Abe Osheroff, Veteran of Abraham Lincoln Brigade, Dies at 92
By DOUGLAS MARTIN
Published: April 11, 2008
Abe Osheroff, a carpenter by trade and leftist provocateur by proclivity who was wounded in the Spanish Civil War,
then helped keep alive the memory of that struggle with two documentary films and thousands of speeches, died on
April 6 at his home in Seattle. He was 92.
Abe Osheroff in October 1998
at the University of Washington.
The cause was a heart attack, said Anthony L. Geist, Mr. Osheroff’s friend and chairman of Spanish and Portuguese
studies at the University of Washington.
Mr. Osheroff wove his most enduring legacy from the threads of his life. It was a 1974 film, “Dreams and Nightmares,”
which told of his journey from the streets of Brooklyn to the Spanish battlefields of the 1930s to a melancholy return to
Spain a generation later.
He used the movie, which won several prizes in Europe, as an entree to teaching jobs at the University of California,
Los Angeles, and the University of Washington, and to countless speaking engagements at colleges, high schools
and other forums across the nation. He continued to work as a union carpenter.
Mr. Osheroff’s last speech was in San Francisco on March 30, when he spoke from a wheelchair at the unveiling of a
monument to the 3,000 American volunteers to fight Franco in what came to be called the Abraham Lincoln Brigade.
Nine hundred were killed.
“The stuff we’re made of never goes away, with or without monuments,” he said in the old-time Brooklyn accent he
never lost, Mr. Geist and other friends said. “Because the bastards will never cease their evil, and the decent human
beings will never stop their struggle.”
Eleven of the 39 surviving Lincoln Brigade veterans attended the speech. On April 7, two more died: Abe Smorodin,
92, of Brooklyn, and Ted Veltfort, 92, of Oakland, Calif. Three dozen remain.
Mr. Smorodin ran a candy store for many years and was the last secretary-treasurer of the Veterans of the Abraham
Lincoln Brigade. Mr. Veltfort went on to teach engineering in Cuba and organize a drive to donate ambulances to the
leftist government of Nicaragua in the 1980s.
Mr. Osheroff achieved a higher profile among generations of leftists, not least because of his gift of gab. His political
involvement began at 12, when he joined the broad protest against the conviction of the anarchists Sacco and
Soon, he was arrested for helping evicted tenants immediately move their belongings back into their apartments. He
organized coal miners and steelworkers and once ran for the New York Legislature as a Communist.
Going to Spain in May 1937, he swam the final two miles to shore after his ship was sunk. He fought in four battles
before machine-gun fire shattered a knee, and he returned home in August 1938.
He even managed the obligatory fistfight with Hemingway, in his case over food he admitted he was stealing from the
When Mr. Osheroff arrived in Mississippi in 1964 to build a community center during the Freedom Summer of 1964,
his car was blown up the night he arrived. He aided the leftist government in Nicaragua by organizing a team of
Americans to build houses for a peasant cooperative.
In 2006, he was still prowling Seattle in a van, criticizing the Iraq war over a loudspeaker. The same year, he was
arrested for the last time at a sit-in protest.
“My ship is slowly sinking, but my cannons keep firing,” Mr. Osheroff said in a 2005 interview with Robert Jensen, a
University of Texas journalism professor. “Or, here’s another way to say it: I have one foot in the grave and the other
Abraham Osheroff was born in the Brownsville section of Brooklyn in October 1915. His mother, a seamstress in a
sweatshop, and father, a carpenter, were Jews who emigrated from Russia. His first language was Yiddish, his
second, Russian, and his third, English. He told of being so rebellious that he tried to burn down Erasmus Hall High
He graduated from the City College of New York, then organized industrial workers in Pennsylvania, winning respect
with arm-wrestling skill. He went to Spain after seeing newsreels of Nazi planes bombing the undefended city of
His losing run for the Legislature came in 1940, and the next year he joined the Army, in which he helped in mop-up
operations after D-Day. After the war, he moved frequently, to avoid federal investigators hunting Communists. He
worked on a dude ranch and for a company that wrote term papers for college students, among many other jobs.
Mr. Osheroff became disillusioned with the Communist Party in 1956, and left it. His later political involvements
included fierce opposition to the Vietnam War and fighting real estate developers in the Venice section of Los
In 2000, Mr. Osheroff made another movie, a documentary about posters from the Spanish Civil War.
Mr. Osheroff was married three times. He is survived by his companion, Gunnel Clark; his daughter, Sarah, of
Portland, Ore.; and his sons Dov, of Berkeley, Calif., and Nick, of Los Angeles.
Like many other Lincoln Brigade veterans, Mr. Osheroff believed World War II could have been prevented if other
nations had smashed Franco, and his allies, Hitler and Mussolini, in Spain. But he believed that struggle itself gave
“If you need a victory, you aren’t a fighter,” he said in 2000, “you’re an opportunist.”