Wednesday, August 15, 2007
A Rebel and A Gentleman
highwayscribery hates to indulge in cliché, but they don’t make them like Moe Fishman anymore.
Fishman, one of some 3,000 Americans (and 40,000 worldwide) who snuck into Spain to take up arms in favor of the Spanish Republic and against international Fascism, died August 6. He was 92.
Here is an obituary by Douglas Martin of the “New York Times,” a slightly different one from “Chelsea Now,” distributed in the Manhattan neighborhood of the same name, and yet one more (for those who read Spanish) from “La Republica” out of Spain, dedicated to restoring the Republic for which Moe Fishman and so many others put their lives on the line.
“These men reached our country as crusaders for freedom. They gave up everything: their country, home, and fortune, fathers, mothers, wives, brothers, sisters, and children. And they came and told us, ‘We are here! Your cause, Spain’s cause is ours. It is the cause of all advanced and progressive mankind’.”
Those were the words of La Pasionaria, a communist parliamentary deputy from Asturias and prominent party leader, in saying goodbye to the International Brigades upon their departure from Barcelona.
The Spanish government hoped this gesture would lead to the withdrawal of troops by Mussolini and Hitler that had done so much damage, but it did not.
The following narrative has been taken from the obituaries linked above and from Fishman’s own words to a video project of Jim Fernandez and Katie Halper, whom interviewed surviving New Yorkers about their memories of the noble struggle that was Spain in the 1930s.
Fishman was born in Astoria, Queens (NYC), joined the Young Communist League as a young man and helped organize a union at the laundry where he worked. He joined the party, according to “The Times” obit, “to meet like-minded women at dances the organization sponsored.”
You go Moe!
But he clearly had a serious bent to his mind and a yen for justice; his justice and that of others.
Here is Fishman, from the aforementioned video report, “Facing Fascism: New Yorkers Remember the Spanish Civil War,” on how he ended up crossing the Atlantic in a boat and fighting for the liberty of a people not his own:
“In the morning I was going to work and I took my stuff and half way down the stairs I realized I didn’t have my toothbrush so I went upstairs, got my toothbrush, broke it in half and put it in my pocket. And when I came home that was the only thing that I brought across from the United States that I came back with was that half toothbrush. And I made my way downtown; we were sailing on a ship from docks in the Hudson. I think it was the Paris, and I called my father and he answered the phone in the laundry and I told him, ‘Pop they’ve accepted me as a truck driver and I’m going. There’s no way you can stop me. I’m taking a train and then we’re going to report in the South and that’s where I’m going from.’ So he said, ‘Wait a minute,’ and he hung up and called my mother. And she yelled and she screamed and I said, ‘Goodbye Mom,’ and I took off. When I came home my mother told me, when he [his father] hung up the phone, he put his head on his shoulder and he cried and it was the first time in her life and the last time in her life she saw him cry. And so, I went across at that point.”
He told “The Times” in a 2000 interview that he himself did not cry because, “When you’re 21, there’s no bullet meant for you.”
He was wrong.
Although he was hired as a driver, Fishman trained as a foot soldier in what was known as the George Washington Battalion. On July 5, 1937, at the battle of Brunete, a sniper got him good in the thigh. He spent a year in Spanish hospitals and two more in U.S. infirmaries for his troubles.
He limped the rest of his life.
It was a permanent reminder of the short yet definitive chapter in a life he spent supporting, organizing, and speaking on behalf of Lincoln Brigadiers, never losing his antipathy for a son-of-a-bitch named Francisco Franco who had crushed the will of an entire people.
Along with fellow (and surviving) veteran Milton Wolff, he took on the Subversive Activities Control Board in 1954, prevailing in court some 20 years later.
You go Moe.
These are not ordinary undertakings, which is somewhat the point here. And this piece is written mostly for those who did not know of him, because he was otherwise well-known.
In May 2006, when the highway scribe and Omar Torrez were playing “Vedette Does La Danza” in New York City, they sat in on a lecture by Catalan artist Francesc Torres that led to a post entitled, “An Enduring Civil Peace,” and which was part of the Abraham Lincoln Brigade Archive’s (ALBA) Bill Sussman Lecture Series.
During the question-and-answer session, the subject of this post got up, grabbed the microphone and started with an introduction: “I’m Moe Fishman.”
“I know,” said Torres, a man from another country and different generation; only too aware of Fishman’s contribution to his own story.
ALBA Board Chairman Peter Carroll, wrote of Fishman upon his sad passing: “Lean, well-dressed in suit and tie, dark eyebrows and brown mustache offset by a full gray head of hair, he carried the vitality of a young man’s cause into his old age. Each year at the annual reunion, it was his voice that announced recent deaths and called the roll of the surviving veterans in attendance.
His silence brings an end of an era.”
Don’t go Moe!