In Memory of the City College of New York, Alumni, Students and Teachers

March 13, 2019
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The CCNY plaque was installed April 13, 1980, and is currently located on the second floor of the North Academic Center (Convent Avenue) on the campus. Photography Peter Arthur Witt.

The CCNY plaque was installed April 13, 1980, and is currently located on the second floor of the North Academic Center (Convent Avenue) on the campus. Photography Peter Arthur Witt.

The City College of New York (CCNY) was founded in1847 as the Free Academy of the City of New York. Offering free tuition, the school served as a combination prep school, high school and college. It was renamed the College of the City of New York in 1866 and became the City College of New York in 1929.

In the 1930s the college was known for the radicalism of its student body. More than forty students and faculty fought in the Spanish Civil War. A plaque honoring thirteen alumni, students and faculty who were killed in Spain was dedicated on XX. The plaque reads:

In Memory of the City College Alumni, Students and Teachers who were among the 1600 American Volunteers who died fighting against Fascism in Spain 1936-1939.[i]

The volunteers listed on the plaque are:

Sidney Esak Babsky graduated from CCNY in 1926. He was a thirty-one years-old teacher living in the Bronx when he volunteered to serve in the International Brigades. Babsky arrived in Spain on April 1, 1937 and served with the XVth Brigade. He was captured on March 16, 1938 during The Retreats. Babsky and two other American volunteers were interviewed by NY Times journalist William Carney after their capture. Shortly after the interview all three were executed.

Eugene David “Gene” Bronstein graduated from CCNY in 1934. He was twenty-four years old and living in Cambridge, Massachusetts when he volunteered for the International Brigades. Bronstein arrived in Spain on March 31, 1937 and served with the XVth Brigade’s George Washington Battalion. Bronstein was killed in action during an air attack on July 7, 1937, during the Brunete campaign.

Abraham Alfred “Chick” Chaikin was pursuing his Doctorate while working as the wrestling coach at CCNY. He was married and a 1926 graduate of Cornell University. He arrived in Spain on July 24, 1937 and served in the XVth Brigade’s Mackenzie-Papineau Battalion. Chaikin was serving as the battalion Quartermaster when he was listed as missing in action on March 17, 1938 near Caspe during the Retreats 

Robert Coughlin Colver graduated from CCNY in 1933 and attend Georgetown Law for one year. Colver had some military experience having served six months in the National Guard with a coast artillery unit. He was twenty-five and working as a clerk and fingerprint expert in New York City when he volunteered to serve in the International Brigades. Colver, who used the name Douglas Hitchcock in Spain, arrived in Spain on June 15, 1937. He served with the XVth Brigade’s Mackenzie-Papineau Battalion at Fuentes de Ebro where he was wounded in action. After his recovery, Colver was selected for Officer Training School and graduated in January 1938. He was serving as the Battalion Secretary for the Mackenzie-Papineau Battalion when he was killed in action on April 1, 1938 at Gandesa during the Retreats. He used the name Douglas Hitchcock in Spain.

Jacob Freeman attended CCNY for two years after graduating from Boy’s High School in Brooklyn, New York. While at CCNY he served as the editor of the school paper. Freeman left CCNY to volunteer to serve in the International Brigades. He was 19 years old when he sailed for Europe on his way to Spain. Freeman was one of approximately 500 volunteers aboard the Ciudad de Barcelona (City of Barcelona) when it was torpedoed and sunk on May 30, 1937 as it sailed toward Barcelona. In Spain he initially served on the staff of the XV Brigade and later as an observer on the battalion staff of the Lincoln-Washington Battalion. Freeman was killed in action on September 7, 1938 during the Ebro Offensive

Benjamin Leider attended CCNY for two years after graduating from Commercial high school. He was thirty-five years-old, married and working as a Journalist when he was recruited to serve in the Republican Air Force. Leider arrived in Spain on September 24, 1936. He was flying with the La Calle Squadron when he was shot down and killed on February 19, 1937.  Leider’s body was later returned to the US and he was reburied on the evening of August 21, 1938 in the Mount Hebron Cemetery in Flushing, New York.

Wilfred A Mendelson, known to his friends as “Mendy” left CCNY to serve in Spain. He arrived in Spain on May 29, 1938. He served with the XVth Brigade’s Lincoln-Washington Battalion Third Company. He was hit by shrapnel shortly after crossing the Ebro and died on July 29, 1938.  Friends of Mendy wrote a pamphlet called Let My People Know: The Story of Wilfred Medelson, in 1943.

Irving J. Rifkin graduated from CCNY in the spring of 1938. While in the college he participated in the ROTC. Rifkin was born on March 4, 1917 in Brooklyn. He arrived in Spain in July 1938. Rifkin was serving with the Third Company of the Lincoln-Washington Battalion. He was among a group of American soldiers captured in combat and subsequently executed. A sworn statement preserved in the United States State Department Archives by veterans Gerald Cook, William G. Wheeler and Herman Klein who stated:

We. The undersigned certify that the men named below were members of the third company of the Lincoln Battalion in Spain and were captured by the Franco forces on the 7th day of September, 1938, on the sector of Corbera.  We know these facts to be true as we witnessed the entire affair, having been members of the same unit and barely escaping ourselves after having been completely surrounded.  These men are: Irving Rifkin, James Pearce, Jack Arnold, Pat Garafalo, Wilbur Wheeler, Thomas Hardy, Sam Grossner, William Miller, Leonard Holtzclaw.

Rifkin’s family was not aware he was going to Spain, They learned he was in Spain after receiving a letter dated July 14, 1938. His last letter to his family was dated Aug 24, 1938.

Abraham Sasson attended CCNY in 1937. He was twenty-three years old and living in the Bronx when he volunteered to serve in the International Brigades. Sasson arrived in Spain on July 5, 1937 and went on to serve with the XVth Brigade’s Lincoln-Washington Battalion. He rose to the position of Adjutant Company Commander with the rank of Sargento. Sasson was killed in action on April 1, 1938 in the Batea-Gandesa sector during opening day of the second phase of the Retreats.

Marvin Stern graduated from CCNY in 1935. He was twenty-nine year old and living in New York City when he volunteered to serve in the International Brigades. Stern was among the first American volunteers who sailed for Europe on December 26, 1936 aboard the Normandie; He was the Lincoln Battalion’s first Battalion Commissar. Stern died in Spain in June 1938.

Ralph Wilkinson Wardlaw attended CCNY before transferring to the University of Georgia where he completed both his Bachelors and a Master degree. He was pursuing a Doctorate and working as an instructor at CCNY. Wardlaw held a Reserve commission in the US Army Reserve having completed ROTC in college. He was thirty-years old, married, and living in New York when decided to volunteer to serve in the International Brigades. Wardlaw arrived in Spain on February 21, 1937 and served with the Lincoln-Washington Battalion. He was reported as killed in action on April 3, 1938 near the Corbera-Gandesa road during the Retreats. George Watt recalled that Wardlaw and another rifleman remained as a rearguard covering the retreat of their unit as they attempted to make their way back to Republican lines.

Leon Elkan Wendkos entered CCNY in the fall of 1935 after graduating from Townsen Harris high school in the spring. He was twenty-four and living in New York City when he volunteered to serve in the International Brigades. He Arrived in Spain on March 17, 1937 and served with the XVth Brigade. Wendkos was serving in the machine-gun company in the Lincoln-Washington Battalion when he was killed in action on March 10, 1938 near Belchite during The Retreats.

Witt, Arthur graduated from CCNY in 1930.  He was thirty-years old, married and living in Chicago, Illinois when he volunteered to serve in the International Brigades. Witt, who used the party name “Tom Trent” Sailed for Europe on January 28, 1937 and joined the newly formed Lincoln Battalion. He was killed in action on February 27, 1937 during the assault on Pingarrón Heights at Jarama.

[i] The total number of Americans killed in Spain is significantly lower than the number indicated on the plaque. The approximate total of those who were killed or died of illness in Spain is 726.  An additional five CCNY students were killed in Spain.  These include:

Harry Ain – evening student, 3 years.

Steve Dabelko – evening student.

Leo Grachow student,1 year.

Archie Kessner – student, 1 year.

Harry Perlman – evening student.

 

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