December 7, 2023

The “Spanija” series translates selected autobiographical accounts by Yugoslavian and Montenegrin volunteers of their actions in the Spanish Civil War. Dr. Ray Hoff used Google translate from Croatian to English and he edited the selections.  As this is a machine translation, the idiomatic features of Croatian or Serbian and the translation of names and places are “best effort”.  The full five-volume collection was entitled:

“The Participants write Spanija 1936-1939: collection of memories of Yugoslav volunteers in the Spanish War”

It was assembled by Editor-in-Chief Cedo Kapor and published by the Initiative Committee of the Association of Spanish Fighters, The War History of our Peoples, Book 130, Military Publishing Institute, Belgrade, Yugoslavia, 1971, 5 volumes.

Chris Brooks posted and provided links to volunteers.


Peter Simrak, Spanija, Volume 2, pp. 403-405

Thirty years have passed since those fateful events in Spain, and my memories of those events are no longer as clear as I would like them to be. Somehow, they fade a bit, and time seems to blur them.

I came to Spain with the first group of Americans, which traveled there from New York in the first days of January 1937. In Spain, we were located in a village near Albacete. We conducted training there, while other groups, which came from America, joined us. Thus, our battalion already had 600 fighters on February 12, 1937, when we set out for the Jarama. The last group of 65 people joined us two days after we arrived at the front. They came from America straight to the front without a single day of training. It had to be like that, because the enemy had already crossed the Jarama River and occupied the top of the hill above the town of Morata, which was completely destroyed. From that position, the Fascists observed the road leading to Madrid, which was the only connection between the capital and the rest of free Spain.

I am not sure of any date that I would mention now, because it was, as I said, a long time ago. But I remember February 27, 1937, well and will remember it as long as I live.

Given that the “Abraham Lincoln” battalion was new and the freshest on that front, it was ordered that it attack the enemy positions in its section. We began the attack without artillery and aviation preparation, as well as without tank support. That’s what happened then a rarity, a luxury. In the rain and snow, the battalion launched an assault at 11:50 a.m., and was stopped already at 12:00 p.m. The enemy was well entrenched and inflicted heavy losses on us from automatic weapons. We retreated, but some didn’t, because of the cleared area and heavy fire, they had to stay where they were. We couldn’t even get the wounded out. When it got dark, we crawled around looking for the wounded, but many we found didn’t need our help anymore. They took too long to help,

Waited, and the blood flowed. Crawling in the dark from olive tree to olive tree, we searched for the wounded. They no longer even called for help, nor were we allowed to call them, because the enemy was too close and could easily hear us. We were happy if we ran into a living friend. For me, this search for the wounded became even sadder when I came across the corpse of Ivan Jordan, who came to Spain with me, and we were friends in New York for about six or seven years, Jordan was from Istria, but now I don’t remember from which village. He was a veteran of the First World War. Later I found out that he was killed when he tried to hide his wounded comrades in the shelter he had made under an olive tree. As he lived, so he died, selflessly.

After searching the battlefield, we returned late at night, cold, muddy and tired. We gathered behind the front lines. The February rain and snow did not stop, and we, of course, were without a tent. We only had clothes that could not be changed, and everything that was not necessary to cover bare skin was left in the mud. Our section of the front was attacked by a Spanish battalion, so we were left without our position. All around there were shelters dug under olive trees, but full of lice. The Commander of my company was an Irishman. He somehow took special care of me. I guess because I looked sad. He advised me to go to the “Dimitrov” battalion and look for shelter for that night. The “Dimitrovci” were our neighbors. My good commander told me: Go to “Dimitrov” because there are your compatriots there and they will welcome you to spend the night with them. So I did. I knew the password, and the guard let me through. The front was relatively calm. I walked through the trench, listening to hear a familiar conversation. The “Dimitrovs”, as experienced warriors, had good shelters and those who were not on guard were resting. However, in front of one shelter I heard a grunt and through a crack in the tarpaulin I saw a light. After a short pause I noticed our men. I went in and wished them good evening. There were five or six of them, but I don’t remember their names except for one. They were surprised, because they immediately concluded that I was an American, and they also knew what happened with us that day, so they were surprised at my arrival. When we got to know each other a little better, they started questioning me. After they found out that I was American, they asked me how I understood our language. I answered that my parents were in America, that I was born in America, that my parents took me to the old country when I was three years old, that I went to school in Yugoslavia, that as I was born in America I could go back and that’s how I came to Spain with other Americans. It all seemed possible and probable to them, but I had to answer to a few more questions.  For example, from where my parents are from Yugoslavia. When I answered that they were from Žumberk, only one of them continued to question me. He asked me about the district, municipality and village. I, of course, answered all the questions truthfully, whether they knew where it was or not, but I still wondered why they went into such details. Finally, he asked me for my first and last name.

Fighters of the “Dimitrov” battalion in a trench on the Jarama front, Edo Jardas with black beret middle and Kostaluca is in front of him.  That may be Kagan on the right. 

When I told him my name was Petar Simrak, he took out a photograph from his pocket and asked: “Do you know this man?” I looked in amazement at the picture of my own father. After a short pause, while I composed myself, he told me that his name was Petar Stič and that he was from the village of Dani, half an hour’s walk from the village where my parents lived. Now I remembered who he was, because I saw him many times when I was a boy. He worked with my father in Belgium, in a mine, and they lived together, so he also had his photo. After this meeting, I saw him several more times.

It wasn’t long before we parted ways, and I never saw him again, but I heard that he was wounded in the knee, that he fought in the camps in France like other Yugoslavs, and that he finally arrived in Yugoslavia before the war itself, and that he was killed by the Ustashas. got tired as soon as they took power.




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