Blast from the Past: Al Amery on Rudy Haber
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 Chris. Though only 19, Rudy Haber stood out for his fellow Mackenzie-Papineau volunteer Al Amery. Haber’s calm good cheer saw him through to the retreats in late 1938 during which he and so many others lost their lives.
[Originally published in The Volunteer, Volume 5, Number 3, December 1983.]
Rudy Haber was 19, in December 1937, when I first saw him at Mas de las Matas, a very friendly little town in Aragon Province. For some reason they really loved us there; and in response, we loved them.
They raised olives there, and we had a party during the few weeks we spent there, during which two pretty school teachers sang songs for us and Butch Goldstein was a master of ceremonies. It was beautiful – everything was beautiful at Mas de las Matas. Our morale was very good there, after the chamber of horrors we Mac-Pas went through at Fuentes. And lucky it was good, because we soon had one of the toughest battles of the war to endure at Teruel.
The commissar, a young Canadian we all liked whose name I’ve forgotten called the section leaders to a meeting to organize things for the party. Rudy was there, sitting cross-legged on the floor, his face beaming with good will. He was assigned to be my assistant section leader, and I was puzzled about him. He was kind of chubby, and he looked to me sort of babyish; but as soon as the commissar asked for volunteers and suggestions, Rudy went right to work. He volunteered for this and that, and he had suggestions. The party was a great success, and Rudy was like that all the way through – right up, I’m sure to his death at Gandesa.
He never got nervous, he never showed any fear, and he was always a model of good morale – amazingly so. Most of us growled and complained but did the best we could in spite of it. But in Teruel, when we got fire for both the rear and the front and on flank, and our battalion was doing the work of about five battalions, it seemed to me, Rudy still had a joke and a smile for everybody.
I got wounded there and Rudy took over the section. A month later I returned to the section, and I heard from everybody that Rudy had done a great job as section leader – a kid, who looked to me just out of Sunday School, leading men, most of them 10 years older, both Ukrainians and Canadians. The section had been in action for a month at Teruel, and then attacked two hills successfully at Seguro de lost Baños – six weeks of steady action. We were due for a rest, and we did get a week or two of good rest.
But Rudy had an ear-ache that kept him awake, and we urged him to go to a doctor. He went, and that was the last I saw of him.
Next, we had one more hard battle, at Letux, and then the Retreats began. At the time I was glad that Rudy was missing them. But he didn’t miss all of them. He came back in time for the battle at Gandesa, near the coast – his last one.
Maybe he was 20 years old when he died.1 He was one of the most likable persons I ever knew, and one of the brightest – very smart – and one of the bravest.
I think he came from New York City. I had other good friends among the Mac-Paps, but Rudy was sort of like a son to me. I was 32 at the time, but Rudy seemed younger than his age and I felt older – I felt about a hundred years old, I guess, for a while.
PS. He looked as innocent as a baby when I first saw him, compared to our battle-ravaged eyes. He didn’t smoke and he didn’t swear with the facility of much practice. I think he was the closest to a paragon of perfection I ever saw in a human being.
1. As reported by Harry Fisher, Haber was stationed in the rear guard and was either killed in action or captured and executed.