The Botwins Today By Irving Weissman

September 10, 2020
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The Botwin banner.

Originally published in The Volunteer, V. 1, No. 1 1978.

September 21, 1938, Hill 281, Sierra de Caballs. “The men of the Botwin and Shevchenko companies distinguished themselves in particular by their heroic defense of every inch of ground. They resisted to the last grenade when the enemy broke into their trenches. Nearly all of them died in hand to hand fighting.

The above is an excerpt from the Chronicle of the Polish I. B. as published in the book, International Solidarity With The Spanish Republic. It is on page 250.

What has become of the survivors of the Botwin company?

Today, many of them are in exile in Israel, France, West Germany, the Scandinavian countries and elsewhere. Compelled to leave Poland as a result Gomulka’s reckless talk about a fifth column at the time of the Six Day War, they were deprived of their pensions and citizenship and had heaped upon them the ultimate dishonor: they were expunged from history. In a letter dated October 29, 1977, Shalom Shiloni, secretary of the I. B. Association in Israel wrote: “…another injustice has been effected in denying the participation of Jews in the Spanish Civil War. In the Polish edition of the book on the I. B. issued not long ago, the names which sounded Jewish were eliminated so as to give the impression that no Jew had participated.”

Our National Board meeting on February 24, 25, 1978 resolved to involve out entire membership in the campaign for justice for our Polish Jewish Comrades. This means restoration of their pensions, and acknowledgement of the anti-fascist honors earned at the cost of so much sacrifice and devotion.

Irving Weissman reported on this matter. He produced 13 affidavits sent to the Polish authorities in 1972 by veterans in Israel who asked for the reinstatement of their pensions. All of those veterans were recipients of honors, some of them from the French government for their participation in the anti-Nazi underground, as well as from Poland. One of them lost a leg in Spain. Another was a 70% disability because of wounds in Spain. All had held important positions in the People’s Republic of Poland.

None of their applications was answered and since 1972, two of them have died.

What of the Polish Jewish vets in Europe? Weissman quoted from a letter written by Alex Szurek, former adjutant to General Walter   of the 35th Division. Szurek, now a resident in France, answered questions put to him by the VALB. He spoke or other Polish Jewish vets in Europe with whom he is in contact. Their application had fallen into the same pigeonhole of silence as had the applications of the vets in Israel. They too found themselves blotted out of history.

In 1972 members of the National Board interceded with the Polish authorities; and in subsequent years, Steve Nelson, at international gatherings renewed this intercession to no avail.

The National Board recognized that it was in error in not having acquainted it’s membership with these events of the past many years. The first time the Volunteer gave our membership an inkling of the plight of our Polish Jewish Comrades was in its issue of January 1978.

The National Board is now determined to bring into play the unique status of the VALB on behalf of our Botwin comrades. We will swing our prestige into the campaign for the restoration of their pensions and their honor.

The documents that Weissman presented to the Board are being reproduced and distributed to the posts and the Board has resolved that there should be discussion on this matter in the posts. A delegation is to visit the Polish Embassy in Washington; and also to seek an appointment with Gierek, if he comes to this country in return for Carter’s visit to Poland. Further steps will no doubt be suggested in the course of the discussions which have now begun on the post level.

In 1972, in response to the urging of the VALB’s Executive Board, the following applications for the reinstatement of their pensions were made by thirteen of the Polish Jewish veterans of the Spanish Civil War who had had to leave Poland and had taken up residence in Isreal.

The applications were addressed to the Ministerstwo Zdrowia I Opieki Spolecznef Warszawa, People’s Republic of Poland, ul. Miodowa 15.

None of these applications was responded to.

According to Shalom Shiloni, secretary of the I. B. organization in Israel, copies were sent to the VALB office at that time. These copies are not in our files.

… The remaining part of the article provides the biographical information of the 13 volunteers. …

 

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