UW Today

This is an archived article.

September 9, 1998

Monument to Spanish Civil War volunteers to be dedicated Oct. 14

News and Information

The first major monument in the United States to American volunteers in the Spanish Civil War will be dedicated at 2 p.m., Oct. 14 in the auditorium of the Husky Union Building (HUB) at the University of Washington.

The monument, which was privately financed, is located just to the west of the HUB. It consists of a block of granite on which a sculpted bronze plaque has been mounted. The plaque honors the 11 University of Washington students, 3,000 Americans and 40,000 international volunteers who fought in the International Brigades between 1936 and 1939. The plaque was executed by sculptor David Ryan of Oakland, Calif.

The dedication of the monument culminates a local effort, spearheaded by the Veterans of the American Lincoln Brigade and Friends in Washington, to honor the Americans who volunteered to fight fascism on the battlefields of Spain in what turned out to be the prelude to World War II.

The Spanish army, led by Francisco Franco, rebelled against the elected Spanish government in July 1936. The regular army was met with resistance by a quickly organized defense force consisting of workers, peasants, students and intellectuals. Though poorly armed, the defenders of the Republic defeated the army in the major cities of Madrid, Barcelona and Valencia.

Germany and Italy intervened in support of the rebellion. The first military airlift ever occurred when Nazi planes transported Franco’s troops to battle. Italy sent airplanes, tanks, trucks and some 47,000 ground troops. Nazi planes conducted the first saturation bombing of a defenseless civilian target when they obliterated the town of Guernica.

England and France, hoping to appease Hitler, adopted a policy of non-intervention and instituted an arms embargo against Republican Spain. The U.S. also denied arms to the Republic, while oil supplied by American companies fueled rebel tanks and planes.

The world communist movement, pursuing the policy of a popular front against fascism, recruited and organized volunteers. Anti-fascist volunteers of all political persuasions volunteered for the International Brigades; 40,000 volunteers from 53 countries traveled to Spain to defend the Republic. Among these volunteers were 3,000 Americans, who had to travel first to France and then by boat or by foot to Spain, where their passports were not valid.

Nearly half of the volunteers in what became known as the American Lincoln Brigade died in battle. When the U.S. entered World War II, nearly every able-bodied veteran of the brigade volunteered again for military service.

Only 5 percent of Lincoln Brigade are still alive. In 1996, the Spanish government granted honorary citizenship to the surviving volunteers of the International Brigades.

Monuments to members of the International Brigades are found throughout Europe, but recognition in America has been absent. The only notoriety many brigade members received was being subjected to investigations in the 1950s for participation in leftist organizations.

“Seattle is an appropriate place for this monument because of its long history as the home of progressive movements,” said Anthony Geist, UW associate professor of Spanish and Portuguese studies. “But the greatest amount of credit should go to the local Lincoln Brigade veterans, who have continued to be active in social movements and who have worked to hard to make sure this monument was built.”

Bob Reed, who has headed up the local veterans’ group, said, “I am proud and happy that this is finally happening here.” Several years ago, Reed donated his personal papers from the Spanish Civil War era to the UW Libraries.

The veterans also have been interested in passing on their experiences through education. Abe Osheroff, who also has been involved in establishing the monument, has taught in several UW classes about his experiences in the Spanish Civil War and will be teaching again this spring. “I think the participation of young people in our ceremony is especially important,” he said.