A Shout of Triumph

September 16, 2016
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Blast from the Past is an ongoing series of posts reprinting articles from historical issues of The Volunteer.

A Shout of Triumph

By Lloyd L. Brown

The Volunteer, December 1975, p. 7

 

Harry Steinberg being fingerprinted, Pittsburgh Press, July 9, 1940

Harry Steinberg being fingerprinted, Pittsburgh Press, July 9, 1940

Like millions of people around the world, my fellow-Soldiers at a U. S. Army base were overjoyed to hear that Hitler’s forces had finally been crushed. Yet whenever I think back to the happy day we Americans call V-E Day, I remember most of all the terrible sadness that overwhelmed me on account of my friend Harry.

Before the war Harry and I were the closest of friends. Indeed, although Harry was white and I am Negro, it could be said that we were brothers. Our kinship was based upon a common outlook that inspired us to become militant anti-fascists and take part in struggles that eventually landed us in neighboring prison cells.

Conservative elements in our country would later refer to Americans like us as “premature anti-fascists.” Several years before the United States got into the war against the Axis Powers, Harry “prematurely” took up arms against the fascist enemy. He went to Spain as a volunteer Soldier in the Abraham Lincoln Brigade, half of whose men gave their lives in the desperate struggle to make Madrid the tomb of fascism.

By some miracle Harry survived though his thin body had been stitched across by machine-gun bullets. When he came home and I saw the row of scars on his narrow chest and back where the bullets had entered and left. I kidded him by saying: “Harry, no wonder you were not killed – you’re so skinny there was nothing to get hit!” His answering smile was more like a crooked grimace, because one of the bullets had in fact hit something solid. It had smashed his lower jaw.

Then when our country entered the war and Harry was found to be physically unfit for army service, he promptly joined the merchant marine. Since he knew that the main blows against the German fascists were being delivered by the armed forces of the Soviet Union, Harry volunteered to serve with an American convoy carrying war supplies to Murmansk. His ship was torpedoed and this time there was no miracle. Harry’s frail body could not withstand the cruel wind and sea, and he died on the life raft on which his shipmates survived.

We were celebrating late into the night of V-E Day when suddenly, louder than the singing and shouting that filled our barracks, a scream of sorrow seemed to burst within me and I ran out into the darkness. You did not live to see it end. I ran stumbling across the fields in the stillness of the far reaching airfield. On the shore of that concrete lake I sat down and cried and cried.

As I thought of my lost young friend and tried to bring him back to life in memory, there flashed the image of his crooked smile. Now I had to smile myself at how he would have poked fun at me for my unmanly behavior. Then I sprang to my feet and shouted aloud: “Harry – your side has won!” And I continued to yell out the joyous news until I could shout no more, that our side had won and that Harry and all the others who died in the fight against fascism must be counted among the victors on this day of triumph.

Then feeling good all over, I ran back to join my fellow-Soldiers as they celebrated the end of the war.

[Editorial Note: Lloyd Brown is an old friend of VALB. He is presently writing the comprehensive biography of Paul Robeson. The “Harry” of whom he writes was Harry Steinberg of Pittsburgh. The above is part of Lloyd’s article as it appeared in the Soviet magazine Literary Gazette in its recent issue devoted to the 30th anniversary of the defeat of Nazi Germany.]

Blast from the Past Note:  Research credits to Ray Hoff, with the assistance of Rebecca Cowan.

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