Support for the Loyalist side during the Spanish Civil War turned into a passionate, leftist cause on college campuses across America in the late ‘30s. On occasion, that emotion seeped down to the high school level, too.
The fascist army of Generalissimo Francisco Franco, backed by right wing Spanish extremists and beefed up with massive military aid from Hitler and Mussolini, set out in 1936 to smash Spain’s first ever, legally elected government.
The anti-fascist forces, made up of Loyalist troops alongside Spanish peasants and workers, fought back stubbornly against the specter of a military dictatorship. Ensuing events led to a bloody, three-year civil war that turned into a Nazi staging ground for World War II.
As Franco’s forces slowly burned and blasted their way across the Iberian Peninsula, aided by German planes, tanks and troops, an urgent call went out-around the world for workers to defend Spain’s fledgling republic. “No Pasaran!” “They shall not pass!”
Response was the formation of the International Brigades, a hurried volunteer army of men and women from 53 different countries who traveled to Spain to fight for the Loyalist cause.
The American unit was called The Abraham Lincoln Brigade, a gutsy band of workers, adventurers, artists, college dropouts, radical intellectuals, technicians and youthful idealists that numbered eventually about 3,000, along with some 1,500 Canadians.
In the outcry following the horrific destruction of Guernica by the Luftwaffe in Spain’s northern Basque country, Nick Borich persuaded Dan and me to go with him to a nighttime meeting of “The Anti-Fascist Refugee Committee” at Reed College in Southeast Portland. The speaker that night was a stocky, pockmarked veteran of the Abraham Lincoln Brigade. named Robert Sharral. He exuded the fervor of an evangelist. Recently returned from the bitter Pyrenees campaign, Sharral was back in the US to raise money for the cause and to sign up volunteers for the Brigade.