Copernico by Morris Miller

July 5, 2019


MP Retreats

Mackenzie-Papineau, Hijar March 1938, Harry Randall: Fifteenth International Brigade Films and Photographs; ALBA PHOTO 11-1391, (D546); Tamiment Library/Robert F. Wagner Labor Archives Elmer Holmes Bobst Library 70 Washington Square South New York, NY 10012, New York University Libraries.,

The Volunteer for Liberty, V2, No. 30, August 26, 1938

Copernico is alive! Throughout the Brigade there are those who knew and it follows, admired him, who will be overjoyed to hear it. We knew he was captured (during the March retreat) and almost certainly felt that he was killed. Now we have received a letter from him to say that he is in the other half, on the Levante front and asking, characteristically enough, for his back pay. I first knew Copernico in Tarrazona when he was commander of the 2nd Company, the Specialist company, and I couldn’t help remarking along with others that small as he was, there was nothing incongruous about his erect little figure as he marched in front of such giants as Charlie Younblood or Luke Hinman. Everyone respected him because he was so obviously a soldier who knew his job down to the smallest detail. He was a hard worker too, devoted to the cause of Antifascism. There is a story that when he was very ill he was called in front of Major Johnson.

“Copernico, I think you’d better take a rest.”

“No comrade Johnson, I don’t need it.”

“You can take a week’s leave.”

“No thank you comrade.”

“Copernico,” said the Major grumpily, “if you don’t take a week’s leave, I’ll throw you into jail.” So little Copernico went and two days later he was back.

Ill as he was, on maneuvers he was here, there, and everywhere and always in the right place, and when everybody else was dog-tired he was still bright and cheerful.

His exploit which resulted in his capture was entirely typical of his coolness and resource.

Just past Gandesa, The Lincoln-Washington were passing through a valley. It was dawn and the men were hardly discernable. Suddenly from a commanding height, our boys heard the command “Alto.”

Immediately Copernico answered “Alto.”

“¿Quién es?”

“¿Quién es?” demanded Copernico.

And for what seemed hours Copernico played with them, while the Battalion passed out of range. It was getting lighter and the last few men were just filing past when the order came to approach. It was certain that they were fascists on the hill, for one of them had just shouted in German, “Eighth Division.” As slowly as possible Copernico drew out his white handkerchief and went up the hill.

He had surrendered to save the last few men, just as he had saved the rest.

Death seemed inevitable after his audacity. But he has escaped. One of these days we’ll get his story. It will be as remarkable as his other exploit.


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