A Disturbing Trend in Recruitment

January 10, 2020
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AdvancingMost American volunteers demonstrated a high level of commitment during their voyage to Spain. While only a few turned back voluntarily, some were sent back.  Of those who were sent back, medical conditions were the most common reason, though some were sent back for political reasons.  Only three are known to have turned back voluntarily after reaching Spain but before formally enlisting in the International Brigades: Alexander Sauermilch, Joseph Wargo, and William Herman.

Alexander Sauermilch was aboard the City of Barcelona when an Italian submarine manned by Spaniards sunk the ship in May 1937.  Sauermilch accepted the offer to return home that was made to surviving. (see The Unusual Case of Alexander Sauermilch, Volunteer and Survivor of The Ciudad de Barcelona). The other two voluntarily returned in 1938.

After crossing into Spain via Massenet on March 7, 1938, William Herman turned back after reaching Figueres later that day. He. Michael Economides, the military intelligence service (SIM) responsible in Figueres, documented in a memorandum that Herman arrived in Figueres at 11am and after having  lunch at 1pm proceeded  to his office. Herman demanded to be sent back to Paris because “the food was worse than he was fed in a US Prison.”   The 40-year-old volunteer was ruled “undisciplined and unmanageable” and deported to France.[i]

Joseph Wargo also turned back after reaching Figueres.  However, he created such a ruckus that the CPUSA received a reprimand from Andre Marty. Wargo was born on March 19, 1916 in Youngstown, Ohio. A miner by trade, he was living in Karnay, New Jersey and was a member of the Young Communist League when he volunteered.

Wargo reached Figueres on August 31, 1938.Shortly after arriving at the fortress, Wargo began inquiring about when he would be able to go on leave.  He adamantly maintained that he was told when he was recruited that he could go on leave after serving six months.  The leadership at Figueres advised him that he would be required to serve for the duration. Wargo refused to accept that the International Brigades would not allow him a set leave period.  Eventually, he and the leadership arrived at the mutual decision to send Wargo back to France. The fallout from wasting all of the resources and costs associated with bringing a volunteer to Spain earned the American Communist Party a rebuke.[ii] Andre Marty drafted a formal letter to the Central Committee of the American Communist Party.

The Central Committee of the Communist Party of the U.S.A

Dear Comrades,

We are sending you the following information concerning

WARGO Joseph

Which we believe may be of interest to you.

According to this individual’s statements he was born the 19.3.16 in Youngstown, Ohio, U. S. A. Miner by trade, Lived with Mr. Alex Allway, 762, Forest Street, Karnay, New Jersey. Declared he had been a member of the Y. C. L. since 1937.

The day after his arrival on August 31st 1938 he persistently raised the question of going on leave after 6 months in Spain. All discussion to convince him that it was not possible to fix a date for his leave was fruitless. He displayed no political consciousness, and was sent back to France on September 2nd.

He made and signed the following declaration: “Wargo Joseph, American. Comrade Joseph Wargo has declared to us that in New York the responsible comrade of the organization concerning itself with Spain had told him that he was joining the I. B. for a period of 6 months. On learning now that in coming to Spain a man undertook to remain there for the duration of the war or that a leave could be requested after a period of 14 months, he asks to return immediately to France in order to proceed to his country. Naturally this statement is false insofar as what Wargo was told in New York is concerned.

Nevertheless, we think that the above information may be of some use to you in view of any future relations that Wargo may have with the anti-fascist movement in the U. S. A.

With Communist Greetings, [iii]

Figure.1 Andre Marty to Central Committee CPUSA, September 8, 1938, RGASPI Fond 545, Opis 6, Delo 844, ll. 43

Marty also sent a personal note to Earl Browder (Figure 2). While the tone of the letter was more personable the substance constituted a rebuke.

My dear Earl,

I am sending to you a note about the Comrade WARGO, Joseph. I draw your attention to the fact that amongst the last volunteers who came here plenty of them were absolutely undesirable. It seems to me that it would be necessary to investigate about the people who were in charge of this job.

Yours very truly and Comradely.

Andre

Best Records [regards] to Raissa.[iv]

Figure 2. Andre Marty to Earl Browder, September 18, 1938, RGASPI Fond 545, Opis 6, Delo 844, ll. 45.

Wargo was sent back to France on September 2, 1938.  He found passage as a work-away aboard the Washington and arrived back in the US on September 15, 1938. This ended his Spanish Civil War experience.[v]

Marty’s reference to “undesirable” volunteers likely alludes to four American volunteers who arrived in 1938 and were sent back for medical reasons in addition to Herman and Wargo.  Those referred to likely include:

Newcomb, Otmus Andrew. (Newcomb, Otmos A.;  Otis); b. January 1, 1901, Alluwee, Oklahoma; Full blooded Cherokee; father Thomas Newcomb (1855-?), mother Mary Julia Spurling Newcomb (1875-?); US Marine Corps 8 years; Driver and Caterpillar operator; No party affiliation; Arrived in Spain via Agullana on February 20, 1938; Declared “inutil para todo servicio” by the medical commission in Figueres on February 22, 1938; Returned to the US on April 1, 1938 aboard the Washington; WWII Merchant Marine; d. February 15, 1968, San Francisco, California, buried in Cypress Lawn Memorial Park, Colma, San Mateo County, California.

Sibling: sister Ollie M. Newcomb (Waller) (1893-?).

Sources: Figueres List; RGASPI Fond 545, Opis 6, Delo 31, ll. 58, Liste Des Camarades Renvoyesen France, Reformes Par Le T. M. M. under Newcomb, Otmos March 19 1938; Opis 6, Delo 953, ll. 56-; Find-a-Grave# 87665850; L-W Tree, Ancestry.  Code A

 

Hancock, Joseph. (Hancook); b. January 24, 1896, New York, New York [tentative]; 42 years old; Sailed January 12, 1938 aboard the Aquitania; Sent back for medical reasons March 25, 1938;  Returned to the US aboard the SS Black Gull was serving on the ship as add on crew, signing on in Le Havre, and was discharged in New York City.

Sources: Sail; RGASPI Fond 545, Opis 6, Delo 31, ll. 58, Liste Des Camarades Renvoyesen France, Reformes Par Le T. M. M.  under Hancook March 25, 1938; L-W Tree Ancestry.

 

Koff, Berl. (Bernard); 35 years old; Arrived in Spain via Massanet on March 6, 1938; Sent back from Figueres on March 22, 1938 due to medical evaluation noting swelling of the calves, probably as a result of a road accident; M. Economides noted “Enclosed a copy of report on KOFF Bernard also his passport.”

Sources: Figueres List; RGASPI Fond 545, Opis 2, Delo 103, ll. 121, M. Economids, IB Delegation, Anglo Amer. Sect. Figueras, [March] 14, 1938, to Service of Personnel AngloAmerican section Albacete, Additonal information on draft of 15th of March 1938; Opis 2, Delo 304, ll. 211 “Paris le 23 Mars 1938”; Opis 6, Delo 31, ll. 58, Liste Des Camarades Renvoyesen France, Reformes Par Le T. M. M.  under Koff, Bernard March 22, 1938.

 

Robertson, Charles A. b. September 17, 1903, Mansfield, Arkansas; Single; Passport authorized but not issued in Paris; Domicile 116 East Latimer Place, Tulsa, Oklahoma; Sailed February 11, 1938 aboard the Colman; Arrived in Spain via Massanet on March 4, 1938; Sent back to Paris on March 22, 1938 due to medical conditions listed as myopia and hernia; Returned to the US on July 7, 1938 aboard the Manhattan; WWII US Army, Captain

Sources: Sail; Scope of Soviet Activity; Figueres List; RGASPI Fond 545, Opis 2, Delo 304, ll. 211 “Paris le 23 Mars 1938”;  Opis 6, Delo 31, ll. 58, Liste Des Camarades Renvoyesen France, Reformes Par Le T. M. M. under Robertson, Charles March 22, 1938; L-W Tree, Ancestry.  Code A

 

Sherard, Harry. Sent back from Spain for medical reasons.

Sources: RGASPI Fond 545, Opis 6, Delo 31, ll. 58, Liste Des Camarades Renvoyesen France, Reformes Par Le T. M. M.  under Sherard, Harry undated.

A special thanks to Dr. Ray Hoff who shared the research on these volunteers.

Notes 

[i] RGASPI Fond 545, Opis 6, Delo 36, ll. 101; Opis 6, Delo 909, ll. 11. Email from Ray Hoff to Brooks. No sailing record found of his return to the US.

 

[ii] RGASPI Fond 545, Opis 6, Delo 1, ll. 85-88, undated report (likely December 1937) detailed the expense of recruiting and sending a volunteers to Spain as follows:

 

Passport, birth certificate, picture, fare tot County seat etc.               -$15.00

Average fare (West Coast, Middle West, New York)                        – 30.00

           (from the West Coast $60.00 to come to N. Y. by bus.)

Minimum maintenance until departure                                              –  5.00

Minimum clothing to appear as tourists                                             – 10.00

Maintenance in New York waiting for boat (usually 5 days)             – 10.00

On boat – – tips, small expenses, and until contacting the

                                                Paris office                                         –  6.00

Ticket                                                                                                  -100.00

                                                                                    Total               $176.00

 

[iii] Andre Marty to Central Committee CPUSA, September 8, 1938, RGASPI Fond 545, Opis 6, Delo 844, ll. 43.

 

[iv] Andre Marty to Earl Browder, September 18, 1938, RGASPI Fond 545, Opis 6, Delo 844, ll. 45. Raissa was Earl Browder’s Russian born wife.

 

[v] Ancestry L-W Tree. RGASPI Opis 6, Delo 844, ll. 43-47; Delo 1009, ll. 14-16;

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