Letter from ALBA: About Anger, Hope–and Commitment

December 29, 2018

ALBA LogoDear Friends,

For those of us who think a lot about the 1930s, it’s hard to follow current events and not be reminded of the time when fascism began its rapid expansion. As we prepare this issue for print, we are shocked by the anti-Semitic hate crime at the Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburgh. This past April, ALBA presented a professional development seminar at another Squirrel Hill Temple just five minutes away. “We are incredibly saddened, grieving and angry,” our friends in Pittsburgh write to us. “We are nonetheless encouraged by the solidarity in our beloved neighborhood of Squirrel Hill, which in addition to being a long-standing Jewish neighborhood is a neighborhood of immigrants where interactions are fluid and dynamic, in the city of Pittsburgh at large, and beyond. Even though this tragedy has its heart in Squirrel Hill, it is a collective one which extends far beyond its parameters.

Also heartening was the impromptu vigil entirely organized and led by Squirrel Hill Public High School Students. Thousands of people of all backgrounds gathered to mourn together and listen to these thoughtful and eloquent students. It was somber, moving and beautiful. The anger, among the students and the crowd, although subdued given the immediate circumstances, was palpable. I believe this sense of solidarity and the anger, although subdued given people were just murdered, was also palpable among the speakers and the crowd.

The combined feelings of anger and hope are recognizable. Every time we work with high school teachers and students—as we did in October at the Maltz Museum in Beachwood, Ohio, and in November in both New York City and New Jersey—we, too, are encouraged by their commitment, enthusiasm, and interest in the human-rights struggles of the past. They, like us, are deeply worried about the state of the world. And, like us, they are convinced of the importance of human-rights education in the face of the global rise of the radical right. Several new teacher workshops are being planned for the spring.

Our annual essay award, named in honor of Lincoln Veteran George Watt, has now been expanded to include high-school students. This year saw a record number of submissions. To bring the stories of the Spanish Civil War to younger audiences, the number of high-quality graphic novels and comics about the history of the war is growing—including a brand-new graphic novel about Oliver Law and the Lincoln Brigade.

That the struggle to defend human rights is both urgent and global was clear from the 24 documentary shorts and feature-length films that were selected for ALBA’s annual film festival. What’s long been considered the best documentary about the war in Spain, Joris Ivens’s The Spanish Earth, has now become the subject of a new documentary by veteran filmmaker Peter Davis, whose interview you can read on this site. We also interview Sara Brenneis about her new book on the Spaniards at Mauthausen. In the next issue, look for a review of a new feature-length Spanish blockbuster on the Catalan photographer Francesc Boix, who was an inmate at the Mauthausen concentration camp and later testified against the Nazis at Nuremberg.

ALBA, meanwhile, is undergoing transitions, as office staff and Board members depart and new faces appear, about which more news will be forthcoming. As an organization, we are more determined than ever to fulfill our mission—to teach history, inspire activism, and uphold human rights. As you well know, we cannot do this without your help and support.


Peter N. Carroll & Sebastiaan Faber