ALBA & Sousa Mendes Foundation Present Event on Jewish Volunteers

August 14, 2021
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About 30 years ago, I spent a long day driving from Long Island to Brandeis and back with two Lincoln vets—Bill Susman and George Watt—when the conversation turned to whether they had gone to Spain in 1937 as Communists or Jews. There was no question what had motivated them, it seemed, as the topic itself led to a series of humorous anecdotes and dirty jokes spoken in Yiddish and that always ended at making fun of the stock character of an orthodox Rabbi.

Fifty years later, however, they weren’t so sure of their motives. Both men had grown up in immigrant families with proud traditions of resisting anti-Semitism and the power of pre-revolutionary Russian aggressors.

At exactly that time, a scholar at the University of Washington, Joseph Butwin, embarked on a nationwide tour to interview Jewish Communist veterans of the Lincoln Brigade—including Susman and Watt—about their political and cultural motivation for going to Spain. Some of his work—featured elsewhere in this issue—will soon be published in Spain.

As a foretaste, the Sousa Mendes Foundation joined with ALBA on July 25 to present an online presentation by Professor Butwin and with Nancy Wallach, daughter of Lincoln vet Hy Wallach, about the role of Judaism and secular Communism that shaped the identity of one-third of the volunteers in the Lincoln Brigade. Hosting the program were Olivia Mattis of the Sousa Mendes Foundation and ALBA’s Gina Herrmann. The talk attracted more than five hundred viewers and is available on at ALBA’s website (alba-valb.org) and on YouTube.

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