21-22 Febrero Quiet on the Western Front….

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=b6hBe-s40q4

Woody Guthrie

Merriman’s diary was misplaced for nearly a month between the 20th of February and March 12.  Without divulging the story of this period for Robert Merriman,   we honor them with the Ballad of Jarama Valley written by Woody Guthrie and sung by Pete Seeger and the Almanac Singers. As a special feature, we offer this article from one of our contributors.

The Dallet Group Enters Spain

by Christopher Brooks

Two volunteers, Joseph Dallet and Steve Nelson, initiated their journey to Spain during this period. Both men were veteran CP organizers with good records in the US and were sent to Spain to provide party leadership to the American volunteers.  Both Dallet and Nelson feature in future entries in the pages of Merriman’s diary.

Joe Dallet

Joseph Dallet, Political Commissar, MacKenzie-Papineau, October 1937. The 15th International Brigade Photographic Unit Photograph Collection ; ALBA Photo11; ALBA Photo number 11-0629. Tamiment Library/Robert F. Wagner Labor Archives. Elmer Holmes Bobst Library, 70 Washington Square South, New York, NY 10012, New York University Libraries.

Steve Nelson

Steve Nelson. Shortly after his return.

Dallet and Nelson sailed from the US in early March 1937.  Once in France they clandestinely moved toward the Spanish border. The French border was sealed under the nonintervention treaty in February forcing volunteers to either travel over the Pyrenees or find a ship to carry them into Spain.  Dallet and Nelson along with twenty-three other volunteers loaded into the fishing smack Sanspareil for a short overnight voyage into Spain.1

After dawn on March 27, as the fishing smack neared the Spanish coast, a fishery control vessel, the Cerbere, spotted the Sanspareil and boarded it for inspection.  The Cerbere’s Captain boarded, discovered the volunteers in the hold and called a coast guard vessel.  The Sanspareil was towed into port and the volunteers arrested.2

An article about the arrest listing twenty of the volunteers appeared in the New York Times on June 1, 1937. The article stated that there were twenty-five volunteers, “Five of the prisoners are said to be Canadians, two Irishmen, two Rumanians and three Hungarians.”3  The names listed below are corrected with the exception of those marked with an asterix (*).

Americans

Harold Blackley, 1913, Toledo

Vachel Lindsay Blair, 1915, Cleveland

William Wayland Borer, 1904, Philadelphia

Roger Gaylord Carnell, 1915, New Brighton

Joe Dallet

Lawrence Morton Friedman, 1907, NY

Louis Gnepp, 1916, Philadelphia

John Kosesak b. 1903 Lorraine, Ohio

Rudolph Loch, 1913, Bartlesville

Joseph Farkasovski, 1916, no state

*Jose Bleicht Reger, 1904, Philadelphia

Seymour Herman Workoff, 1916, NY

Bela Wimmer, 1911, no state

Joseph Fleischinger (Steve Nelson)4

Canadians

William Gordon, 1915, Montreal

* Arvid Sundston [Tauno Arvid Sundstet? On American list], 1916, Toronto

Alexander C. Maclure, 1911, Montreal

Peter Ambroziak, 1917, Montreal

*John Dundy, 1903, Toronto

William Keenan, 1901, Ireland

*Leslie Albert, 1897, Belfast, Ireland

The volunteers were jailed in the town of Perpignan.  Dallet, who served as the group’s primary spokesman, quickly dropped the fabrication that they were tourists and proudly proclaimed that they were volunteers bound for Spain.  The volunteers loudly protested their incarceration and won several concessions from the authorities. Dallet, who spoke fluent French, charmed the court and influenced most concessions.  Stepping out from behind his gruff, working-man persona he amazed the prosecutor by playing Chopin on the piano.5

The volunteers were tried in neighboring Céret. After fifteen days of incarceration the court found the men guilty, ordered an eighteen-day sentence with credit for time served, and permitted the volunteers to leave France.6 All but three of the men subsequently were smuggled across the border.  Three volunteers who over imbibed at a local restaurant after being released were sent back home after failing to meet Dallet and Nelson’s expectations.7

Dallet corresponded with his wife Kitty during his incarceration  and continued to write after his arrival in Spain.  After his death select letters were published in a pamphlet. Nelson wrote about his jail term in Spain.  However, Nelson’s memoir was written during the height of the McCarthy period and in order to protect his fellow volunteers he often gave them false names.  In fact when the book was published in 1953, Nelson was incarcerated for political activities. 8 These two sources provide a good record of the volunteer’s experiences in the Perpignan jail.

Once in Spain, Nelson and Dallet assumed their responsibilities as Battalion Commissars. Nelson joined the Lincoln Battalion in the front lines and Dallet reported to Tarazona where the 3rd American Battalion was forming.   Despite his promising start, Dallet is remembered as “Probably the most disliked Commissar in the Brigade.”9 Nelson in contrast emerged as “a perfect example of the commissar.”10 You will learn more about these two men as the diaries progress.

Bibliography

Carroll, Peter N. The Odyssey of the Abraham Lincoln Brigade. Stanford: Stanford University Press, 1984.

Eby, Cecil D. Comrades and Commissars, The Lincoln Battalion in the Spanish Civil War. University Park: The Pennsylvania State University Press, 2007.

Landis, Arthur H. The Abraham Lincoln Brigade. New York: The Citadel Press, 1967.

Nelson, Steve. The Volunteers, A Personal Narrative of the Fight Against Fascism in Spain. New York: Masses and Mainstream, 1953.

Romerstein, Herbert. Heroic Victims, Stalin’s Foreign Legion in the Spanish Civil War. Washington: The Council for the Defense of Freedom, 1994.


1 “French Capture 25 on Way to Spain,” New York Times on June 1, 1937.

2 Ibid.

3 Ibid. Either the journalist failed to copy the volunteer’s names correctly or the volunteers intentionally misled the journalist because their names in most instances are incorrect.  Other sources state that there were seventeen Americans and eight Canadians.

4 “ Names of Thirteen Americans Held,” New York Times, April 1, 1937. Provides Steve Nelson under the name on the passport he travelled on “Joseph Fleischinger.”

5 Steve Nelson. The Volunteers, A Personal Narrative of the Fight Against Fascism in Spain (New York: Masses and Mainstream, 1953), 51-52, 58-59.

6 Nelson, The Volunteers, 64; Peter N.Carroll. The Odyssey of the Abraham Lincoln Brigade (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 1984), 127; Cecil D. Eby, Comrades and Commissars, The Lincoln Battalion in the Spanish Civil War (University Park: The Pennsylvania State University Press, 2007), 153.

7 Eby, Comrades and Commissars, 153.

8 Joe Dallet. Letter From Spain by Joe Dallet, American Volunteer to His Wife (New York: Workers Library Publishers, 1938) the pamphlet is available on line at the following link: https://archive.org/details/LettersFromSpain; Nelson, The Volunteers, 9.

9 Herbert Romerstein. Heroic Victims, Stalin’s Foreign Legion in the Spanish Civil War (Washington: The Council for the Defense of Freedom, 1994), 45.

10 Arthur H. Landis. The Abraham Lincoln Brigade (New York: The Citadel Press, 1967), 336.

3 thoughts on “21-22 Febrero Quiet on the Western Front….”

  1. In the article about the arrest of the twenty volunteers appearing in the New York Times on June 1, 1937. The article stated that there two Irishmen i have information on one William Keenan, Bangor, b. 1901?, d. July 1938. William Keenan emigrated to Canada in 1934 and it was from there that he left for Spain. On his way he was arrested in France on March27th 1937. He got 20 days in jail but still made his way to Spain and served with the Mac-Pacs, the Canadian unit. After 15 months he was reported killed in action during the battle of the Ebro by a Stuka bomber.

  2. I found a bit of additional information on Newspapers.com. The Ottawa Journal on March 29, 1937, reported that five Canadians, including Keenen, were in custody. “The Canadians identified themselves as William Gordon, 22, Peter Ambrosiak, 26, Alexander Maclaren, 26, all of Montreal, Tuan Arwid Sundsten [sic], 21, and John Dendy, both of Toronto.”

    We also have seen another wire story that spelled one of the names as Joseph Fleishireger which is very similar to both “Jose Bleicht Reger” and “Joseph Fleischinger (Steve Nelson)”. I believe that this may be part of the over-counting.

    Michael Petrou has a list of Canadians in his book that includes the New Zealand born, Alexander McClure (his spelling). He also spells “Tono Arvid Sundsten”. He has an “Albert Leslie” (reversed from here) as being from Toronto. John “Dundy” or “Dendy” is listed as John Denby in Petrou’s book, “Renegades”.

  3. Just to add that the other Irishman who reversed his name (as stated above) and thus became Albert Leslie who hailed from Belfast and who was born in 1897. Information has this man traveling from Canada to France, but was sent back from there over drinking problems, so never getting to Spain. Makes him one of the three sent back by Dallet and Nelson i would think.

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