Irish and Jewish Volunteers
in the Spanish Anti-Fascist War


Manus O’Riordan

All copyright rests with the author. Quotes can be made from this document for study and academic purposes, as long as proper credit is given to the author.

The publishers of this site wish to thank Manus O'Riordan for his permission to carry this document which will be of interest to anyone looking at Ireland and the Spanish Civil War, or the broader Labour movement in Ireland, in particular the history of the Jewish working class in Ireland.

Manus O’Riordan is the Research Officer of the Irish Transport and General Workers’ Union. The lecture was initially presented at the IRISH JEWISH MUSEUM, Walworth Road (off Victoria Street), South Circular Road, Portobello, Dublin 8, on Sunday, November 15th 1987

[This edition has been slightly edited to remove the notes about when various songs were played at this recital. I hope these minor changes have not affected the meaning of the original document. To give readers an idea of the music played, I have attached the full list of songs at the end of the document. CC, 14th April 2000.]

"50 years ago history’s warning trumpets were heard in Spain ... But there were people who realised just what a fascist victory in Spain would mean. Courageous men from many nations volunteered to help the Republicans - the men of the International Brigades ... We are paying them a debt of esteem and honour. But first and foremost we owe them a debt for what they taught us."

Such was the tribute paid by the Irish-born President of Israel, Chaim Herzog, who had opened the Irish Jewish Museum in 1985.

This lecture highlighted the roles of both Irish and Jewish volunteers in the International Brigades in Spain. In particular it told the story of an Irish born Jewish volunteer, Maurice Levitas (who is now a teacher in the East German city of Potsdam), recalling his childhood memories of life on Dublin’s South. Circular Road, as well as his adult memories of combat and imprisonment in Spain. The lecture was illustrated by Irish, Jewish and Spanish songs recorded by Paul Robeson and a New York Jewish volunteer, Max Parker, with whom Maurice Levitas shared a year in a fascist prison camp.

The lecturer, Manus O’Riordan, hails from Victoria Street, South Circular Road. and is the son of the International Brigade veteran, Michael O’Riordan.

Introduction By Labour History Workshop

On the night of Sunday, November 15, 1987, as many as 150 people crowded into the restored synagogue of the Irish Jewish Museum to hear Manus O’Riordan, Research Officer of the Irish Transport and General Workers’ Union, give a 50th anniversary lecture and record recital on Irish and Jewish Volunteers in the Spanish Anti-Fascist War. The lecturer spoke from the former synagogue’s pulpit as the fifty-year-old Memorial Banner of the Fifteenth International Brigade’s Connolly Column hung from a place of honour beside the Ark. Held under the auspices of the Irish Jewish Museum’s Cultural Committee, this public lecture had attracted an audience that was particularly diverse in its composition. Among those present in their personal capacities were the Chief Rabbi of Ireland, the General Secretary of the Irish Congress of Trade Unions, the Chairman of the Irish Labour Party and the President of the Democratic Socialist Party (both of whom are T.D.s - Members of the Irish parliament), the First Secretary of the USSR Embassy and a representative of the Israeli Embassy. Both Jewish and non-Jewish relatives of International Brigadiers were also present, including the brothers of two volunteers killed in Spain, while in the front row of the restored synagogue sat two surviving International Brigadiers, Peter O’Connor and the speaker’s father, Michael O’Riordan.

Between recordings played and the lecture itself the event ran for over two hours. The following is a transcript of the lecture, retaining some sections of the prepared text, which due to time constraints had to be shortened on the occasion itself.

Visit the page on M Levitas

Irish and Jewish Volunteers
in the Spanish Anti-Fascist War
A 50th Anniversary Lecture And Record Recital

The Chairperson, Marilyn Taylor, introduced the lecturer, Manus O’Riordan, who is Research Officer of the Irish Transport and General Workers’ Union She pointed out that he was known not only for his work as a labour historian - having published material on Irish socialist pioneers such as James Connolly, Jim Larkin and Frederick Ryan - but also for his keen interest in Jewish history. In fact an article by him on the history of anti-Semitism in Irish politics had been published in the ‘Irish Jewish Yearbook’ 1984-85.

Following this introduction, Manus O’Riordan read the following paper:- I should like to express my appreciation to the Irish Jewish Museum’s Cultural Committee for the opportunity to give this commemorative lecture and record recital. They are, of course, no more responsible for its content than you the audience. I am well aware that this public event has attracted an audience of considerable diversity, and that not only are there Irish citizens present who hold a wide range of political and religious views, but also visitors from such countries as the U.S.A. (Professor Hal Abramson of the University of Connecticut), the Soviet Union (Vladimir Minderov, First secretary of the USSR Embassy in Dublin) and Israel (Dr Moshe Azencot of Hebrew University, Jerusalem, deputising for Bruce Kashdan, Counsellor for Irish affairs of the Israeli Embassy). Some of the audience might like my dots, and others might prefer my commas, but nobody else could be expected to endorse all my dots and commas. And yet, despite all our diversity, there is, I believe, something very precious which unites us all tonight over and above our common humanity - a desire to remember and pay homage to all those from many diverse origins themselves who fell in that first confrontation with the evils of fascism fifty years ago.

Before proceeding further I should, however, acknowledge some of the distinguished members of this audience. I should like to welcome the Chief Rabbi of Ireland, Very Reverend Rabbi Ephraim Mirvis. (Also present were two Catholic priests who have shown themselves to be in the tradition of Father Michael O’Flanagan by taking a progressive stand on a number of controversial social issues - the Dominican theologian Father Austin Flannery, a good and valued friend of the O’Riordan family for many years, and Father Paul Taylor, a curate from the local Catholic parish of St Kevin’s.)

I am most heartened that the General Secretary of the Irish Congress of Trade Unions, Donal Nevin, is able to be with us tonight. (The General Secretary Designate of the ICTU, Peter Cassells, was also present.) I also welcome the following public representatives:- Mervyn Taylor T.D. (Member of the Irish Parliament and Chairman of the Irish Labour Party, who is also Vice Chairman of the Jewish Representative Council of Ireland), Jim Kemmy T.D. (Member of the Irish Parliament and President of the Democratic Socialist Party), Senator David Norris (Trinity College Dublin Joycean scholar), Councillor Michael O’Halloran (Labour Party and a former Lord Mayor of Dublin) and Councillor Eric Byrne (Workers’ Party).

I am honoured that so many International Brigades veterans of Spain who cannot be present tonight have nonetheless sent me warm messages of good luck, including Eoghan Duinnin, author of ‘La Nina Bonita agus an Roisin Dubh’, the first book on the Spanish War to be published in the Irish language.

From Britain come greetings from Irish veterans Bob Doyle and Joe Monks, Jewish veterans Dave Goodman and Maurice Levine - and other veterans including the former General Secretary of the Transport and General Workers’ Union, Jack Jones, and the Secretary of the International Brigade Association, Bill Alexander.

From the U.S.A. come best wishes from the editor of The Volunteer, Ben Iceland, from the author of Prisoners of the Good Fight, Carl Geiser, from Irish-American vet Paul Burns and from Jewish-American vet Al Prago, author of Jews in the International Brigades. From the Israeli city of Tel Aviv come greetings from Zalman Salzman, Secretary of the Israeli Association of International Brigadiers, and last but most certainly not least, from the G.D.R. city of Potsdam comes the warmest of messages from the Irish Jewish veteran Maurice Levitas.

I am, of course, especially pleased that present in this audience tonight are two International Brigade survivors - my father Michael O’Riordan (present National Chairman and former General Secretary of the Communist Party of Ireland) who is a veteran of the Battle of the Ebro and author of The Connolly Column - The Story of the Irishmen who Fought for the Spanish Republic, and Peter O’Connor (a former Labour Party member of Waterford City Council) who is a veteran of the Battle of Jarama.

Solidarity on the home front was also of critical importance. Yet there was only one Irish trade union leader at the time prepared to openly support the Spanish Republic - John Swift (who would be President of the Irish Trade Union Congress in 1946-47). Now 91 years of age, John Swift was a resident of the nearby Clanbrassil Street area from 1912 to 1936, where he formed many close bonds with Dublin’s Jewish community. I am delighted to welcome John here tonight together with his good friend Professor Jacob Weingreen (Trinity College Dublin’s internationally renowned Hebrew scholar).

It is indeed a great honour for me to speak here tonight at the Irish Jewish Museum - a project which has certainly brought together a wealth of history and tradition. And it has done so most appropriately in a building so full of history in its own right, not only as the location of a synagogue established in 1917, but prior to that, at the turn of this century, as the early childhood home of that pioneering historian of the Jewish Community in Ireland, Bernard Shillman. Since this Museum was formally opened in 1985 by a "neighbour’s child" - the Irish - born President of Israel, Chaim Herzog, I have been a frequent visitor. But I am no stranger to this area. For I too am a "neighbour’s child". I was born in 1949 in a nursing home located just down the street at 102 South Circular Road, Portobello, (now renumbered as no. 18), which house had been the home of the President’s father, the first Chief Rabbi of Ireland, Isaac Herzog, throughout the 1920s. (He later moved the short distance to 33, Bloomfield Avenue for the remaining years of his ministry here before becoming Chief Rabbi of Eretz Israel.) I was accordingly born in the same house where Chaim Herzog spent most of his Dublin childhood and where his gifted brother, the late Ya’acov Herzog, had been born in 1921. Moreover, my childhood of the 1950's and 1960s was spent just around the corner from this Museum in the family home at 37 Victoria Street where my parents still live. In the early years of my childhood 13 out of the 48 homes on our street were Jewish. Indeed, playing on these streets as my Jewish neighbours returned home from this Walworth Road synagogue as well as from the neighbouring Lennox Street synagogue, I would sometimes be requested to perform the ‘shabbos goy’ service of flicking a light switch or striking a match. My father had occasion to do a similar favour for the Rabbi who lived across from us on Victoria Street. Times change and now there is only one Jewish resident remaining in Victoria Street, Mrs Jean Bernstein, whom I am happy to see among us this evening.

So much for childhood memories. What we are here to commemorate tonight is the 50th anniversary of the war that raged from 1936 to 1939 between the forces of international fascism and those who rallied to defend the democratic rights of the Spanish people as expressed through their Republic. What ensured that a Spanish Civil War resulted in the triumph of a dictatorship over the majority of Spanish people was the international character of that War. When Franco commenced his fascist revolt against the democratically elected Government of Spain in July 1936 it was with an army of 75,000 Moroccan troops (which was airlifted by the German Luftwaffe). To his aid came the Italian fascist dictator Mussolini with 100,000 troops and the Nazi German leader Adolf Hitler with 50,000 men. The Portuguese fascist dictator Salazar also supplied several thousand troops. In short, during the course of that war the Spanish Republic was subjected to a fascist invasion of a quarter of a million troops. Only two states, the Soviet Union and Mexico, provided any material assistance to counter this assault. The West not alone did not help the Spanish Republic, it actually impeded its struggle for survival by its so-called ‘Non-Interventionist’ blockade.

In spite of the failure of such Governments to confront the march of fascism through Spain, there were 45,000 volunteers from all over the world prepared to fight for the Republic. The fiftieth anniversary of their heroic stand has been commemorated in ceremonies in many countries, and not least in Spain itself. Here in Ireland a particularly moving commemoration took place in September of last year at the monument on Achill Island to the first Irishman to die in defence of Madrid, Tommy Patton, who hailed from the island village of Dooega. And in commemorations in two particular states with quite different political and social systems the President of each was to the fore.

Neither President had himself been an International Brigadier. But although they represent very different political perspectives, what both Presidents share in common is a record of relentless struggle against Hitlerism. Indeed, the President of the German Democratic Republic, Erich Honecker, was to spend a decade of his life incarcerated by the Nazis. At a commemorative ceremony in Berlin in September of last year he paid tribute to all International Brigadiers, not least to the 5,000 of his fellow German anti-Nazis who - having escaped their native land - went on to confront Hitler’s war machine on the battlefields of Spain, where 3,000 of them were to perish. The President of Israel also fully understood the significance of the stand taken by the International Brigades, especially by the 7,000 Jewish anti-fascists who filled their ranks. President Herzog has informed me that while a student in London University in 1937 he was involved in a demonstration of solidarity with the Spanish Republic. He himself went on to have a distinguished war record in the struggle to defeat Hitlerism. In fact Chaim Herzog was among the first Allied troops to cross the Rhine, was wounded at Bremen and was among the captors of Himmler, the head of the Nazi SS. In September of last year an international gathering of anti-fascists also met in Jerusalem for a series of commemoratorative ceremonies to honour the International Brigades. On September 29 the assembled gathering of Communists, Socialist Zionists and other anti-fascists was addressed by the President of Israel with the following words:-

Fifty years ago history’s warning trumpets were heard in Spain. The bloody civil war was only an introductory forerunner for the most terrible years in the history of mankind. That was a challenging chapter when the forces of darkness and fascism came up against all the ideas of freedom, democracy, and social advancement. The tragedy was that Hitler and Mussolini understood very well the significance of this test of strength at, a time when the democracies, immersed in internal problems and disputes, did not grasp it. They preferred to pay lip service, or just remain faint-hearted. At the time of the Spanish Civil War there were 55 million people alive who would soon die during the Second World War. There were also six million of our brethren still alive in Europe who did not yet realise that a sword was poised over their necks.

But there were people who realised just what a fascist victory in Spain would mean. Courageous men from many nations volunteered to help the Republicans; Among them were Democrats, Socialists, Communists. They united in a common front and fought against the perdition and holocaust that was threatening the world. Among the International Brigade volunteers were all kinds of men: writers, poets, artists, who would contribute to the new age. Typically there was a relatively high number of Jews among the volunteers - the highest proportion of any other group. There were even a few hundred from the tiny fledgling community in Eretz Israel.

Today we know very well that the Second World War could not have been prevented. We know that the fascist victory in Spain paved the way for the tragic attempt of Hitler and Mussolini to control the world and to trample democracy, culture, and the honourable spirit of man. The fascist victory and the apathetic stand of the democracies convinced the Nazis and Fascists that they would be able to win in war; and that was precisely what made them embark on it.

In coming here today after fifty years to exalt the miracle of the heroes and the sacrifices of the volunteers, the men of the International Brigades In the Spanish Civil War, we are paying them a debt of esteem and honour. But first and foremost we owe them a debt for what they taught us.

In the name of the people of Israel, the principal victims of the Nazis and Fascists, I hereby pay homage to the honour and glory of all those volunteer fighters who used their bodies as a dam against a wave of evil -- to all those who gave their lives in this cause, and to those who continued the fight from that day - to those survivors, may they enjoy a good and long life. Here I salute them as comrades in arms in the war against the Nazis; they are the bearers of the vision of the spirit of mankind, the guardian of the image of humanity; and the defenders of human culture.

Such was the tribute paid by Chaim Herzog.

A year after the end of the Spanish War that song was recorded by the American folk singer Pete Seeger, with a background chorus of American survivors from the Brigade’s Abraham Lincoln Battalion. More than forty years were to elapse before a song doing justice to the memory of the Irish volunteers would be composed and recorded by Christy Moore for his 1984 album "Ride On", a song which he said was inspired by reading my father’s book The Connolly Column. But a good song will travel fast and far. It was to appear unexpectedly in April of last year at a 50th anniversary commemorative gathering in New York of Veterans of the Abraham Lincoln Battalion in Spain. Pete Seeger was once again singing the anti-fascist songs he had sung 50 years ago. And then he stepped forward to announce that Christy Moore’s song would now be sung by the nephew of a Canadian veteran, Len Wallace.

In no country outside the fascist world did the supporters of the Spanish Republic face greater problems than in Ireland. It is a sad fact that it was left to the Republican Congress and the small Communist Party of Ireland to be the only political forces in this State alive to the danger; posed by the Fascist assault on Spain. While the leader of the Northern Ireland Labour Party, Harry Midgley, was to play a particularly courageous role in campaigning for anti-fascist solidarity in the North, the position South of the Border was far different. At the 1938 Conference of the Irish Labour Party a solitary delegate, Conor Cruise O’Brien, had attempted to raise the issue by arguing:- "... This revolt against a democratically elected Government was supported by international Fascism with Nazis and Italian troops... The Fascist Generals, having failed to achieve their objectives by ballots turned to bullets. Every country which valued its freedom had a duty to hold out against the forces of Fascism in all their forms, even in Spain".

Not so, cried delegates as several of them rose to their feet in consternation. Gerard McGowan T.D. charged that Cruise O’Brien had made statements "of the kind that had brought the Labour Party into contempt throughout the whole of Ireland" and had spoken "in a manner that was calculated to harm the Party more than anything else, and he felt that he would be lacking in his duty as a citizen and as a Catholic if he did not enter a protest". That, unfortunately, was the Voice of Irish Labour on the fascist assault on Spain.

This incident is but one indication of the atmosphere that resulted in Ireland being the only non-Fascist Country to send volunteers to help the Fascists in Spain. 700 were recruited for this purpose by Ireland’s Blueshirt leader, General Eoin O’Duffy. Their behaviour was not particularly heroic. They took part in only one action - a clash with Canary Island troops belonging to their own Fascist side in which two of their number were killed. When four others died during a brief period in the trenches they returned to Ireland after only six months. Now it is only fair to say that the majority of them were not Fascists by conviction but rather had a misguided religious fervour cunningly exploited by the real Fascists of whom O’Duffy was the key figure. One should not gloss over such facts no matter how unpalatable. For example, in his recently republished book, "The Blueshirts", Senator Maurice Manning claims that "There is no evidence that the Blueshirts were anti-Semitic". But there is General Eoin O’Duffy, the Irish Free State’s first Commissioner of the Gardai Siochana from 1922 to 1933, Chief Marshall of the Eucharistic Congress of 1932, Blueshirt leader and first President of the Fine Gael Party in 1933-34, was not in the least bit reticent in publicly proclaiming his anti-Semitic prejudices. They remained an essential ingredient of his Fascist philosophy. As he put it in April 1938, he took full responsibility for "the organisation of the Irish Brigade against Communism, Jewry and Freemasonry, for bringing that Brigade to Spain, and for bringing it home when it had fulfilled its obligations to the full". The fact that anti-Semitism was an essential feature of pro-Franco propaganda from the very outset is highlighted by an American Jewish veteran of the International Brigade, Albert Prago, author of a particularly important pamphlet entitled Jews in the International Brigades in Spain. Prago quotes Franco’s chief adjutant, General Queipo de Llano, as declaring in an October 1936 radio broadcast that "Our war is not a Spanish Civil War, it is a war of western civilisation against the Jews of the entire world. The Jews want to destroy the Christians". Moreover, the Catholic Primate of Spain, Cardinal Goma, proclaimed that Franco’s mission was against "the Jews and Masons who had poisoned the people with Tartar and Mongol ideas and who were erecting a system manipulated by the Semitic International".

The forces that challenged O’Duffy’s mission to Spain were the same forces that had challenged him in Ireland. Peadar O’Donnell, George Gilmore and Frank Ryan had established the Republican Congress in opposition to this Fascist menace. The leader of the Republican Congress in Waterford was a young teacher by the name of Frank Edwards. He was made pay for his "sins" by the Bishop of Waterford, Dr Kinnane, who had him dismissed in January 1935 from his post at Mount Sion Christian Brothers School. This was indicative of the atmosphere at home, which would confront that brave group of Irishmen who volunteered to fight against Fascism in Spain. The extent of their bravery is underscored by the extent of their casualties. Of the 145 who fought 61 would never return home alive.

Among those who did survive was Frank Edwards. (He died in 1983.) Many members of Dublin’s Jewish community will remember him as either their own teacher or their children’s teacher. Frank had in fact been one of the first of the Irish to volunteer to fight fascism in Spain. His group went into action on Christmas Day, 1936. Their first taste of the horrors of war was recalled shortly afterwards by a volunteer from the North Circular Road area of Dublin, Donie O’Reilly. He was the son of J K O’Reilly, composer of the well-known War of Independence song "Wrap the Green Flag Round Me Boys". On Easter Monday, 1916, Donie, then aged 13, had found himself to be in an empty home. His father and three elder brothers were in the General Post Office participating in the Rising being led by Patrick Pearse of the Irish Volunteers and James Connolly of the Irish Citizen Army. Donie nevertheless made his own way there, only to be sent home by a horrified Rebellion leader Tom Clarke for being far too young. But two decades later he went on to experience battle in Spain. Needless to say there was no Christmas dinner in 1936. In fact no food supplies were arriving at all even though the front was deceptively quiet following a brief swoop by fascist planes. O’Reilly’s account continues:-

The war seems far away and we move from group to group. I notice a London Jew with a tin of bullybeef and move towards him, but Frank Edwards runs me close. The beef is shared as only a Jewish comrade would share. We relax and eat ... I rejoin my group. Again the drone of planes over our heads and sweeping back spraying us with machine-guns ... Away the planes go and then silence. I move back to Frank. I notice the Jewish comrade in a funny position. ... Suddenly the Jewish comrade is shook and lifted back - dead! On examination we discovered four bullet wounds across his back ...

Frank Edwards and Donie O’Reilly’s first experience of death in Spain had been that of a Jewish comrade with whom a close bond had immediately been established but who had been wiped out before they had even grasped his name. A Manchester Jewish volunteer, Maurice Levine, who was also in that contingent, has however identified him as Nathan Segal:-

General Queipo de Llano, known as the Radio General because of his nightly broadcasts and his Moorish troops were striking through Guadalquivir valley to eastern Spain. Suddenly out of that cloudless blue sky a plane was diving down, spitting bullets. Nat Segal, a London East Ender was killed instantly.

Another Dublin volunteer, Joe Monks, hailing from the far end of the South Circular Road in Inchicore, also recalls:

A group of Dubliners that had got friendly with the Londoner Segal were beside him, beneath the same tree at the same time. He was killed outright. It shocked them that death had come to him instantly and that without a murmur he was gone from them. They lifted his body onto a blanket and rested his head upon a satchel.

Shortly afterwards, both Monks and O’Reilly were themselves wounded. Frank Edwards has described as follows how he himself was almost mortally wounded on January 10, 1937:

We were lying in position on a ridge. Dinny Coady lay near me with another Irishman between us. A shell landed between Coady and Murphy. I immediately felt a sharp pain in my side. ... I got up and walked down to a ravine where our company headquarters section was posted, and told them to send up a stretcher at once ... Then I got a Red Cross man to rip my clothes off. 1 had a very deep wound under my left armpit... While I was being dressed the stretcher-bearers came back with a body. Somebody rolled back the blanket, and I saw his face. It was Dinny Coady. I got a hell of a shock - perhaps because I had known him longer than any of the other lads.

I was carried on a stretcher across four miles of open country under shellfire. Every jolt of the stretcher was hell... The hospital was crowded. Everybody bustling about and talking different languages. ... I lay there for some time; I was getting weaker. The blood was pouring out my side. At last a doctor came. He spoke English ... I was very glad. He realised I was an urgent case and I was taken into the operating room at once. The fixed dressing had come off and the shrapnel had burst an artery. The doctor soon removed the shrapnel and stitched me up.

Frank had been deeply affected by the death of Dinny Coady. Back in Dublin a close friend of Coady’s, Tom O’Brien, was moved to write the following poem: 

Dinny Coady -
One whom I knew

We who live to remember -
We who have to die eventually,
in deaths like this,
It is not simple;
it is something that was sunk deep,
torturously down the centuries -
this emotion we feel
at the death of men we knew
Killed in such action.

Emotion heavy with centuries of suffering
and struggle and sacrifice
of oppressed peoples everywhere

We know that he must have died,
We know that he should not have died,
These comforts the mangled mind of man,
the simple mind of man,
Knowing what is good and noble,
faced with a thing called Fascism -
killing men who would have lived
ordinary happy lives;
men like Dinny Coady.

The following year, Tom O’Brien himself was fighting to defend the Spanish Republic on the Ebro front. He died in 1974, but his widow Anne is with us here tonight. And I welcome her for a double reason. For she also is a "neighbour’s child’, hailing from nearby Martin Street, whose late father, Abraham Sevitt, was among those Jewish refugees from Tsarist Russia who led the International Tailors and Pressers’ Union here in Dublin.

As for Frank Edwards, you couldn’t keep a good man down. He was back in action as soon as doctors would allow it and his expertise and bravery have been vividly recalled by both Joe Monks and Maury Colow. Al Prago’s pamphlet on Jews in the International Brigades introduces Colow as follows:

Some (volunteers) were exceedingly young. When Eslanda Robeson accompanying her husband Paul on a visit to the American volunteers in Spain, was struck by the extreme youthful appearance of a few of the soldiers, she approached one (Maury Colow) and thrusting a finger at him exclaimed:- ‘How old are you?’, Colow, then 18, was one of several young Jews coming out of slump areas of Brooklyn, the lower East Side (of New York) and other pockets of working class constituents and poverty.

Maury Colow has recalled the following encounter on the Cordoba front:

In the early dawn of April 18th (1937) our lines were swept by an intense barrage of artillery, tank and antitank fire, plus trench mortars along our entire company front. At the time I was occupying a deep trench on our left flank. The barrage grew heavier and the cries for first aid and screams gave evidence that we were taking casualties. For me the barrage was like the end of the world, deafening, horrible and endless. It kept up for what proved to be a number of hours. Around noon there was dead silence. I turned to Monks and Edwards to tell them how glad I was that it was over. Both of them were old IRA men and they weren’t fooled one bit. ‘Prepare for attack!’ Edwards said ‘Prepare for attack!’ And before he had finished the sentence hand- grenades were going off all around us.

Monks jumped out of the trench first, then me, then Edwards. All hell was breaking loose and the enemy was all around us. They were Moors and they were dressed in white wrap-around togas with a hand-grenade sling strung across their chests. As I jumped out Edwards, who was behind me, fired immediately at three Moors no more than twenty feet on our left. Without aiming I pointed my gun at the centre Moor who was pulling at a grenade. He fell like a sack of flour.

In that encounter Monks got separated from Edwards and had presumed him dead. He recalls the good news to the contrary:

Safe and sound was Frank Edwards, and he was delighted to find that I too was a survivor. He told me of his adventures after he had run off the crooked hill into the valley. Maury Colow from New York and an Argentinean named Jean were his companions. Jean was crippled by a bullet in the leg, and Frank carried him shoulder high. But Jean sustained a second wound and Frank, aided by Maury Colow, then had to drag the wounded man along the ground because he refused to be an elevated target for a second time. They evaded the Moroccans advancing up the road, and got to the north side of the ridge.

When Frank Edwards returned from Spain, Bishop Kinnane was more determined than ever to keep Frank blacklisted from any teaching position in Waterford. The Bishop had made amply clear how he viewed the Spanish conflict. In May 1937 he had welcomed the visit to Waterford of a Franco propagandist by the name of Father Gabana who declared in that city that "Spanish newspapers were in the hands of Jews and were all against Spain". Moreover, in November 1939 the Bishop of Waterford was to sponsor yet another anti-Semitic tract from the infamous leader of Maria Duce, Father Denis Fahey, which contained the following excerpt from General Franco's victory speech in Madrid in May 1939:- "Let us be under no illusion. The Jewish spirit, which was ... the driving force behind so many anti-Spanish revolutionary agreements, will not. be got rid of in a day".

But the blacklisting of Frank Edwards applied to all Catholic schools throughout Ireland, and this ban was confirmed in writing by Archbishop McQuaid of Dublin. It seemed that Frank would never again be allowed teach. He recalled:

My task was now to get a job, any sort of job. It was not going to be easy .. I got a job with Pye Radio but got thrown out when I tried to start the union in It. Then ... I got a job as a labourer, digging and laying pipes. I was about six months at that when I got the opportunity to get back into teaching. It was in the Jewish national school in the South Circular Road. It was July 1939, and the war clouds were enveloping Europe. I got one week’s work there, before the holidays in July, earning ten pounds. On the strength of that, and the promise of more, I got married in August.

Frank Edwards was to be employed by Zion Schools of Bloomfield Avenue -which is situated only two streets to the West from here - for the remainder of his teaching life until his retirement thirty years later.

Dublin’s Jewish National School is, of course, now located in the Stratford College complex in Zion Road. Following Frank’s death in 1983 it was as Chairman of the Board of Management of Stratford National School that the then Chief Rabbi of Ireland, David Rosen, wrote to the Irish National Teachers’ Organisation to add his voice to the "just and fitting tribute to the late Frank Edwards" but to highlight as well the necessity of distinguishing between those National Schools out of which he was forced, and the one which took him in eagerly and in which he remained most happily until his retirement". Touché David!

Returning to the story of the Connolly Column in Spain, some sections of the Irish Unit fought alongside the 15th International Brigade’s British Battalion, while others fought with the Americans of the Abraham Lincoln Battalion.

At the battle of Jarama in February 1937 the British and American Battalions alone lost over 250 men between them. Among the dead of that one-month were 20 members of the Connolly Column, accounting for a third of the Irish dead in the whole of the Spanish War. In that battle fell the Reverend Robert Hilliard, a Church of Ireland (Protestant Episcopalian) clergyman from Killarney. Beside him fell a former Christian Brother, Eamonn McGrotty from Derry. Maurice Quinlan of Waterford was also killed at Jarama and his brother Terry Quinlan, former General Secretary of the Post Office Workers’ Union, is here this evening.

A Canadian volunteer has described as follows another death on February 27:

We run for cover. Charlie Donnelly, commander of the Irish Company, Is crouched behind an olive tree. He has picked up a bunch of olives from the ground and is squeezing them. I hear him say quietly between a lull of machine-gun fire, ‘Even the olives are bleeding’! A bullet got him square in the temple a few minutes later. He is buried there now beneath the olives.

He was 22 years of age. His body was recovered for burial nine days after his death by a group of Waterford Volunteers, including Peter O’Connor, who is with us here tonight.

Charlie Donnelly hailed from Co Tyrone. (His brother, Joseph Donnelly, was present in the audience.) A talented poet he had been active in the Republican Congress in Dublin and was both a close personal friend and a close political and literary associate of fellow poet Leslie Daiken, a member of the Yodaiken family, which has long been prominent in Jewish community life in Dublin. (His brother, Aubrey Yodaiken, was present in the audience.) In 1936 Leslie Daiken included Donnelly’s poetry in a book entitled Good-bye Twilight - Songs of the Struggle in Ireland with revolutionary woodcuts by the Dublin Jewish artist Harry Kernoff who lived only a few streets from this Museum in Stamer Street. By 1935 Daiken had already emigrated to London where he began editing The Irish Front, the voice of the Republican Congress among the Irish Diaspora in Britain. Donnelly joined him shortly afterwards as co-editor and they shared lodgings together.

In October 1936 Donnelly and Daiken wrote an Irish Front editorial entitled "They Did Not Pass" in which they enjoined Irish workers in London to oppose the anti-Semitism of Mosley’s Blackshirts. They rejoiced in the following victory at Cable Street:

On Sunday, October 4th, the London working class dealt a blow to the aspirations of Fascism. Thousands of Jewish, Irish and English workers in the East End of London came together and by their united efforts prevented Sir Oswald Mosley and his Fascist army from staging a provocative march through the Jewish quarters.

(Indeed, in his autobiography, Our Flag Stays Red, Phil Piratin - who would be Communist MP for Stepney (Mile End) from 1945 to 1950 - has described a scene where bearded Orthodox Jews linked arms with Irish Catholic dockers in order to prevent Fascism’s march through the East End).

Donnelly had also warned against similar fascist phenomena at home and in September 1935 had written:

The germs of Fascism are present in Ireland; organisations, institutions and sentiments which could be welded into a fascist movement ... (for example) Anti-Semitism ... General O’Duffy may seem a joke at present. The joke is merely that he is without a paymaster... If the General can create a movement worth taking over, his unemployment may be only temporary.

Donnelly had hit the nail on the head, for that was precisely O’Duffy’s objective in going to Spain. In 1974 O’Duffy’s former Blueshirt colleague Ernest Blythe, who had broken with him in late 1934, offered the following belated insight: "O’Duffy wanted to bring thousands of men to Spain to get military training, do a little fighting, then come back, put him in power here."

In a January 1937 editorial entitled "Long Live the Spanish Republic!" Donnelly had accordingly declared:

Since last we wrote Owen O’Duffy ... and his Irish Fascist Brigade have joined the insurgent forces ... But if Franco receives support from O’Duffy and his gang, so on the other hand the Spanish people are receiving the support of world anti-fascists ... in an International Brigade There are men from Italy, Germany and Austria, countries already under Fascism, who have somehow contrived to escape from the concentration camps and prisons making their way to Spain ... to prevent a repetition of the horrors caused by Fascism in their own countries. ... Under the command of Frank Ryan, a leader of the Irish Republican Congress ... the Connolly Battalion has been formed and is playing a leading part in the fighting The disgrace, the stain upon Ireland caused by O’Duffy must be wiped out.

It was indeed wiped out. By the time of publication Donnelly was already in Spain, only to meet his death a month later. My father, Michael O’Riordan, has written as follows of another volunteer to be killed alongside Donnelly:-

The Irish ... attracted to their ranks many English speaking volunteers who could, by no stretch of the imagination, claim any relationship with Ireland. Among such was Samuel Lee, a young Jewish volunteer from London later to die with many of his Irish comrades in the battle of Jarama, February 1937.

The following year a Memorial Banner to the dead of the Connolly Column was unveiled by Father Michael O’Flanagan, the one and only Irish Catholic priest to support the anti-fascist struggle to defend the Spanish Republic. That Banner is now in the custody of my father, who has kindly lent it for this occasion. As you can see, a special place of honour at the top of that banner was set aside for that young Jewish volunteer Samuel Lee, alongside the Reverend Robert Hilliard.

(There is an intriguing possibility that although Samuel Lee came from London’s Jewish community, either he himself or his family may have had some previous, if passing, connection with Dublin’s Jewish Community. Sean Cronin, in his biography of Frank Ryan, has written that among the Irish who died fighting with the Lincoln Battalion at Jarama was "Davy Levy of Dublin". This is not a name that appears on any list of casualties but then Cronin goes on to quote the Irish-American veteran Paul Burns as saying of the same David Levy:- A big fellow, quite young, we knew him as Lee".) Jarama had indeed been an inferno.

Music played a most inspiring role in the anti-fascist struggle in Spain. Morale was greatly boosted by visits to the front by Paul Robeson who was to bring back from Madrid the following song of defiance against the four insurgent Fascist generals encircling that capital, Franco, Varela, Mola and the rabid anti-Semite, Queipo de Llano.


Paul Robeson

What was it that had brought Robeson to Spain? What was it that inspired his solidarity with suffering humanity of all lands? It was the memory of what his own American Negro people had suffered and were still suffering under segregation. As Paul Robeson expressed it himself in 1938: ‘My father was a slave; he escaped at the age of 15 years ... Hell, can I forget that! My own father! A slave!"

The depth of feeling derived from that indignation combined with a unique voice to give us unparalleled recordings of such great Negro Spirituals as "Go Down Moses" and ‘Joshua Fit the Battle of Jericho’. But the added inspiration he gave to the many nationalities in the International Brigades in Spain was the fact that he could give equally powerful performances of songs from each of their own national traditions - whether these be Irish or Welsh, Jewish or Russian, German or Czech. Irish songs he was renowned for included Kevin Barry" and the song written by our national poet Thomas Moore.

This song reminds us of the many talented poets that fell in battle in Spain, such as the English volunteers John Cornford and Christopher Caudwell. But it particularly reminds us of Charlie Donnelly. In February 1937, Ireland Today, published the following prophetic poem by Donnelly, the very month he would meet his death:

The Tolerance of Crows

Death comes in quantity from solved
Problems on maps, well-ordered dispositions,
Angles of elevation and direction;

Comes innocent from tools children might
Love, retaining under pillows,
Innocently impales on any flesh.

And with flesh falls apart the mind
That trails thought from the mind that cuts
Thought clearly for a waiting purpose.

Progress of poison in the nerves and
Discipline’s collapse is halted.

                    Body awaits 
                    the tolerance of crows.


Donnelly would himself be remembered in verse, as in Donagh Mac Donagh’s poem ‘He is Dead and Gone, Lady’. His close Jewish friend from Dublin, Leslie Daiken, would also write:

My voice a reedy note in Arcady,
I too have heard companion voices die -
O Splendid fledglings they, in fiery fettle,
Caudwell and Cornford and Cathal Donnelly
Stormcocks atune with Lorca, shot down in battle!
Young Charlie, our blackbird-sgul, no Lycid lies.
His cenotaph - Jarama’s olive trees."

The above verses come from a poem which Daiken dedicated to his mentor Seamas O’Sullivan, husband of the Dublin Jewish artist Estelle Solomon's, some of whose work can be seen in this Museum.

A fellow-poet from Dublin, Ewart Milne, had served as an ambulance driver for the Spanish Republic and in the following verses he linked the death of Donnelly to that of another close friend and fellow-ambulance driver killed in Spain - a German Jewish refugee by the name of Isaac Kupchik: 

…Sirs and Senoras let me end my story -
I show you earth, earth formally,
And Two on guard with the junipers.
Two, Gael and Jew side by side in a trench
Gripping antique guns to flick at the grasshoppers
That zoomed overhead and the moon was rocking.
Two who came from prisonment, Gael because of Tone,
Jew because of human love, the same for Jew as German -
Frail fragments both, clipped off and forgotten readily.
I set them together, Izzy Kupchik and Donnelly;
And of that date with death among the junipers
I say only, they kept it; and record the exploded
Spread-eagled mass when the moon was later
Watching the wine that baked earth was drinking.

The friendship with Kupchik was not the only one between Irish volunteers and German Jewish refugees in Spain. Eoghan O Duinnin recalls that when he was wounded on the Ebro front in July 1938: [translated from Gaelic] "I was cared for by a German doctor. He was a Jewish refugee from his own country."

Many bonds transcending all national barriers were formed in the struggle to defend the Spanish Republic. I have mentioned some particular bonds formed between Irish and Jewish volunteers. Was there any other quality that drew them together over and above their shared anti-fascist commitment? Personally I think that a shared sense of humour was also a contributory factor. The resilience of both Irish and Jewish people in the most adverse of circumstances is helped by a sharp-witted ability to find a humorous angle to so many personal misfortunes.

For example, describing how eventually the doctors had to amputate his wounded foot, Eoghan O Duinnin comments: [translated] ‘I can truthfully say that I have one foot in the grave.’

But even the black humour shared by Irish and Jews alike could not penetrate some tragedies. When the war was almost lost the Spanish Republican Government announced in September 1938 that it would evacuate all International Brigadiers. On hearing this news Eoghan’s German-Jewish doctor sadly asked:- ‘You have place to go, yes? You are lucky.’

Paul Robeson had a rich repertoire of Jewish songs, such as the Yiddish lullaby ‘Shlof Mein Kind". But he brought a particularly powerful quality to the late eighteenth century Kaddish or prayer composed by that wonderful tribune of Israel, the Hasidic tzaddik, Rabbi Levi Isaac of Berdichev. So outstanding is that particular recording that it was chosen by Israeli television to illustrate the historical series ‘Pillar of Fire’.

This powerful Black American singer always had a special place in the hearts of Jewish audiences throughout the world but with none more so than the Jewish volunteers before whom he performed in Spain did.

As I have already mentioned Jewish anti-fascists were proportionately to the forefront in service to the International Brigades. One such volunteer was Maurice Levine who has described as follows how he joined the British Battalion in November 1937:

I was asked by the Communist Party in Manchester if I still wanted to go to Spain and I said ‘Yes ... I didn’t tell my parents I was going ... I had arranged with a girl I was friendly with, whom I eventually married, to get in touch with my family and tell them. So I was already on my way to Spain when they heard about it. They never remonstrated with me and I firmly believe that my father was quite proud that his son had gone to fight; the ‘received wisdom’ that the Jews were not a fighting people was proved wrong.

Maurice Levine fortunately survived, though many of his comrades did not. In the April 1986 issue of the New York progressive magazine Jewish Currents Aaron Katz paid tribute to the memory of "my brother Hyman Katz, an anti-fascist rabbi and Zionist who lost his life in that preliminary skirmish against Hitlerism".

He continued:

My mother ... a religious Zionist, arrived in New York from Poland at the age of 12. She helped organise the Mizrachi Women’s Organisation, and upon her retirement moved to Jerusalem to spend her remaining years. In New York, she gave her two sons the customary orthodox Jewish education at great personal sacrifice.

The Spanish Civil War began in 1936, and a year later my mother received the shock of her life. Her son Hymie, and two of her brothers whom she had helped raise and educate, Joseph and Michael, had independently arrived and re-united in hospitals in Spain. ... They had left from cities thousands of miles apart ... without discussing with family members and not knowing the others’ plans.

Rabbi Hymie Katz had come from New York; his ‘kid’ uncle Yussie Feller -who was in fact a year younger than he - from San Francisco; and ‘kid’ uncle Michael - younger still by three years - from Jerusalem. Both Vussie and Hymie were killed in Spain; Michael Feller returned safely only to be killed in Europe during World War II.

Aaron Katz continues:- ‘It was only after my mother had inadvertently learned that Hymie was in Spain and had been wounded, that he wrote to assure her and to ‘justify’ his efforts in Spain".

In November 1937 Rabbi Katz wrote to his mother as follows:

Dear Ma, It’s quite difficult for me to write this letter, but it must be done I came to Spain because I felt I had to ... Don’t you realise that we Jews will be the first to suffer if fascism comes? ... If we sit by and let them grow stronger by taking Spain, they will move on to France and will not stop there; and it won’t be long before they get to America. ... If I permitted such a time to come - and as a Jew and a progressive, I would be among the first to fall under the axe of the fascists - all I could do then would be to curse myself and say, ‘Why didn’t I wake up when the alarm-clock rang?

Yes, Ma, this is a case where sons must go against their mothers’ wishes for the sake of their mothers themselves. So, I took up arms against the persecutors of my people - the Jews - and my class - the Oppressed. I am fighting against those who establish an inquisition like that of their ideological ancestors several centuries ago, in Spain. Are these traits which you admire so much in a Prophet Jeremiah or a Judas Maccabbeus, bad when your son exhibits them? Of course, I am not a Jeremiah or a Judah; but I’m trying with my own meagre capabilities, to do what they did with their great capabilities, in the struggle for Liberty, Well-being and Peace.

Aaron Katz says of his mother following the death of her rabbi son:

His letter helped change her feelings of helplessness and anguish to feelings of pride and understanding. She never stopped grieving but she did become reconciled: (She would say ‘What else could a good Jewish youth do, educated in the honourable and inspiring traditions of his People?’ ...

The anti-fascist war also established a link with Spain’s own illustrious rabbinical traditions. In the May 1987 issue of The Volunteer, organ of the Abraham Lincoln Veterans, Manny Harriman recalls:

In May 1938 ... I was climbing like a goat up the Pyrenees Mountains, the only entrance to Spain, sweating, wheezing, stumbling, a city boy supposedly in good shape…But nothing could take away from the elation, the pure joy of Espana. Especially for me, a Sephardic Jew, the first member of my family to return to Spain after the Catholic Inquisition expelled all Sephardic Jews from Spain in 1492. What a symbolic event, for me 446 years had passed. A Spaniard coming home to fight for a country that expelled his forefathers. My family spoke an antique Spanish (Ladino) of the 13th century. From the time of exile, we continued to speak Spanish. My mother cooked Spanish meals, and everything was cooked in oil. In our Synagogues, we read the prayers with Hebrew characters and it became Spanish in its phonetics’ and it’s speech. Our music, humour, and poetry were of Spanish origin, flavour, and style, so much were we keeping the Spanish heritage and culture alive. Even until the present time, we have kept our Spanish heritage although we have been living outside of Spain for over 400 years. I was amazed that I felt at home, no stranger in a strange land. The Spanish people looked like my mother and father. Their accent and phonetics was in the same manner that my parents spoke to me. The Spaniards understood me even though I spoke an ancient Spanish...

I came from an illustrious Spanish Jewish family, which included one of Spain’s great philosophers, the distinguished Chief Rabbi Rabino Moshe Ben Nahman (known as ‘Nahmanides" or Ramban) ... who was a distinguished chief Rabbi of northern Spain, physician to the King of Catalonia and Aragon, and founder of the first Cabalist University in Spain. He was born in the year 1194 in Gerona and died in 1270 in exile in Israel. My father told me many stories about him. The most noted was that he was forced into a debate with a Christian priest in the year 1263. The debate’s subject was Did Jesus fulfil the Biblical prophecy of the Messiah concept?’ (That there would come a Messiah to liberate the Jews in the world).

In 1982, I went to Spain as part of the Vets ‘Battlefield Trip’ ... After the Vets left, I went to the City of Gerona, forty miles north of Barcelona, where my forefather was born and now called his Palace. Both the Palace, and the Jewish Centre next door were rebuilt by a cultural and artistic group of Spaniards and Catalans who were interested in Jewish history. While excavating the Jewish Centre, they found two floors below street level, in which a synagogue, ritual slaughter place, hospital, community rooms, and cooking ovens were unearthed. Two floors are yet to be excavated. Among other discoveries they expect to find the site of the first Cabalist University in Spain...

It was a fabulous trip and an eerie one as I trod on the same steps and streets that my forefather Nahmanides walked. I could feel I was home.

I was greeted royally, both by the Spanish TV, who interviewed me, and the full inside pages of the Gerona paper. The paper carried the story that for the first time the direct descendant of Bondstru de Porta, Nahuanides’ Catalan name, had visited the city where he was born... I was taken to see the Socialist Mayor. He greeted me and when he heard I had fought in the Spanish Civil War against the Fascists, especially in Catalonia, they made a further to do about me.

I left Spain with such good feelings about my Spanish heritage. I was also heritage-wise considered a Catalan who fought in 1938, to preserve the Spanish Republic and Catalan Independence.


Maurice Levitas

I have spoken of Irish volunteers and I have spoken of Jewish volunteers. Now it is time to speak of one who was both, another ‘neighbour’s child’ by the name of Maurice Levitas. It is barely thirteen months since I commenced a lengthy correspondence with Maurice, having obtained his address in the GDR city of Potsdam, where he has been teaching English for the past few years, from his very close comrade-in-arms in Spain, fellow-Dubliner Bob Doyle. Maurice Levitas’s opening words to me were:- ‘Yes, I do hail from the South Circular Road neighbourhood ... (and) your researches into the Jewish input into trade unions in Ireland reminds me of my father’s part in what he called the Tailors’ and Pressers’ Union.’

Those very words alone highlight a not very widely known fact, the existence of a small Jewish labour movement in Dublin in the early decades of this century. Indeed, when James Connolly was a Socialist candidate for the Wood Quay ward in the 1902 local elections, he issued a Yiddish-language appeal to the Jewish workers of Dublin. Jewish Cabinet-makers Unions were formed and reformed on several occasions in Dublin, one of whose participants was the late Philip Baigel who died earlier this year in Manchester. But the most sustained effort of such labour organisation occurred in November 1908 when Russian Jewish clothing workers who had settled in this South Circular Road area of Dublin established the International Tailors, Machinists and Pressers Trade Union. It was into such a Jewish working class environment that Maurice Levitas’ parents each arrived from different parts of Tsarist Russia’s Baltic provinces around the year 1912.

Maurice tells me: - "About my parents, Dad left Kovno, Lithuania, Mum left Riga, Latvia ... As far as I know there is no relative left there. Some relatives contrived to reach Palestine but according to my brother and sister who went to Israel for a visit, there are no survivors of either one family or the other."

Those family members who had already emigrated westwards by the early part of this century, therefore, were probably the only ones to survive the Holocaust.

Levitas family history

I have subsequently received a letter from Maurice’s sister, Mrs. Toby Middleburgh, which gives the following details of family members who had emigrated in time and those who had not and who were accordingly massacred by the Nazis:-

My father’s two brothers who went to America were Daniel and Theodore (Tevyc). They left their small village, or ‘shtetl’ in Lithuania to avoid going into the Tsarist army. (As did my mother’s brothers from Riga. Although the Jews were barred from most things, they were not barred from the army!) They changed their name to Lund in the States. My father’s father died an extremely young man in a cholera epidemic when Dad was about three years old. But there were numerous brothers (my father’s uncles) who retained the name Levitas. My mother’s parents died before the War. In fact her mother died before mine left Riga.

Numerous members of both my parents’ families died in the War. My mother’s sister, her husband and sons were killed with the exception of a son who survived as he was in the Red Army. He died a few years ago in the U.S.A., but his wife and children had also perished in the war. My Cousin Frieda had emigrated to Palestine in 1935 and I am in contact with her in Israel.

Dad lost his sister Sara and all her family. Apparently, the Jewish population of the shtetl, or most of them, were pushed into the synagogue and they were all burned to death. After the War we tried to trace the families, to no avail. We were told that no one had survived. Dad also lost his oldest brother who lived in Paris. He was shot outside his home. When my brother Sol was in Paris after liberation he went to visit our aunt and cousin and they showed him the bullet marks.

Maurice has the following additional remarks to make on his family’s migrations:

One has to remember that when my father came to Ireland, Jews from Eastern Europe were seeking to escape from violent anti-Semitism in the Tsarist Empire. The other motivation for this movement was one of attraction - the promise of freedom and possibilities of prosperity in the U.S.A. But the route to the U.S.A. could be torturous. Hence, although one of my uncles on my father’s side, and another on my mother’s side did actually get to the United States, others did not. Another uncle stayed in Paris and other relatives stayed in London. Not unnaturally, Ireland seemed nearer to America than England, so it is understandable that a small community made their home in Dublin.

Maurice Levine of Manchester has also described the background to these Jewish mass migrations:

The shtetls (or small villages) consisted of collections of rude wooden huts with earth floors; there was no proper sewerage and the people were without such luxuries as beds - they slept on benches near the stove In the late 1880’s, following the death of Tsar Alexander I, there were severe pogroms against the Jews and in the 1890s the great exodus of Jews from Poland and Lithuania began. Thousands upon thousands emigrated to America and a lesser number to England. My father told me of attacks on Jews in his shtetl, which was in the province of Kovno (now Kaunas), and I remember washing his back when I was a child and seeing a mark in his skull where he had been hit after a gang of youths had set upon him.

When Maurice Levitas’s father Harry left Kovno for Dublin, he was to lodge with Rachel Jackson, an aunt of his who had already settled in Dublin, at 33 Martin Street, which is only two streets from this Museum. When Maurice’s mother, Leah Rick, left Riga she had been preceded to Dublin by two of her brothers. The 1901 Census shows Harry Rick, a tailor by trade, to be lodging at 24 Martin Street. He later moved across to 13 Martin Street from where he married in 1309. The 1911 Census shows that he had by then moved across to the other side of the South Circular Road and was living in 11 Oakfield Place where he had been joined by a younger brother Jacob Rick, also a tailor. Following Jacob Rick’s own marriage in 1911 he was to move to the nearby address of 18 Arbutus Place. It would be here that his newly arrived younger sister Leah Rick would also live until her marriage.


Life in Dublin

It was in this immigrant Jewish working class environment of Dublin’s South Circular Road that the tailor’s presser from Kovno, Harry Levitas, met Leah Rick from Riga. They fell in love and on August 16, 1914 the Reverend Bernard Jaffe married them in the synagogue then located at 52 Lower Camden Street. Also located in that building at that very same time was the headquarters of what was generally referred to in Dublin as "the Jewish union", the International Tailors, Machinists and Pressers Trade Union. A case of Jerusalem on one floor and the New Jerusalem on the other’

During the first year of their marriage Leah and Harry Levitas lodged three streets to the West of this Museum, in 13 Longwood Avenue, where their eldest child Max was born. (In adult life Max Levitas would be one of the Communist Party of Great Britain’s most electorally successful public representatives. He served as a Councillor for the Borough of Stepney in the East End of London between 1945 and 1970.) Shortly afterwards they moved three streets to the East of this Museum and it was there at 8 Warren Street that Maurice Levitas was born on February 1, 1917.

The blocks of artisan dwellings set on the parallel streets of Warren Street and Martin Street were at that time centres of Jewish immigrant life. The 1911 census shows that of the Z60 residents of Warren Street 103 were Jewish while of the 301 residents of Martin Street as many as 195 were Jewish.

Maurice Levitas recalls:- My father and mother were sub-tennants of an old man who had the tenancy of No. 8 Warren Street, a street as I remember, leading up to the Canal. The tenant, Mr. Mirrelson, was a kind of grandfather towards myself and older and younger brothers, Max and Sol".

With regard to the synagogue we related to, this I believe was Lennox Street - if that is the street which runs roughly at right-angles to Warren Street and Martin Street.

It may be of interest to you to know that the beadle (shamas) of the synagogue I went to was named Levitas and came from the same district in Lithuania as my father (i.e. Kovno), but was not related. Since I was about 10 when we left Dublin you will realise that my bar mitzvah had had to be arranged when my family lived in Glasgow.

As for childhood playmates, Maurice recalls; - "There were two cousins who were twins, Eric and Harry Rick. Their father, my mother’s brother Jack, died young. Other relations were the Dankers and the Woolf sons.

(Harry Rick now lives in Israel, but his twin brother Eric was present at the lecture, together with their sisters Mrs. Sylvia Woolf son, Mrs. Ettie Steinberg and Mrs. Eileen Cole. Also present was Sam Danker whose mother was a first cousin of Maurice Levitas’s mother.)

In March 1923, a terrible tragedy was to strike the Levitas family when Maurice's twelve month-old baby brother Isaac died following an accident at home. Almost two years later in January 1925 the tenant of 8 Warren 5treet, Abraham Mirrelson, died at the age of 95 with drastic consequences for the Levitas family. Maurice recalls:-

He died when I was about eight years of age and we had to leave the house. I shall never forget coming home from school and finding no one at home - a door that stayed shut. Not far from there in Martin Street, there was an aunt of my father’s, Rachel Jackson, and her two daughters, Sarah and Molly. We were taken in for a night or two and then went to live in one room in the house of a widow, Mrs. Lewis, at No. 13 St Kevin’s Parade.

Situated at the other side of the South Circular Road, St Kevin’s Parade runs in a curve from Lombard Street West to Lower Clanbrassil Street. The 1911 Census shows that of the 148 inhabitants of St Kevin’s Parade as many as 110 were Jewish, including the Jewish Cabinetmakers’ Trade Union activist, Philip Baigel at No. 20. It was a street whose Jewish inhabitants featured quite prominently in James Joyce’s novel "Ulysses". In fact the research which the late Louis Hyman undertook for his history The Jews of Ireland shows that in 1904 No. 13 St Kevin’s Parade had been the home of Moses Herzog, the one-eyed Jewish peddler of Joyce’s novel. It was from this character that the Nobel prize winner Saul Bellow in turn named the hero of his 1964 novel Herzog. Hyman writes of the original character (who was not related to President Herzog!): - "The story is told of Moses Herzog that when a matchmaker tried to marry him off to an unattractive lady he is alleged to have replied: - ‘Even one eye wants to see something decent’."

Hyman adds:- "Herzog, popularly known in Yiddish, or judiech, Joyce’s way of writing it, as ‘Moshe with the left eye’, was a compulsive drinker and was notorious for slipping out of the St Kevin's Parade synagogue for a drink during the protracted services of the High Festivals".

When Maurice Levitas came to live in Moses Herzog’s former home two decades after ‘Bloomsday’, there were still ‘characters’ to be encountered in St Kevin’s Parade. One such was a tailor by the name of Citron. Maurice recalls a certain proselytising flamboyance that must have caused some disquiet among his neighbours:

Mr Citron was, I believe, a convert from Judaism to Christianity and I remember his habit of singing Christian hymns while he worked. Incidentally, he made my first bespoke suit (and my brother’s) around 1926. There had been a fire at some warehouse and my father got a couple of singed suit lengths very cheap. So, we two, my brother Max and I, were measured by Citron and had suits made to measure

Maurice also relates:

The first time I heard the word ‘communist’ was in that tailor’s workshop at the corner of St Kevin’s Parade. (I must have been about ten years old.) My father had been visiting him and had been arguing politics with him. But when my father left, I remained and heard Citron explain to another visitor that whereas he was a socialist, Levitas was a communist. He then went on to explain the difference.

What of schooling? Maurice writes:

I cannot now remember the name of the schools I went to. I recall only a very junior school at first and then at eight a school across the road where the Headmaster, named Sleet, seemed to me to be a rather fierce individual who ‘taught’ us music - en masse - in a manner that I should now characterise as ‘enthusiastic’. I recall, too, attempts to teach us the Gaelic and algebra.

This identifies the school as St Peter’s Church of Ireland Boys’ National School, which was located in New Bride Street beside the Meath Hospital. And there are photographs on display in this Museum of that same headmaster Joe Sleete with a number of classes of Jewish pupils. In his last book Out Goes She - Dublin Street Rhymes with a Commentary (1963), another Jewish past pupil, Leslie Daiken, commemorated Joe Sleete with a reproduction of the following piece of childhood doggerel:

Auld Joe he is a bo
He goes to Church each Sunday
He prays to God to give him strength
To bash the kids on Monday.

But all was very far from fun in those days. As Maurice Levitas puts it:- "When I think about Dublin and my childhood there I am reminded of great poverty and unhappiness on the personal side".

Recalling the growing family’s single room accommodation in St Kevin’s Parade he writes:

Those were grim days - especially for my mother who used the kitchen by permission of the landlady. We were there for over two years during which time it proved impossible for my parents to find better accommodation. My father tried a number of ploys when we lived in Dublin in order to gain a living. Like some other Jews in Dublin he tried ‘travelling’ around the countryside, collecting rags and metal etc, for sale to dealers in these salvage commodities. But he was not successful at this. In the main he worked for a wage as a presser in the tailoring trade and since he was left wing in his politics, he played a part in his trade union. Indeed, the main impression we all have of my father is his strong trade union principles. The origin of all this was his association in Lithuania, as a very young man, with the Peale Zion (or worker Zionists) -a kind of Jewish socialist movement.

The solution to our housing problem was my father’s departure for Glasgow where he found work and a home for us. Our ‘home’ was not really satisfactory, but better than we had in Dublin. And not long after we had something better. From the point of view of politics, however, what it meant was that the proletarian status of my father was firmly fixed.

After reading Louis Hyman’s chapter on the Jewish characters from St Kevin’s Parade who figure in James Joyce’s Ulysses, Maurice has commented: -"Fascinating! So many memories are awakened by it. Some of them nothing to do with experiences in Dublin".

Hyman had drawn attention to how revolutionary a concept in Irish literature had been the character of Leopold Bloom himself when he observed: "The mere concept of the Irish Jew raised a laugh in the Ireland of Joyce’s day".

This has prompted Maurice to write: "I recall an incident in school in Glasgow when one teacher remarked to the class on the improbability of such a phenomenon. He even went so far as to invite any Irish Jew in the class to stand up and make himself known. I stood up. What happened or what he said I cannot now remember. And I have no inkling at all as to what his motivations were". We can only guess.

This autobiographical correspondence continues:

Unemployment in the North in 1930 drove my father south to London where we all subsequently arrived in 1931. By this time I was fourteen years of age. My older brother went to work in a tailoring workshop. I began a sojourn from an upholstery workshop to others and finally to building sites as a plumber’s labourer.

But where we lived in the East End of London there was a strong socialist tradition among Jews - both in trade union terms and politically. The leftist orientation was strengthened in 1933 when Hitler came to power, when Mosley’s Blackshirts began their anti-Semitic attacks in Bethnal Green, Mile End and other parts of London. So it was not long before I had to make decisions. I joined the Young Communist League in 1933 and later the same year the Communist Party accepted me as a dual member of the YCL and CP.

Bill ‘Jock’ Stuart was a very close friend of mine. He went to Spain whence he sent letters and cards to me and to my branch of the YCL in Bethnal Green, of which I was secretary. Bethnal Green was a borough of London where the Blackshirts were especially strong during the ‘thirties. So we were all especially motivated in the struggle against fascism, Jack Sylvester was another Bethnal Green YCL member who went.

In December 1937, when Maurice Levitas himself set out for Spain, neither the prospect of meeting death nor his family’s considerations of this danger were academic concerns. For Jack Sylvester had already been killed at Jarama the previous February. Maurice relates:

With regard to my family’s attitude towards my volunteering for Spain, my mother was especially tearful and would have tried to prevent it, my father accepted my decision. The people I went out with went from London but they were not all Londoners. One man who went out with me was Jewish - a man from Middlesborough - Dave Goodman.

For the purpose of this lecture Dave Goodman has in fact very kindly written for me the following account of how Maurice Levitas and himself crossed into Spain in January 1938:

Fifty or sixty of us set off to cross into Spain from the foothills of the Pyrenees. We had to avoid French frontier guards and their dogs, whose barking we heard, and our guide led us, I believe, over smugglers’ tracks. It was both strenuous and hazardous and we climbed all night until dawn broke next morning. It was quite unforgettable to look down at the blue Mediterranean in front and the snow-capped mountains behind. I was no mountain climber and our journey was made in the dark (me wearing a Burton overcoat). The fort at Figueras was our first stop - and there we were bombed, our first taste of war. We then entrained for Albacete the International Brigade base (where I swopped my overcoat for a military coat with an International Brigadier returning home). At that time the British training base was the nearby village of Tarragona de la Mancha, and my company was commanded by an Irishman, Paddy O’Sullivan. We didn’t even have rifles to train with and we weren’t there long anyway. Teruel had been re-taken by the fascists and we were needed at the front to try and stop the rot. Before leaving we had a concert with Paul Robeson.

Although many details of my experiences in Spain have faded from my memory, the fact that my memory of Paul Robeson singing to us on the eve of our departure for the front is ever green, is a measure of the impact of his singing.. The effect was electric and inspirational.

It was in this training camp that Maurice Levitas first met fellow Dubliner Bob Doyle who had come out to Spain a few months previously. The first time they went to the front was at Belchite. Bob Doyle has described how they were forced to retreat and were shelled and strafed by Stuka dive -bombers. He adds:- "They were operated by Germans of the Condor Legion which consisted of 8,000 personnel - mainly pilots and artillery men".

Dave Goodman further relates:

In fact following the recapture of Teruel the Fascists had the initiative so our experiences were of falling back and seeking - but not finding - a position we could hold. After a number of actions, retreats and forced marches, came the Calaceite ambush which resulted in the capture of a large number of International Brigadiers - including Marry Levitas and myself (and Frank Ryan).

As Bob Doyle has also described it:

We were captured in an ambush by Italian troops of a mechanised division of the Black Arrows on the 31st March 1938 heading towards the River Ebro. Franco had launched the final offensive (towards the Mediterranean) with added military strength from Hitler and Mussolini.

Calaceite was located on the Aragon front near Gandesa. In 1981 Maurice Levitas described his capture there in an interview with an American volunteer who had been imprisoned with him, Carl Geiser. I am extremely grateful to Carl for providing me with the transcript of that interview. Maurice recalled:

We were walking up to an established front line to relieve somebody else, when down the centre of this road came these Italian whippet tanks in great number. My little group had a machine gun, and we had small arms, and we moved over into the field. [However, capture was to prove unavoidable.] We were surrounded by Italian fascists ... We had already been set upon to dig what we had taken to be our grave, and we had already been subjected to some questioning ... We certainly expected to die there..."

And not without reason. Between March 10 and April 14, for example, as many as 140 American volunteers were murdered after being captured. (I have no figures for other nationalities.) Bob Doyle had an additional reason to fear for Maurice Levitas’s safety in particular. He tells me that at one stage the Fascists lined up the prisoners and shouted: "Communists, Socialists, Jews and machine-gunners !un pie adelante! (one step forward!)". Needless to say, no one budged. But Bob describes Maurice as being full-bearded at the time and looking as he put it, "just like somebody straight out of the Bible". So when they were taken away for the night Bob slipped Maurice his razor and advised him to shave.

What then saved their lives? Very simple. At that stage in the war Mussolini became concerned at the large numbers of his own Fascist troops that had been captured by the Republicans. So he sent new orders to the front to hold Internationals (though not Spaniards) as hostages for the purpose of later bartering for prisoner exchanges. Also captured on the Gandesa front that same night and imprisoned with Frank Ryan, Maurice Levitas, Bob Doyle, and Dave Goodman was the New York Jewish volunteer whom we have already met on record, Max Parker.

Bob Doyle describes San Pedro de Cardena as follows:- "We had no cells in the prison but an area for 700 International prisoners and another for 2,000 Asturians and Basques".

The Basque prisoners included nuns in the infirmary who despite pressure from both Church and military captors refused to agree to the lie that it had been the Republicans themselves who had bombed and destroyed Guernica, rather than Hitler’s Condor Legion which in fact had perpetrated that war crime.

An American prisoner, Carl Geiser, in one of the most powerful prison books I have ever read - Prisoners of the Good Fight - has described how all prisoners in San Pedro were questioned by German Gestapo agents:

Finally we were taken to a field and ordered to strip ... Behind a table sat a Gestapo agent with a ledger. As each prisoner was identified, an assistant using the callipers called out the length, breadth and depth of his skull, the distance between his eyes, the length of his nose, and described the skin colour, body type, wound scars and any disability. Next each prisoner was instructed to stand in front of a camera for a front and side view and close-up of the face. We were now ‘scientifically’ classified.

Later, Nazi German sociologists came to the prison armed with, a two hundred item questionnaire which the International Brigadiers were compelled to complete. Bob Doyle recalls:

The Nazi sociologists made every effort to prove to the German people that we were sub-normal, depraved, etc. This was supported by the Bishop of Burgos who addressed us prisoners as such. We had a written question test first followed by measurements of the body and then photographed naked.

Maurice Levitas adds: - "I suppose that since we were stripped for these measurements my Jewishness was at least ‘suspected’. And that must have been the case for several of my comrades". It was certainly the case with Dave Goodman. He tells me: - On the question of the Fascist attitude to Jews I can only refer to a story in a Franco paper we were given in San Pedro ... In fact I managed to bring the cutting out of the camp with me".

Dave has sent me a photocopy of the cutting that partly reads as follows:

in our war ... Judaism, organised and ambitious, is in the forefront of these international interests, its contingents’ participation, egotistical and cold-blooded, succeeds only in throwing all flesh on to the fires. Some unlucky ones, whom we show here wearing spectacles, [obviously, rabid anti- Semites find bespectacled Jews particularly menacing! - MO’R] were entrusted by their race brother’s to play their part in this effort to the limits of death. And here in Spain ... they are paying for their sins under the justice of the rifles.

Accompanying this newspaper item were four bespectacled photographs with the caption: - "More Jews of the Reds’ International Brigades". Dave Goodman comments: - "I was surprised to find that two of the four photos are of me!" There were, however, periods of respite in that prison camp of San Pedro.

During his youth, Max himself, together with two brothers, had been much sought after as singers in the synagogues of New York’s Lower East Side, during the Jewish High Holy Days. But other songs had to come to terms with the harsh reality of life in the prison camp itself. One painfully beautiful love song composed by a Spanish prisoner in San Pedro translates as follows: Va No Me Vengas:

Don’t come to me with tear-filled eyes anymore. I spend each night dreaming of you. Asleep and awake, I adore you. I look for you, but I cannot find you. And I burst into tears. But how long, my darling, how long? But how long will your green eyes be filled with tears? I am the man who suffers from not seeing you.

But dear God in heaven, have pity on me.
(Which was sung if the guard came within earshot).

I am in jail; I wonder when I will leave this place. (Which was sung when the guard was not present.) Another song, more defiant in mood, translates as follows: Al Tocar Diana

At daybreak, everyone is ordered to form a line and go out to the patio, and then to salute the flag. Garlic soup is our first meal. At noon they usually call us. Very reluctantly, I am a prisoner who must endure this. Today they gave us two pieces of bread, which is something that never changes. This is how they poison us. The prison food is lentils and beans every day, with so many beatings that you cannot eat. Every afternoon we hear a sermon. "Dear brothers", they address us, those men whose military garb is visible under their priestly garments. If you have lice, don’t worry, they will find you anywhere. Be patient, dear comrade. I am a prisoner who must endure this.

Beatings were quite arbitrary. In Prisoners of the Good Fight, Carl Geiser writes:

Severe beatings were administered in a cellar room known as la Sala de Tortura ... One day, early in July (1938), Bob Doyle from Dublin, Jack Flior (a Latvian Jewish volunteer) from South Africa, and Bob Steck (from the U.S.) sat down to eat their lunch. Steck recalls:- Tanky (the Spanish fascist sergeant) pointed to Jack ... to me and to Bob. We were marched into the Monastery, down to the cellar ... Tanky returned with five soldiers, some of who carried tree limbs... Tanky struck Jack with his club made from a bull’s penis..’ he was ordered into La Sala de Tortura’.

There is no need for me to read further from Steck’s description of how the sickeningly horrendous and systematic beatings of each of them proceeded in turn. A few days later the Camp was visited by a pro-Franco correspondent of the New York Times named William Carney. Geiser relates;

When he seemed sceptical about our being beaten, the others turned Bob Steck and Bob Doyle around and pulled up their shirts revealing long red welts across their backs. Carney was visibly taken aback... Carney did reveal later in an article that Bob Steck had shown him ‘several red welts on his bare back’ but said he had received them for ‘not giving the Fascist salute to their flag and always refusing to kneel in Church’.

Aside from the inhumanity of Carney’s expectation that a Jewish anti-fascist like Bob Steck might reasonably be expected to voluntarily behave like that, his account is in fact quite false. The beatings had been totally arbitrary. Carl Geiser also records another incident: "Maurice Levitas, a bit slow to respond to an order, was given a bit of a bashing’ by Tanky and thrown into the calabozo (another punishment cell below ground)."

The War Continues

Meanwhile, outside the prison gates the final battles of the War were being fought out, with new volunteers willingly joining the International Brigade but being denied the necessary weaponry by the so-called Non-Intervention blockade. The resulting sacrifices were therefore higher than ever. My father headed for Spain with three Scots and one Londoner. Only two out of that quintet would survive the Spanish War. For a moment there would be a brief respite before going into battle. Both Michael O’Riordan in English and Eoghan O Duinnin in Irish have provided very colourful accounts of a Wolfe Tone commemoration with an international flavour which they helped organise in a Spanish valley at the end of June 1938. Among the highlights were the Gaelic songs sung by Michael Lehane from Kilgarvan, County Kerry and the Russian dances performed by the London Jewish volunteer Max Nash. Lehane would finally fall victim to Hitler in 1942 when the Norwegian ship on which he served came under German attack. My father remembers him as follows:

Mick Lehane had a distinguished record in Spain, being wounded several times, the last occasion being at the battle of the Ebro, when his close companion, Max Nash was killed.

Two days after that Spanish commemoration of the father of Irish Republicanism, my father and others were sent for a brief period to a Corporals’ Training School. He recalls:- There, many were to meet, for the first time, a Soviet volunteer. He was Emil Steinberg, the instructor who lectured on many aspects of warfare’.

Finally on July 24th came the announcement that the Republicans would take back the other side of the river Ebro. They did, but it was their last great offensive before eventual defeat. Their lack of artillery rendered it impossible to take Hill 481. The casualties proved too horrific, particularly on August Monday. Among the dead was Lieutenant Paddy O’Sullivan of Dublin, already mentioned in Dave Goodman’s letter to me and further mentioned as follows in a letter from Maurice Levine:

I found the Irish among the very best. Bill Davis (of Dublin) was killed right next to me outside the village of Villanueva de la Canada. He was a great guy. I remember, while on the Jarama, asking Paddy O’Sullivan to volunteer for another front, Pozoblanco. He did without hesitation. There were other Irishmen I was friendly with. Maybe we had something in common.

My father was among those wounded on Hill 481. Illustrating the atmosphere back home in Ireland, he has written:

My parents were sincere unpretentious Catholics and I was conscious that they would face all the pro-Franca hysterical propaganda ... My mother, I know, spent a small fortune in getting Masses said for me. I never could get to know whether they were for my safe survival or for my ‘conversion' I suspect that it was sort of an each-way bet.

After my father was wounded he sent a telegram to my grandmother in Cork in order to reassure her. The family home had what was - under the circumstances - the rather unhelpfully named address of Pope’s Quay. The post office deliveryman shoved the telegram at my grandmother and snarled piously:- "The news should be that he’s dead because he’s fighting against Christ. Well as you can all see, he’s not dead yet’.

Now that the anti-fascist War was almost lost the San Pedro prisoners were subjected to ever-continuing indignities, including being forced to sing France’s Fascist anthem "Cara al Sal" or "Face to the Sun". [CC I DON'T UNDERSTAND WHAT IS BEING SAID HERE, OR WHAT THE ALTERNATIVE SONG WAS.]

You have just heard a British volunteer Jimmy Jump describe how he learned this song, It's A Long Way to Tipperary, on the battlefront while, prior to that, Dubliner Bob Doyle has explained how he learned it from a fellow-prisoner in San Pedro. It is perhaps the most evocative song to emerge from the Spanish war and can express many different musical moods. The verses you have just heard were recorded by Pete Seeger in 1940 and emphasise the plaintive quality of the melody. But at the New York re-union in April of last year, Pete Seeger provided the background accompaniment as Ronnie Gilbert gave vocal expression to a quite different emotion in the subsequent verse which evokes the Republican confrontation with Franco’s Mohammedan Moors.

While Ronnie Gilbert sang this song in the manner of a fiery flamenco artiste, Max Parker chose to slow down the pace and draw out the obviously Jewish parallels with its Andalusian melody. It is a song, which was particularly dear to him since it refers to the Gandesa front and evokes the night he was captured there. Unfortunately Max Parker died a couple of years ago but through this recording made at 70 years of age the powerful voice of this Cantor of the Abraham Lincoln Brigade will live on. (He himself translates the lyrics before the song’s final verse.)

(Both Max Parker’s record and Sean Cronin’s biography of Ryan bring back many memories to Maurice Levitas. Of the Frank Ryan biography he writes:

I found it fascinating. So far as my sojourn in San Pedro was concerned and even before that, at Calaceite, many memories were renewed. It was a great privilege to have known him. I think that we all knew we were in association with someone special at the time.

Well Manus, I started writing this letter at midnight ... and in the writing of it memories crowd in upon me ... playing chess with Frank Ryan in San Pedro .. his great leadership and example to us all ... Jock Stuart kicking me on a Spanish hillside (I had stretched for a sleep) by way of a welcome to the Brigade on active service ...

San Pedro would be a place for the formation of other Irish-Jewish friendships, for example between John O’Beirne, a veteran of the Irish War of Independence, and Leo Berman who would later participate in Israel’s War of Independence by smuggling arms to the Irgun. Carl Geiser relates:

[In August 1938 U.S.A] Ambassador Bowers had arranged the exchange of fourteen American prisoners for fourteen Italian (fascist) soldiers, and gave their names. One, John Berkley, was a fiction, the creation of an intended act of kindness. Leo Berman was on the list of fourteen to leave. Well recovered from his (own) leg wounds, he thought it was wrong that he should leave when his close friend, John O’Beirne (in his forties and suffering badly from arthritis), had to stay in San Pedro. John’s slow movements had earned him many a blow from the (fascist) sergeants. Leo proposed that John assume the name John Berkley and take his place on the list. He hoped that once John crossed the border into France, he would be able to return to Ireland. (But) the ruse was discovered.

These was one official breach of the ban on singing by the prisoners. The camp authorities agreed to a Christmas concert, which they themselves could attend for their own entertainment. The concert programme was arranged by the Jewish-American prisoner Bob Steck and its musical director was the German prisoner Rudy Karnpf, a graduate of the Heidelberg Conservatory of Music. Carl Geiser has written a most moving account of that concert. An abridged version is spoken here by Mary Parker on her husband’s 1982 record. At this stage I should say that Max Parker’s love of the Irish went beyond Spain. In 1942 he was to marry Mary Agnes Molloy from Oughterard, Co Galway.

There is a further Irish connection here. Ireland’s nineteenth century national poet Thomas Moore had included this Russian song in his collection of international melodies, for which he wrote the English lyrics Those Evening Bells. In this version in the original Russian, as Max Parker takes off on a cantorial cadenza he forgets the original lyrics but, not the least bit thrown off his stride, he substitutes a curse on the Portuguese fascists who had aided Franco.

Dubliner Bob Doyle was a member of that Christmas Eve International Choir, as was Maurice Levitas. Thanks to Carl Geiser most generously sending me the tape of his 1981 interview with Maurice, we are able to eavesdrop on these two former camp inmates recalling that occasion and some of its participants. Indeed Maurice was inspired to sing a few bars in between Carl’s questioning.

Maurice Levitas and Jack Flier were able to tell the Soviet Embassy about Russian prisoners because Jack could communicate with them. (Being a native of Riga he could, like Maurice’s mother Leah Rick, speak Russian as well as Yiddish and Latvian.)

The San Pedro prisoners who were most at risk from the fascists were the Soviets and the Germans. Hence, where possible, the Soviet prisoners pretended to be Polish citizens while some German prisoners pretended to be Dutch, Swedish or Polish. While beatings of other prisoners were arbitrarily administered by the Spanish fascists themselves, Bob Doyle recalls that the brutal beatings of German anti-Nazi prisoners were organised by the Gestapo officers who visited the camp. Bob writes of some of his German fellow- prisoners;

Some tried to escape1 knowing their inevitable fate. They were interrogated at pistol point and forced to sign ‘requests’ saying they wished to return to the Fatherland and they were sent for torture. Similarly with the Czechs who came from Sudetenland who discovered they were now German.

In March 1938 a remarkable act of anti-fascist defiance took place in a cellar in Barcelona during a fascist air raid which killed two thousand civilians and injured a further four thousand. In the midst of all this hell a group of German anti-Nazi fighters - who had so far survived the Spanish conflict where most of their colleagues had already given their lives - were to record a very special song in that cellar. It has been called the only beautiful song to come out of Nazi Germany precisely because it was such a powerful indictment of Nazism, a song written as early as 1933 by an un-named prisoner in a Nazi concentration camp. So moved was Paul Robeson by this Barcelona recording that he also recorded that song of defiance of Hitler’s concentration camps. [The song mentioned here is Die Moorsoldaten]

The dire predicament of German anti-Nazis imprisoned in San Pedro was in a strange way to result in Maurice Levitas re-asserting his Dublin origins. On January 6, 1939 the British and some other international prisoners, including the Irish, were removed to San Sebastian prison. Bob Doyle recalls it as the place where Basque prisoners, including priests, were being systematically executed by France. Eventually on February 6 there was an exchange of 67 International Brigadier prisoners for 70 Italian fascists.

Maurice Levitas tells me:

The circumstances of my return to Britain were special in regard to Irish nationality, you see when the British (and Irish) prisoners left San Pedro de Cardena I had a special mission to carry out concerning one German prisoner who was a Young Communist. My job was to contact his brother in Paris and to give him news and information concerning his health and welfare. However, although I had identified myself as British when I went to Spain and in the concentration camp, the exigencies of the situation when crossing the International Bridge at Irun meant that I had to identify myself as Irish. This was because the British were to be repatriated via Boulogne-Dover whilst the Irish had to go to the Irish legation in Paris.

Tragically, Maurice’s mission of mercy is not a story with a happy ending. In May 1941 the German anti-Nazi prisoners at San Pedro were transferred to a concentration camp at Palencia. A typhus epidemic broke out in July and of the twenty prisoners who contracted it nineteen died. A German prisoner in the camp who was lucky to avoid the epidemic and also lucky enough to get away with the pretence that he was Polish was Karl Kormes. He eventually succeeded in escaping to Gibraltar in 1943 and continued the fight against Hitlerism first as a member of the USA's Office of Strategic Services and finally fighting with the Red Army on the Eastern Front that destroyed the Nazi Army in 1945.

[Addressing the convention of the Israeli Communist Party on December 4, 1985 the President of Israel, Chaim Herzog, declared: The heroic struggle of the Russian people and the decisive role of the Red Army in defeating and destroying Nazi Germany 40 years ago is inscribed in letters of gold in the history of humanity and of our people.]

In later years Karl Kormes entered the diplomatic service of the German Democratic Republic and served as its ambassador to Yugoslavia and Ecuador. He is now retired and living in Berlin.

Maurice’s letter to me continues:

About Leo Koster - yes we were close friends. When I came to the GDR (to work as an English teacher in 1985) I had resolved to try to find out whether he managed to survive. Eventually I went to the home of Karl Kormes who had responsibility as a prisoner in San Pedro for the German prisoners. When I asked him about what happened he informed me that Leo died of typhus in a camp to which the Germans had been moved from San Pedro. Karl tells me that he met Leo’s family (some of them) after the War and that is what he had to tell them.

The trip home

Returning to Maurice’s own story, after he had met Leo Koster’s brother in Paris in February 1939, he teamed up with Bob Doyle and Johnny Lemon to see the Irish Consul. Bob recalls:

The legation in Paris was very hostile, the official demanding we sign a document to pay our fares from Spain to Dublin which we refused stating that we were prepared to be sent back to the Republican side.

But they later embarked for London. Maurice has described to me what it must have been like for his parents, Harry and Leah Levitas, while awaiting his return:

Some time after my capture they received a letter from the (International Brigade) office in London informing them that I was ‘missing believed dead’. It is not strange that after receiving it, my father sought information from anyone who came back from Spain. Someone actually told him that he had witnessed my last breath. But when the Daily Worker printed the list of names of prisoners returning to Victoria Station they knew that I still lived. Of course they came with so many others to meet the returning prisoners, but that evening I was still in Paris. Only next morning, clad in a suit provided by the Co-operative Warehouse, (after first meeting Dave Goodman who waited for me in the courtyard of the flats complex), did I return to the flat in No. 78 Brady Street Mansions, walk through an open door, find my mother with her back turned to me and preparing a mid-day meal for the family. My embrace, I could see as she turned, was a happy surprise for her - but no shock:- I was expected but not so soon that day.

Maurice’s voice drops at the end of that recording as he recalls the emotion of coming home and so you might not have been able to make out the last few sentences where he says: "Then I saw my mother in the kitchen - nobody else in the house - only my mother in the kitchen - and the tears of welcome I’ll never forget. That was the homecoming, the way back".

But for many there would be no homecoming. Recalling Leslie Daiken’s lines on Charlie Donnelly, Maurice writes:

... ‘His cenotaph, Jarama’s olive trees’. Ah, how many have mingled their dust with that earth! My own dear comrade, Jack Sylvester from Bethnal Green is there - and Harry Gross from Mile End (who had led the YCL band in the East End confrontation with Mosley's Blackshirts).

Good luck in your lecture. While you’re about it you might like to make reference to the fact that the first two Britishers to commit themselves to personal physical support to Republican Spain were two Jewish men (Communists) from Stepney in the East End of London:- Nat Cohen and Sam Masters (with the latter being killed at Brunette). There were others, of course, from the East End.

Years later - in the 1960s - I was speaking for the CP at an open-air meeting in Bethnal Green. Among the crowd I saw Jack Sylvester’s father. When I got down I went to talk with him. By this time all that happened to the Jews in Central Europe justified every sacrifice that had been made in the struggle against fascism. So he saw things differently from the time of Jack’s death. But he did not have a picture of Jack in Spain. Mine was a special one, an enlargement. So I sent it to him.

International Brigade veterans were also to be in the forefront of Jewish resistance to the Holocaust. Al Prago writes:

Joseph Farber was in the underground assigned to a perilous task in the Nazi death camp at Birkenau. David Smulevich served in the underground at Auschwitz, where he took photographs of the crematoria in action! The negatives were smuggled out of the camp and their publication established as definite proof what had been described as mere propaganda.

Bernard Volkas was another. Born in Kovno, Lithuania, he was 18 when he went to Palestine in 1934. When the war in Spain began Volkas fought in the International Brigades from 1936 to 1939. Later joining the Red Army, he was parachuted into Byelorussia to organise the partisans. Captured by the Nazis after two years, he was deported to Auschwitz where he became part of the resistance.

In April of last year, in the New York Yiddish newspaper Morning Freiheint, Bernard Volkas, who now lives in California, paid the following tribute to his comrades (which was subsequently translated for the September 1986 issue of Jewish Currents):

On the battlefields of Spain they understood the danger to the Jewish people. There wasn’t one battle in that long struggle against Franca and Hitler in which Jews did not participate and pay with their blood. Nor was it accidental that the first armed groups of Jews in the Warsaw Ghetto were organised on the initiative of the Jewish veteran of Spain, Andzei Schmidt (born in Warsaw). ... In August 1941 he was one of a group that was parachuted into Warsaw by Soviet planes. After six months of underground work in the Warsaw Ghetto he was betrayed by an informer. He did not break under Gestapo torture and finally they shot him. The heroic beginning that he and the Communist Joseph Lewartowski made was carried forward by Mordecai Anielewicz, the Socialist-Zionist, and others Bernard Volkas concluded:- "Future historians will have to acknowledge that the Jewish volunteers in the Spanish Civil War were predecessors of the fighters in the Warsaw Ghetto. They all defended the honour of the Jewish people and that is how history will remember them.

The Warsaw Ghetto rose in rebellion on April 19, 1943 but the Central Command Post led by Anielewicz did not fall to the Nazis until May 8. News of the uprising spread rapidly to resistance movements in other ghettos particularly in the Lithuanian capital of Vilna (now named Vilnius). At a secret meeting in the Vilna ghetto on May Day the Yiddish poet Hirsh Glick announced he had composed a new song. This tribute to the Warsaw Ghetto Partisans became in turn the fighting anthem of the Vilna Ghetto Partisans themselves. At Warsaw Ghetto commemorations after the War, Paul Robeson sang it in English and Yiddish as follows.

The Yiddish words "Mir zeinen do!" mean "We survive!". And it was as a further expression of hope for a better world that in his final track the New York Jewish veteran of Spain, Max Parker, recalled the Yiddish of his own childhood. It is with this Jewish lullaby, "Rozhinkes mit Mandlen" [Raisons and Almonds] that I also conclude. It is prefaced as follows by his County Galway wife, Mary


On behalf of the Cultural committee a vote of thanks was proposed by the Irish Jewish Museum’s Archivist, Asher Benson. Manus O’Riordan’s lecture had not only evoked the Spanish Civil War as well as Dublin Jewish life in the early decades of this century, it had also recalled for him his own youth in the East End of London and the fight against the anti-Semitic marches of Mosley’s Blackshirts. He would also like to take the opportunity to welcome "our neighbour", Manus’s father Michael O’Riordan, on his first visit to the Museum. He was, of course, aware that his father had received many honours during the week.

Note:- On the occasion of his 70th birthday on ‘November 12 - while in Moscow attending the Russian Revolution’s own 70th anniversary celebrations - Michael O’Riordan had been awarded the Soviet Order of Friendship of Peoples. Back home in Dublin for a Communist Party of Ireland dinner in his honour on November 14, the G.D.R. ambassador had also awarded Michael O’Riordan the Order of Marx and Engels of the German Democratic Republic.) Asher Benson continued: "But tonight (November 15) I would like to pay him a Yiddish honour - Biz 120! May he live to be 120! I will not repeat the birthday wish paid to her husband by the old Jewish woman who said - biz 119! When her husband asked why she had not said - biz 120! she replied:- ‘Can’t I have just one year of peace?’".

Finally, Asher Benson once again thanked Manus O’Riordan not only as a lecturer but also as a friend.


In the course of the lecture, Manus O'Riordan played several recordings, both songs and interviews of some participants in the Spanish Civil War. In order to give at least some indication of the proceedings, here is a list of the recordings. 

This list gives the songs and other recordings that were played at the memorial lecture/record recital.

Pete Seeger and chorus                         Viva la Quince Brigada

Christy Moore                                       Viva la Quince Brigada

Max Packer                                           He recounted some personal background                and then sang Jarama. This came from an LP titled, Al Tocar Diana/ At break of Dawn - Songs from a Franco Prison

Maurice Levine                                       On the Republican Anthem.

Paul Robeson                                          Los Cuatro Generales

Paul Robeson                                          The Minstrel Boy

Paul Robeson                                          The Kaddish of Rabbi Levi-Isaac

Max Parker                                              An account of capture

Max Parker                                              A Russian song

Max Parker                                              On the parallels between flamenco and synagogue

Max Parker                                               Hebrew chant

Max Parker                                               Flamenco song

Max Parker                                               Ya No Me Vengas

Max Parker                                              Al Tocar Diana

Bob Doyle                                                On Tipperary v Fascist anthem

Bob Doyle and Jimmy Jump                       Si Me Quieres Escribir

Ronnie Gilbert                                            Si Me Quieres Escribir

Max Parker                                                Si Me Quieres Escribir

Max Parker                                               Tribute to Frank Ryan 
                                                               and Song of the Connolly Column

Mary Parker                                               On Christmas Eve, 1938.

Max Parker                                                 Those Evening Bells

Carl Geiser and Maurice Levitas                   On Those Evening Bells and the Russian

Ernst Busch and chorus                                 Die Moorsoldaten

Paul Robeson                                                The Peat-bog Soldiers

Carl Geiser Interviewing M Levitas                 Re: Leo Koster

Carl Geiser Interviewing M Levitas                 On his return home

Paul Robeson                                                 Paul Robeson Song of the Ghetto Partisans

Max Parker                                                    Raisins and Almonds

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This page originally carried additional material on Maurice Levitas. This was moved, March 2001, to a separate page for Maurice following his death. Visit that page now to read the obituary articles, etc.

The International Tailors, 
Machinists and Pressers’ Trade Union

(The following account is based on an article by Manus O’Riordan in the July 1987 issue of Dublin Jewish News as well as on his further researches.]

The International Tailors, Machinists and Pressers’ Trade Union was founded in November 1908 (and registered in April 1909) by Jewish clothing workers hailing from the South Circular Road area of Dublin. Its first secretary was Harry Miller of 11 Oakfield Place. Harris Cohen of St Michael’s Terrace was its first Chairman, John Stein of St Alban’s Road was vice-chairman, Aaron Klein of 14 Warren Street was treasurer, and its first trustees were Israel Stein of St Alban’s Road, Jacob Taylor of 5 Martin Street and Louis Epstein of 17 Oakfield Place. Other trustees over the next three years include Nathan Levin, Jack Tauber and Isaac Baker.

Harry Miller retired in 1913 and was replaced by a non-Jewish secretary Walter Carpenter, who led the union during its most significant period until his own retirement through terminal illness in 1925. The 1915 Rule Book indicates that at that stage it was still a predominantly Jewish union, with the Union’s executive comprising Walter Carpenter, Patrick Doyle, Barnet Sigman, Edward Baker, Harris Guttenberg, Barnet Glass and Morris Goldstein.

Among other office-holders in the Union at various stages during the Carpenter years were Abraham Stein of St Alban’s Road as treasurer, Morris Taylor of Rosedale Terrace (later moving to Brainborough) and Max Glass of Ovoca Road as trustees, and Abraham Sevitt of 17 Martin Street, Isaac Stein of Washington Street, Max Fletcher of Commons Street, North Wall and Samuel Fletcher of Capel Street as auditors.

The Union’s membership was at a peak of 600 (both Jewish and Gentile) in 1923 when for the first and only time it was represented at the Annual Conference of the Irish Trade Union Congress by two delegates - Union secretary Walter Carpenter and Isaac Baker whose address at that time was 6 Emorville Avenue, South Circular Road, Dublin.

Walter Carpenter had been a founder member of the Socialist Party of Ireland in 1909 and became secretary of its Dublin Branch in 1911. Having represented the S.P.I. at a solidarity meeting for Jewish tailors on strike during 1909 in the Dublin firms of Karmel and Lloyd and Lloyd, he was a natural choice to succeed Henry Miller as secretary of their union in 1913.

In September 1921 Walter Carpenter became Secretary of the Socialist Party of Ireland and the following month continued on as the first Secretary of the Communist Party of Ireland which succeeded it. While he was to preside over the first Congress of the Communist Party of Ireland in January 1923, he had already resigned as its Secretary in February 1922, stating that "the C.P. is my first love, but my union claims all my time and I cannot, under present circumstances, neglect my union".

His fellow-delegate Isaac Baker had made a speech at the Irish TUC Annual Conference in 1923 in which he argued strongly against "any discrimination between Jew and Gentile, so long as either does his work right". Isaac Baker was an immigrant Jewish-tailoring worker who had fled Tsarist Russia to settle in Dublin at the turn of the century. He was to have a close association with both sides of Maurice Levitas’s family. When the latter’s maternal Uncle Harry Rick (a tailor) was married in May 1909, Isaac Baker was his witness. The April 1911 Census shows that the married couple had moved by then to 11 Oakfield Place - the former home of the Tailors’ and Pressers’ Union’s first Secretary Henry Miller - where they had been joined by Harry’s younger brother (also a tailor) Jack Rick. The same census shows that boarding with the family of Isaac Baker in his home at 11 Martin Street was an aunt of Harry Levitas, namely, Rachel Jackson, a widowed tailoress with two children.

Rachel Jackson subsequently moved to 33 Martin Street at which address lived her nephew Harry on his arrival from Kovno. Jack Rick subsequently moved to 18 Arbutus Place at which address lived his younger sister Leah on her arrival from Riga. In August 1914 Harry Levitas (a tailor’s presser) and Leah Rick were married in the synagogue at 52 Lower Camden Street, Dublin. Also located at 52 Lower Camden Street between April 1912 and February 1915 was the Head Office of Dublin’s "Jewish Union" — the International Tailors’, Machinists’ and Pressers’ Trade Union.


Visit the page on M Levitas

® Copyright Manus O’Riordan November 1987.

Acknowledgements of written sources: -

Michael O’Riordan The Connolly Column, 1979.
Carl Geiser Prisoners of the Good Fight, 1986.
Albert Prago Jews in the International Brigades (‘Jewish Currents’ reprint), 1979.
Albert Prago Notes for Songs of the Spanish Civil War (Folkways Records), 1961
Max Parker Al Tocar Diana- Songs from a Franco Prison  (Folkways Records), 1982.
Maurice Levine Cheetham to Cordova, 1984.
Joe Monks With the Reds in Andalusia, 1985
Eoghan O Duinnin La Nina Bonita agus an Roisin Dubh, 1986.
Louis Hyman The Jews of Ireland, 1972.
Pat Feeley and Manus O’Riordan The Rise and Fall of Irish Anti-Semitism, 1984.
Leslie Daiken (ed) Goodbye Twilight - Songs of Struggle in Ireland, 1936.
Leslie Daiken Signature of All Things, 1945.
Leslie Daiken (ed) Out Goes She - Dublin Street Rhymes, 1963.
Ewart Milne Letter from Ireland, 1940
Frank Ryan (ed) The Book of the Fifteenth International Brigade, 1938
Sean Cronin Frank Ryan, 1980
Arthur Landis The Abraham Lincoln Brigade, 1967.

Alvah Bessie and Albert Prago (eds.)

Our Fight - Writings by Veterans of the Abraham Lincoln Brigade, 1987.
Bill Alexander British Volunteers for Liberty, 1982

Marx Memorial


International Brigade Memorial Archive Catalogue, 1986

Articles in
The Irish Front
The Irish Democrat (1930.)
The Volunteer
Jewish Currents (1980s).

Above all, correspondence with
Maurice Levitas, Bob Doyle, Dave Goodman, Carl Geiser and Maurice Levine.

Other correspondence with Paul Burns, Joe Monks, Al Prago, Ben Iceland, Bill Alexander, Toby Middleburgh and the President of Israel, Chaim Herzog.

It would be of great interest to us and the author if any reader would send comments on this article. Send them to

In addition to this work, Manus O'Riordan has written carried out other research on aspects of Ireland and the Spanish Civil War. His latest research is on Michael Lehane, a veteran of the Spanish Civil War who went on to serve and die with the Norweigian Merchant Marine during World War 2. Hopefully we will be able to carry the Lehane piece in the future.

Other Documents now available:

Nov. 18th 2001. The Lehane pamphlet is now available on line. 

A pamphlet by Manus O'Riordan on Frank Edwards, an Irish International Brigadier.  READ IT NOW