Fisher was a union organizer in New York in the 1920s and 1930s. He grew up in poverty and saw first-hand the class system in the United States. When Franco and the fascist forces in Spain staged the military coup against the Spanish Republic in 1936, Fisher was among the first to volunteer for the International Brigade. The US government did everything it could to prevent volunteers from going to Spain, maintaining ‘neutrality’ while simultaneously turning a blind eye to the US corporations that were actively supporting the fascist cause (Standard Oil being the most blatant example, but support for fascism among the US corporate elites was nearly universal, including, famously, Joseph Kennedy, father of John Kennedy). Fisher made his way to France. By then the French socialist government had persuaded itself that it must also be ‘neutral’ to avoid provoking Germany and Italy, and had closed the border. So Fisher with many others traveled across the Pyrenees mountains, eluding the French border guards, and joined up with the newly-formed Lincoln Brigade.

During much of the war Fisher worked in the Signal corp, stringing telephone wire from the front lines to command posts. Of the people he met in the Lincoln Brigade, few came back unscathed, and many were killed. He himself was lucky - never seriously wounded, despite being in many fierce battles.

It is clear from Fisher’s description that the war was a lost cause from the beginning - the fascists were well supplied and aided by both Germany and Italy, and had complete control of the air throughout the war. The USSR provided token assistance to the Republican forces, but never enough to enable victory, and always accompanied by political aggression against the non-Communist members of the Republican coalition - most notably the anarcho-syndicalists in Catalonia. From the Republican side the war was a long and deadly retreat. It is estimated that the fascists killed 50,000 civilians in reprisal during and after the war - anyone thought to be a ‘red’ was simply murdered. This does not count the hundreds of thousands killed by bombing and artillery during the war.

By the end, the Republican forces were driven back to the very northeast corner of Spain, and the International Brigade had to disband and get out as best they could. That meant a return to France, temporary internment in what amounted to concentration camps, and eventual return to the United States. On disembarking in the US, federal marshals confiscated Fisher’s passport - for the next 37 years.

He eventually returned to Spain long after Franco’s death, to attend a reunion of the brigadistas. They were greeted with great warmth and gratitude by the Spanish people who, despite 40 years of fascist rule and propaganda, could never be made to forget the great struggle for liberty that the civil war represented.

By now there are few brigadistas still living - even the youngest would be ninety years old. So Fisher’s memoir is a welcome addition to the many histories that have been written about that war.



Book cover

Metadata Info

  • Title: Comrades: Tales of a Brigadista in the Spanish Civil War
  • Author: Harry Fisher
  • Published: 1998
  • ISBN: 0803268998
  • Buy: Amazon search
  • Check out: Seattle library
  • Rating: 3.0 stars