Hugo Heurich’s Convictions: Excerpts from an Oral History

May 18, 2023
By and

Lincoln veteran Hugo Heurich (1908-1982) was born in Germany and had emigrated to the US in 1929. He arrived in Spain in March 1937 and returned to the US in December 1938. In November 2020, his great-nephew, Armin Heurich, contacted ALBA in November 2020 looking for additional information to include in his great uncle’s oral history, These Are My Convictions, which includes a series of interviews conducted by Dr. Bert Riesterer in October 1980. Armin Heurich edited the work and added footnotes and illustrations to contextualize the interviews.

Hugo Heurich in the 1930s. RGASPI.

The excerpts below are from the 145-page manuscript, which covers Heurich’s entry to the United States, work history, entry into Spain, and service in the International Brigades. In Spain, Heurich served as a driver carrying supplies, casualties, and passengers across Republican Spain. The full text details the bombardment of Almería, Heurich’s battle with typhoid, interactions with the Spanish people, and his life after returning to the US. One of his more unique experiences included transporting a Spanish filmmaker who was documenting the war. As the driver, Heurich was ever-present during the filmmaking, which landed him the opportunity to appear in the documentary.

Excerpts from

THESE ARE MY CONVICTIONS: Hugo Heurich recalls his experiences as a member of the Abraham Lincoln Brigade in the Spanish Civil War

Interview conducted by Bert Riesterer, October 15, 1980.

Edited by Armin Heurich.



BR: When were you born and where were you born?

HH: I was born in Holzhausen near Hassfurt in Germany on January 31, 1908. I am past 72 now and will be 73 years old in January.

BR: Now when did you leave Germany and come to the United States?

HH: I left Germany in February of 1929 and arrived in Fort Wayne, Indiana in the beginning of March, either the 2nd or 5th, I don’t remember it exactly, and I stayed in Fort Wayne Indiana.

BR: How old were you when you came over?

HH: I was 21 years old.

BR: When you came over, did you have a trade or particular skill; were you in some kind of Lehre (apprenticeship), as the Germans say, before you came over?

HH: I was an apprentice in a hardware store for four years. I worked for the Firm Julius Krönlein in Schweinfurt am Main, and later on I was in Würzburg with Hugo Schum, Eisenhandlung (iron ware), in Würzburg. And from there I left for America in February, 1929.

BR: When you came to Fort Wayne, did you have a specific family or friends that you could go to, or did you decide to come over on your own?

HH: No, only distant relatives on my mother’s side; the name was John Sauerteig. That’s where I came to and who furnished the papers.

BR: They agreed to provide support in case you couldn’t get a job.

HH: The Germans say the Bürgschaft, what this is called in English, I don’t recall.

BR: Like someone has to kind of back you and sponsor you; so they agreed to sponsor you.

HH: Right, so that you are a good citizen in the U.S.

. . .


HH: There was, at that time, the Spanish revolt against the Democratic government. Francisco Franco was the head of the militaristic clique of the reactionaries. They were not satisfied with the outcome of the Spanish election for the democratic form of government, and they rebelled against it. And the struggle began in Spain which was, at that time, very dear to me, because I was in a political sense more or less against dictatorships of the fascist type in general. Since we already had Hitler and Mussolini, Hitler in Germany and Benito Mussolini in Italy. And things as they went on developed in such a manner that Hitler and Mussolini were helping Francisco Franco. He also had a lot of soldiers from Morocco who fought the Francisco Franco war in the majority of numbers, because the majority of the Spanish people believed in the loyalists. That’s how they were called at that time, the loyalists of Spain to fight on the loyalist side, so Francisco Franco needed the help from the outside dictators and the Moroccan army.

This was terrible to me, and, as a matter of fact, I had discussions many, many times in Detroit with various organizations, political organizations such as the SP (Socialist Party) and the CP (Communist Party) and the Friends of Spain. I was very much interested in this, and finally I decided to enlist myself in the Spanish army. And through organizations, I found out that I had a chance to go there and participate in the struggle.

BR: Now you, of course, became a member of the special brigade which consisted mainly of a certain contingent of Americans and was known as the Abraham Lincoln Brigade. Now was it your intention to join the brigade as such, or even before you heard of the brigade you just wanted to go over to help the loyalist government in Spain? It is interesting, how did you actually get involved in the situation itself? Was it before you knew about the brigade at all? Or did you first hear that there was a brigade, so you could go in that way or would you have gone anyway even if there would not have been a specific American brigade that you could have gone over with?

HH: I did not know about it at that time.

BR: You did not know about the Lincoln Brigade at all at that time?

HH: No, all I knew at that time was that Americans volunteered to go to Spain to participate in the fight for the loyalist government. At the beginning of 1937, in January, I was looking for an organization that would be able to furnish me with the details of how to go to Spain and how to go about it. So, I finally found a person that was capable and had contact with other organizations in New York, so that I could go to Spain.

BR: At this time, did you know about the Abraham Lincoln Brigade at all? Did you know the name of the organization? Did this individual tell you that there existed such a brigade and so on, that’s how you first found out about it?

HH: The beginning was in January. As I talked to that person who was responsible for my transportation, he knew something about it. There are Americans over there fighting already on the side of the loyalists and it was called, at that time, as I can remember, the Abraham Lincoln Brigade. Finally, the arrangements were made and I left in the middle of Feb. for New York. I had to meet people who made arrangements for the ship transportation and so on, also arrangements further ahead in France.

BR: What about passport and so on? Did you apply on your own to get a passport or did they help you take care of it?

HH: No, I took care of my own passport in January and I was in possession of my passport before I even decided that I wanted to go to Spain.

BR: So then you met this individual and he got you in touch with the group in New York. And then you knew that these were the Abraham Lincoln Brigade and that if you would go over there, you would be part of that brigade?

HH: Right.

BR: Now when did you leave Detroit and actually arrive?

HH: I left Detroit, I would say, around the 15      th of February for New York. And after we came to New York, we were told a day later that the borders were closed. Momentarily the French government closed the border so that no one bound for Spain could pass through the country. So, I was informed to go back home, which I did. And two days later, I got a telegram that I should come back again, which I did. We stayed only one day and left the next day in the afternoon on the SS Washington, heading for Le Havre.

BR: How many of you were in that group?

HH: At that time the group was about thirty five volunteers. We had quite a variety, a few Canadians, all colors, all nationalities. It was very interesting and we were informed to be very cautious with one another. We felt each other out. After all, you did things which were at that time not permitted and were a little bit more or less dangerous, in spite of our good intentions.

BR: Yes, because you were participating in a foreign war, and the U.S. was officially neutral at that time.

HH: As a matter of fact, our passports even read, “Do not travel in Spain.” You were not allowed to travel in Spain. This was impressed upon us. So, we were very cautious not to get into any problems or causing any troubles for the international volunteers for Spain, because my heart and soul were in on the deal, that I go and help, whatever I can do.

BR: Okay, you got on the SS Washington; that was the name of the ship. There were about thirty-five of you, and you were a motley crew, so to speak, of nationalities and professions.

HH: Right, right.

. . .


BR: Did you have to give up your passport at Figueres when you crossed over, did they take it away from you?

HH: Our passports were handed over to the authorities from the International Brigade. I myself kept it as a personal object, which was very dear to me. I always had it on my chest, connected with a little rope, string, always underneath my shirt. I carried that as long as I…

BR: How did you get away with it? That you did not have to give it up when often many of the others had to surrender their passports as soon as they got over?

HH: I said I misplaced mine, and I could not find it, but had done this on purpose. I felt that this was my only thing if I wanted to come back to America. That I would be able to have a passport and proof because I was actually a German. But I was a naturalized American citizen and that was so dear to me, that thing, I had to keep it, and I kept it. I could not part with it. That was worth more money than anything else. Otherwise, I would not know which country I belonged to anymore.

BR: How long were you at Figueres, do you remember?

HH: We arrived at Figueres. They picked us up at about 8 in the morning. We were there, it was a very short distance, only an hour I believe, by truck. We were picked up by open trucks and driven to Fort Figueres, which is an old thing underground.

. . .


HH: We arrived there, had dinner, and the next morning we were asked who has a driver’s license. So, since I had a driver’s license, I volunteered. And the following day a French Responsable (a designated contact in position of authority) who was in Spain and knew his way, took us out for a test ride. I graduated. And the following day, we left early in the morning for Barcelona.

BR: So you did not get any kind of special military training, or uniform, or anything of that nature?

HH: No nothing. I was in my blue suit, my tourist suit at that time.

BR: When you left Figueres and went to Barcelona.

HH: We had fifteen trucks at Figueres and no drivers. We came in very handy to be able to transport the trucks to their destination where they were needed.

BR: Do you remember what kind of trucks they were,  were they French trucks?

HH: Ford trucks, American trucks.

BR: So you had no trouble driving them.

HH: But I had to learn how to shift a little bit. That was different from the car, and we also had our guards from then on.

. . .


BR: Did you meet any particular military officer, superior of any sort at Albacete? Did you meet someone like that and were you informed that this man is going to be your superior from now on and you take your orders from him? Was there any kind of chain of command established? Did anything like that take place?

HH: At the auto-park where our fifteen trucks, which we brought down from Figueres, were stored, we were assigned or got command from a Responsable who was a Frenchman, and we were listening to him. In a day or two he got the message from Valencia from the government. I don’t know what they called it at that time, Transportation Ministerium or what. Anyway, we were called back to Valencia. I forgot, I have to add something else. My job from Valencia at that time, my first job, was transporting ammunition from a place in the woods near Albacete, about 3 or 5 km outside town. We transported ammunition to the train, which was loaded and headed to Madrid. So that was our first assignment. But a day or two later we left again back to Valencia. There we were outside Valencia about 10 km, and there we waited for further instructions from the Spanish government. So, in about two days we received instructions to go to Almeria, which was in the Southern part close to the Mediterranean Sea. We left all in a group and when we arrived in Almeria we were put in a hotel temporarily till they found a place for us to stay.

BR: How many were there of you?

HH: We were fifteen at the time, fifteen drivers at the time and we stayed at the hotel temporarily for a day or two. Then we were quartered with the Spanish army in a monastery which was a nice, interesting place. Nobody there, in the middle was a church, which was loaded with ammunition and all the goodies we needed for the purpose of defeating the fascists.

BR: In the church?

HH: In the church.

BR: That is interesting that they would…

HH: The monastery was built around, in a horseshoe form and in the center was the church.

. . .

HH: We were assigned from Valencia, the Spanish government, to go down to Almeria — because the fishing industry had arrangements with the Spanish government — to pick up the fish. And we drove the fish from Almeria up to Madrid. That was 500 km; it was a day’s drive.

BR: So you were like a food supplier for Madrid?

HH: We were used wherever we were needed, wherever transportation was needed.

BR: Do you remember what year this was, is this still 1937?

HH: It is 1937, in May. And at the end of May, what happened then was the German battleship Deutschland bombarded us with shell bombs at Almeria. We had the loss of six men; four were killed and two wounded. That was the end of Almeria at that time then. They called us back to the base again in Albacete.

BR: This was in May, 1937?

HH: Memorial Day.

BR: The 30th of May?

HH: I’ll never forget that.

BR: On, my Lord, that’s when the shelling took place. Was this the first time that you were directly under fire since you arrived in Spain? Or had you been shot at before?

HH: We were shot at before through aviation, when we went 25 km towards Madrid, where we picked up the fish. There was a bridge we had to cross along the shoreline and they wanted to demolish the bridge. But the orders were from our Responsable when the aviation attack comes, get out of the truck and lay in the ditch. Do not stay in your truck, because even if we lose the truck, we still have you, which was a sensible attitude. So that happened there the first time.

BR: The first time you were directly under fire, that must have been a very frightening experience when you were first shot at like that.

HH: At that time I was a young man.

BR: How old were you?

HH: I was twenty seven. And I realized when I went to Spain what I had to expect. It did not make much difference, but the worst thing I experienced was the bombardment or the shelling from the German battleship at Almeria where we lost six…[i]

BR: Did they just indiscriminately shell the whole town or did they zero in on a section of the town?

HH: Well, it was in sections more or less, because they did not hit the monastery, but they were hitting the auto-park and the quarters where we had stayed at the hotel were demolished…

BR: So they were pretty damn accurate then…

HH: Oh yes.

BR: They knew exactly what they were shooting at.

HH: I was under the impression that they had friends there who gave them the signs. It happened at 9 in the morning and it was a disaster. We picked up all day wounded on the street wherever we could find them, there were no more ambulances; we only had two of them there.

BR: How many trucks did they destroy?

HH: Two were hit directly.

BR: They were direct hits and they destroyed them completely.

HH: Yes, they could not be used.

BR: And how many trucks did you have there altogether?

HH: We had about twelve.

BR: And when it was all over, you were called back to Albacete?

HH: So we drove whatever we could use back to Albacete; what was damaged we left at the auto-park.

BR: Did you drive then that evening? Did you leave under cover of darkness?

HH: No, a couple of days later.

BR: You waited a couple of days, the battleship then left after the shelling? They did not land a party or anything like that?

HH: No, no.

BR: Then a couple of days later, you pulled out?

HH: Yes, we pulled out with the wounded. We buried our four comrades there in the cemetery in Almeria.[ii]

BR: Is this May?

HH: End of May.

BR: So when you left and went back to Albacete; that was early June.

HH: First week in June.

. . .


HH: Yes, documentary films, something of that nature.

BR: Now he took movie pictures, not still pictures with the camera?

HH: Right.

BR: Did he do the filming himself? Or did he have a camera man with him?

HH: He did everything himself. He was all by himself and I assisted him wherever I could. And that I enjoyed also, that was a little something different.

BR: Yes, was he a Spaniard?

HH: Yes, he was a Spaniard, and I could speak a little bit better Spanish at that time, so we could understand one another. He was with the Ministerium of Propaganda.

BR: Yes, he represented that.

HH: He was sent out.

BR: Are some of those pictures in the big folder his?

HH: No, those I had already at that time.

BR: Oh, you already had that.

HH: When I went with him, that was already the end of August and beginning of September.

BR: So it was very interesting to travel around with him.

HH: He once took me to a nightclub.

BR: He did [laughter]? That was part of his duty?

HH: No, he had the money. He liked me. Whenever he needed someone in the film, he said to me, “You stand over there, put the car over there, you stand there,” and then he took the pictures.

BR: How was it in the night club, do you remember? Do you remember which nightclub it was?

HH: Lots of girls were there, drinks, expensive, but I don’t remember much.

BR: Do you remember what town it was in?

HH: In Barcelona. I spent the evening with him and he bought me something to eat. I enjoyed that very much.

BR: Did you have a good bottle of wine?

HH: Wine and something to eat, what we had, I don’t remember. But it was a treat for me.

BR: It was a nice evening. He was trying to pay you back for all the work you did.

HH: There was no authority over me. He was my authority, and I didn’t have to say the next day I come home this time or that time, because we were free there. It was easy going.

BR: But it wasn’t always that easy going?

HH: No no.

. . .


BR: I see, this is how things went for you after you came back from Spain. There is one other thing I wanted to ask, since it is mentioned in these accounts. And that is, it goes back now to ’39, Hugo. Remember when suddenly in ’39, to everybody’s surprise, Stalin and Hitler made that agreement, the Stalin Hitler pact in 1939? And shortly after that the Nazis invaded Poland. Many guys who were on the left, CP, or socialists, or whatever, this came as a real shock, a real blow to them.

HH: I could have fallen into the shitpot.

BR: I just wanted to ask you how you felt about this when this came, because here your Spanish memory was still very vivid, right? And all of a sudden you get this. What did you think? How did you feel about this?

HH: I was deadly sick when I heard about that, and I could not understand it. We thought we accomplished something in order to prevent fascism, and then the one power…

BR: Who had really supported you…

HH: Shook hands with the power we were trying to defeat. That just did not make any sense to me whatsoever. And I still don’t quite understand it at all. Was it stalling for time or what? I am not so intelligent to understand that. And I guess that it was not even understandable for any intelligent man. Because it shook the world, like the Russian Revolution at the beginning for ten days shook the world. So that was a week that shook the world. It could not be understood, what it was all about. What was the intention? I don’t recall that we ever found out, what really was behind it.

BR: It came as a real bitter kind of a blow to you.          Did you talk about it with your friends and so? Did they feel the same way you did, shock and confusion and bitter about this?

HH: Some of the friends, they were CP members and they believed a little bit stronger in the philosophy of the Russians. They always had an excuse. “They know what they are doing, don’t worry about it.”

BR: Yes, trust them and so on.

HH: Right.

BR: But you had your…

HH: You don’t understand them, you are ignorant of lots of things. I always said, What the hell, I may be ignorant, but what the hell was it all about that I went for? You know, it was hard to understand. Some people think they do, but in my mind they don’t. It was Fritz Rust especially.

BR: Yes, did he try?…

HH: Oh yes, he tried to pipe me down. I got hot, I could not take it. What the hell, you put your life on the line…

BR: You probably transported guys in Murcia who were shot up pretty damn bad and they gave their lives.

HH: Right, my poor comrades in Almeria, did we get paid that way for it? It was a disillusionment all the way through. Well, that’s the way it is, I guess.

. . .

Heurich and his wife, ca. 1980. Courtesy Heurich family.


BR: Well, then there is one final question which I have, which I, at least, for myself, find very interesting. And that is, now that we have kind of gone over your life, basically at least a large portion of it now, I just wonder how you feel in retrospect about all the things that happened to you and the things you did? And I mean now in a kind of a more specific sense. Alright, you had already been as a very young man interested in, let us say, establishing a better order in the world. You mentioned very early on in our interview that in Würzburg a speaker came who advocated a universal language. And if we had it, this Esperanto, that would lay a better base for understanding between peoples of different nationalities. And this might also contribute towards greater harmony in the world, maybe eliminate strife and difficulties. Then politically you were interested in some of the philosophies on the left because you saw them also as laying a new base for new social and economic order. And this again would bring about world unification, and you kept this interest up. And when you were in the United States, you mentioned you were a member of the John Reed society in Indianapolis, and you also had similar connections with these kinds of groups in Detroit when you were there. You even put your theory into practice by volunteering for service in Spain. You were over in Spain, then you came back from your service in Spain. We also talked about the agreement in 1939, the non-aggression pact between Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union. You were very upset and shocked about this, nonetheless you still maintained your basic conviction, your basic ideals. Then in the late ‘40s and early ‘50s you suffered some harassment from the FBI. I just wonder looking back over your whole life, how do you feel about things now? Do you have any regrets? Do you feel maybe I should not have done some of these things, or I was not believing in the right things and so on? How do you feel about it, now that we have gone over it?

HH: Well I must tell you, there were times where really I felt hurt, or in a way, I just could not believe that anything like that could happen. After all I always felt, like I stated before, that things eventually will happen for the betterment of all people or all mankind. But as far as you ask me here in regards to it all, it really was a disaster at that time, but nevertheless I never gave up. I always remained a stable person as far as my conviction that brought me to Spain was concerned. I still believe in it and I always will. Because through human life, through the history of any person’s life, you have ups and downs which was at that particular time when it happened between Moscow and Berlin. It was a total disaster and did a lot of damage for the whole idealist thinking. But I, as a whole, still am the same Hugo that I always was and will be. These are my convictions of the whole period I lived through.

BR: And you still basically have the same convictions today. That the basic goal that you were striving for to have a better social and economic order for all mankind and ideally bring about a real unity of mankind, you still hold to that?

HH: Yes, that still is my aim, and I would consider myself a coward if I would have changed or fell into the other line or way of thinking. Because I am convinced the only way that we can unify the whole globe is through a universal language, which was at that time very practical, but it did not succeed. But my beliefs are still today the same. That’s the only way that we could have in the future a betterment of all mankind.

BR: So you have, to put it very simply then, no regrets?

HH: No regrets whatsoever.

[i] The German heavy cruiser Admiral Scheer and four destroyers bombarded the city of Almeria in retaliation for the bombing of the Deutschland in Ibiza. The bombardment killed 1-20 civilians, wounded dozens more, and destroyed or heavily damaged 50 buildings in the town.

[ii] Heurich states four volunteers were killed. That is the same number cited by Arthur Landis in The Lincoln Brigade. Landis identified the volunteers as Alex Alexander, Ludwig Beregszasz, Jacob Lee Greenstein and Robert Chartier. The last of the four names remains unconfirmed.