Honoring fascism's forgotten fighters; Americans who fought against Franco in the Spanish Civil War finally are
    recognized.; Juliana Barbassa Associated Press
    Los Angeles Times   04-27-2008

    Honoring fascism's forgotten fighters; Americans who fought against Franco in the Spanish Civil War finally are
    Byline: Juliana Barbassa Associated Press
    Section: California; Part B; Metro Desk
    Type: News


    As Spain shrugs off the last cobwebs of Gen. Francisco Franco's fascist regime 70 years after it hatched amid
    civil war, Americans are also looking back, honoring their own who fought there and the ideals for which they

    The faces of some of the 3,000 or so men and women who broke American isolationism to volunteer in the
    1936-39 Spanish war look out from the translucent onyx squares of a monument recently inaugurated on this
    city's Embarcadero.
    "I wasn't about to watch another country go to hell," said veteran David Smith, 92, recalling that Italy and
    Germany were already controlled by Benito Mussolini and Adolf Hitler, respectively, when he left the United
    States to join the Jarama front in 1937.

    Although the Spanish Civil War has been enshrined in literature and art by the likes of Ernest Hemingway and
    Pablo Picasso, Americans who risked their lives for the values at stake were never recognized in their home
    country. Only about three dozen of those who sneaked aboard ships and crossed the mountains from France
    to fight survived to see the United States' first public memorial to the Abraham Lincoln Brigade, as they were

    The celebration was timely. Three have died since the monument's inauguration -- Abe Osheroff, whose last
    speech was at the monument's March 30 unveiling, Abe Smorodin of Brooklyn, N.Y., and Ted Veltfort of

    The only acknowledgment most brigade members received after their return to the U.S. was the 1950s
    investigations for participation in leftist organizations, they said.

    Smith returned to the U.S. and sought work as a tool maker, only to find he'd been blacklisted.

    Afraid he'd be arrested by the FBI, Osheroff went underground after the 1949 jailing of leaders of the American
    Communist Party.

    "They took a heroic stand, and then had to live in fear, after losing their livelihoods," said Anita Toney, whose
    father, Anthony Toney, abandoned his art scholarship in Paris and walked across the Pyrenees mountains that
    divide France and Spain to join the fight.

    This monument makes right that historical injustice, said Spanish Ambassador Carlos Westendorp y Cabeza at
    the unveiling, after thanking the veterans for risking their lives for his country.

    "We democrats lost that battle, but we won the war," he said.

    Although contained by that country's borders, the Spanish Civil War was the front line of the battle of
    ideologies that marked the 20th century.

    Supporters of the leftist democratic government that had supplanted Spain's monarchy faced the right-wing,
    Catholic supporters of Franco, who led a military uprising against the government. It was a national war, but it
    became the focal point of an international struggle. Mexico and the Soviet Union threw their weight with the
    leftist Republic, while Franco's nacionales had help from fascist Germany, Italy and Portugal.

    Though U.S. volunteers' contribution was long unacknowledged, the memory of the Spanish war lived on in
    part because of the pivotal role it played on the world stage.

    It was a modern war -- a theater used by Hitler's Germany, in particular, to rehearse blitzkrieg tactics later used
    in World War II.

    It was also a great story, widely covered by sympathetic writers and reporters. Generations of Americans were
    introduced to the passion that fueled that conflict by George Orwell, Pablo Neruda and others.

    "No men ever entered earth more honorably than those who died in Spain," went one of Hemingway's best
    remembered lines about the war.

    The conflict inspired images that transcended the moment and embodied the brutality of war -- Robert Capa's
    photo "Moment of Death," showing a soldier falling back in the instant after being shot and Picasso's black on
    white oil "Guernica," painted after the Nazi German bombing of the Spanish town of the same name.

    The opposing armies were ill-matched.

    "We weren't really a battalion; it was just a bunch of guys" whose equipment was "junk," Smith said. "We'd
    manage one shot, and get 10 back."

    In spite of the will of the volunteers, Spain fell and Franco ruled for 40 years.

    "Spain was a place where we learned that steel in large quantities is stronger than guts," Osheroff said.

    His sentiment was echoed by French writer Albert Camus.

    "Spain gave us our first taste of defeat, and because of her we discovered . . . that sheer force can trample the
    human spirit underfoot, and that there are times when courage goes unrewarded," Camus wrote.

    Once Spain emerged blinking from Franco's rule in 1975, the country buried its grievances and forged ahead
    with European integration. But with the Socialists returning to power in 2004 under Jose Luis Rodriguez
    Zapatero, whose grandfather was among those executed by Franco's followers, Spaniards are unearthing

    Families have published obituaries of grandparents killed by shots that rang decades ago; Zapatero's
    government has pushed to erase Franco's name and his image from streets and plazas.

    In February, 600,000 texts censored during Franco's regime were made available online. They included works
    by poet and playwright Federico Garcia Lorca, killed at the beginning of the war.

    In the United States also, the sacrifice of those who fought in Spain had never received its due -- a fault
    pointed out by war correspondent and author Martha Gellhorn, in "The Face of War."

    " . . . there were no rewards in Spain," she wrote. "They were fighting for us all, against the combined forces of
    European fascism. They deserved our thanks and our respect, and they got neither."

    Those who fought and spoke publicly about it never regretted their contribution -- and many, such as Smith
    and Osheroff, went on to join the struggle for democracy and human rights wherever it took them, from the
    factory floor to El Salvador, Nicaragua, the American South during the civil rights movement, and lastly, to
    marches protesting the war in Iraq.

    An activist's job is never done, Osheroff said during the inauguration.

    Now the 40-foot-long steel and stone monument on San Francisco's waterfront ensures that spirit won't be

    "I thank you, on behalf of the Abraham Lincoln Brigade, for making us immortal," Osheroff said.

    PHOTO: HISTORY LESSON: Spanish Civil War veteran Abe Osheroff, 94, points out photos to his son, Dov,
    at a San Francisco memorial to the Abraham Lincoln Brigade, which was unveiled March 30.;
    PHOTOGRAPHER:Jakub Mosur Associated Press

    PHOTO: FIGHTERS: The Abraham Lincoln Brigade, in Jarama, Spain, in 1937, had never been
    recognized in the United States until last month. The war, however, has been enshrined in literature and art by
    the likes of Ernest Hemingway and Pablo Picasso.;
    PHOTOGRAPHER:Associated Press

    PHOTO: ONE OF MANY: Veteran James Nate Thornton was one of about 3,000 men
    and women who volunteered in the Spanish war from 1936-39.;
    PHOTOGRAPHER:Jakub Mosur Associated Press

    (Copyright (c) 2008 Los Angeles Times)