Blast from the Past: Memories

February 17, 2015
By and

Abraham Smorodin, Mackenzie-Papineau, August 1938. The 15th International Brigade Photographic Unit Photograph Collection; ALBA Photo 11; ALBA Photo number 11-0232. Tamiment Library

Editor’s note: At the initiative of ALBA board member Chris Brooks, who maintains the online biographical database of US volunteers in Spain, the ALBA blog will be regularly posting interesting articles from historical issues of The Volunteer, annotated by ChrisThis week we pause over Abe Smorodin‘s recollection of some of the men with whom he shared his volunteer experience. 

A Hall of Memories
Abe Smorodin

[Originally published in The Volunteer, Volume 9, No. 2, May 1987]

There is a particular hour each year, an hour of sadness and joy, of animated conversation and quiet rumination. It is the hour preceding our dinners when the Vets and our families and friends gather to renew old ties or occasionally forge new ones. The talk is now more medical than political. As the great hall fills with familiar faces we are assailed with the memories that have withstood a half century of wars, McCarthyite harassments and other pestilences.

There is Lou Gordon, who delighted the passengers aboard ship on the way to Spain when he banged out all four movements of the Beethoven Fifth on the ship piano – with one finger.  His brashness and self-confidence helped quell the uncertainty in one’s belly as we headed into the unknown. Today he picks away at the piano still with one finger preparing for the performance to come.

There is Jesse Wallach with whom in the rush of greeting new arrivals, I exchanged too few words. We pooled our blankets to keep alive in the chill of an Aragon winter. Jesse, who as we ate our usual garbanzos rations claimed that he dreamt nightly of neon-lit diner signs flashing that marvelous three letter word EAT.

There is Herb Freeman, who has spent uncounted hours reconstructing for his children a portrait of their Uncle Jack. So he persists in interviewing people with knowledge of Jack’s life and death.  How does one paint an adequate picture of a bunch of YCLERs on a warm summer night in a Williamsburg park listening to Jack reading from one of the funniest novels ever written – “The Little Golden Calf.”[1] How this Soviet satire on rampant bureaucracy delighted young radicals. Does anybody remember? And then on a quiet day behind the lines as we prepared to cross the Ebro, a fascist bullet ricocheted into that clever intelligent brain.

There is Saul Wellman with whom I had a swapping arrangement – my cigarette rations for his chocolates or on a real good day, a month old New Masses. Saul, another guy from my Williamsburg boyhood, who following Spain, participated in the Battle of Bastogne, was seriously wounded and took part in the route of our old enemy fascism.  Memories.

[1] The Little Golden Calf by Ilya Ilf and Evgeny Petrov was published in 1931 and translated into English a year later.


Tags: , , , ,

2 Responses to “ Blast from the Past: Memories ”

  1. Marisa on February 17, 2015 at 1:09 pm

    Their figth and sacrifice was not in vain because their Ideals are timelees, and now are more alive than ever. The Internationals were the first men who held the line against fascism in Europe at Jarama Valley.

  2. Sandra Rosenbaum on March 2, 2015 at 12:04 am

    I really enjoyed reading the family stories in this article. Thank you very much!

Leave a Comment