” He further noted that he needed “to figure out her timeline with her marriage to George and his service in the Lincoln Brigade.”[ii] I wrote to Stettinius to see if he had uncovered any additional information since that post . While he did not have any data on Zoul that was not included in his blog or Gita Lenz Photographs, [iii]  I added Zoul to the honor roll of those killed in Spain.

Later, I found more information to include in Zoul’s biographical sketch utilizing records from and the Russian State Archive of Socio-Political History (RGASPI).  This information included his: date of birth, parent’s names, date of his marriage, marital status, service with the Lincoln Battalion, and return information.[iv]  Zoul’s date of birth was listed on passenger records from the Caledonia when he returned to the US on September 13, 1937. The record also listed Zoul’s parents as Vincent and Mary Zoul who were Czechoslovakian immigrants.[v] Using his date of birth I found a match for a George Zoul who lived on the West Coast and died in June 1954. From this information, I concluded that Zoul was definitely not killed in Spain and appeared to have moved to the west coast and put his past behind him. [vi]  I later found that I had followed the thread for a different George Zoul.

I maintained my misconception for several months until Ray Hoff, who, while working on the Lincoln-Washington Tree in Ancestry, located a series of documents that revealed a less fortunate fate.  After the outbreak of the Second World War, Zoul travelled to Canada and enlisted in the Canadian Army on June 18, 1940.  Private Zoul was assigned to the 4th Field Ambulance unit, Royal Canadian Army Medical Corps.[vii]  Zoul’s unit soon deployed overseas to England.  In an interview in England with an American correspondent Zoul stated:

My parents are Czech. I speak Czech fluently, and I’m hoping to be transferred to the Czech Squadron of the RAF. … For more than a year, I’ve been with a field ambulance outfit – and, after Spain, it seems a little tame. This war is taking a long time—if they’d let me be a pilot – I could help finish it!

I was all set to go to the University of Southern California when this business started, but I reckon this is a much better education – and you get paid while you learn! It’s pretty dull sometime, but at least I’ll have something to look back on when I’m an old man.[viii]

Zoul was no longer with his unit by the time the article was published in September 1940. Zoul went absent without leave (AWOL).  While it is unlikely we will ever know his motive, it is possible that he was refused a transfer to the RAF or decided that life in England was indeed too “dull.”

Zoul stowed-away aboard the Panamanian freighter the SS Csarda.  When discovered at sea, Zoul was brought before the Captain of the vessel who proposed to turn him over to the British in Gibraltar. Zoul reportedly stated he would prefer “to die before appearing before the British authorities.”  He subsequently jumped overboard wearing a life-vest.  His apparent attempt to swim to the Spanish coast went horribly wrong.  Zoul’s body was later recovered in Rosia Bay, Gibraltar. The coroner placed the date of death as July 20, 1941 and indicated the cause of death to be “asphyxia due to drowning.”[ix]

The Captain of the Port of Gibraltar reported the recovery of Zoul’s remains to the American Consulate. A representative of the Consulate attended the inquest and issued a report that indicated that Zoul’s effects included fifteen Spanish Pesetas and a silver ring which were forwarded to the State Department with his report.[x] The State Department attempted to contact his next of kin.  A letter addressed to his ex-wife Gita Zoul was returned to the State Department marked un-deliverable.[xi] Zoul is buried in the Gibraltar Cemetery, Gibraltar, Plot 2, Row D. Joint grave 9.

See Zoul’s database entry here.

Zoul's Headstone

Zoul’s Grave marker in the Gibraltar Cemetery reads: “D98674 Private G. Zoul of the Royal Canadian Army Medical Corps Found 20th July 1941 Age 32” Find a Grave #18484887.














[i]  Gordon Stettinius blog Gertrude Maslow married Zoul in 1931.  By the time Zoul sailed for Spain they were either separated or divorced.  Gita married a second time in 1940 to Richard Lenz.  Her second marriage was also unsuccessful and they were divorced 18 months later. Gita Maslow lived and worked in NYC.  She had a promising career in Photographer and her work was shown at the Museum of Modern Art in 1955.  She stopped working on her art in the early 1960s but remained active in the arts community. Gordon Stettinius met her at a gallery exhibit of his photography and later was asked to help preserve her photographs after she moved into an assisted living facility.  He published a book of her photographs through Candela Books, a publishing imprint he started for the purpose.

Gita Lenz

Gita Lenz photograph, early 1930s













Gital Lenz Book

Gita Lenz Photographs, Candela 2010, Gordon Stettinius, ISBN 978-0-9845739-0-5











[ii]Gordon Stettinius blog

[iii] Gordon Stettinius to Brooks, email, 10/18/2012.

[iv] Marriage to Gertrude (Gita) Maslow on January 27, 1931,

[v] Census Data,

[vi] Adolph Ross’s Americans in the Spanish Civil War does not list Zoul as being killed in action.

[vii] Canadian Active Service Force Attestation Paper, Ancestry.

[viii] Lowell Bennett, International New Service Staff Correspondent, “Americans of All Types Fight With British Against Hitler,” The Franklin Evening Star, Franklin, Indiana, September 16, 1941, p. 3; Ray Hoff to Brooks 7/2/2016

[ix] Page 2 of report by George Alexander Armstrong, American Consul [page 1 not present], Ancestry.

[x] Report by George Alexander Armstrong, Foreign Service Officer, having informal jurisdiction over the Gibraltar Consulate, Ancestry.

[xi] Department of State to Mrs. Gita Zoul, 166 State Street, Brooklyn, New York, October 2, 1941.

“I regret to have to enclose the Foreign Service report of the death of George Zoul which occurred at sea off the Rosia Bay, Gibraltar, on July 20, 1941. The attached report was received from the American Consulate at Malaga, Spain.”

The letter was returned to sender by the Brooklyn NY post office as undeliverable as addressed stamped February 9, 1942.;  Zoul listed his mother as his next-of-kin on his enlistment papers (Canadian Active Service Force Attestation Paper) so it is likely that she was informed of his death.