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Spanish Civil War Letters from American Volunteers


Albacete, Spain
July 6, 1937

My Dear Friend:

I'm sure that by this time you are still waiting for a detailed explanation of what has this international struggle to do with my being here. Since this is a war between whites who for centuries have held us in slavery, and have heaped every kind of insult and abuse upon us, segregated and jim-crowed us; why I, a Negro who have fought through these years for the rights of my people, am here in Spain today?

Because we are no longer an isolated minority group fighting hopelessly against an immense giant. Because, my dear, we have joined with, and become an active part of, a great progressive force, on whose shoulders rests the responsibility of saving human civilization from the planned destruction of a small group of degenerates gone mad in their lust for power. Because if we crush Fascism here we'll save our people in America, and in other parts of the world from the vicious persecution, wholesale imprisonment, and slaughter which the Jewish people suffered and are suffering under Hitler's Fascist heels.

All we have to do is to think of the lynching of our people. We can but look back at the pages of American history stained with the blood of Negroes; stink with the burning bodies of our people hanging from trees; bitter with the groans of our tortured loved ones from whose living bodies ears, fingers, toes have been cut for souvenirs—living bodies into which red-hot pokers have been thrust. All because of a hate created in the minds of men and women by their masters who keep us all under their heels while they suck our blood, while they live in their bed of ease by exploiting us.

But these people who howl like hungry wolves for our blood, must we hate them? Must we keep the flame which these masters kindled constantly fed? Are these men and women responsible for the programs of their masters, and the conditions which force them to such degraded depths? I think not. They are tools in the hands of unscrupulous masters. These same people are as hungry as we are. They live in dives and wear rags the same as we do. They, too, are robbed by the masters, and their faces kept down in the filth of a decayed system. They are our fellowmen. Soon, and very soon, they and we will understand. Soon, many Angelo Herndons will rise from among them, and from among us, and will lead us both against those who live by the stench of our burnt flesh. We will crush them. We will build us a new society--a society of peace and plenty. There will be no color line, no jim-crow trains, no lynching. That is why, my dear, I'm here in Spain.



October 22, 1937

Dear Mom, Pop, and Herbie,

Six months after leaving home and almost five months after arriving in Spain, I've finally gotten to see some actual warfare. This morning marks my tenth day in the front line trenches and, altho this front is technically speaking pretty quiet at present, still we've managed to squeeze in quite a lot since we came up.

We moved into the trenches one morning before light and, as soon as dawn came, the crap began to fly. Then started my education. Some of the old-timers explained the various sounds to me. At first anytime anything whizzed, whistled, or buzzed, I would duck. Then I found out that any bullet which passes anywhere near you will whistle. Ricochets, that is, bullets which have already hit the ground or a rock or something and bounce off in a different direction, buzz when they go by. When bullets come very close they sound more like a whine than a whistle.

But the most important thing of all about these bullet sounds is never to worry about any bullet you hear. Bullets travel much faster than sound, strange as that may seem, and the bullet is way past you by the time you hear it. As it's put out here, "You'll never hear the slug that gets you."

Of course, it's pretty hard to control your instinctive tendency to duck when you hear a loud noise, but the only time it really pays to duck is when you hear a burst of machine gun fire and hear them come over you. You can't, of course, duck the first few if they're coming at you, but you can get out of the way of the rest of the burst.

The same thing goes for artillery too, except for trench mortars and very heavy stuff.

A trench mortar gun looks like a fat can between two wheels. The barrel points almost straight up and the shells go all the way up into the air and then almost drop. You can judge after a while if they're going to your right or left, but if they're coming in your general direction there's nothing to do but hope. Heavy artillery goes very slow and you can hear them coming, but they usually head for the rear lines anyway.

Well, the first morning I'm keeping low in the trench and not too much interested in the intricacies of military education, when these trench mortars start coming over. They whistle for a long time before they hit and that just increases the agony, waiting for them to land. When these things start coming the battle commander shouts "Everybody down in the trench." So I stick my nose six inches below the level of my heels and then the commander finishes his sentence, "That doesn't go for the observational staff. Locate that gun."

So I found out what observing under fire meant. Poor me has got to spend my time sticking my nose thru peep holes when it's much more comfortable two feet below, and my head and shoulders over the parapet half the night, and when the big bastards come over instead of dropping we've got to watch. It was pretty tough the first morning but I soon got used to it.

You see, after a while you get the feeling that what's going to happen to you, if anything, will happen pretty much in spite of anything you do. That doesn't mean we become dauntless heroes and walk out of our way to take risks because we like to watch the patterns the bullets kick up in the dust, but it does mean that we don't become nervous wrecks bobbing up and down every time a mosquito buzzes around your left ear. It's the only kind of defense mechanism you can adopt.

Shortly after noon that first day we went over the top. For about three quarters of an hour after the beginning of the attack I didn't think I'd get a chance to climb over that hump. I was stationed next to the commander in a pretty exposed observation post keeping wise to how our boys were going, so that the attack could be properly directed. The commander, you understand, does not move up until the troops have taken up a position, even a temporary one, in advance of the original lines. But if you think that's safe, you're cock-eyed. He's got to keep calm and see everything that's going on when every instinct is pulling him down to a covered position.

Communication with the men out front is maintained by runners. Pretty soon we ran out of runners, so I got my chance. But the company I had been sent out to contact had had some tough going and was pretty well scattered and difficult to find. I went out, couldn't find the company commander nor anyone else who knew where he was. So I was in a fix. I didn't want to return until I had contacted them and I couldn't find them. I roamed around that god-damned no-man's land, sometimes running, sometimes crawling, sometimes snake-bellying, and holy cow, was that a time. I didn't of course know where in hell my men were and one time I crawled up to within fifty meters of the fascist lines before a sniper reminded me where I was.

The hardest thing out there is not keeping going once you're on the move, but starting once you've stopped. When you get down in between two furrows in a plowed field or behind a little ledge where you know you're about as safe as you will be, it sure is tough to get up and start going thru the air again, especially since you know there's plenty more stuff in that air besides you.

Another thing. This time they used trench-mortars against the attacking men. The thing to do when you hear them whistling at you is to drop so that you'll be out of the way of any shrapnel or flying bits of shell. Most of the time I could hear them whistling at me and then the sound would reach a high point, and from then on it was whistling away from me. That scares you, but once the whistle is behind you you know you're safe a little longer.

But of the six hours I spent out in between those lines the worst moments were three times when the whistle of the mortars approached, came overhead, and then, instead of receding, kept coming louder. There's very little time involved, but you think fast out there. Here's that damned shell falling at you, no place to move to, nothing to do. In that brief instant you get a horrible feeling--not of excitement or fear, but just resignation. You are a dead man aware of the fact--a body which is lifeless except that its mind knows it is lifeless. I don't know if you get that. And then, three separate times, those damn shells land within ten feet of me, and were duds! This isn't literary exaggeration, I'm not writing a phony adventure story. I could see where the shells hit and dropped dirt over me and failed to explode.

Get my point. We are in danger continually and it is not pleasant. But there is a gamble, a risk, a probability. However when there is no probability, when it's a certainty--it's coming at you and you know it--then you've got something. Try thinking what you'd think about if you had two seconds to think it in.

Well, I couldn't find the company and it was starting to get dark, so I decided to go back. But I found that wasn't so simple either. Dusk is always a dangerous time, so everybody is especially watchful. This day there had been an attack, so the fascists were especially jittery and there was a hell of a lot of fire. I waited for it to quiet and started back. This time I attracted fire from both sides because neither side knew what I was. It's a funny feeling to be fired on by your own men. I had a couple of more scary moments, but I finally got in.

In one or two days we'll be relieved and I'll write some more. I am still bodily and mentally unhurt.



October 22, 1937

Well hello everybody—

We've been here at the front for almost five weeks. It's not so healthy here. Too much "lead-poisoning" going on to be exactly comfortable.

Since I last wrote I've been advanced again. Now I am Chief of Brigade Scouts. That in itself is making life less sure. So far I've been beyond the Fascist lines twice and up to them six times. All at night of course. In fact we do most all of our work at night. We have to move very slowly to avoid being seen. Three times now I have been seen & shot at.

The first time I was about twenty meters from their line. They opened up on me with a machine gun & six or eight rifles. Believe me, I hugged the ground. They hit the heel of my left shoe at the seam several times and actually blew my shoe apart there. Five of the "slugs" passed thru the seat of my pants, one just burning my "fanny," but none closer. However my "fanny" is a little sore still to sit on. Needless to say, I was plenty scared.

The second time they caught two of us, myself and one of my sergeants, about 50 meters from one of their out-posts. It was pretty gruesome, as we hid behind two dead comrades who had gotten "it" in the attack a couple of days before. We lay there for three hours. Every time we moved, this damn sniper would put a shot along side of us. Finally, after the moon went down we got back. I had 3 holes in my coat to show for that patrol.



Jan. 29, 1938

Dear Jeff,

I was strafed one morning, when I was returning to the brigade, in a truck. There was the driver, three comrades against the cab, and myself against the back of the truck. The driver evidentially saw them first and started to stop, turning off his motor and heading toward the bank. This was the first I noticed, then came the staccato crack of heavy machine gun and there was the 1st plane, not over 40 feet above us. It killed the driver instantly, taking off most of his face. The truck was then stopped against a high bank to the right of the road. I shouted something to the other three and jumped out. The only place I could see that offered any cover was between the motor and the bank. The planes were not coming head on, but from the side of the truck away from the bank. They dove three times one after the other, all seven of them, and finally went away. I was never so terrified in my life. You see, there was time between each plane's dive, to think, and the continual tightening up and letting down was horrible. It's not a very heroic nor pretty picture, but it's true. The fact is, I haven't yet gotten back on my feet--mentally--yet. It was the first time I had time to be afraid. The other times I was doing something and moving, but that helpless feeling of no place to go and just waiting--waiting, really got me.

Incidentally they also dropped hand bombs, but they all hit on the far side of the truck. If one had landed any place on my side I'd be so full of lead they wouldn't have to dig me a grave, I'd just naturally sink into the ground.


from TOBY JENSKY (American nurse)

June 21, 1937

My Dears—

To-nite we had our first dance. We invited the boys of the Lincoln Battalion and a good time was had by all. I'm still on night duty, but I was relieved for a few hours so I did my bit of dancing. The dance was also successful in keeping the patients awake and now at 3 A.M. they're just about popping off. But what the hell. Among the boys were a few I knew from the Village, so we talked & talked about New York and I really feel much better now. During the full moon, you can sit outside and read it's so light. The only trouble is that it's also light for the fascist planes.

A little girl was brought in here yesterday—all shot full of holes—both her eyes blown out. It seems that she and a few others found a hand grenade and decided to play with it. Her brother died soon after he was brought in. 3 other kids were slightly hurt and she if she makes it will be blind and all scarred. It's a pretty horrible thing—she's got plenty of guts and certainly can take it—you never hear a whimper out of her. She's about 10 years old. It's the same sort of thing you see in places that have been bombed, only more of it. It's a stinking business. We still get very little news of what's doing. I still don't read Spanish, so there you are. I can speak a few more words. I wish I could make myself sit down for an hour a day and study, but there's always something more pleasant to do. Maybe some day soon—

I haven't written home for a while, so will you give them my love?

Here's hoping we beat the hell out of the fascists soon, so I can get back.

Keep on writing—

Saluda Comarado (the one & only salutation around here).



June 29, 1938

Hi Herb,

Last winter we had the coldest winter in about twenty years and now it seems, we're headed for the hottest summer in a long time. From eleven in the morning to 3 or 4 in the afternoon it is simply physically impossible to do anything. The slightest motion brings oceans of thick, stinking sweat rolling down your body. The civilians sleep their famous siesta, but for us, living in trenches or in open fields, even this is almost impossible. For along with the hot weather came the flies. Not flies like the delicate, frightened creatures we have in the states. Oh, no. Big, heavy, tough, persistent things that you can't shoo away. They swarm in thick clouds over every square inch of your body that's exposed, buzzing ferociously, creeping across your skin so heavily you can feel each individual footstep, biting so that you almost forget the lice. And when you swing at them, they don't scatter like properly civilized American flies. They merely fly off two or three inches and are back on you before your hand is at rest. If you lie uncovered they torment you to distraction and if you put even the most sheer piece of material over you, you drown in your own sweat. And the lice, thriving on the rich sweat, grow fat & bloated like well-fed pigs and dig fortifications in your skin.



The Front
October 23, '37

Dear Shirley,

Another of your frequent and most welcome letters arrived today and this afternoon I find the time to answer it.

Heard Langston Hughes last night; he spoke at one of our nearby units--the Autoparque, which means the place where our Brigade trucks and cars are kept and repaired. It was a most astonishing meeting; he read a number of his poems; explained what he had in mind when he wrote each particular poem and asked for criticism. I thought to myself before the thing started "Good God how will anything like poetry go off with these hard-boiled chauffeurs and mechanics, and what sort of criticism can they offer?" Well it astonished me as I said. The most remarkable speeches on the subject of poetry were made by the comrades. And some said that they had never liked poetry before and had scorned the people who read it and wrote it but they had ben moved by Hughes's reading. There was talk of "Love" and "Hate" and "Tears"; everyone was deeply affected and seemed to bare his heart at the meeting, and the most reticent (not including me) spoke of their innermost feelings. I suppose it was because the life of a soldier in wartime is so unnatural and emotionally starved that they were moved the way they were.



Friday, November 25, 1938

Dearest Leo [Hurwitz] and Janey [Dudley]:

The enclosed note was written after the first two bombings on Wednesday—and I thought when I started that I could overcome the reaction of the morning, but I had to stop. Now, though still a little limp and sickish, I can write of the last two days with more or less ease.

The first raid, at about 10:30 A.M., came while two American soldados and I were in a shop buying cigarette holders. The boys had come to Barcelona to buy some trinkets for their girls and I went along with them to help them choose. The shop we were in is some three or four blocks from the hotel and some six or seven blocks from where the first bombs fell. The siren sounded just as we were paying our bill. We saw the people hurrying along the Paseo de Gracia (our street) into sheltering doorways, or hugging the walls. We stepped into a doorway, going out to look up when the anti-aircraft started and I spotted three planes—enemy planes flying high, they looked minute. The guns were hot on their trail and the boys pulled me back into the doorway because very often the shrapnel casings of the aircraft shells fall and get you. As we got back to the doorway we heard the bombs falling—and the boys made me crouch down, close to them with my head buried in my arms. The sound of those bombs, and they sounded close (as we found later they were) is hard to describe—crashing through the air as if to break the very air itself, screeching and whining and then the contact as they hit their target—as if a thousand wrecking crews were tearing down buildings at the same time. I wasn't frightened then, my mind was blank—I was concerned only with crouching down in the doorway. We got up then and started walking to the hotel, the people in the streets came to life, continuing to walk to wherever they had been going when the alarm sounded; we reached the next corner to see a crowd of people pointing up at the sky and then a shout arose, and cheering as our guns got one plane—it came down hurtling through the air head over heels. We were excited, forgetting completely the bombs falling a minute before and we hurried to the hotel to find Ed. We found him there, worried but relieved to see us. Everyone talked about the downed plane—but soon life went on as usual. Soon we heard the siren blow three times, meaning all's well, the raid is over, and we went out again—Ed, the two boys, Capa and I. We went to the Rambla—a long street in old Barcelona (Barcelona was once a small village—the Rambla was its main street with narrow, winding streets stretching on either side of it—and although the Rambla is one thoroughfare it has various names—like Rambla de Flores, because of the numerous flower vendors, etc.). We stepped in a shop where Ed and Capa bought some shirts, leaving them there while one of the boys and I went on. We walked leisurely, looking in the windows of the numerous shops in the twisting streets, stopping to buy some decorative combs and finally going to a little antique shop stuck away in one of the little streets where I had bought a locket some weeks ago. We found a necklace for his girl and again, just as we were paying the bill, the siren started. This time we knew we were in danger because this quarter had been often hit, the last time only a week and a half ago. We left the shop, the boy with me starting to run, and so I ran too. But as I ran I could feel the panic growing in me and I stopped him—"let's follow the people here—they know where the refugios are—we mustn't run" I said. Meanwhile thoughts raced furiously through my mind—"I mustn't get panicky, I mustn't be frightened. I've got to be calm—if we reach the refugio in time, good—if we don't there's nothing we can do about it—but we must not run—Ed will be worried about me—I wish I could somehow let him know that we'll be all right." We followed the others coming out on the Rambla de Flores where we found two Metro stations (these, of course, are used as refugios—although Barcelona is full of newly built, completely safe refugios). We followed the others down to the subway—and I was struck by the order and lack of hysteria. No one pushed or shoved—everyone was quiet, composed—we all helped to get the kids down first—and soon we ourselves went inside, going deep into the station and standing close to the wall. The people talked together, played with some dogs who had come down with us, the children romped—these people will never be crushed. Mussolini and Hitler, however much they bomb, will never break the morale of these wonderful, courageous people. We heard the guns, the sound reverberating in the tunnel, and again bombs falling. My friend and I talked in low tones—about anything—I can't remember now—we held each other's hand and we both tried hard not to tremble. Soon the lights were on—we could go out. As we came up the stairs of the Metro we saw the puffs of smoke from the guns directly above us and we knew the bombs had fallen close to us. (Three blocks from where we were—we found out later). We walked home, both of us talking fast, but we walked slowly.

We found Ed and the other soldado looking for us frantically and we all embraced in the street—it was like a reunion. "Sure, I feel fine—don't worry—I'll be all right." We went in to lunch—and I got through it somehow. It was when I went upstairs that the reaction began—that's when I had to stop the letter I began to you. I got a terrific stomachache—it doubled me up for ten minutes, and when it was over I was exhausted and shaking as if I had just dug a well or pounded rock. I was alone—Ed was writing his story at the Ministry. I tried to read—but the letters danced before my eyes and so I put my book aside and just sat in the chair—thinking—this is what the barbarians have been doing to the Spanish people for two years; I had witnessed the ruthless murder of an innocent people because fascism's voracious appetite must be satisfied—I saw what I had been reading about—the systematic terrorization of a people, by which the fascists hope to bring them to their knees—and I saw the people reiterate the words of Pasionaria—which by now have become part of their lives—"Better to die on one's feet than to live on one's knees." Think what these murderous raids have done to the lives of these people—to their nervous mechanisms—to their sanity. And what a heritage for the kids! Here was I, coming from comparative freedom, well-fed, my nerves shattered by my experience—and then think of the Spanish people who have lived through this horror for two years.

But the bastards weren't through with us. At seven o'clock they came again—this time I watched from our window—saw the powerful lights cutting the sky trying to locate the planes, saw the puffs of smoke from the guns and the flares going up—and the welcome sound of our planes—our little chasers going after them. Nothing excites the people as much as to see or hear our planes—they go wild with excitement—shouting themselves hoarse—every single time they come. I was alone when the siren sounded at 11:00. I watched only a little while this time—I threw myself on the bed, too tired to undress, and just lay there, anger mounting—"the bastards—the bastards," saying it over and over again until I could think no longer. Ed came in a little after midnight, bringing the news that the Bank of Spain had been hit in the first bombing, with an incomplete count of 40 dead, 124 wounded, mostly women. We went to sleep finally—and then began the night—six times they came over—the sirens shrieking each time—the guns furiously shooting—six raids in the night—six times to create terror. [Herb] Matthews [New York Times correspondent] came in to see us in the morning, telling us how each time he had awakened, jotted down the time, and then tried to go to sleep again. There was no panic in the hotel—but there was anger and hatred for the fascists. And then at 9:30 they came again—to be driven off quickly.

When the siren sounded again—this time meaning release—we went out, Matthews, [Robert] Capa [the photographer], Ed and I, to see the damage. We found one building which had been hit in the second bombing—twisted and mutilated—piles of broken glass and debris in front of it--a huge crater in front of the doorway where the bomb had fallen—a water main cracked. Everywhere around the building—all the houses had piles of glass and debris being swept out of them—the concussion often creates terrific damage—in all the little streets off that main street on which the building was had the little piles of broken glass and debris lining them—the gutters were covered with brick and mortar. We drove on past the Bank of Spain—the bomb had fallen right clean through it—we went down to the port where huge craters showed where bombs had fallen, breaking water pipes; crews were feverishly at work repairing the damage—there was no sign of panic or terror anywhere—people went about their daily tasks, walked in the very spots where bombs had fallen—sat in the cafes along the waterfront—sat on the benches along the streets. We talked to one man (Ed wrote about him in his dispatch)—he told us most of the people had spent the night in the refugios—thereby lessening the toll of lives. He was calm when he told us about his demolished house—a smile on his face when he told us he had been able to save his family and then the full proof of what these people are made of when he said to us in farewell "I would invite you to my house—but you see, it isn't there anymore."

When I first walked into the streets of Barcelona I was amazed at what I saw. When we read about Spain in the newspapers, articles, and books, we read of the front, of cities bombed, and I came expecting to find a war-like—or what I thought was war-like—atmosphere over everything and everybody. Here in Barcelona, the city goes on living its life—shops do business, people work and sit in the cafes. When you are in the city for a while you begin to see the effects of war. You see that there aren't many young men in the streets—and if there are they are in uniform, home on leave or recovering from wounds. You see the wrecked buildings where bombs have fallen—and you see the women and the kids, tattered, ragged, and hungry. But you see too that everywhere are a people who are fighting for their lives, their country—the raised fist which greets you in Salud is not just a gesture—it means life and liberty being fought for and a greeting of solidarity with the democratic peoples of the world. Barcelona is a beautiful city—surrounded by hills and mountains—an ever blue sky—palm trees lining the broad avenues—a city which in peacetime must have been a joy to live in. And the people—how can I tell you how wonderful they are—how truly a beautiful people the Spanish are. They are an intelligent people and an understanding people, and even now, in midst of their war, the education of its people goes on—schools for kids, girls from the Basque country and Andalucia who three months ago couldn't read, now holding down leading and important jobs in Government agencies.

Hemingway was here for a few days—but once you meet him you're not likely to forget him. The day he came I had been slightly sickish, but Ed came up and got me up out of bed to meet him. When I came into the room where he was he was seated at a table and I wasn't prepared for the towering giant he is. I almost got on my toes to reach his outstretched hand—I didn't need to, but that was my first reaction. He's terrific—not only tall but big—in head, body, hands. "Hello", he said—looked at me and then at Ed and said "You're sure you two aren't brother and sister?" which meant—"what a pair of light-haired, pale, skinny kids!" He told us another time when we were driving back to the hotel from somewhere of his correspondence with Freddy Keller—how he told Freddy he's got good stuff, but he must study—must educate himself and above all study Marx. That was what he had done all winter in Key West, he told us—otherwise, he said, you're a sucker—you don't know a thing until you study Marx. All of this said in short jerky sentences—with no attempt at punctuation. Before he left he gave us the remainder of his provisions—not in a gesture, just gave them to us because he knew we needed them and because he wanted to give them to us. I'm still a little awed by the size of him—he's really an awfully big guy!

And now—I'll say goodbye—I promise not to let so long a time go by the next time I write.



June 21, 1938

Dear Ernest [Hemingway]:

I wish we had had a few days in Paris together. Marty [Hourihan] was still there when I got in. You know they sent him out across the mountain. I don't know how he ever managed it with that leg.

The damn fools sent me across the mountain too. They knew I had been expelled from France but they told me it was perfectly safe. I no sooner left the Carabineros at the top than the Guarde Mobile spotted me—It was a bright night and they fired a couple of shots over my head. I lay low for an hour and then began again, changing my line to come out at another place on the road. Then when I got to the road I was so damned jollied up and excited that I made a mistake and started right back into Spain again. I got almost to the French Customs before I was able to get my bearings. The Carabineros had told me about a staircase going down the mountain to Cerbere from the road. I couldn't find it for the life of me, and I kept going back and forth and back and forth around those turns in the moonlight. If the Guarde Mobile were looking they must have thought the whole 43rd Division was on its way over. And they did think something like that, too, because finally I gave up looking for that staircase and followed the road right in and then I found the staircase—the bottom of it where it meets the road again—six Guarde Mobile were there. I couldn't dodge them. They wouldn't believe that I was the only man coming down the mountain. "Why we saw at least a dozen" they said. And two of them took me to the station and the rest went up the mountain to hunt. They hunted all night.

You know Port Bou—the way the whole town seems to be in the bottom of a cave. Well the Fascists bombed us twice the day I was there. There are good refuges but even then it's not a nice place to be bombed. When I got over and the Guarde Mobile had me I said, anyway, that's one thing I don't have to worry about anymore. There's a good big mountain between me and those planes. Can you believe it? I was not in that jail one hour—had no sooner gotten to sleep and I was tired—before there was the God damndest crash of bombs just up the street—not a hundred yards away from the jail. I was all alone and locked in of course and everybody was running up the street and women screaming. First I felt haunted as if they were following me, and then I felt glad that the French were getting a chance to run screaming through the streets for a change. I even thought they might let me go the next morning as a mark of solidarity or something.

The next morning they took me to Perpignan on the train. Everybody was talking about it in the train. The Pyranees Oriantele was getting really bellicose. They were all scared and mad. The Guarde Mobile were extra sympathetic to me—bought me cognac and tobacco out of their own money and forgot about handcuffs—But that was as far as the solidarity went.

At Perpignan I found out that I was up against six months. No alternative, no way out, except pull. I was scared. It was a nice jail and all that but the prospect of six months made me feel very bad. I wrote at once to Desnos to get in touch with Martha, who I remembered had some pull with the Radical Socialists at one time, and also Senator Hollis from N.H. who used to be a friend of my father's and who practices now in Paris. They all got started right away and Charley Sweeney, too, went to bat for me. But here was the funny thing. And if you think a minute—you will see the queer, uncomfortable position I was in. Father used to have a friend in Paris—a very rich man named James Johnson who helped father a lot—and I never could abide him. So Desnos, on Senator Hollis's advice goes to Johnson. And the first thing I know—the first thought of Johnson that I have in two years I guess—there he is down at Perpignan—come all the way down from Paris to help me out of jail.



Madrid, December 17, 1937


"The moon is very big tonight"--this sentence has been on my mind for days. It is a beautiful sentence, I can't stop rolling it off my lips. I came across it in a letter among my documents while searching for material for the book I am now working on.

A girl in New York started her letter off to her boyfriend in Spain with that--on the very night her boyfriend was killed. He died very bravely under that very big moon and that very big moon lit up the whole landscape, throwing a ghostlike silvery flame on No Man's Land, silhouetting the rescuing parties against the sky, and the fascists opened fire, wounding many of the brave volunteers who were risking their lives trying to bring in the body of that boy who was lying dead out in the field under the very big moon his girl was writing about in New York. She was very lonesome for him and so she was looking at the moon in New York and the moon was very big; it reached all the way to Spain. He never received the letter. I was the one who received it and I read it ten months later, a few days after I finished my chapter, on the night of the very big moon, and I never heard till then about the girl. But ever since I read that letter my heart went out to that girl. I keep on wondering whether she still notices the moon and hope she is proud of the boy who died a death worthy of his principles and his class. I want to raise a monument for that boy and girl under that very big moon, a monument of love and class struggle and of heroism and self-negation and sacrifice that shall be at the same time a monument of the struggle against fascism in Spain.

The moon has been very big a number of times and I hope the time will be soon here when it will shine on a free Spain and we, two, will walk arm in arm under that very big moon, thinking about that other boy and girl....Sanyi

REPRINTED from Cary Nelson and Jefferson Hendricks, eds. Madrid 1937: Letters of the Abraham Lincoln Brigade from the Spanish Civil War, copyright 1996 by Routledge.

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