Chapter 59

dingbat

I had one last official piece of business to attend to. I went back to Ohio for my formal leave of absence from the party. I was a hero again, a great hero with mass meetings and public receptions scheduled. I ducked them all, including the big ceremonial banquet given by the Hungarians in my honor—I couldn’t bear to be toasted in celebration of a non-existent victory while Hernández, Díaz, and the rest of my comrades were left fighting to the death.

I did agree, though, to address a meeting of the Cleveland Newspaper Guild. It was a cautious talk; I skirted the party line about Spain and parried questions about it. It wasn’t a good lecture—the newsmen sensed I was holding back but were sympathetic enough not to press me.

The next day, Paul Bellamy, editor and publisher of the Cleveland Plain Dealer, sent a message: would I come and see him? The party was excited about it. What a wonderful break for propaganda in the capitalist press!

Bellamy received me with cordial informality. He put me at ease quickly with a few remarks of sympathy for Loyalist Spain and then the interview began. It was off the record and by the time I finished answering him I saw the Spanish Civil War in a far clearer perspective than at any time in Spain. His questions organized my unassorted facts, my undefined thoughts and conclusions into a coherent whole and I answered him truthfully.

At the close of the interview Bellamy unexpectedly offered me a job on the foreign desk.

“But I am a Communist,” I gulped.

Bellamy didn’t mind that. He was gambling that I would continue to maintain the same objectivity I had manifested in our talk. My understanding of Communist aims might even be an asset in appraising the international situation which showed signs of boiling over at any moment.

My heart leaped at his answer. Here was an opportunity to do real journalistic work for a change, also financial security. This was still the depression and all I had between me and starvation was a few travelers checks, less than $200, all that was left of my life’s savings. Bellamy was waiting for my decision.

I took a deep breath, thanked him, and regretfully declined his offer. After refusing to work for the Daily Worker I couldn’t have taken a job on a capitalist newspaper, that would have been interpreted as a betrayal of the party.

Back at party headquarters the comrades were disappointed with my sketchy report. All I would say was that Bellamy personally showed sympathy with Spain. They wanted to know whether I could persuade Bellamy to lead a fight for the lifting of the arms embargo. I answered in the negative. I couldn’t tell them that my answer to Bellamy concerning the embargo was the same that I had given to Comrade Alpi, that it was too late for that, that the best way the U.S. Government could help the Spanish people at this stage would be by negotiating for an armistice with guarantees of no reprisals on either side.

John Williamson, Ohio District Organizer, recognizing I was deaf to all offers of party jobs, tried to bargain with me to stay on temporarily to reorganize party finances. He thought I could do a wonderful job at raising money; with my record in Spain and my wide circle of acquaintances I ought to be able to tap sources that had never contributed. As a start I ought to hit up Bellamy for a big contribution for Spanish aid. That really settled it. I told him I wasn’t well, I had to have time off to get back in shape. The final agreement was that although I was entitled to an official leave of absence, I still had to attend party meetings in order not to lose touch with the party but I was exempted from carrying out assignments—released on parole, so to speak.

I was free at last! “No more orders and regulations for me,” I kept repeating to myself as I boarded the bus to New York. It had taken ten years from the time I accepted that temporary assignment to the Uj Elore, but I was finally free.

It was a great letdown. I should have been elated but I wasn’t. I was free to do what? To go back to my old life? That was impossible. I couldn’t escape into the past—my blessed ignorance and indifference to politics was gone forever. My past associations, even my family ties were severed—we no longer lived in the same world or talked the same language.

I was free—or was I? What was freedom? I was casting myself off from the ship on which I had sailed for ten years to navigate alone on a solitary raft with no clear destination in mind. Was that freedom?

It didn’t seem so. A free man is supposed to be a happy one. Which I was definitely not!

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Chapter 58

dingbat

The editorial offices of the Daily Worker were much much neater, cleaner, and better equipped than when I had last seen them nearly two years before. The comrades also were better dressed, their shirts were clean, their collars were not frayed, they all wore ties and most of them were shaved. The party and the paper had evidently prospered. They gave me a good reception. I was still a hero, albeit a smaller one—having had a hand in the making of many a proletarian hero those
comrades had a better perspective.

The Daily Worker wanted to put me to work right away—they were trying to build up the circulation of the Sunday Worker and claimed I was just the right man for it. I was to take over the editorship of the Sunday Worker Supplement and turn it into a popular literary magazine written in a nonparty style that every worker and housewife could understand. Such a magazine circulated by the party throughout the country in hundreds of thousands, even millions of copies, would have a tremendous impact and influence on the people. It was an alluring project yet I refused, as I did the alternative offers to join the New York staff of the Daily Worker, or to revive the Daily Worker Ohio Bureau again. I told them I had a year of absence coming and intended to take it.

My reception at the Central Committee was also good. Here I was no hero, only a leading comrade returning successfully from an assignment.

Joe Peters, in charge of the organizational department of the Central Committee (the head of the Party’s spy apparatus as I learned later from Whittaker Chambers’ testimony), had grown a potbelly since I last saw him. Although politically we had been on opposite sides in the Hungarian factional struggle there was no enmity between us. After I insisted I was definitely not going back to the Daily Worker, Peters offered me a number of positions in the party apparatus, to send me to any place in the country I wished on special assignments. I declined those offers, too, agreeing only that I’d see him after my leave of absence.

When finally I had myself announced to Alpi, known as Comrade Fred Brown, he came flying out of his office. A Latin, he embraced me, a long-lost brother back from the war. He felt my arms, checked me all over, asked me, his eyes sparkling, how his special assignment had worked out? He was happy when I grinned and told him I did manage to get around. He asked me to wait until he could get rid of a few of his appointments, then he would close shop and we’d go to some small Italian place where we could talk without interruption. Minor and Gates had already made their reports to the Central Committee, he was now most eager to hear my account to get a real perspective.

The small bodega in the Village was quiet and restful, the paisan left us discreetly alone after our meal, silently replacing the empty bottles with fresh red vino from time to time. As my story unfolded Alpi grew more and more downcast and depressed, and only when he heard me conclude that the Fascist victory was a matter of a few months at the most, did he rouse himself to argue against it.

He told me that my account was entirely contrary to the reports given by Gates and Minor whose unanimous conclusions were that Loyalist Spain was absolutely determined to fight to the death and if the party concentrated all its efforts on lifting the arms embargo in the U.S., the victory of the Loyalists was certain. He was in agreement with them.

My reaction was bitter. Minor was a senile idiot, Johnny Gates an overambitious careerist hell-bent to make his way into top party leadership by whatever means. Alpi was a military man, I reminded him, let’s forget politics, let’s forget the Comintern thesis on the Spanish situation, let’s hold in abeyance the analyses of the Soviet military experts, what the hell else would they say except to confirm the party line. Let’s look at facts as I had found them. I ticked them off, one by one, many in the form of questions.

What good are planes, howitzers, even battleships and destroyers, without trained personnel to man them?

How long does it take to train artillerymen? How long does it take to train enough pilots, navigators, ground crews, artillery officers out of men who, no matter how determined and brave, often lack primary, not to mention secondary schooling? Those were the youth we had on our side in Spain—the Fascists had most of the educated ones.

Who would man those arms and weapons even if they were to reach Spain in time, read the instruments, figure the artillery tables, when one of the greatest weaknesses of the Loyalist Army was the lack of soldiers sufficiently literate to be developed into
competent noncommissioned officers, without whom no modern army can function efficiently?

I told him about a recent shipment of brand-new heavy machine guns I had heard about, stored away in the military warehouses in Barcelona, lying there unused because it takes men with good training to operate heavy machine guns and Loyalist Spain did not have even a fraction of those.

Alpi listened in silence, his head bowed over the table, his fingers playing with the crumbs from the breadsticks on the red-checkered tablecloth, maneuvering them as if an army.

“Take the Loyalist Army!” The Spanish were brave and self-sacrificing, excellent troops where they had good leadership in the field, but essentially they were soldiers of mood. They would rush enthusiastically into fire when pepped up with calls to their courage and loyalty—they would break just as fast when met with unexpected resistance. Furthermore, the withdrawal of the Internationals had broken their spirit. They felt we had abandoned them because their ship was sinking, leaving them to drown. I quoted him what some of the bravest and the best of their officers and men had told me after we officially withdrew from the brigade. I also told him about the general attitude of the nonparty Spanish populace, nationalists, trade unionists, so cialists, anarchists whom I had met in person.

Next, the Spanish Party itself was guilty of a grave error in policy. True, it had gained an immense following but still not sufficient to sway the majority. Because of the soft-pedalling of its revolutionary aims, its failure to call for the expropriation of the capitalists and the distribution of land its own followers were getting dissatisfied, while the nonparty majority was beginning to resent more and more the party’s ruthless drive for absolute control.

That was the picture. The Loyalist government could not possibly resist for long. At this stage it wasn’t arms alone that Loyalist Spain needed for its survival, but also armed assistance: trained French Divisions under French military commanders, and since the French could definitely not be counted upon to intervene, a hundred thousand or more Red Army trained Soviet volunteers transported by sea like Mussolini’s Fascist Legions, experienced flyers and technicians like those flown in by Hitler.

Alpi’s response was low. “You know that is impossible, that would involve the Soviet Union in war.”

I wasn’t ready to concede that fully. However, I told Alpi there was one thing the party and the Soviet Union could safely do—come out for some sort of negotiated settlement between the Loyalists and Franco, along the lines the British had
recently proposed. Make a world-wide drive for armistice, amnesty, and plebiscite, enlisting the support of all democratic nations for international guarantees of no reprisals by either side. That was the only way left to save the millions in Loyalist territory from the savage, bloody reprisals openly threatened by Franco.

Alpi was dejected. My report was contrary to all reports from the Comintern, contrary to the party line, to the policy of the Soviet Union, he murmured.

“Let me write a detailed report, a true and factual one,” I pleaded. “I could get that out in a few days. You submit that to the Central Committee and cable it directly to the Comintern. We must save what we can of Loyalist Spain, the least we will accomplish is staving off a massacre. The civilized world will support us in that drive.”

Alpi was in anguish.

“You know, Voros, that’s impossible, you know I can’t do that. You know the Comintern line is the line of Moscow. You know I can’t go against that.”

His usually deep, resonant voice was now a low whisper, I detected a tremble in it. He wasn’t talking to me, he was talking to himself.

We rose without a further word. This was Alpi, the one—time fearless leader of the armed Italian revolutionary bands, the most sincere man among all the top leaders of the various Communist Parties I had come across. He understood the Spanish situation, my report merely confirmed what he had surmised was the truth. He was appalled by the savage reprisals that awaited the Spanish people, yet—even he wouldn’t dare act contrary to the party line, tragically wrong as he knew it to be.

As we shook hands, he asked me what I wanted to do, he would find the kind of a party position best suited to my inclinations. I said I would call on him as soon as I was ready but I knew that would be never.

I walked the streets of New York all the rest of that day, more depressed than I had ever felt in my life, cursing the party and the party leadership from Stalin down to Alpi. They were all a bunch of bastards, stooges every one of them. I cursed and swore they would never again trick me into accepting any party function, they would never again maneuver me into a position where I could not say what I thought, where I would have to subordinate my principles to a line handed down from above. Had I been more coherent, I could have expressed it succinctly:

“No more thought control for me!”

Why didn’t I quit the party then?

That’s just exactly what I thought of doing. As I passed the headquarters of the New York Newspaper Guild I felt like going up to the club, stepping up to the bar, ordering up a drink for everyone and then offering the toast:

“Here is to Stalin, and the Communists, may they all burn in hell!” and then tearing up my party card.

It was a most gratifying emotional outburst and I kept relishing that picture in my mind, until reason took over. What was I trying to do, play into the hands of the Fascists?

Fascism was marching Victoriously toward world domination, its confidence in victory growing with every new appeasement. The Fascists were the Herrenvolk, openly proclaiming themselves the Master Race predestined to rule with blood and iron over the enslaved masses. The democracies were burrowing in cowardly fashion every man deeper in his own tent awaiting the very great slaughter. The only hope of standing up against Fascism lay in the Soviet Union, the only country that could be counted upon not to appease Hitler. Much as I hated Stalin my place was still on his side; much as the ideals of Communism were violated in actual practice in the Soviet Union and by the Communist Parties everywhere, they still paid at least lip service to them, holding out the hope for a better and more just society.

Yet I found no comfort in my reasoning. As I paced street after street in a greatly depressed state some lines by a revolutionary poet suddenly came to my mind. I did not recall his name, nor the actual wording, only the content of what he said.

“We, Communists, are condemned men. We live in a prison, whether in or out.”

That poet meant the prison of capitalism. But I knew better, Communism was a prison, too. Since I couldn’t choose to live in the prison of Fascism, all I had left was the prison of Communism. What the hell choice was that?

Condemned men have no choice. And I was one of them.

Chapter 57

dingbat

While the Americans rejoiced, the volunteers of many other nationalities faced the prospect of withdrawal from Spain with grave concern.

The Americans had nothing to fear from returning to their homeland. The only charge that could be raised against them was violation of a passport regulation, at worst a minor offense, and the wide anti-Fascist, pro-Loyalist sentiment in the U.S.A. made prosecution for it extremely doubtful.

However, the Germans, Italians, Yugoslavs, Hungarians, Greeks, Bulgarians, Austrians, Poles, etc.—many of them with a blood price on their heads—could not possibly return to their own Fascist or semi-Fascist countries without facing long—term imprisonment, torture, and even death. Many of those exiles had had hopes of settling in Spain after the war, of finding a haven
there after existing for years like hunted animals, hiding out with forged passports only one step ahead of the police, imprisoned for false entry time after time, and shunted from one unwelcoming country to another. Men without a country, the crippled among them even dreamed of a modest government pension, of living out their lives in their newly adopted country as honored citizens.

These dreams were now shattered. By the terms of Negrin’s unconditional withdrawal no volunteer was permitted to remain on Spanish soil even if he wished to stay and become a Spanish citizen. That left these volunteers with but one country to go to—the Soviet Union. I considered that a cheerful alternative, this was the preferred choice of most of them anyway.

“They have fought the Fascists, the foes of mankind; now they will have a chance to help build Socialism in the only socialist country in the world—the fulfillment of the Communist dream! History is working out well for them, the only reward worthy of aspiration.” I wrote a warm farewell to them in an editorial for the Volunteer for Liberty, congratulating these
Internationals on their good luck in going to the Soviet Union.

My first intimation that there was something wrong with that concept came when I was unexpectedly summoned by Marty. Waving the proofs of that editorial with its Spanish translation in my face he began to scream: Who gave me the right to formulate policy for the Soviet Union? He tore those proofs to bits and ordered me out of his sight, raving that although he knew all Americans were arrogant and stupid, yet he hadn’t expected to encounter such colossal political idiocy in a leading comrade.

I left in a daze. I did not have the faintest idea what was wrong. Basically that editorial was nothing more than a friendly, run of the mill expression of solidarity with the Soviet Union and the international working class, such as any Communist editor would write year in and out, by the ream.

The next day I found a note on my desk addressed to all editors announcing the new official line we were to follow, i.e., the volunteers who were the finest and most experienced anti-Fascist comrades in the world were badly needed in the democratic countries to lead the fight there against Fascism; hence that is where all of them must go.

I must indeed have been a political idiot as Marty had charged because I didn’t catch on even then. In fact, I approved of that new line and thought it logical until a German colleague enlightened me. He was witheringly sarcastic, deriding me as a self-righteous, insensitive, smug American and finally turned on on me furiously.

“Don’t you see what this line actually means?”

I didn’t, even though I tried hard. That line sounded solid to me.

“It means the Soviet Union has shut her doors in our face, you fool!” he almost hissed in hate. His long-practiced party-leader mask was gone, his face was writhing with emotion.

“We have no place to go, can’t yet understand that! Which country would permit us, seven—probe Communists, to enter her gates? Would you expect the capitalists to invite us in and say, ‘please cut our throats and ring the death knell of capitalism over our tomb!’ We are the battle-tested, battle-scarred Communists who have fought to the death at the call of the Comintern, and now the Soviet Union is refusing us asylum. We’re doomed, doomed by the Soviet Union, we may even end up by being handed over to Hitler!”

He turned away from me, his face buried in his hands. Up until then I knew him only as one of those close-mouthed, secretive Germans who rebuff all attempts at friendship and intimacy, careful not to show any emotion. Now that hard-bitten revolutionary actually sobbed. The enormity of that revelation affected me greatly. I found there was nothing I could do or say; I tiptoed out of his office. I did not know then how prophetic his words were—that many of them would indeed be handed over to Hitler by Stalin after the Nazi-Soviet Pact in 1939 to celebrate that love feast. . . .

When we crossed into France the men went wild over the sight of real milk and white bread with which we were greeted at the French railroad station. At Le Havre we were held up nearly a week because of a strike by the French seamen. Although we were confined to the grounds I managed to slip out and mingle with the population.

When we finally sailed from France we made strange passengers. Even though we had been deloused, most of us out of sheer habit were still scratching our armpits, rectums, and genitals in full view of the other passengers who, alarmed, understandably would have no traffic with us. Few if any of the
volunteers were aware of this rebuff. They, too, preferred to keep their distance, contemptuous as they were of those “lousy capitalists.”

Chapter 56

dingbat

While the Americans rejoiced, the volunteers of many other nationalities faced the prospect of withdrawal from Spain with grave concern.

The Americans had nothing to fear from returning to their homeland. The only charge that could be raised against them was violation of a passport regulation, at worst a minor offense, and the wide anti-Fascist, pro-Loyalist sentiment in the U.S.A. made prosecution for it extremely doubtful.

However, the Germans, Italians, Yugoslavs, Hungarians, Greeks, Bulgarians, Austrians, Poles, etc.—many of them with a blood price on their heads—could not possibly return to their own Fascist or semi-Fascist countries without facing long—term imprisonment, torture, and even death. Many of those exiles had had hopes of settling in Spain after the war, of finding a haven
there after existing for years like hunted animals, hiding out with forged passports only one step ahead of the police, imprisoned for false entry time after time, and shunted from one unwelcoming country to another. Men without a country, the crippled among them even dreamed of a modest government pension, of living out their lives in their newly adopted country as honored citizens.

These dreams were now shattered. By the terms of Negrin’s unconditional withdrawal no volunteer was permitted to remain on Spanish soil even if he wished to stay and become a Spanish citizen. That left these volunteers with but one country to go to—the Soviet Union. I considered that a cheerful alternative, this was the preferred choice of most of them anyway.

“They have fought the Fascists, the foes of mankind; now they will have a chance to help build Socialism in the only socialist country in the world—the fulfillment of the Communist dream! History is working out well for them, the only reward worthy of aspiration.” I wrote a warm farewell to them in an editorial for the Volunteer for Liberty, congratulating these
Internationals on their good luck in going to the Soviet Union.

My first intimation that there was something wrong with that concept came when I was unexpectedly summoned by Marty. Waving the proofs of that editorial with its Spanish translation in my face he began to scream: Who gave me the right to formulate policy for the Soviet Union? He tore those proofs to bits and ordered me out of his sight, raving that although he knew all Americans were arrogant and stupid, yet he hadn’t expected to encounter such colossal political idiocy in a leading comrade.

I left in a daze. I did not have the faintest idea what was wrong. Basically that editorial was nothing more than a friendly, run of the mill expression of solidarity with the Soviet Union and the international working class, such as any Communist editor would write year in and out, by the ream.

The next day I found a note on my desk addressed to all editors announcing the new official line we were to follow, i.e., the volunteers who were the finest and most experienced anti-Fascist comrades in the world were badly needed in the democratic countries to lead the fight there against Fascism; hence that is where all of them must go.

I must indeed have been a political idiot as Marty had charged because I didn’t catch on even then. In fact, I approved of that new line and thought it logical until a German colleague enlightened me. He was witheringly sarcastic, deriding me as a self-righteous, insensitive, smug American and finally turned on on me furiously.

“Don’t you see what this line actually means?”

I didn’t, even though I tried hard. That line sounded solid to me.

“It means the Soviet Union has shut her doors in our face, you fool!” he almost hissed in hate. His long-practiced party-leader mask was gone, his face was writhing with emotion.

“We have no place to go, can’t yet understand that! Which country would permit us, seven—probe Communists, to enter her gates? Would you expect the capitalists to invite us in and say, ‘please cut our throats and ring the death knell of capitalism over our tomb!’ We are the battle-tested, battle-scarred Communists who have fought to the death at the call of the Comintern, and now the Soviet Union is refusing us asylum. We’re doomed, doomed by the Soviet Union, we may even end up by being handed over to Hitler!”

He turned away from me, his face buried in his hands. Up until then I knew him only as one of those close-mouthed, secretive Germans who rebuff all attempts at friendship and intimacy, careful not to show any emotion. Now that hard-bitten revolutionary actually sobbed. The enormity of that revelation affected me greatly. I found there was nothing I could do or say; I tiptoed out of his office. I did not know then how prophetic his words were—that many of them would indeed be handed over to Hitler by Stalin after the Nazi-Soviet Pact in 1939 to celebrate that love feast. . . .

When we crossed into France the men went wild over the sight of real milk and white bread with which we were greeted at the French railroad station. At Le Havre we were held up nearly a week because of a strike by the French seamen. Although we were confined to the grounds I managed to slip out and mingle with the population.

When we finally sailed from France we made strange passengers. Even though we had been deloused, most of us out of sheer habit were still scratching our armpits, rectums, and genitals in full view of the other passengers who, alarmed, understandably would have no traffic with us. Few if any of the
volunteers were aware of this rebuff. They, too, preferred to keep their distance, contemptuous as they were of those “lousy capitalists.”

Chapter 55

dingbat

The bright hopes raised by our successful offensive in recrossing the Ebro did not last long. The Spanish Loyalist Government lacked arms, supplies, trained manpower to exploit our initial success, and our advance soon bogged down. That offensive bled the Internationals white; we no longer had any manpower left to supply even the steel frame which kept our brigades together. Our usefulness as shock troops for the Loyalist Army was irrevocably past.

Recognizing this practical state of affairs Prime Minister Juan Negrin resorted to a master stroke. He publicly declared before the Cortez on September 21, 1938, that all Internationals on the Loyalist side would be withdrawn from the front at once and sent out of Spain as rapidly as arrangements could be made with other countries to admit them. In turn he asked that the Non-Intervention Committee compel Franco also to withdraw the Italian and Nazi troops fighting on his side—to let Spain decide her own fate without the aid of foreign interventionists.

It was a noble gesture although a rather feeble one and the Fascists knew it. By that time the number of all internationals in Loyalist Spain was way under 8,000. Of the over-all number of 50,000 Internationals who had gone to Spain, two out of every three or about 35,000 of them had been killed in battle or succumbed to their wounds later.

Hitler and Mussolini cynically responded by announcing they too, would withdraw their forces, but man for man—one Fascist for each International, or a total of 8,000 out of their 200,000 foreign Fascist troops.

Shortly afterward I was summoned to Barcelona by Inspector General Luigi Gallo, Marty’s deputy (at this writing the head of the Communist version of Hitler’s storm troopers in Italy), to take over the editorship of the final issues of the Volunteer for Liberty. I objected to that assignment and proposed someone else in my place; I had had my fill of Party propaganda.

I was overruled. As it transpired the editorship of the Volunteer for Liberty was to be only an incidental part of my duties. I was wanted mainly to help complete the historical record of the International Brigades, that old assignment I had forgotten.

In the ensuing weeks, from the time of my transfer to Barcelona until the XV Brigade was formally disbanded, I only visited the Brigade twice, both times by official invitation; the first one proved highly distasteful, the second most depressing.

The first visit was at the urgent request of John Gates, transmitted by courier, but giving no reason for it. Although puzzled, I welcomed the excuse to get away from under the despotic eyes of Marty in Barcelona if even for a day or two.

When I entered headquarters I found Gates, that once modest and indifferently dressed young comrade whom I knew to be a nonsmoker now sporting a fancy tailored uniform, topped off with the highest officer’s cap ever displayed in Spain. He was puffing on a fat, expensive imported cigar, sprawled back with his feet on his desk. When he saw me enter he swaggered over and instead of instead of shaking hands he started to roar at me that I was in trouble, that I didn’t know him well if I thought he would let me get away with it, that he’d have me court-martialed and so on. I was stunned; I had not the least idea what he was talking about until he finally bellowed at me, he wanted me. to hand back at once the funds that belonged to the Commissariat,
did I actually think he would let me get away with it?

I still did not comprehend it. That money had been deposited with the brigade’s financial officer for safekeeping, all except an the small petty cash that was handled by my clerk, José Civéra, an honest and trustworthy Spanish comrade. I had made a note of all that and given it to Dave Gordon to turn over to Gates because I had to hurry to catch my transport for Barcelona; Gordon knew that I had deposited that money. I told that to
Gates but he was unbelieving.

We called in Dave Gordon. At first he disclaimed knowing anything about it, but after I hammered away at him he admitted I might have told him about the deposit and he might have forgotten to mention it to Gates but flatly denied having received that note. I recognized Dave Gordon’s fine knife technique in that; he was going back to Ohio with a rather questionable record and had hoped to pull me down with him.

The brigade finance office was far away, it took more than two hours to locate the finance officer. I had never felt such acute distress even in the tightest situation in the field. I was in a perfect spot for a frame; in the Party the accusation of embezzlement is the first step to political liquidation, in Spain to physical liquidation as well.

The finance officer acknowledged having that money on deposit with him, every centavo of it. It was a considerable sum, as I recollect it, most of it the accumulation of the pay of those killed in battle whom the commissars would not report dead so their pay could be collected to swell the party’s political fund, thus defrauding the Loyalist Government.

That put Gates in an embarrassing situation. At one time he might have apologized for such unwarranted behavior toward an old comrade but now he was Brigade Commissar; a party leader is infallible, he can’t admit to mistakes. He tried to justify his attitude by blustering that I should have asked him for authorization before depositing the political funds with the military where it might be sequestered. I retorted since I was responsible for that money it was natural for me not to want to risk losing it by carrying it with me into battle.

On my way back to Barcelona I wondered why a rise in rank should so greatly change a Communist for the worse, turn even that once-modest young man into a swaggering autocrat? I attributed it to character deficiency in Gates and to his overwhelming vanity which I myself had helped to nourish by writing a few flattering articles about him. I wasn’t astute enough to realize that the major part of the blame rested with the totalitarian structure of the party. In a democracy the exercise of power is circumscribed and limited by law. In totalitarian societies, the leaders are the law and therefore their power is absolute. Of course they too share the risk of running afoul of someone higher up whose power over them in turn is again absolute—retroactively so, as many Soviet leaders have found out to their sorrow when it was their turn to be purged. . . .

The last time I was officially invited to return was to participate in the formal withdrawal of the Internationals from the Brigade. It was a weird farewell. The ceremonial speeches, the exchange of formal assurances and regrets between the departing Internationals and the remaining Spaniards could not mask the deep emotional chasm—the Internationals were jubilant, they were going home to the safety and enjoyment of civilian life; the Spaniards were despondent, they were left to face death by themselves.

After the official ceremony was over I found myself surrounded by a sea of Spanish comrades. We exchanged handshakes and embraces, some of them wept openly. I like to believe that I am not easily moved yet my eyes watered and my voice was husky. Captain Díaz, the Nationalist, looked deep into my eyes.

“Deserting the sinking ship, eh, Voros?” He said it in a soft voice, so low that no one around could hear him.

“This is the Communist fulfillment, ¿Verdad?

I could not answer in words, merely put my arm around him. I felt lower than a ship’s rat. Captain Díaz and I would often argue Communism in private but I had not been able to convert him.

Now I knew why!

Chapter 54

dingbat

The fascist Aragon offensive was the curtain raiser to World War II, but the democracies wouldn’t believe that. Hitler supplied the blitz strategy and the Nazi planes, pilots, tanks, artillery, technicians that went with it; Mussolini contributed his Italian legions, more than 200,000 men, and a profusion of war material.

The God-fearing, Bible-reading democracies did not learn from the Scriptures. Instead of rushing to the aid of the rightfully constituted Loyalist government they fled every man into his tent and clamped an arms embargo on Spain preventing her from obtaining arms with which to defend herself, While closing their eyes to Hitler’s and Mussolini’s open support of Franco. British Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain, a pious manufacturer from Manchester, was trying to buy peace through a covenant with Hitler, refusing to recognize in him Nahash the Ammonite who like Hitler in his Mein Kampf spoke plainly in Samuel I: “On this condition will I make a covenant with you, that I may thrust out all your right eyes . . .”

Vincent Sheean, the famous liberal news correspondent, had a blind trust in President Franklin Delano Roosevelt. Driving down from Barcelona together with Lady Diana, he managed to contact us at the most critical phase of our retreat. Appalled by what he saw, that all we had were a few rifles, machine guns, and hand grenades with which to resist the mechanized Fascist troops, he reached for a pad and wrote out a passionate plea to his personal friend, President Roosevelt, asking me to cable it to the White House. It was way past midnight then, we were in a small crowded hut which was feebly lit, like the catacombs of old, by a single spluttering wick floating in a saucerful of olive oil. Sheean stood with head bowed as in prayer with Lady Diana proudly erect at his side; the rising and falling shadows in that cramped adobe hut heightened the effect of that moving scene. The drama of history touched us all and I did manage to find a way, against all odds, to send that cable out that same night.

F.D.R., the humanitarian and great liberal, read that cable and his left eye turned moist with tears over the agony of the Spanish people. President Roosevelt, the politician, scanned that cable with his right eye which stayed dry, being fixed on the strong Catholic bloc clamoring for all-out support of Fascist Franco and his Moors, those infidel defenders of the true Catholic faith. The provisions of the arms embargo were not lifted, they were tightened instead.

While the democracies, each man in his tent, awaited the very great slaughter, the Soviet Union acted, but in a most peculiar manner. The Great Red Father in the Kremlin, unlike Teddy Roosevelt, believed in talking loud yet he carried only a little stick—and all he sent us was slivers of it, one sliver at a time.

The matériel sent to Spain by the Soviet Union was fed to us in driblets, just enough to prolong the fighting but not enough to assure victory.

The Soviet fighting planes, the “Mosquitoes,” were superior to anything the Fascists had, their Russian pilots were good and brave. But the Kremlin sent very few, and those only when Loyalist defeat seemed imminent. A hundred or so Soviet fighter planes sent in time might have wrested air superiority from the Fascists and defeated their Aragon offensive. They were not sent.

The Soviet tanks we received were so insignificant in number that the Russians in command of them were fearful to risk them in battle. Far from stiffening our resistance these Steel monsters would turn tail just when we needed their support the most, leaving the defenders demoralized.

The Soviet rifle was a light and accurate weapon although its steel bolt was not sufficiently tempered; in rapid firing it had a tendency to jam because of heat expansion. The Soviet artillery we received consisted mainly of 75-mm. fieldpieces, at least I did not encounter any larger-caliber Soviet make guns on any front. Those 75-mms. were hard hitting, sturdy, quick firing, and easy to bring into action. But the Russians sent few of them, pitifully few.

Although most of us in the Brigade sensed the true situation, we would not admit it even to ourselves. Materialists as we all professed to be, at heart we were still romantic idealists who believed in the strife between Good and Evil as the eternal order of the universe; that by natural law Good is bound to win out over Evil for that was the evolutionary direction of mankind.

We just couldn’t believe, and I was one who felt that way, that the democracies would actually abandon Loyalist Spain to the Fascists. I had firm faith that the reactionaries, Chamberlain and Sumner Welles, the socialist Blum, and the liberal Roosevelt would eventually awaken to the danger confronting the world from Fascism and act in time to forestall catastrophe. Blinded by our own propaganda I did not know then that it was the “reactionary” Sumner Welles who wanted to lift the embargo and it was the liberal F.D.R. who allowed it to stay clamped down.

Life in the Brigade following the Aragon disaster was comparatively uneventful and left no outstanding impressions in my memory. Only a few hundred of our men, out of seven thousand, escaped from that debacle—to my infinite relief Captain Hernández was among them. Some escaped by swimming the Ebro, Johnny Gates was one. Sam Goldman, the Cleveland attorney and my former roommate, came to a different decision. After marching day and night to elude the pursuing Fascists he suddenly sat down on the road, telling his two pleading comrades to go on without him, he was through running. He took off his boots, spread his remaining few clips of bullets in from of him, and set about cleaning his rifle. His last stand was to be made right there; he was ready to go down but not without taking a few Fascists with him. I lived in hopes for weeks before I accepted that fatal news as final.

In the reorganization of the Brigade, John Gates, the ranking Y.C.L. leader after Doran’s death, became Brigade Commissar. He was intelligent, energetic, and capable. I liked Johnny Gates, particularly his modest behavior in contrast with Doran’s personal exultation in the power that went with his position.

Gates was about twenty-four years old then. He was born to poverty in New York and lived in semistarvation as a Y.C.L. organizer in Akron before he left for Spain. Where most Americans in Spain became debilitated from the monotonous diet of chick-peas cooked in plain water and rancid olive oil; where most Americans became nauseated even by the sight and smell of it, Johnny Gates would put away huge portions of it with gusto. Nearly all of us lost weight in Spain, victims to vitamin deficiencies. I went down from 175 pounds to 129, my skin broke out and oozed pus from innumerable boils, my knee joints were creaky and dry, my night vision became poor. But Gates’s once skinny frame filled out from the garbanzos and took on blood and muscle. I had asked him about that on the Cordoba front as I watched him gobble up a large bowl of those foul smelling chick-peas (of which I could hardly get down a few spoonfuls), then go back for another helping, and still a third. Gates smiled sheepishly.

“I’ll tell you, comrade, I have been so hungry all my life, I am happy that here I can eat all I want. I just love garbanzos.”

The Brigade also received a new commander. Lieutenant Colonel Copic had been recalled to Moscow and he left with trepidation, not knowing what awaited him, fame or a bullet in the back of his head in some G.P.U. prison. The new Brigade Commander was an Asturian, a capable man of around thirty-two who had suffered a long term of imprisonment for his leading role in the revolt of the Asturian miners in 1934, Major José Antonio Vallador. In our counteroffensive across the Ebro River he soon proved worthy of our respect.

During that period of rest and reorganization the Brigade became Mecca to American and English visitors bringing anti-Fascist greetings and reassurances from home: “Carry on the magnificent fight, comrades, the people of the world are behind you.” I shunned contact with the visitors as much as I could, by that time I’d had my fill of that self-deceiving propaganda. I particularly avoided meeting newspapermen, some of whom like Matthews, Sifton Delmar, Vincent Sheean I held in great respect. I didn’t want to give them a chance to draw out of me the inside story back of those glowing accounts glorifying the leadership of the I.B. It also pained me as a Communist and as a former Guild member to watch the degrading behavior of our Daily Worker correspondents, first Joe North, later Edwin Rolfe, how they fawned on the representatives of the “capitalist press,” currying their favor; the way they pleaded obsequiously with their every gesture, every act: please accept us as legitimate newspapermen, pretend to believe that the Daily Worker is a regular newspaper, not just a Communist propaganda sheet. They reminded me of whores at a block party—they had just as much right to be there as anybody else—after all, it was their own block giving the party—trying to erase the stamp WHORE by rubbing up to the respectable housewives.

I spent most of my free time in what was officially called “cementing our ties with the Spanish population.” I found the Spanish most simpático, I delighted in their unspoiled simplicity, in their human dignity, and admired the fortitude with which they bore their wretched existence. Once, while leading a delegations from the Brigade to the U.G.T (Union General de Trabajadores) in Barcelona to invite them to our May 1st celebration, it suddenly occurred to me that we had hundreds of recruits belonging to the C.N.T., the Anarchist Syndicalist Union, who had rather the worst of it in that Communist brigade, and I decided to invite some anarchist leaders also. In scanning the list of Anarchist organizations I came across the name Mujeres Libres (“Free Women”), which sent the blood coursing through my veins.

Visions of Emma Goldman, the uninhibited behavior of the girls I had known in Greenwich Village, the easy promiscuity of the female comrades in the Party in New York dashed through my mind; inviting Anarchists was surely a brilliant idea. These women were actually Anarchists and openly called themselves free. God, what a May 1st celebration that would make for the Brigade if I could induce them to come.

I located their office. The Mujeres Libre: had an entire floor to themselves. This is a big organization, this is indeed marvelous, I exulted, and forgot all about my creaky knee joints and enlarged heart as I went bounding up those high Spanish steps. The girls in the office were young and pretty, the General Secretary of the organization was petite and beautiful. Her straight jet-black hair was combed severely back, emphasizing her enchanting classical features, her deep brown eyes shone like liquid pools, her olive skin was tantalizingly smooth. She received me with grave dignity and with evident reserve. She couldn’t see how they could accept that invitation—in her experience the Internationals were mostly Communists and definitely hostile to the Anarchists. To break down that prejudice I first told her about my own personal interest in learning about Anarchism, then explained that American Communists were altogether different from other Communists; that it was in the American tradition to like Free Woman as well as, if not more than, all other kinds combined; and finally guaranteed that all volunteers in the brigade, regardless of receive them with open arms in a true united front spirit.

She was twenty-six, unmarried, and lived alone in her apartment. To make sure of their participation in that May Day celebration I intended to work on the Secretary General further that evening and invited her for dinner. At first she refused, claiming she had to go home to clean up her apartment and attend an important meeting that night. Her ultimate decision to skip both the meeting and the housecleaning was a political one. I was so eager to learn about Anarchism at first hand that I appeared a likely convert—if given sufficient personal attention. I did learn many facts about Anarchism, the Anarchist movement in Spain, and about the plight of the Spanish women in particular, first over dinner, later sitting on a park bench in the Rambla. I suggested I could learn easier when not distracted by people parading up and down in front of us, say in her apartment, or in my room in the hotel, but the night was balmy and she enjoyed gazing at the stars. The stars were beautiful indeed although that was no time for such foolishness.

At last, to my delight, she sighed and said it was time we went home and we walked arm in arm blissfully for a good hour until we reached her apartment. At the door she pulled free, gave me the Anarchist salute, then bade me good-night. I pleaded earnestly there were still some points about Anarchists I wanted clarified; she countered gravely I had learned enough for one night, more than any extranjero. I couldn’t very well dispute that, yet I did fervently but it was of no avail; she gave me no chance to learn the one fact about Anarchist women which to me seemed of the utmost urgency at the moment. Edifying as that evening was from the political point of view it still fell vexingly short of my expectations.

The Mujeres Libres kept their word. A busload of them, young and gloriously beautiful to our starved eyes, came to visit us that May Day and there was great rejoicing.

Those Anarchist girls were the friendliest lot, but it soon transpired all they were interested in was talking politics. Only Captain Hernández, alone in the entire brigade, managed to get one of them to go for a stroll to a far-off olive grove to continue their discussion there. His success was due to the fact that he was comparatively apolitical and as such he had discovered that his girl was also nonpolitical, that she was not a member of the Mujeres Libra, only her sister was; that she had come along for the ride and not to make converts.

This concludes the chronicle of my lamentable failure “to cement” over and above the call of duty “our relationship” with the Spanish civilians. Those Anarchist women, although far more provoking in appearance, were no more interested in sex than their politically minded sisters here in America in the League of Women Voters.

If that’s damning with faint praise, I stand mute.

Chapter 53

dingbat

When sleep doesn’t come some people count sheep, others resort to sleeping pills. I have an inexhaustible supply of the latter, I brought them back from Spain. I possess a large variety of them but I don’t take them orally—they float into my consciousness on their own volition. Here are a few samples:

Tranquilizers—Take One to Four

After a spell of bad weather the sun is out; it reflects blindingly from the snow. I am on a mountaintop, exulting in the warmth. I spread my poncho on the snow and start undressing slowly, peeling off layer after layer of clothes that haven’t been off my body in weeks. Finally I stand stark naked amid all that snow soaking up the sun, methodically searching the seams for lice and snapping those ugly gray bodies, sluggish with my blood, between my thumbnails. It’s wonderful to be alive. The supply of lice is limitless and as I crack them endlessly one after the other, I gradually fall asleep.


We are resting between actions, slowly recovering from the crippling blows. New reinforcements have come in, mostly Spanish and Catalan. We are camping in the open in a valley under the beautiful Spanish night sky. The new recruits are apprehensive and homesick, they converse in whispers. I call Julio over and ask him to sing. He is one of those Spanish volunteers in whose development we take great pride. He is a village cobbler, father of four children, an analfabete before he volunteered. He learned to read and write in the brigade—the result of our campaign to wipe out the high degree of illiteracy among our Spaniards. He has a beautiful lyric tenor voice and great nobility of bearing—born in the United States or in Italy he would have become a famous opera singer. As his gold-spun voice rises in song after song, the Spaniards draw closer and closer; it takes them back home to their beloved; some are silently crying. I am also caught in the mood but this is not what I have originally intended. I whisper to Julio: “Era una noche . . .” I have heard him sing that one before, it starts out as melancholy as only a Spanish folksong could, but the ending is explosive. Julio winks and begins.

It was one of those beautiful nights
In the balmy Spring scented with flowers;
The sky sprinkled with stars sparkling brilliant
Over the silvery sea. I was strolling along the shore
Listening with aching heart to the soft murmur
Of the gently lapping waves when I heard
The plaintive lament behind a dune:

“Don’t you squeeze my breast, you bum—let go my tit!”

That breaks the spell. The new recruits are clapping and bellowing, repeating that chorus over and over. Others come forward with their favorite songs and we are all merry, singing far into the night. The young recruits are no longer strangers and alone, they have been fused into one group of comrades. The songfest goes on and on and I float off into sleep.


After days of riding and choking with dust in the bouncing Russian-made open Ford trucks we set out on foot to take up new positions. We’re well equipped and full of the spirit of offensive. We start out late in the afternoon, the sun is still shining but its heat is gone, her rays bathe the wild mountain scenery in a friendly welcoming smile. The unpaved serpentine road winds gently up the mountainside and we march in an endless line, happy and gay, exulting in our strength. The road climbs steeper and steeper and conversation dies out; breath comes laboring and soon the heart pounds. The sun has long set yet we march on, plodding far into the night, dragging grimly up one mountain, stumbling down another, on and on: lift one foot, pick up the other, this foot here and now the other, the other, the other . . . until it wearily blurs out in sleep.


From Barcelona to Madrid is a long distance—it takes a day by truck. The road leads through some of the most breathtaking mountain scenery in Spain and I dread every foot of it. I know it is fear, nerve-wracking fear that I find impossible to mask— worse than any battle. Fear in battle comes and goes in spurts, relief follows tension. Here tension is constant and increases with every twist and turn of the narrow road as it winds its way along the precipice. Some of the curves are so sharp that the truck has to back and fill with half of its body over the abyss, misjudgment by an inch would spell the end. I travel these roads often. The Spanish chauffeur is grinning over my funk and as he reaches the mountaintop he cuts the ignition and coasts down with ever-increasing speed, avoiding going over by a hair at each turn, proud of how much gas he saves that day. It doesn’t bother him that these mountain gorges are dotted with trucks and cars that have missed, that we are losing more trucks and cars to these mountains than to Fascist aviation. I squeeze down on the floorboard until I am half lifted out of my seat, hold my breath till my lungs are ready to burst, and relief comes only when the Fascist planes come into sight. The chauffeur then brakes frantically and dives into a ditch. It is his turn now to show fear and he can’t figure this crazy Americano who has been so scared when sitting safely in the cab and who now stands on the roadside watching the planes without taking shelter. He yells to me to join him and when I refuse to take shelter, he makes circles around his ear with his little finger: “Loco, está muy claro.” (“He’s crazy, for sure.”)

I ride those trucks on and on, veering around those turns with demoniac speed, squeezing my eyelids tight when the truck sways until I doze off fitfully. . . .

SEDATIVESIt is a beautiful spring morning, sunny but not hot, early March, 1938. We’re in defensive position in Belchite have moved in late last night. The Commissariat is set up in a large courtyard fenced in by a thick stone wall. An almost straight, wide highway leads to the lines about five miles ahead but oddly there 1s no traffic on it. There is unusual plane activity, greater than any of us has seen before, the sky is never clear for a moment of Fascist planes. We have no planes of our own at all. It is still very early in the morning and the front is quiet, apparently the anticipated Fascist spring offensive has again been delayed. The planes are all over the sky, flying high in individual formations of three, each formation sweeping over and over its own patch of sky. I am still very tired, I have had only two hours of sleep. I stretch and yawn while considering what I should do first. I decide to wait until the truck returns and then drive up to the Brigade Command Post; I have lent the truck to Lieutenant Biegelman of the observers and it still hasn’t come back.

I am waiting for some other car or truck to come along on which to hitch a ride but no vehicles are on the road, which is rather strange. Two other International Brigades besides ours are in the line and there should be a steady stream of supplies moving up to them. A disheveled staff major from the division arrives on foot asking if I can lend him transportation, he has lost his fifth car that morning on his way up from Army Corps. The major doesn’t know what’s going on, no vehicles seem to get anywhere this morning, the Fascist planes pounce on anything that moves on the roads and bomb and strafe it out of commission. Every road he has traveled is dotted with destroyed transport. “I can’t figure it out,” he laments over and over, still unnerved by his narrow escapes.

I’m no longer eager for a ride. I strike out on foot, cutting across the newly plowed field, deciding to drop in on the Brigade Medical Post on the way to see if they are all right before reporting to the Brigade Command Post. The furrows are deep, it is rough going, the reflection of the sun on the dried-out lime-white ground is beginning to make my eyes smart. I pause to rest, scanning the planes circling high; the field is flat and my eyes can travel for miles. A formation of three planes keeps circling high overhead but it never occurs to me to take cover. I even speculate on why it is so difficult to convince our men, particularly the newer recruits, that they don’t have to freeze to the ground the minute a plane appears, that just because they can see a plane anywhere in the sky doesn’t prove the plane can also see everyone on the ground.

The planes are moving away. I resume my trek. Suddenly the lead plane peels off, makes a turn, and plunges into a screaming dive coming right at me. That’s impossible, a plane won’t attack a single man, I reject the concept, while flinging myself to the ground, burrowing my head into a furrow, pressing my body into the earth. The rapid tattoo of the strafing machine gun swells into a furious crescendo, the bullets advance, hop-skipping to me from the rear. Each strike is louder as it rushes up, four . . . three . . . two . . . SKIP! I will it desperately, my body tensed like a bow. The bullet skips and strikes ahead, and further ahead and ahead, and it is fading away now. My pent-up breath leaves me, I sit up and there comes that second plane and the third with their machine guns wide open, and then again, then two go away and one comes back dropping small personal bombs, they sound like mortars, they explode offside; outlined in my black poncho on that gray-white field I am a perfect target, and those planes make two more strafing runs on me all alone in that field, in my black poncho, before they finally leave me. Joe Dallet’s black poncho outlines me starkly, and as the machine gun bullets strike closer and closer I arch and make them skip and skip and skip until they are past and hop away, fading out, fading out, and I am fading into sleep.


We are marching again all night, troops of all units disorganized and intermixed. This is not an orderly withdrawal but a near rout, Belchite is lost. It took us almost two weeks of fighting to capture Belchite in the Brunete offensive last year; the Fascists with their blitz attack have recaptured it from us in one day. The Brigade is cut up and scattered. The Fascists with their concentration of planes have immobilized our transport and while the planes keep our men pinned to the ground, their armored columns slice through our lines encircling us unit by unit. Whatever is left of the Lincoln is heading towards Hijar; the British are fighting toward Caspé; the Spanish are dispersed in all directions. All we have is what’s left of the Mac- Paps, two to three hundred men. In the morning we make a weapon-count. We have no mortars left, no machine guns, we find only 153 rifles in the entire Mac-Pap battalion, a few cases of grenades, and small arms ammunition. We halt in a barranco. I find a culvert about three quarters of a mile ahead of the Brigade Command Post, twenty feet under the road, almost high enough to walk erect inside, the perfect bomb shelter, and I set up what’s left of the Commissariat there. We have just about enough room, I have only about nine men with me now, the rest have scattered during the retreat. The culvert is dry, there is no water in the gully leading from the mountaintop into the deep barranco way down below which runs parallel with the road.

I walk back to the Brigade Command Post set up on a hill at right angles to the road. It is not much of a Post. Major Nicolai, acting Brigade Commander, is sitting hunched over his knees, with Ivan at his left. Bob Merriman, Chief of Staff, is lying stretched out on the ground, a few other staff officers are sprawled out here and there. No one feels like talking, everyone is exhausted. I ask Nicolai what the situation is, he doesn’t know, he is waiting to hear from the division. He looks apathetic, a hell of a commander to have in a time like this. I ask Merriman where our new lines are. He points to the mountain ridge above the road where the figures of a few men are outlined.

His reply is startling, he speaks in a low tone. “There is nothing between us and the Fascist except those few scouts on that ridge.” He watches the impact of that sink in, then arises. “Come, Voros, let’s take a look.”

We climb to the ridge and look. The terrain stretches for miles, all we see are mountains and valleys and glimpses of an empty road in the distance, but no movement anywhere. The beauty of the scenery doesn’t register—the sinister presentiment of danger and menace does. We talk with the scouts, they hearten at sight of us. They are weary and sleepy, but dependable; they are all party members. They have seen nothing suspicious, no sign of pursuit at all. Merriman and I go back. The descent is worse than the climb, we slip and stumble on the trailless way down. We rejoin the group and sit around, no one shows any sign of initiative. We’re waiting for news from the division and there is little inclination for talk. Finally a motorcycle messenger rides up and reports to Nicolai. He jumps up excitedly, speaks rapidly to Ivan who translates, we are to withdraw to kilometer stone 70 on the Alcániz Road and await further orders there. We have but one map between us but I remember the road. The officers are all getting to their feet, I wave a salute to Merriman and go back to get my staff started on the twelve-mile march.

When I enter the culvert the men are anxious to know what the situation is. I tell them, “Let’s eat first.” I don’t want to get them more jumpy, some of them are too jittery as it is. We get out some cans when a sudden clamor erupts on the road above, shouting and yelling. The cries are incoherent and the culvert reverberates with the pounding of running feet overhead.

The shouts are now closer and more articulate.

“Fascisti! Fascisti!” comes the panicky cry.

My men rush out and I follow them. The road above is full of men running, screaming “Fascisti!” and they point back. My men are already clambering up to the road and I follow after. I am not as limber as they and they outdistance me quickly. I call to them to wait but none of them will stop. They yell back “Fascists!” and keep running. I see them joining the fleeing horde, even forging ahead with a fresh burst of speed.

“Stop! Stop!” I yell but no one pays heed, the panicked mob soon disappears behind the bend.

The road is now clear of all life both ahead and behind except for one straggling figure who approaches painfully. He can barely run, he staggers and stumbles, falls, gets up on his feet, slips again and lands sprawling on the hard road. I walk back toward him, his eyes are bulging with terror, his wide open mouth is gasping desperately for air.

“Dejate! hombre!” “Calm down, man,” I call to hearten him.

He doesn’t hear, he clambers to his knees and hands, pushes himself up and runs again, his strained breathing loud like a locomotive. He staggers on a few more yards, then collapses. By the time I reach him he no longer breathes, his mouth is still wide open, his face is frozen in agony. He is a Spaniard. I see no wound on him, he has died of panic and exertion.

I am alone on the deserted road. I strike out ahead and as I round the curve I see everyone is fleeing the road, rushing down into the barranco, while the Mac-Paps who have been posted there are already out of it, scaling the mountain on the far side, disappearing over the ridge. I am usually quick to get excited but in moments of crisis my mind perversely goes into reverse and makes me abnormally calm. That’s what happens to me now and I walk back to the culvert for my poncho and musette. I am about to take along a few cans of food also but change my mind, they would weigh me down too much in escaping over the mountains. I go through the packs abandoned by my men, take all the cigarettes I can find and one loaf of bread.

I climb back to the road and start out toward kilometer stone 70 on the road to Alcániz. Not a soul in sight anywhere. I look across the barranco and watch a straggler painfully making for the mountaintop. He is stumbling and crawling on, he looks like a small puppet from the distance. The mountains pull me, “Come my way, everybody else is.” I have a dread of mountains, my heart acts up in high altitudes, I’d rather risk walking through fire than climbing them. The dread of wandering around those mountains all alone and lost brings a decision; I set out on the road. The impulse to break into a run is overpowering but I hold it down, I must conserve my strength.

I pass the bend and walk on in measured steps. I don’t fully believe in the break-through, no more than a half-hour could have passed from the time I was up with the observers, the Fascists couldn’t have moved that fast with any sizable force.

Logic is a comfort but it is a fickle one. Suppose the Fascists have infiltrated, unobserved by those scouts? Suppose I’ll be surrounded and captured? As a Communist I’ll be killed on the spot, most likely tortured first. I pull out my wallet to tear up my identification papers and documents. My Spanish party membership book is red with stiff covers. I am about to rip out the pages, then stop. I am not going to let them capture me alive, my last bullet will be for me, let the bastards know that a Communist will fight to death, that it was a commissar they killed. This defiance somehow cheers me. I am still all alone in creation, there is still danger lurking all around but the road now leads downhill, another cheerful sign. I round another curve and stop dead in my tracks. There is a tank ahead with a man in the open turret watching through binoculars.

“Nuestros!” (“Ours!”)

It is our tank and I could shout with joy. Everything is not lost after all, I was right in sticking to the road.

I walk up to the tank with a cheerful greeting. The Lieutenant does not respond. He is a Russian. I speak to him in Spanish, then try German and French, but he doesn’t say a word, he keeps surveying the terrain. I stop there, I am now safe. Let the Fascists come, they’ll be in for a hot surprise. Suddenly the Lieutenant curses, I follow his direction and there on the mountain ridge on the left, the far side of a gully, I see two horsemen outlined against the sky, then four more trotting up. They stand silhouetted against the sky, Moor cavalry scouts. The Lieutenant shouts an order into the tank, this is perfect. We’re in the shade: and the Moors can’t see us, it’s close range and we can get them all with one shell! The tank shifts into gear but the gun barrel is not turning, it is the tank that is turning, a full 180 degrees, to move back.

“Shoot!” I yell to the Lieutenant, but the tank has completed its turn, it is retreating without firing a shot. I clamber up on the tank to go with them, the Lieutenant yells at me to get down, I yell I am a comrade and hold on. He swings at my hands with the barrel of his long Russian machine pistol and I instinctively release my grip before he shatters my fingers. I fall on my face on the road just barely away from the iron treads that are now crunching by, a few inches closer and they would crush me. I get to my feet cursing that Russian comrade, the tank is churning away at top speed, I look up the ridge and the Moors are gone.

I walk down the road cursing that Red Army lieutenant, that lousy Russian sonofabitch of a bastard, and their crappy tanks. Those lousy tanks have never done us much good, they would pull out of battle at the first sign of danger, at the most critical points when we needed their support the most, leaving the troops demoralized. I keep cursing him and slowly the tension is gone, I feel I am safe, that I have outdistanced the pursuit. I break off a chunk of bread and eat it. I have been up two nights with only a short nap between but I am neither sleepy nor tired, it is great to be alive. I walk on alone on that deserted road for about a half hour and come to a village. The houses on both sides of the road are lifeless and deserted, the stores around the Plaza are shuttered and dead. I pass the Plaza and just before the road leaves the village I see a stalled truck ahead.

The truck is packed tight with civilians, men, women, and children, mattresses, pots, household wares, also a few unarmed Spanish soldiers in uniform. The chauffeur is a civilian wearing a black leather jacket; he is fumbling with the carburetor and ignition wires, his face is flushed and his temper is short. The people in the truck are shrieking at him to hurry up before the Fascists are on them, he curses and shrieks back. I go over to help him. I know nothing about his trouble and little about the engine but I see his carburetor is flooded and help him drain the glass jar that is full of sediment. The trouble fixed, he gets behind the wheel, the motor coughs and catches. I jump on the running board next to him, the people on the truck start screaming at me to get off, the truck is overloaded. The chauffeur orders me off, I refuse and he shoves me in the chest. I lose my grip and jump down livid with anger. I pull my pistol, stand back and say I am an International, if I don’t go, no one else will. This is the first time in Spain I have raised a weapon, and then against the people whom I have come to defend. There is a murmur but no more shouts. Shame overcomes me, I speak to them in Spanish, tell them I have come all the way from North America to fight the Fascists, I came to help them, not to shoot them. Someone in the truck yells out, let him come, others take up the cry, the driver beckons me to get on. I smile and thank them, put away the pistol and take out three packs of cigarettes, throw two up to the truck, another to the chauffeur and the others in the cab with him. There is a chorus of grácias, I climb back on the running board, and the truck starts. It is overloaded and topheavy, it sways, but it runs.

In less than an hour we reach kilometer stone 70 and I jump off. Everybody in the truck waves and wishes me bueno suerto, we are friends, the Spanish are really the most wonderful people on earth!

Kilometer stone 70 is a low concrete whitewashed post sticking out of the ground at the roadside. There is not a soul around, the road is empty except for the truck which is rapidly disappearing in the distance. I walk over to the stone to check it from close up, it says 70 km. in black on it, there can be no doubt. I am again alone in the world, the first to reach our destination. I cross the ditch to look around, the ground slopes and farther down I see a small cluster of men, ours.

I walk over, they are guards, four men with rifles guarding two prisoners, one of them is Wallach, the other a young English boy from the British Battalion. I am glad to see Wallach again. He is in rags, his khaki pants are torn, his khaki shirt has only one good sleeve, the other is in tatters. But he still has his pert little mustache which he keeps neat, his smile is the same friendly winning one. He tells me all the hospitals and jails in the rear are being combed and everyone who can walk is being sent to the front. He has been sent with the English comrade under guard to the Brigade, he doesn’t know of what good he will be there. He claims he can hardly walk because of his double hernia but they won’t believe him, they think he is a coward and antiparty renegade. I believe him and tell him to keep his spirit up, I’ll see what I can do for him, maybe I can get Dr. Hene to help him. He remembers Dr. Hene from Paris and is happy. I ask the guards what they are doing here. They tell me they had been sent out by truck from Barcelona to take these prisoners up to the Brigade and someone at Division in Alcániz told them to stop here. I throw a pack of cigarettes to Wallach to share with his English comrade and give another pack to the four guards to share among themselves. One guard grumbles that it isn’t fair, the prisoners got more cigarettes than they. I ask the comrade would he rather be in their boots? He doesn’t answer.

I walk a stretch down the road and see a culvert, it is a very low one, just barely room enough to crawl in. I am weary and sleepy and hot, the culvert is invitingly cool. I crawl in and stretch out to rest when I hear planes. I crawl back crabwise for a look, I see more and more Fascist formations coming up, circling, departing for Alcániz. I decide there is nothing I can do for the present, I may as well go to sleep, if the Fascists are to overrun us again I can run faster after I have slept a bit. I put my musette under my head for a pillow, turn it around and adjust it until it feels comfortable. I am worried that this is too risky, the Fascists may come upon me in my sleep. I argue that I am bound to hear the Fascists arrive, there will be
bombing and shooting first. I stretch my arms and yawn, put my head back and I am off in an instant.


Noises on the road overhead wake me, for a moment I don’t know where I am. They sound like footfalls, there are many of them, I crawl back cautiously to take a look. It is dusk, I see men ahead on the road, alone and in groups of two or three, trudging on in the direction of Alcániz, more men are coming up from behind. They are from the Brigade. I stop the ones coming up, soon I have about fifteen, and more are joining as they see us in a huddle. The men are all from the Mac-Paps, they are heading for Alcániz. I tell them the orders are to assemble here. None of them knows me, I have no insignia of rank, only a tone of authority. Most of them stay, but a few go on, footsore and weary. I have no means to halt them and I make no issue of it, I tell the men who stay that those finks will be sorry, they will have to march back. Little by little I get the story of the rout—they claim Major Smith had yelled out: “Direction Alcániz! Every man for himself!” and took off. The men naturally scattered in panic. It sounds incredible, but all of them assure me it is true, some claim they heard him with their own ears. Later Major Smith is to deny having given that order and he retains his command. Still later Smith shoots himself in the foot while cleaning his pistol, he claims it was an accident. It is hushed up and he is sent to a hospital.

There is still no one from the staff at the assembly post Km. stone 70, even the guards and prisoners have disappeared. My group is growing, I have about fifty men now, none of them with rifles, and more keep straggling up. Most men from our Brigade stop but the Spaniards and other Internationals are still fleeing toward Alcániz and my men are getting fidgety. They are hungry and cold, there is a freeze in the evening chill. They are shivering in their thin, cotton uniforms, they have lost or thrown their blankets away in their flight. I am warm in my poncho, I am glad I went back for it.

An ambulance drives up from the direction of Alcániz, it is Dr. Strauss, I know him but slightly. He has come from the medical post in Alcániz for information and orders, he has questioned the fleeing men he met on his way, he can’t believe either that Major Smith actually gave those orders. He is slim, blond, and very serious, a conscientious young doctor with a good reputation for steadfastness. I ask him to drive me to Alcániz, a distance of 20 kilometers, to dig up some food for the men. There are no commissars or officers in the group which now numbers close to a hundred, but I find a Canadian political delegate. I put him in charge and tell the men I am going to bring them food. I climb into the ambulance which is nothing more than a converted Ford station wagon, and Dr. Strauss drives me to Alcániz.

Just outside Alcániz I notice three brand new antiaircraft guns, their long, slim barrels arching gracefully into the sky in the moonlight. That sight makes me happy, now at last we have something to defend us against the planes. In Alcániz I make contact with the kitchen staff of the Lincoln Battalion but they have neither food nor stoves, their kitchen truck was lost in a plane attack. Finally I find the brigade staff kitchen and wake up the mess sergeant. He is a short, stocky Englishman, a good cook and a personal favorite of Lieutenant Colonel Copic, the Brigade Commander. He is well supplied with coffee and delicacies but he refuses to make his stock available to the men. He has strict orders from Copic that those supplies are for the staff mess exclusively, he is responsible for them. I finally prevail upon him to let me commandeer his supply by assuming full responsibility for overriding Copic, and give him an order to that effect in writing. He is dubious about my authority, he is a former regular British Army man and knows the ropes. I don’t blame him, I myself fear Copic’s wrath, but those men have to be fed. To overcome his apprehension I sign Doran’s name also to the order.

We light a big fire and start making coffee and stew. The smell of cooking attracts a number of men to the fire, most of them Spaniards from the Brigade but many Internationals as well. While the food cooks I round up two trucks and after the men gathered around the kitchen are fed, I load them on the trucks and take them back to the post, with the kitchen truck following in the rear. About a dozen of them refuse to get on the trucks and some others jump off later on the way. That bothers me but there is nothing I can do about it, they wouldn’t be much good in the line anyway. By the time I get back, officers have taken charge. Doran has established a position near Caspé, the men would be taken there as soon as they were fed. We have no more food left and I go back with the kitchen truck to Alcániz, sending word to Doran that I’ll be bringing up food to them as soon as we can prepare it.

We drive back to Alcániz and I set the cooks to work again, they are mutinous but I shut my ears. We set out again with freshly cooked food and coffee just before dawn in search of the improvised new line near Caspé. The entire sector is in chaos, no one knows anything. The road is full of stragglers, most of them without rifles, wandering aimlessly about; empty trucks are driving up and down trying to connect with their lost units. The fascist planes are absent so early in the morning, affording a respite for establishing some sort of liaison, yet no unit seems to know where Doran’s group is. Finally we stumble on it.

I find them straddling a sunken road, in two hastily dug trenches thrown up overnight. They are a sad, dejected lot, the appearance of the food truck with warm food and coffee lifts their spirits somewhat. Including those men I have rounded up last night, less than 300 men are manning the line. Many of them are m tatters, their uniforms torn climbing the mountains. The trouser legs of one man are ripped in the seam from ankle to crotch, as they flap in the breeze his scrotum bobs comically. The men are shivering, more than half of them are without blankets.

Dave Doran reviews the situation for us. He feels confident we can hold. The Division has been promised reinforcements, the French People’s Front Government is going to allow artillery and antiaircraft to come through; Moscow has promised fighter planes to contest the paralyzing Fascist superiority in the air: as Communists and anti-Fascists our job is to hang on by our teeth and hold out until that aid arrives. It is a good political talk and puts heart into the wavering.

I send the food truck back and Doran tells me to survey our need~. We seem to need everything, weapons, ammo, food, clothing, shoes, blankets, men. It is midafternoon by then, many planes are in the sky but so far we’re not bothered. Doran asks me to go back and find the brigade intendencia and armory, they must be somewhere around Alcániz, and send back whatever I can. He is very sore both at the quartermaster and the armorer, they have made no attempt to get in touch with the brigade command. He feels the yellow bastards must have withdrawn half-
way to Barcelona by now.

I am very weary, I have no transportation, and it is a trek of more than 30 kilometers. I haven’t slept for three nights in a row except for two stretches of short naps, my eyeballs are dry in their sockets and inflamed, my eyelids keep closing down and I have to use my fingers from time to time to keep them propped up. I start out and I am less than a hundred yards away from the dugout when the planes discover us.

I look up and count about fifteen formations of three heading in our direction. I walk on until I see the planes going into a dive, then throw myself to the ground. The air again fills with the pulsing throb of the motors. I hug the trembling earth and mechanically count the explosions, five, six, eight, and I can count no longer, I try to open my eyes but the lids are glued down fast, I am losing count, the world is one stupendous roar and I lose consciousness. . . .


“He’s not dead, he’s breathing,” the voices say. I turn over and see three volunteers, two standing, the third one kneeling by my head. I rub my eyes, stretch and yawn, and I hear one of them exclaim in disbelief, “The sonofabitch has slept through it all!”

I get to my feet, the field is dotted with fresh craters.

“Many casualties?” I worry.

The news is good. The bombs missed the trenches, fell into this field, only a few are wounded. I couldn’t have slept long, the sun is still in the sky yet I don’t feel sleepy any more. I walk toward Alcániz. I hitch rides when I can, two of the trucks are lost to strafing but we have jumped out in time. I reach Alcániz still by daylight, learn the probable location of the intendencia from a brigade truck driver, and hitchhiking part way, walking the rest, I finally find it.

The quartermaster is a heavy-muscled New Yorker with light blond hair, he is familiar with my name from the Daily Worker yet he is suspicious of me. He is having his meal seated at a table, plates, forks, and everything. He doesn’t invite me to join him. As I watch him eat I feel like one of the beggars of Madrid hungrily eyeing through the plate glass the diners stuffing themselves inside the luxury restaurants. The room we’re in is stacked high with boots, uniforms, blankets, socks, underwear, every conceivable gear for which the men in the line hunger. Through open doors I see other rooms similarly piled to the ceiling. I am awed by this profuse wealth and move to the shelves to finger the goods. The Intendant watches my every move suspiciously, like a farmer with a hungry loiterer around his chicken coop. He doesn’t stop eating for a long time. When he finishes, there is still some roast rabbit left on the plate. Only then does he ask would I want a piece. I am so hungry that my stomach pains, it takes effort to refuse. “No, comrade,” I dismiss it, emphasizing the word “comrade.”

When he hears that I want 150 blankets, a similar number of pairs of pants, tunics, about a hundred pairs of boots, canteens, 250 pairs of socks taken up to the lines at Caspé at once, he stares at me in outraged disbelief, a miser about to be robbed of his hoard. Then he starts fighting back, he won’t do it, blankets, uniforms, and other gear will be issued only at proper times and according to regulations.

I explain the situation to him but this only confirms his stand, the men had been issued blankets and if they threw them away or lost them it was their hard luck, it would teach them to take better care next time. He is full of hatred against the men in the lines who are in a conspiracy to rob him of his property. I can’t help being sarcastic, did he come to Spain to hoard goods, to keep shop, to undermine the fighting capacity of the others, or to be of help?

He has heard that one before and he is ready with the answer, his job is to help fight the Fascists by seeing that scarce supplies are not squandered recklessly.

By now we are both yelling and a number of his men crowd into the room to watch. He is on home territory, all his men are on his side—I am alone and outnumbered—outfought and outshouted.

“You win the argument,” I concede, dropping my tone.

They all grin satisfied, their shopkeeper souls can again rest happily, they have been through many such battles before. The Intendant picks up a pair of knee-length heavy wool hose. He offers them to me as a gift and patronizingly asks if I want a pair of boots or anything else. I am ready to explode but I must control my temper. I pause a few seconds, then say :

“This is what I need and have come to get,” and read off the list again. My voice is low but tense. “I want them loaded at once and taken to the Brigade Command Post. I want them there before 10 o’clock this evening!”

The Intendant is still belligerent, he won’t give up. “Put a Communist in charge of a load of goods and you get a Capitalist,” I reflect out loud. The Intendant casts off the insult like any trader and concentrates on saving what he can. He claims he hasn’t half as many blankets as I want and he is short of everything else. I have counted nearly two hundred blankets with my eyes but I don’t want to argue. I ask him for his inventory list. He claims he hasn’t a new one and suddenly challenges my authority, demands a written order. I write him out one and sign it with my name and title. He refuses to accept it, he wants me to go back and get an order signed by the brigade commander or brigade commissar, that’s the only order he would accept.

I write out a new order, sign Doran’s name to it as per me. He refuses that one too. I lay it on the table and give him a last warning.

“There are your orders. If those blankets aren’t there by 10 o’clock I’ll be back again, but for you.”

There is silence as I leave. At the door I turn back.

“And bring an inventory list with you, a new one!”

Let the bastard sweat over it, we should know what supplies we have anyway. I would like to ask him for transportation back to Alcániz but I know he would refuse. I am not even sure that he’ll obey my order, but I feel I have scared him sufficiently not to disobey. Two days later he reproaches me bitterly that I made him lose 150 new blankets. I tell him wearily that we also lost those 150 men, but that doesn’t register with him at all, he mourns those blankets.

I can’t get a hitch back, I have to trudge on wearily, hour after hour, again alone in the night. This is one hell of a lonesome war, I wish I were part of a squad and moved only when the others did. By the time I reach Alcániz it is around three in the morning. The cooks are up, preparing breakfast; I am too numb to eat and refuse even coffee. The food should be ready in about an hour, I have almost a full hour to sleep. The night is bitingly cold but I find myself roasting close to the fire. I move a bit away, stretch out on the ground, pull the hood of my poncho over my face; this is heaven, and I am blissfully asleep. . . .


The clatter of food kettles being loaded on the truck wakes me. Dawn comes early in Aragon in March. I wash my hands with soap and warm water for the first time in weeks, also bathe my eyes and face. The mess sergeant is preparing an omelet, I see him break six eggs into a pan, genuine real eggs that I haven’t seen for months. I hope he’ll share it with me. He brings all of it over, it is all for me. I fall to it greedily, wipe the last morsel out of the pan with a piece of bread, wash it down with cups of coffee, and we’re ready to start. The brigade staff mess sergeant, a Lancaster man I believe, is coming with us. He is a fussy man around his kitchen but by no means lacking in courage. He doesn’t have to take the risk, we may have to drive through fire. When I tell him that, he shakes his head, he wants to make sure that his truck gets back. There are three of us in the cab with the chauffeur, the four Spanish kitchen attendants are riding in the truck.

As we start there is little traffic, soon we encounter more and more trucks but the traffic is all one way, back to Alcániz; we’re the only ones heading for Caspé. The significance of that does not occur to me for quite a while, not until we hit a crossroad. There is confusion at the crossroad. A number of trucks have pulled over to the side, a group of men arguing in the center of the crossing. I get out to investigate. They say the road on the left to Hijar has been cut and so has the road ahead to Caspé. I hear no firing, there are no officers around to confirm or deny this information. A motorcycle runner approaches at high speed from the direction of Hijar and skids to a stop. He is all out of breath, he was fired on by small tanks and armored cars blocking the road about 10 kilometers back but has managed to turn around and escape. The truck drivers are jittery, they don’t know what to do. I leave them and decide to go on ahead.

We blow the horn and the men in the middle of the road give way, they stare at us and a few yell warnings; we shift gears and keep going. The men in the parked trucks eye us as we roll by. I feel queasy and my stomach tightens as we pass the last truck and see nothing ahead but the rutted road, ominous and deserted. We cross a railroad track and when we mount the embankment the vista is clear, we see or hear no sign of
fighting. We should be near the line now and if the Fascists were advancing we ought to hear firing. We hear nothing. “You can’t believe every rumor,” I reassure the chauffeur and the mess sergeant, also myself. I am still on the alert but feel the tension easing. The road is very rutty now, the truck bounces hard as it hits the potholes, and by the time we hear the shells we also see them explode only yards ahead of us. The driver guns the motor and we bounce over the craters so hard I bump my head on the roof. We reach the cover of a thick olive tree by the time the next salvo explodes.

Three more shells come in rapidly one after the other, and then three salvos—they are searching for us but can’t see us. I climb down and walk ahead crouched down, keeping close to the road, until I get to a knoll. I crawl up there and still see nothing, I stand up and see nothing, not a soul anywhere. I walk back to the truck and discuss it with the mess sergeant and the chauffeur. They are both party members, good, dependable men, they agree to chance it, the men must have food to fight, the least we can do is risk it. We can’t figure where the shelling comes from, what stretch of the road is under fire. I take them for antitank guns. I guess we have about a mile to go, with luck we can make it in less than two minutes.

The chauffeur guns the motor and we’re off in a rush and then we see them, small Italian tanks straddling the road ahead, firing directly at us. The chauffeur goes into a wide turn and we skid into the ditch, the rear wheels spin and then hold, we are out of the ditch now and back on the road in smoke and dust. The tanks are firing, the shells explode ahead and to both sides of the road, we drive through the smoke for dear life until there is no more shelling. The shells come again as we climb the railroad embankment but we are already on the other side, they explode behind us. The sergeant and the chauffeur talk about the narrow squeak, my mind is on Doran. They were not tied to the road, they must have cut through the encirclement.

The crossroad ahead is busy now, trucks at high speed converge on it heading for Alcániz. Foot soldiers are on the road trying to get on the trucks, the trucks do not slow down for them and they run alongside until they can grab hold and pull themselves up. A man ahead misses and staggers back, another truck is coming up but it won’t slow down, it hits the soldier with a sickening thud and throws him flying ahead. Another truck follows by, it won’t slow down either, it runs over the comrade without even braking, the other truck behind sees the body but won’t slacken, runs over him too, then another. By the time we reach the comrade he is smashed to a pulp, our chauffeur gives him a wide berth but he won’t slow down either. I do not know from what far land that comrade came in response to the call of international solidarity, nor what far country gave birth to those comrades of his who have squashed him into a smeary blob on the road without bothering to slacken their speed.

That speeding didn’t help them any, a few minutes later we all slow down, then crawl, and then we’re jammed solid. We sit in the trucks waiting, the road is packed with vehicles as far as the eye can see, front and back, no room to turn around. That road has been hewed out of the mountain with a steep drop into a barranco way below, not a chance to pull off to the side. We wait in the truck for the jam to clear, all eyes are scanning the sky. The sun is up high, the Fascist planes may turn up at any moment.

I think of Hemingway in Madrid in December, walking in on us without an overcoat, in a faded navy blue suit jacket and a scarf around his neck, asking Frank Ryan and me out for a drink, and my favorite book of his, Farewell to Arms. He is a great artist, his description of the panicky retreat at Caporetto in Italy in the First World War, the vehicles helplessly jamming the road, is more vivid to me even now than what I see spread in real life before my very eyes.

The waiting stretches out; not a vehicle is moving. I walk ahead picking my way in and out through those stalled trucks for more than a mile but all I see is an immobile column of vehicles stretching to the horizon. I walk back and as I reach the truck I see all eyes glued to tiny black specks in the sky circling around and around in the distance, then wheeling in our direction.

“Aviacion!” sounds the panicky cry, “Aviacion!”

The trucks come alive with men jumping off and swarming down in panic, they flee down into the barranco, many lose their foothold and roll down like logs. They don’t look like planes to me, the formation is too irregular. I believe they are birds and sure enough, there is no mistake about it.

“Pajaros! Pajaros!” (“Birds! Birds!”) I yell but no one pays attention.

The vehicles are all deserted now. My men did not run, they stand beside the truck. The Spanish comrades are laughing uproariously, yelling insults to those men who are still hugging the ground, calling them coños, conejos, cobardes sin cojones (cunts, rabbits, cowards without balls). Some of the men sheepishly reboard the trucks, but most of them keep running in panicky flight.

I have no idea when that traffic jam will clear, there is no sense in my staying with the truck. I tell the sergeant I am going back to Alcániz on foot. Alcániz is a strong town, I am sure it will be defended, that we’ll halt the fascist advance there. That town is full of troops, I’ll see what I can do there, I may find a lot of stragglers from the Brigade, get some news from the division.

It is difficult to walk on the jammed road. I leave it for a trail that I hope leads to Alcániz. There are other men on the trail heading in the same direction but they are not from our Brigade, again I walk alone. By now I am used to it. The books I have read about war have conditioned me to trench warfare, that’s what I expected to find in Spain. This war is sure different, I wonder what Liddell Hart would say now.

I reach the outskirts of Alcániz late in the afternoon. The shiny antiaircraft guns are gone. Traffic is thick on the road, the jam has been unblocked. All the trucks are saved, a couple of Soviet Mosques patrolled the air while truckloads of volunteer civilian truck drivers were rushed up from Tarragona to drive the deserted vehicles away. Alcániz is being evacuated. The staff kitchen is gone, I wander around for information but find no one who knows about the XV Brigade. I strike out on the road. Soon it is dark and I have no idea where I am heading nor why when an ambulance pulls up, the driver leans out and asks in English, “You want a ride, comrade?”

It is Comrade Dicks from Cleveland!

We grin in recognition and we’re both very happy. Neither of us knew that the other was in Spain. Dicks drives an old covered truck converted into an ambulance. He is a Negro, we are friends from way back. He feeds me with food and stories, he is on his way back to the Division Hospital. He sees I am groggy for want of sleep and insists I lie down. I protest I want to stay with him in front. He stops the ambulance and orders me inside. I lie down on a stretcher, Dicks pulls out his guitar and it is
just like old times back home. He sings ballad after ballad, his voice sounds softer and softer, so soft I can no longer hear. . . .

HypnoticsIt is night again—the Brigade as a unified fighting force no longer exists. There is no chain of command, no liaison, no battalions, no companies, only isolated groups of men putting up last-ditch resistance, holding until surrounded, retreating to other posts, holding with diminished numbers, dispersed, falling back in isolated groups to rally again. The planes attack constantly; the greatest damage they do is to morale. Our poorly trained men panic at the appearance of the Fascist planes, they bolt and run leaving their equipment behind.

Dave Doran is the rallying point, the nerve center to which all impulses return and which alone serves as a clearing point for co-ordinated action. No matter who breaks and runs Doran can be depended upon to withdraw no further than he must, to contest every foothold, to improvise some position. The task is to keep locating Doran, to bring him whatever help and supplies can be scraped together, to round up the fleeing men, to get them back to whatever new line Doran is trying to establish.

The night is dark, the line has been outflanked, and the men are scattered again. Jim, the Brigade party secretary, drives up with a beat-up small car. He is a tall Westerner in his middle twenties, I meet him now for the first time, he has quit the hospital abruptly at the news of the debacle and returned to the Brigade. We drive back to the field which was abandoned that afternoon by troops that broke under bombardment. We are searching for stragglers to take them to the new line that will be established during the night.

The field stretches flat for miles, scary and sinister under the ghostly. moon. We meet a weary group of four, they’ve been wandering around for days since they were routed near Hijar. A few miles ahead, just at dusk, they were hailed in English by a small armored car. They approached happily thinking it was ours. They were less than ten yards away when they realized It was an Italian Fiat and bolted. The car fired at them, the four of them got away, but they don’t know what has happened to the other five in the group. They still have their rifles, we send them back to an abandoned stable we have passed, telling them to stop others who may come their way; we’ll take them all back later to the kitchen and feed them.

We drive on again, ever further into no man’s land, expecting to run into an ambush at any moment, scanning the terrain for straggling men or wounded. Finally we meet two Germans from the Thaelmann Brigade. We learn they are still holding an improvised position to the right. They are our sister brigade, if we’re to make contact with any of our men we must turn left. We take the left fork and drive on. We are tense, every second brings us closer to the Fascists. We see a flame in the distance, rising to the sky, we drive closer to investigate and soon we hear explosions. The explosions come from the fire, glowing tracers going off in every direction lighting up the sky. It is a burning ammunition truck blocking the road. We pull up as close as we dare and get out. As we advance on foot two men from the brigade hail us. There are two other men from the brigade stuck on the far side of the burning ammo wagon, they can’t get themselves to pass the ammo truck fearful it will blow up at any minute. We wait for the truck to explode, but it keeps burning steadily, throwing forth bursting bullets in fiery stars at frequent but irregular intervals.

We can’t wait any longer, we want those men. We get back into the car, Jim pulls his neck back into his shoulders, steps on the gas, and drives straight ahead. The heat is searing, the explosions deafen us as we shoot by that truck, sparks envelop us, then we can breathe again; we’re through. We pick up the men on the other side and make the run again, this time it is easier, like jumping through a flaming hoop in the circus: I look hack and see a great explosion, flaming shrapnel spurting like fireworks, a case of hand grenades going off.

We come to a group of abandoned, low stone huts and go through them; some stragglers may have taken refuge there. In the last one we hear breathing, five men are sleeping hidden in the straw, Americans. They wake, panicky, then seeing we’re from the Brigade start cursing us for not letting them sleep. They refuse to budge, we prod them, kick the soles of their shoes: “Get up, get going, a line is being organized.” They rise grumbling to their feet, they are fighting men we can tell, they still have their rifles. One of them complains, “That won’t do my morale any good.” We have drummed morale into them so long he now speaks of it as if it were a part of his body, a new organ that needed special care and attention.

Another volunteer farts with his mouth and gets on his feet I recognize him, he is a good soldier, a party member. He adjusts his ammo pouch, slings his rifle on his shoulder and calls to the others; “Let’s go, you bastards, today is as good a day to die for liberty as any.” We direct them to the assembly point, promise that we’ll hustle up some food, and leave. We can trust them; with that comrade to lead them they won’t beat it.

We search through the night for stragglers, we round up about twenty. Jim goes on to make liaison, I lie down on the ground to catch a short nap, close my eyes. No man’s land stretches again endlessly in the ghostly light of the moon, the ammo truck is burning, the bullets splutter in a shivering spark of fireworks, they arch and rise flamingly, blinding my closed eyes. I screw my eyelids tighter to shut out the sparks, they burst and erupt in flaming shrapnel, burst and erupt, burst and erupt and I am asleep. . . .


The government is reeling, they shower us with panicky exhortations. Edwin Rolfe, editor of the em>Volunteer for Liberty, gets hysterical in Barcelona, he sends us truckloads of two-page special editions, one after the other, giving us not news nor information which we crave, but deluging us á la Pasionária, with shrill feminine screams of exhortation fathered by desperate fear.

DO NOT YIELD AN INCH OF GROUND TO THE ENEMY!

DRIVE OUT THE INVADERS OF SPAIN

NOW IS THE TIME TO STRIKE BACKThe men in the Brigade receive these copies with sardonic laughter. They’ve been fighting, running, driven from position to position with ever-growing losses, short of rifles, ammo, food, reduced to small groups resisting in isolation only to be told that this is the time to drive out the invaders, to strike back.

Curiously, that back-ass propaganda lifts the spirts of the men. Their contempt for the rear-guard generals explodes into laughter, the best morale builder in the world.

We are reforming near Batea, we get rifles, ammunition, men. The Internationals sent up as reinforcements are a pitiful lot. They are men ruthlessly evicted from the hospitals, half-healed invalids, physically unfit for battle; the sweepings of the military offices in the rear, soft and flabby—many of them elderly comrades who should never have been sent to Spain. Finally there are the newest arrivals, volunteers sent up prematurely. Some have received a week or two of training, others none. This latest group, some hundreds in number, gives us the most concern. We are desperately in need of internationals to preserve at least the semblance of the Brigade being an international one but we need trained men, not such lambs offered up to slaughter.

We have but a few hundred internationals, Americans, British, Canadians, Cubans, and Mexicans left alive in the Brigade. We’re an International Brigade in name only by now. Of the four battalions in our Brigade one is pure Spanish. In the other three, one company of the four is Spanish; in the companies, one section out of four is Spanish; in the sections, one squad out of four is Spanish. The Brigade has been so diluted with Spanish soldiers that the Internationals are acting mostly as noncoms which the Spanish lack. We have no time to integrate the new American volunteers into the units. Many of them sent up during the retreat are trying desperately to keep up with us, running along with no one to lead them as we are forced back from position to position; a great many of them are killed before they even have a chance to learn what is happening around them.

The terror in the International Brigades is on. To halt the Fascist offensive we need air power, artillery, tanks, armored cars, transport, trained officers, noncoms, and men. The Kremlin leaders think differently; although they supply us with some material they base their main reliance on terror. Officers and men are ruthlessly executed on their orders. The toll is particularly high among the Poles, Slavs, Germans, and Hungarians, especially among those who came to Spain from Moscow. These are summary executions, carried out in most cases secretly by the S.I.M.—a most convenient way to settle old political scores.

Dave Doran, too, catches the bug, he holds a series of courts-martial and condemns a number of our comrades to death for cowardice, for deserting their posts, for abandoning their duties, among them Captain Jack Cooper from Cleveland, commander of our machine gun company, a leading Young Communist League member from Cleveland. Doran is prosecutor and judge at the same time, he rolls the sentence “You’re condemned to die before a firing squad” with great relish, lingering on the word “die.”

He asks me what I think of the way he has conducted those courts-martial and he’s taken aback when I tell him dryly, it was quite a ham Shakespearean performance. Next it is my turn to be taken aback when he informs me cuttingly it will be my duty to accompany the condemned men to the Division and witness their execution. Throwing all prudence aside I denounce Doran’s act to his face as sheer madness, saying it will bring disaster to the party back home. I tell him none of those men are guilty of anything, they have simply been caught up in the maelstrom of retreat. I myself had encountered Captain Cooper and questioned him when he was heading for the rear. He was accompanied by only a few men, the last survivors of his company. Exhausted as they were, they were still carrying with them the few useless machine gun barrels they had managed to salvage from the holocaust; Jackie Cooper was nothing but a walking corpse intent only on saving the few survivors of his company until they could be reformed and re-equipped again. Doran threatens me, calls me a rotten bourgeois intellectual, the party would be better off with me dead, without my spreading my degeneracy in this critical moment. We’re yelling at each other, I’m definitely at a disadvantage being a subordinate of Doran, when Brigade Commander Lieutenant Colonel Copic, who had been on leave in Paris during the first part of the Fascist Aragon offensive, now rises unexpectedly to my defense. I do not know with whom Copic has associated in Paris but he affirms the power of the free press. He agrees that Matthews of the New York Times, Vincent Sheean, Sifton Delmar, and the others who visit us regularly are bound to find out about the executions and would report them no matter how much sympathy they have with Loyalist Spain. Copic also agrees with me that these executions would turn liberal opinion against us not only in America, but also in France. Copic and I are friends again but still distant, he has never forgiven me for dissipating his store of hoarded delicacies to feed the men. Doran reluctantly consents to give the condemned men another chance.

We move up in almost full Brigade strength, 6,500 strong, only the staff knows this is a gross illusion. More than half of our men are raw recruits with less than three or four weeks of training.

The Fifth Army Corps is entrusted to stop the Fascists from reaching the sea and cutting Loyalist Spain in two. Our Brigade is divisional reserve, we should be the last to be thrown in. The three Spanish divisions ahead of us are famed Communist crack divisions of the Spanish Loyalist Army. We are aware of our own weakness but have full trust in those Communist divisions. We are convinced they’ll hold, we know that when our turn comes we’ll hold also. No Pasarán! They shall not pass!

Our reserve position is far from the front lines, even the sound of bombing barely reaches us.

At nightfall we receive the disastrous news. The three Spanish Communist divisions ahead of us, glorified in the Spanish press for their death-defying courage, have pulled out against orders, leaving the front wide open to the Fascist advance. Our Brigade is ordered to defend a sector previously held by a full division to safeguard the approach to Gandesa. The Brigade has to be divided into two, Copic to defend the northern fork, Merriman the southern one. Doran assigns me as commissar to Merriman, my first chance to act as commissar in actual battle. I have a number of final chores to attend to, by the time I am finished and go to see Major Merriman to discuss how I could best assist him, he has pulled out.

I start out before dawn hoping to catch up with Merriman. It is about 12 miles to his designated Command Post, a three and a half hour hike. After about an hour I see a group of men heading back from the direction of the front. They carry rifles, they are in squad strength. They are cutting through the field, avoiding the road, their direction is definitely to the rear. I cut across to speak to them, I have to shout a couple of times before they stop. They belong to the British battalion, they are lost and are looking for their unit. I don’t know where the British battalion is, I tell them to come with me. They are undecided. As we parley I see a number of other men drifting back, some have rifles, some don’t, they cut a wide circle through the field to avoid us. I ask the British squad leader to stop those men, I want his squad to act as a field guard to halt all men heading back and keep them from frigging off. They spread out at once and halt the drifters. I group them and take them along. We see more men drifting back; we stop them all. The British are tough about it, they threaten to shoot those who don’t want to turn back. They mean business, they fire after two men who refuse to stop which quickly brings them around.

We have quite a few men now. As we march up I see an officer ahead, pacing up and down the road, it is General Walter. I greet him as he watches us pass and he calls me over. He asks me what troops we are, how many more are coming. He is disgusted when he hears these are only drifters I have corralled on my way up. I can see the disappointment in his face, he was expecting reinforcements. I ask him what the situation is, he shrugs his shoulders with a nervous jerk and turns away from me.

About a hundred yards further ahead I meet José Maria Sastré, Division Commissar. Before his promotion to Division Commissar he was Dave Doran’s first assistant; we have worked together well and are friends. He is around 26, trim and slender, intelligent, serious, and loyal; he wants to be a professor after the war. He inquires about Doran. I tell him he is with Copic and ask him about the situation. It is not too good. Copic is under heavy fire and is asking for reinforcements. The Division has no reserves and General Walter has applied to the Fifth Army Corps, they haven’t any either. Merriman is not at his Command Post, he can’t be located. The divisional runners sent to the battalions have not returned.

As we talk General Walter comes striding up. I have met him a few times before, an uncommunicative, forbidding person, usually in a sullen mood. His forehead is furrowed in a deep scowl, he is tense and nervous. He ignores me, curtly informs José Maria that he is going to the Fifth Army Corps to see personally about reinforcements, and puts José Maria in command. The General tells him tersely that the line must be held at all costs and makes José Maria responsible for it. He strides away briskly, steps into his staff car, and disappears.

José Maria is startled. We both know that the Headquarters of the Fifth Army Corps is about ninety kilometers in the rear, on the other side of the Ebro River. We have been there together just two days before, at a meeting of the Division and Brigade Commissars; Doran took me along. José Maria knows that General Walter will be away for hours, maybe for the entire day, he is also aware that he is not qualified to command a division in battle. He is worried and instructs me to locate Merriman immediately, have him report to him in person at once.

The Command Post set up by Merriman is on the left side of a knoll which is bisected by a sunken road. I find about fifteen men there but not a single staff officer. I learn that having designated that spot as Command Post, Merriman had gone ahead with the troops to place them in position personally. By the time the last unit on the right flank had reached its position it was daylight, and it had to move in under fire. The runner sent back by Merriman told me that the last he saw of him, Major Merriman was leading the last troops personally into line under intense rifle and machine gun fire. No word had been received from him since.

I send the runner back to locate Merriman and another runner with him, the first one to stay with Merriman, the other to report back. Our position follows a low ridge about a mile and a half ahead and is outlined by light smoke and a hazy movement of air above. The firing is intermittent, mostly rifle and machine guns; I hear no artillery, only an occasional mortar. The sector is relatively quiet so far. I relax, the Fascists won’t attack in force without strong preliminary bombardment by artillery, planes, and tanks. Merriman has the map, I try to orientate myself without it. The steep mountains, roadless and rugged, on the left flank are held by other elements of the army corps, Copic and Doran are on the right, while our sector is this valley guarding the road to Gandesa. I have only a general idea of our plan but I know we’re stretched very thin. I missed the meeting where the plans were discussed and the instructions Dave gave me were very general. I am to assist Merriman, help him to enforce command, see that liaison is maintained, and do whatever is needed to maintain morale, to stiffen resistance; that Merriman is the best officer we have in the Brigade and although I am to be his Commissar, I should take my orders from him.

The runners I have sent after Merriman do not return. I must find Merriman, I can’t just sit here without knowing what he wants me to do, nor can I leave that post or Merriman won’t be able to get in touch with me. I send two more runners out, then two more to the other units asking for a situation report and whether they know the whereabouts of Merriman. Only one of the runners returns. Captain Hernández, Commander of the Spanish Battalion, reports two attacks early in the morning by the Fascists in company strength, both beaten back with heavy losses to the Fascists. His casualties are light, five men wounded, none of them seriously. He has been also trying to contact Merriman, his runners couldn’t reach him. Merriman is reported to be pinned down on the extreme right flank which is under heavy machine gun and mortar fire, he has no liaison with him. Hernández is asking for mortar and artillery support. I go back to report that to José Maria. He is worried about Merriman. He is not a military man, now that General Walter is gone he wants Merriman with him.

Lieutenant Diggs comes up. He is our liaison with the Fifth Army Corps, a brave and capable officer. Diggs is a young Westerner of college age with handsome features, winsome smile, and erect military bearing which makes him look taller than he is; he is less than medium height. I ask him to get me some artillery and mortar support for Fernández. He promises he’ll try but is not hopeful about it, the Army Corps is under very heavy attack in the northern sector. When I ask him how does it look, his usual cheerful smile vanishes into a frown. He doesn’t like it, the Corps is stretched very thin, we have no reserves, little artillery, the promised Soviet fighter planes haven’t come.

A little later the Fascists open up with artillery. As the shelling continues, I see men here and there leaving the line and heading for the rear. The guards stop them as they approach. They all obey but one, he continues in my direction. He is an odd sight, he wears a full wool uniform, a steel helmet, a rifle, a couple of hand grenades in his belt—full official battle equipment that I have seen no other man in the brigade to possess. I am puzzled. He is a husky boy, an American, broad-shouldered and athletic, I doubt if he is twenty. He walks unseeing, his eyes bulging and unblinking in a fixed stare, his mouth wide open. I haven’t seen him before, he must have come up with the last transport of volunteers fresh off the boat. He is in a state of shock, he won’t respond to inquiries about his name and unit, only mumbles: “I wanttogohome, I wanttogohome.” He makes a start to leave after each question but halts obediently when I tell him to stop, reacting like an automaton. I would like to get him out of here, it was patently wrong to have sent him into battle in the first place, and I wonder what I can do for him. I can’t let him go to the rear—he would undoubtedly be shot for desertion and cowardice—nor would it be right to send him back to the lines. I keep him with me, tell him to lie down and rest. He does so automatically, but slips away unnoticed later when the artillery starts searching for the Command Post and shells begin exploding near us.

The Fascist shelling increases in intensity, the situation is grim. Capt. Hernández sends a runner again asking for artillery and mortar support, also for permission to withdraw a half mile to a better defensive line. I inform him he must hold and send the group of stragglers up to him as reinforcement. I walk back to José Maria, he is on his way to see me, we meet halfway. Hours have passed since General Walter left, no word has been received from him. I tell José Maria that Fernández must have artillery and mortar support. He frowns, he has no idea where to get them. He decides he’ll go get in touch with General Walter. He tells me the line must be held at all costs, that I am responsible for it, and he is off.

The Fascist shelling grows very heavy, the line is ablaze with rapid rifle and machine gun fire. No new Fascist infantry attacks are reported, as yet. Our casualties are still light although increasing, and the line holds fast. I have liaison only with Capt. Hernández. None of my runners sent to the other units have returned. I do not even know where the other units are. I curse Merriman and his lousy egalitarian streak. As commander, he had no business to lead that unit into position personally and get himself pinned down right from the start, losing contact with the rest of his troops.

José Maria’s order means that I am now responsible for holding the position without having any control over the fighting. I have lost all my regular runners; the ones I am forcing into service now do not know the positions of the units; I can and do send them out but they do not return. I have no contact with Copic and Doran who are with the other half of the Brigade; I no longer have contact with the division either since José Maria has pulled out and the rest of his divisional staff evaporated. General Walter passed the buck to José Maria, he has passed the buck to me. I have no one to pass the buck to. I am it. That’s a hell of a way of being responsible for command when I don’t even know what troops we have.

More and more men come drifting down from the line. We stop as many as we can. I keep them with me as a sort of reserve, by now I have about fifty or sixty of them again. Now I feel more like a commander although I know these men are not much good, most of them will try to frig off when we come under direct attack. A number of shells again land near-by, the Fascist observers must have noticed the concentration around the Command Post. A few shells burst very close and sure enough the men bolt.

“Stay put! Keep your head down! Stay where you are!” I shout, but only a few of them heed me, the others run on desperately with the Fascist artillery pursuing them.

Lieutenant Diggs comes up again; he is looking for José Maria. When I tell him he is gone he reports to me. Fascist columns in force are infiltrating both on the right and left, the Spanish regiment on our left has broken, he fears I am being encircled. He is on his way back to the army Corps to report it. I ask him what does he advise? He declines, his job is that of liaison not command. Since we’re on close personal terms he confides he is glad that he can pull out in a hurry. I tell him I feel we ought to pull back but I have been ordered to hold at all costs. Diggs agrees I have no choice, an order to withdraw might result in a disorderly, panicky rout. When he leaves, he shakes hands, an unusual gesture for him. After a few paces he turns and calls back.

“See you in hell, Voros, hold a place for me!” He grins and he is gone.

The shadows are lengthening, my Ingersoll wristwatch has stopped, no one has a watch. It must be close to five. Shells are now rapidly exploding all over the field and suddenly the line ahead of me becomes alive, figures are rising, and the entire line falls back. They are not running, only walking back, I guess Hernández has decided to pull back that half mile on his own. But the line doesn’t stop, it keeps coming on. I walk ahead to intercept them, the road is full of men passing by me to the rear. I am the only one to walk against the tide and I am conscious of all eyes fixed on me.

Captain Hernández is in the middle of the column surrounded by a core of officers, his tanned face is streaked with blood, his forehead is bandaged. He tells me it was impossible to hold there any longer, they were receiving fire from both flanks, he had to pull out before being fully encircled. He has no further news about Merriman.

I explain the situation to Hernández. The orders are to hold at all cost; since Merriman is away the military command now falls on him. He accepts it grimly. I want to hold where we are but Hernández objects. We decide to fall back to a hill about two miles farther back, that hill commands the road and is a good defensive post, it provides a good view for miles. Hernández says they are very low on ammunition, unless I provide that in a hurry it will be impossible to offer much resistance. I recall having passed an ammo truck of ours that morning, just behind the fork of the road a few miles back. I see a station wagon field-ambulance that has pulled back with Hernández, it is empty. I ask the driver to take me back to pick up ammunition. The doctor in charge, a nonparty member, objects; I can’t use an ambulance for transporting ammunition. I tell him to report me to The Hague when the Fascists, who have bombed our hospitals and massacred our wounded in the hospitals they captured, come up for trial before the World Court, and drive back. I locate the truck; it is still there but is nearly empty, only a few cases are left. The chauffeur is glad to get rid of those last cases, he is anxious to return to the armory. I am glad to learn he knows where the armory is located. I tell the chauffeur to wait until I return, that the lives of half of the Brigade depend on my reaching that armory and bringing up fresh supplies. He is a good party member, he needs no persuasion. He is nervous but I don’t blame him; suddenly I realize I am also tense inside, perhaps even more than he.

By the time I return Hernández is busy placing his men into position. His command post is in a small cluster of heavy olive trees. He has less than three hundred men. He keeps a core of about forty hard-bitten veterans around his post as a mobile tough reserve, most of them Spaniards. He curses when he sees the few cases of ammunition I came back with; he wants to know how he is to hold with that. Besides, they also need food, his men are very hungry. I realize I am also very hungry. I haven’t had a bite since supper last evening.

To quiet him I tell Hernández I have learned the location of the armory and the Intendencia can’t be far away from that. The armory is just outside Mora La Nueva on the other side of the Ebro, little more than twenty kilometers away. I promise to bring up whatever I can, will also try to get reinforcements from the Division or the army Corps. Hernández urges me to hurry and I am about to leave when I remember something. I pull up formally.

“Captain Hernández, this place must be held at all cost, and you are responsible for it.”

I feel silly as I say it, also a bit ashamed. I have passed the buck to Hernández, just as General Walter had passed it to José Maria Sastré, who passed it to me. I know very well that position cannot be held for long unless we get reinforcements. Now that I am pulling out, Hernández is it.

The Fascist planes catch the truck twice. The second time halfway past Gandesa, just as we are passing an antiaircraft battery. We jump off and run into the field, I see a small foxhole and dive in, right on top of Dave Gordon who has beaten me to it, stomach trouble and all. I took Gordon along with me intending to leave him at the armory when I went back to Hernández, to have him take over in case anything happened to me. Although Gordon is unable to mask his fear as a leading comrade should, he is enough of a Communist to stay put under fire.

The planes come diving in. Bombs burst all around, machine gun bullets and shrapnel whizz overhead, thud into the ground. The foxhole is narrow, short, and not too deep, I am practically kneeling on Gordon’s back. We’re safe from everything except a direct hit or a hit close enough to cave us in. The earth is so big, this trench is so small I no longer worry about being hit. In fact I feel exhilarated knowing that for the first time we’re shooting back at those planes and after the bomb run ceases, I stick my head up to watch the antiaircraft guns in action. The field is hazy with blackish-blue picric smoke which shakes and shimmies in the wind, the gunners look like gnomes in the flashes of their guns. The bombers are back again and I drop back into the foxhole, a big fragment the size of a stove lid swishes by my head as I duck, this time I’m really scared.

The planes attack in waves, bombs follow bombs. When they finally depart they leave the field covered with a deep layer of choking dark smoke the eye can hardly penetrate. I cough and wipe the tears from my smarting eyes. Bomb craters are everywhere, some are huge, some merely scooped-out holes, smoke is rising from some, others look like freshly excavated earth. The fifty-odd bombs I counted caused not a single casualty. The antiaircraft guns are intact; the crew are grimy with smoke and sweat, their faces distorted by strain. The gunners walk around weary and bent, their weepy eyes bloodshot from the acrid fumes.

We expect the truck to be riddled by shrapnel but we find it intact. We get on and get going, cross the Ebro River over the much-bombed steel bridge which had not received a single direct hit either, and locate the ammo depot without much difficulty outside Mora la Nueva. It is now sunset but with plenty of daylight left.

The Spanish captain in charge of the ammo dump, a tall, pale, flabby-looking man in his thirties, is antagonistic. He protests when I request a truckload of small arms ammo, rifles, and hand grenades sent up at once. He claims the truck will never reach there because of the Fascist planes. He wants to await the cover of night. I think of Hernández and his men facing annihilation after their few cases of ammo are spent and demand angrily that the truck be loaded at once. The captain does not answer back, goes into one of the houses to give orders to load the truck, I presume. I lie down on the ground to take a quick nap but sleep doesn’t come. I am back with Hernández, getting set for a new Fascist attack. I wake with a start, it is getting dark. I walk over to the truck, it is as empty as when we pulled in, no activity around. I run to the house where I last saw the captain enter, I find him at a well-set table, eating his supper calmly. I storm at him why hasn’t he loaded my truck, he answers unperturbed that the truck would be loaded after the men have finished their supper. I feel like murdering the bastard but that wouldn’t speed up anything. I yell and curse and threaten until he quits his meal. I walk out with him, follow close on his heels as he issues his orders.

His men are all Spaniards. They go about loading the truck among voluble discussions and arguments, too slow to suit me. I urge, plead, cajole, exhort them to hurry. I appeal to their patriotism and loyalty, praise extravagantly the glorious achievements of the Loyalist Army. They smile with pride, say “Sí-Sí!”, but the loading doesn’t progress any faster. By the time the truck is loaded and we’re pulling out it is night, the stars are bright in the sky.

Mora la Nueva is now deserted as we dash up to the bridge. We’re halted by Spanish troops within fifty yards of it. They won’t let us proceed, the bridge is about to be blasted. I plead with the Spanish major in charge to let us dash through. He insists it is too late, the dynamite charges are all in place, they will be set off momencito. We argue and fight, he becomes very excited when he learns that our truck is loaded with ammo. He yells at his men who watch me with rifles at the ready to get that truck turned around and driven back a distance.

A messenger rushes up from somewhere, the major screams “Everybody take cover,” he sprints back, his men scatter and disappear as if swallowed by the earth. A tremendous explosion shakes the ground, followed by other detonations. A column of flame envelops the middle span of the bridge, a huge section of it rises, steel girders float into the sky riding on tongues of flame. I am impotent with rage, filled with shame and guilt. I see Hernández entrapped, I should be with him. My fists are clenched so tight they tremble. That buckling girder is closing the mouth of the trap as I watch, forgetful of taking cover. A large steel fragment whizzes by my head, the air is full of hissing shrapnel, I throw myself to the ground until the air is clear of flying fragments. Flames are still licking the frame of the bridge, they die out slowly one after the other. An awed hush settles on the night. My mind won’t focus. I only sense that something indefinable has reached its termination, that an irrevocable finale has taken place before my eyes.

I walk back to the truck, tell the men to stay put until they hear from me, and wander around until I come across a wide dugout cut into the side of a hill. I walk inside, it is a high-domed large earth chamber excavated from the hillside with connecting chambers to the right and left. The dugout is lighted dimly by kerosene lamps hanging from the ceiling. I see a few divisional staff officers in the shadows arguing in Polish and German among themselves. I walk over to them, they know nothing or won’t tell, they are waiting for news and orders themselves. I cross into a connecting chamber and unexpectedly see Lieutenant Colonel Copic there in his shiny black leather puttees striding fretfully up and down, talking in Russian to other officers whom I have never seen before.

“Comrade Copic!”” I call to him, and he practically runs over to me. “Where is the Brigade?” he demands in a harsh tone, anxiety mingled with relief.

“That’s what I want to know,” I retort accusingly. He doesn’t know; he had gone to the Army Corps for reinforcements and by the time he got back here they wouldn’t let him cross the bridge. I tell him about Merriman and the position where I left Captain Hernández. He gets out his map, I show him our last position, he shows me where he left Dave Doran.

It is more than 25 miles from there to the Ebro. They are left deserted on the other side, cut off from all supplies, trapped by that premature, panicky blasting of the bridge. They should have let us withdraw and defend that bridge, hold it open until the last minute, until all the troops got back safe. The Ebro is too wide and deep to ford, too swift for most men to swim. Doran, Hernández, and the men with them will be hunted down by the Fascists like dogs. Neither of us says this out loud but we both know it. We also know that we have lost the Brigade. We glare at each other without uttering a word. Copic resents seeing me alive, my eyes full of accusations. I resent seeing him alive in his pressed uniform and shiny black puttees. It was Lieutenant Colonel Copic’s duty as military commander to stay with the troops, it was Commissar Doran who should have gone to the Fifth Army. I turn my back on him without a word and stride outside.

The town is completely deserted. I walk around aimlessly when I see a light shining from a big garage. Some men from our Brigade Auto Park are busily stripping that garage of tools, parts, and whatever they can find, while the others are engaged in tearing down an inside brick partition. They are cheerful and happy about it, most of them are New York boys who take a great pride in “organizing” whatever they can lay their hands on, stealing whatever they can to keep our Brigade supplied with vehicles. They find that town a veritable treasure trove of abandoned army vehicles and they are busy towing away trucks, cars, motorcycles, everything with wheels on. They are tearing down that partition to get at a bus the owner had walled in there to hide it from the government. It is a beautiful luxury passenger bus, brand-new and shiny with red paint and chrome; we gape at this symbol of a long-forgotten peaceful civilian world. Even those cheerful scroungers are awed; taking that bus seems like out-and-out theft to them and they are not thieves. This bus is definitely a civilian vehicle, they feel they have no right to take it, nor can they bring themselves to leave it there for some civilian government officials to grab.

They want the bus very badly but are afraid of the possible consequences. They draw me into the debate. I, too, want that bus for our Brigade, but I’m similarly apprehensive. Finally we argue it out that the owner of the bus, by hiding it, is ipso facto a Fascist. He should have declared it to the government. The right thing to do is to take the bus into custody to protect the interests of the government, and turn it over to the civilian authorities later, if so requested. That sophist decision pleases everyone and the bus is towed away in triumph. By then it is getting along toward dawn. I go back to the dugout and find about thirty men from the various units in the Brigade sleeping on the ground. I lie down too and close my eyes. Sleep is hovering around but won’t settle: Hernández, the planes, the terrified boy with the bulging eyes, the exploding bridge all merge into a pinwheel that whirls around and around until I am dizzy and black out. . . .

NarcoticsThe operating room is in a tent, the flaps are drawn tightly to prevent telltale gleams of light escaping into the night. The air is stifling hot under the bright gasoline lamp; amputated arms hands, and legs overflow onto the packed dirt floor from the large wicker basket in the corner. Dr. Broggi, Division Surgeon, is operating on a bullet-perforated belly, his hairy arms are bloody past the elbows, his rubber apron is dripping blood on his shoes. He has been operating without a stop for more than twenty-four hours. It is now way past midnight, but there is still a line of stretchers with belly and thigh wounds awaiting emergency surgery outside. I am standing at his side feeding him cigarettes, placing them in his mouth for short puffs. Although he is totally exhausted, his quick, sure fingers move with precision. He sews up the incision, drops his instruments, and staggers out. I follow him and catch him as he is about to collapse, lay him gently on the first stretcher near-by which is sticky with blood. By the time I lift his legs on to the stretcher he is asleep. I go back to the tent. The tiny operating nurse who looks like a girl stunted in early growth is also groggy, but she stays to clean up. No orderly is around and she tries to carry the heavy can full of dead tissue, blood, and muck out of the tent all by herself. I run over and take it from her. My hand wraps around a slimy, snakelike object that slops over the handle. It moves under my grip, a piece of large intestine. I nearly drop the can in fright but stagger outside with it, lay it down and retch. I retch and retch until nothing comes up
any more, yet I retch and retch until I wake up in the morning aching in every bone. . . .


We have recrossed the Ebro in a counteroffensive, have fought our way back close to Gandesa. After a short rest we are moving back to the line again. Paul Wendorff, my former assistant on the Historical Commission, is on my staff now, he was sent to the Brigade when the Albacete base was moved to Barcelona. When the Brigade goes into action, the political members on the Commissariat staff are now divided among the battalions to assist the battalion commissars. I assign Wendorff to the Lincoln, the British is reserved for myself. The British are our shock battalion and I like to work with Bob Cooney.

This time the Lincoln is scheduled to attack. Wendorff, who had been at Jarama for many months, feels the odds are against him. We discuss that. I hold that the chances are the same for everyone every time he goes into battle regardless of how many previous engagements he has been through. Wendorff feels the cumulative chances work against a man, he is downcast and gloomy. Since the British battalion is to be in reserve in this engagement, I decide to change places with Wendorff and assign him to take my place with the British in the rear. Wendorff’s eyes moisten, he mumbles words of gratitude. I shake that off brusquely. He is a big strapping fellow, I don’t want him to feel embarrassed later for that temporary funk.

The Lincoln makes a surprise attack at dusk which collapses at the start because of poor training. The men lose contact with each other in the dark, they stumble around loosening rocks and alert the Fascists who meet them with mortars, grenades, machine guns; their artillery lays down a protective barrage and the attack has to be discontinued. In the morning when Wendorff calls in his report, he sounds very cheerful. The battalion is ten kilometers behind the lines, the Battalion Post is well hidden and camouflaged against planes. He is happy with the British, thinks they are wonderful comrades. An hour later the British Battalion calls—a stray shell exploded at their Command Post, one of those freak accidents of war. Comrade Wendorff was killed instantly, no one else was hurt.

I strike out at once for the British Battalion. One of the boys around Headquarters is a promising young Spanish YCL-er, I take him along for company. The boy chatters about what he plans to do after the war, asks me whether he should be a doctor or a lawyer, but I hardly hear him, my mind is on Wendorff, I keep seeing his large moist eyes. I become aware that I do not hear the boy’s voice, I look around and see him half kneeling, tying the broken string of his rope-soled canvas zapata. I slow down but do not stop, let him catch up. He is running after me, we’re going downhill, he has changed sides, he is in line with me but on my other side now, still a few yards back, when I am stunned by an explosion and hit by flying dirt.

I shake off the earth, rub the dirt out of my eyes, massage my ears to stop the ringing, and only then do I hear his screams. He is twisting on the ground with one leg gone, the other at a crazy angle, his stomach one big bloody wound.

“Help me, comrade, help me!” he moans. “Help me, Comrade Voros!” he murmurs, his eyes beseeching me. There is nothing I can do. I squat down beside him, lay my hand on his head. He whispers but I can’t make it out, his pleading eyes are on me; his lips move and then he stops breathing.

I am still in shock, I keep stroking his forehead, his face dissolves into Wendorff’s tear-moistened eyes. If I hadn’t brought that boy along, if I had stopped when he was tying his zapata, he wouldn’t have strayed to the other side of me, he would have remained on my left, if I hadn’t been soft with Wendorff and traded posts with him . . . “THAT ISN’T SO!” I scream inside. “Stop blaming yourself. The chances are one in a billion for you to have been in exactly the same spot where the shell that killed Wendorff landed, where this boy got hit instead of you!” That doesn’t work, the boy and Wendorff now merge into one bloody mutilated corpse, four eyes are beseeching me for help. “NO!” my lips move, “no—No—NO!” My breath chokes in my lungs, my eyes fill with tears and the next morning when I
wake my pillow is wringing wet, the sheets are twisted and damp with sweat, the muscles in my face are taut, my spine feels empty of marrow.

“Your old ague must be acting up again,” I hear my wife say. I look up, she stands at my bedside, her voice filled with concern. “I had better call the doctor.”

“No. It’s all over,” I assure her tonelessly. But I know it is not over, it will never be over. . . .