13-14 Septiembre Moise Sapir enters the fray to settle down the Battalion

September 13-14, 1937

Robert Merriman’s diary of September 13 and 14, 1937

Moise Sapir

Moise Sapir, John Gerlach, Bob Merriman, Rollin Dart, David Doran and Robbie Robinson, Almochuel, September 1937. ALBA PHOTO 11-0755, Tamiment Library, NYU

Merriman starts flowing his diary from page to page.  His last comment on September 12 was that he sat down to talk to Copic and he told him of our mistakes… emphasis “our”.  Copic doesn’t want to hear it.   Merriman repeats that the Americans held a protest meeting and Moise Micha Sapir (aka Majzesz Moshe “Michel” Safir/Sapir) will look into it.  Sapir was described as an Albacete paymaster, but here it looks as if he may be on the Division Staff in a more serious role.  Sapir will become a member of the Botwin Battalion in 1938 and be killed in the retreats.

Ivan Rujevcic (John Gerlach, photo above) was busy taking a census of all the men in the Lincoln and Washington Battalions.  Edwin Bee would be working on a similar list for the British.

Merriman meets with Bob Thompson who has come up with the Mac-Paps.   They have decided that Rollin Dart (also in the photo above) can’t do the job of leading the Mac-Paps and Merriman goes to Walter, presumably to get his agreement to replace Dart with Thompson.   Thompson will become Commander of the Mac-Paps and Joe Dallet will be his commissar.  Robbie Robinson is back from a severe illness and will be helping out in rebuilding the morale of the men.  Recall that Robinson was in the Maritime Sailors Union and would be a help against the railing of Seaman Oliver.

Merriman tells Walter that the Commanders need to think more about the care and feeding of the men.  Walter gave it back to Merriman.  Merriman comes back to tell Thompson what he heard.  The Mac-Paps are underarmed and it doesn’t appear that weapons are coming.

11_0718 Americans in 24th, Almochuel

David Doran, kneeling, Robbie Robinson, to Doran’s right, and Harry Poll, sitting in white camisa, hold a meeting with the Americans of the 24th Battalion in Almochuel in September 1937. ALBA Photo 11_0718 of the Harry Randall Collection, Tamiment Library, NYU.

Merriman gets Dave Doran to rally the troops against the disgruntled elements.  They hold a company meeting to discuss the grievances.  More meetings are held at the company and battalion level.   Merriman is still fighting with the Intendencia and this time it is about the taking of livestock to feed the troops.  Merriman doesn’t want the war to leave the peasants without their stock.

Basha Van Den Berghe complained about “secrets” and Sapir.  Merriman says that Gregorovitch, “Charley” and Van Den Berghe are to go to Albacete to resolve the issue over the Dimitrovs going to the 45th Division.  While Copic says no, Albacete says yes and it will take a Party decision to resolve this.   Gregorovitch is a nom-de-guerre for Gregory Shtern, also known as Sebastian.   Gregorovitch wrote to Colonel Pavel Ivanovich Shpilevsky in late June:

I have begun to worry a great deal about the state of the International Brigades.  There is a lot going on there: the attitude of Spaniards towards them and them toward the Spaniards; the questions about morale; the chauvinism of the nationalities (especially the French, Poles and Italians); the desire for repatriation; the presence of enemies in the ranks of the International Brigades.  It is crucial that a big man be dispatched quickly from the big house especially for the purpose of providing some leadership on this matter.  I talk about this a lot with our agents, go myself to the brigade, work through our people, but this is too little–we need a strong man on this job. ¹

Gregorovitch was with the Brigades as both an advisor and watcher. Merriman notes that Chapayev is on vacation, to get him out of the way from any decision which will be made with the Dimitrovs.

General Walter

General Walter examines a rifle in the XVth Brigade, December 1937

General Walter comes to talk to the Brigade and lays down a firm talk.  In photographs of Walter with the troops he is shown inspecting rifles and training soldiers.  Walter will write in his debrief at the end of the war that the Brigade could not keep their weapons clean, that men just tossed their cleaning rods, that there was only one rag in the whole Brigade and that the weapons were so worn the rifling was gone.   After Walter laid down the law, men still approached him with requests.

On the street, Copic argues with people about Belchite.  Mike Pappas apparently objected to Copic.   Merriman has to arrange an honor guard to go to a funeral in Valencia.   He also is supposed to pay the men but “Goodman” (perhaps Carroll Goodman of the Regiment du Tren) has not returned with the payroll.

Merriman says that the time in Albalate was interesting but short.   After only a couple of days there, the Brigade was moved back to near Almochuel.   Landis² says that this was part of training for the combined brigade but it seems that the Brigade needed rest more than training.   The issues with the British continue to revolve around their promised repatriation and with their previous commanders Aitken and Cunningham going back to England, others must have thought that this was policy.  They refuse to move further.  In a “P.W.” meeting, “Flam” (Emil Flam) and others calmed down.  Within the Lincolns, Seaman Oliver has backed off his protests and this may have been helped by better food.   Merriman feels that the Intendencia is now overfeeding the men.

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¹   Radosh et al., Spain Betrayed, Document 48, ibid. page 240.

² Landis, Abraham Lincoln Brigade, ibid.