Hitler backed the Fascist Nationalists, and used the war to try out weapons and strategies he’d later use in World War II. The Soviet Union backed the Communist Republicans, along with a cadre of American volunteers – the Abraham Lincoln Brigade.
Also backing the Spanish Fascists: Texaco, led by CEO Torkild Rieber, who later hired German Nazis, was fired by Texaco when the US turned resolutely anti-Nazi on the verge of our entry into World War II, and went to work for the Nazis directly.
Nearly 80 years ago, about 2,800 Americans volunteered to fight in the Spanish Civil War. The war began in July 1936, when Gen. Francisco Franco led a fascist military coup against the the country’s newly elected democratic government. It lasted until Franco’s victory in 1939.
Journalist Adam Hochschild tells Fresh Air’s Terry Gross that “it was by far the largest number of Americans before or since who’ve ever joined somebody else’s civil war.”
Hochschild chronicles Americans’ involvement in the war in his new book, Spain in Our Hearts. He says that the majority of Americans in Spain (including writer Ernest Hemingway, who reported on the conflict) were sympathetic to the Republican forces who fought against Franco’s Nationalists.
Delmer Berg, who died recently age 100, was the last known living veteran of the Abraham Lincoln Brigade. They were Americans who joined the Spanish Communists to fight the Fascists in Spain prior to World War II. Berg himself was a Communist; he joined the US party in 1943 and remained a Communist until his death.
Mr. Berg went to Spain when he was a very young man. He fought in some of the biggest and most consequential battles of the war. He sustained wounds. He watched friends die. He knew he had ransomed his life to a lost cause, for a people who were strangers to him, but to whom he felt an obligation, and he did not quit on them. Then he came home, started a cement and stonemasonry business and fought for the things he believed in for the rest of his long life.
I don’t believe in most of the things that Mr. Berg did, except this. I believe, as Donne wrote, “no man is an island, entire of itself.” He is “part of the main.” And I believe “any man’s death diminishes me, because I am involved in mankind.”
So was Mr. Berg. He didn’t need to know for whom the bell tolls. He knew it tolled for him. And I salute him. Rest in peace.