Spain in our Hearts

For anyone stirred by the Spanish Civil War (1936-1939), the recently published book by Adam Hochschild is a must read.  Spain in our Hearts.  It is a painful, tragic, true history of the war.  What I liked most about the book were the final chapters where Hochschild documented the lives of the survivors of the Abraham Lincoln Brigade.  


My good friend, Sue Hanna, introduced me to the Abraham Lincoln Brigade.  Together we attended many of the annual reunions of the Abraham Lincoln Brigade (ALBA) in New York City on May Day weekend.  Those trips were memorable days.  Keynote speakers included Pete Seeger, Harry Bellefonte, Amy Goodman, Judge Baltasar Garzon …  One reunion was held at the Cooper Union building using the actual podium where Abraham Lincoln gave his campaign speech in 1860.  To be sure that was “fitting and proper”.  At the reunions, the living veterans would address the crowded auditorium with endless enthusiasm and spunk.  It was intimidating and encouraging at the same time to be in such a crowd of liberal people.

The last ALB veteran, Delmer Berg, died on 28 Feb 2016.  He was 100.  For me it was a sad day.  I lost a hero.  The world lost a good man. 



Sue Hanna with Jack Penrod in 2006 (F Nash Collection)

Ms Hanna and I followed, and honored, Jack Penrod (1913-2008).  Born in Birmingham, Al and raised in Johnstown, PA,  Mr John Arthur Penrod was a graduate of Pitt in 1936.  Working as an activist organizing steel workers at the Jones & Laughlin plant in Aliquippa, PA, he was fired for his efforts.  Always idealistic, he went to Spain in 1937 to fight Franco fascism.  He led a sniper squad in the MacKenzie-Papineau Battalion of the 15th International Brigade in Teruel and was wounded before the famed retreat across the Ebro River and the departure parade for the International Brigades along the Diagonal Ave in Barcelona.  That departure parade was witnessed by 300,000 people of Barcelona on 28 Oct 1938.  (Two weeks after the farewell to the International Brigades, Nazi storm troopers attacked 1,000 synagogues and 7,000 Jewish businesses in what became known as Kristallnacht.)  When Franco “liberated”  Barcelona two months later the Diagonal was empty.  After serving in the Philippines during WW II, Mr Penrod became a professor and later Emeritus Professor of English at the University of Florida.  According to Hochschild, Mr Penrod destroyed his memoir of the Spanish Civil War because “at one time I didn’t know whether they (FBI) might actually get a search warrant to search our house”.  Mr Penrod was in his nineties and hatpin sharp when I last spoke with him.


Sherron Biddle toasting Ernest Hemmingway with her Cava in the Hotel Majestic 2014 (F Nash Collection)

Fellow world traveler, Sherron Biddle, and I have visited together the Barcelona and Ebro River area of Spain.  Today its Montsant and Priorat wines (DOQ) are celebrated worldwide.  While in Barcelona, we toasted Ernest Hemmingway and the other  Spanish Civil War journalists with a glass of Cava at the Majestic Hotel where he lodged during the war.  We also walked the Diagonal on a wet and dreary day in solidarity with the ideals of the ALB.


Have a look at the The Volunteer.   It’s a quarterly magazine featuring current news about the Spanish Civil War and the history of the volunteers of the Abraham Lincoln Brigade.  The 2016 ALBA award ceremony is Sat, 7 May, honoring Lydia Cacho and Jeremy Scahill. 


For supplying the oil, trucks, and tires to Franco, damn Texaco, Firestone, Ford, GM, …  It did not occur to me that I could be so moved by a history book.

Although this post has nothing to do with steamboats, it is near to my heart.


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