4 Octobre “Our beloved Fascist advances….”


Oct 4 1

October 4, 1937
Robert Merriman’s diary for October 4, 1937 in Senes.

We can see on the last few lines of the October 3 entry that Merriman realizes he needs to suck it up.  Usually he thrives on conflict but the psychological struggle with Copic, losing Sidney Shosteck at Belchite,  the British rebellion, the disappointment in General Walter’s promise that he would become a Major, and now the men who need to be court martialled is putting Merriman near his limits.

Overnight, the Gottwald Artillery Battery got a  tractor stuck in the mud and it wasn’t theirs.  This “borrowed” tractor caused a scandal.  Merriman, however, was sick and his inability to deal with the issue almost caused another “scandal” (Merriman’s word for embarrassment or something that would lead to a reprimand for his command).   The Gottwald battery was likely the Czech anti-aircraft battery that Merriman spoke of previously.  Klement Gottwald was President of Czechoslovakia and had been in the Artillery in WWI.

Crespo in Huesca
Major Crespo (near Huesca), ALBA PHOTO 177 – 188063, Tamiment Library, NYU

Major Crespo was made Second Chief of Staff for the Brigade.  His photo from this time is shown here. Crespo is called “our beloved Fascist”.  Merriman understands that Crespo has arisen quickly because of the need to share command with the Spanish and that Crespo was an officer in the Spanish Army before the uprising.  As an officer from the old Spanish Army, he would be suspected if he did not have a political background that explained his staying with the Republican Army.  He is not a Communist and Merriman notes that he is in “a Communist Army”.  Copic apparently did not discuss this appointment with Merriman.  Again Merriman would feel threatened that he is being replaced.

Merriman goes to Copic and requests permission to go to General Walter to face him off on Walter’s promise of grades for everyone who moved up to attack Belchite on the 3rd of September. Merriman feels they stepped up and Walter forgot about his promise.  Copic says he, not Merriman, will speak to Walter about this gripe.  From the document on the October 3 posting, we see that  A. Denis and Copic are holding back the promotions.   Merriman was not a communist when he came to Spain.  While he joined the Spanish Communist Party, he (and Allan Johnson who was commanding Tarazona’s training base at this point) were treated with suspicion by because of their lack of political background in the US.

Merriman says that the trials of the 13 deserters starts.  Six cases are prosecuted quickly with Richard deWitt Brown one of the first, who confessed freely.  Brown had deserted with Ralph Isenberg, Henry Shapiro and perhaps Melvin Payne, who was an ambulance driver.  Rollin Dart started the prosecution but could not do it and David Doran stepped in and carried out the cases.     Fishnelson and Shapiro died at Teruel, so they were not executed.   The other three returned to the US, although Brown was captured at Belchite during the Retreats in March 1938 and returned after time in a prisoner-of-war camp.  Apparently none of these four of the first six tried were given a death sentence.   Only Murray Krangel of the 14 listed on the October 2, 1937, report was killed at Fuentes del Ebro and that was reportedly October 13, 1937.  While it is possible that Krangel, Fishnelson and Shapiro were put in work details on the front lines (tantamount to a sentence of death), there is no evidence that the sentences were carried out while the Battalion was in Senes.

Egon Schmidt, ALBA PHOTO 177-188016, Tamiment Library, NYU

At the end of the day, Merriman relaxes and gives a letter for Marion Merriman to Moise Sapir who will go back to Albacete.   “Schmidt” is in from Madrid where there was some sort of scandal over him. This is likely to be Egon Schmidt, who was added to the XVth Brigade.  Schmidt’s real name was Misha/Michael Schwartz who was born in Minsk¹.  Erich {sic} Schmidt and Milan Jeroncic were found by SIM in Valencia and Comrade Stepanovich was asked to vouch for him.²  Schmidt would be with the Brigade until August 1938 when he was killed climbing Hill 666 in the Battle of the Ebro.

Merriman says it is still raining and that the physical situation in Senes is bad.


¹    Martin Sugarman,  Against Fascism – Jews who served in The International Brigade in the Spanish Civil War, www.jewishvirtuallibrary.org/jsource/History/spanjews.pdf‎, Sourced: January 21, 2014.

²  RGASPI Archives, Fond 545/Opis 2/Delo 145, pg 216, letter from Comrade “Willi” to Comrade “Kurt” at Albacete base, October 4, 1937.