On January 14, 2008, Milton Wolff died in Berkeley, California, at the age of 92. He was the last commander of the Lincoln-Washington Battalion of the International Brigades in the Spanish Civil War and an icon in the United States after his return in 1939 in his anti-imperialist struggle and in the improvement of political and social rights.
He was born on October 7, 1915 in Brooklyn, the working-class neighborhood of new York, from which many volunteers came. He relates in his book Member of the Working Class, who wants to be a work between the novel and the memory in which he recounts these hard times of his youth. He had to leave the institute and found the opportunity to join the experimental Civilian Conservation Corps of the New Deal, a type of military operation that led unemployed boys in the city to work on forestry projects. He liked physical activity and camaraderie, and developed skills like the first aid assistant. But he also witnessed the bureaucratic indifference that led to the death of one of his friends, so he was not allowed to enlist the following year as he participated in a protest movement. Soon after he found work at a hat factory in Manhattan.
When the economic depression of 1929 hit the lower classes harshly, Milton entered the Young Communist League. Years later, when one of the League organizers asked if there was any volunteer to come to Spain to fight for the Republican government, Wolff joined with other companions. I had just turned 21 and was an art student.
He sailed to Spain in March 1937. Thus defines it an editor of the newspaper The Sun in November 1937:
"Commander Wolff has an air of Tarzan-headed filmmaker and a gesture of combatant in frank optimism."
He tells his experiences as a soldier in his autobiographical novel Another Hill (1994). Moved by the enthusiasm of the other volunteers he changed his medical mission to serve in a machine gun company in the newly formed Washington battalion and went into action in Brunete in July 1937. Despite the repeated dangers on the fronts, he saved his life. Men who were near him were injured or killed but he did not receive a scratch. In Madrid he met Ernest Hemingway and commented in a letter to a friend from Brooklyn that Ernest was "quite childish in many respects and that he wants to be a martyr… I'd rather read his books than be with him, "he concluded.
He was in the front of Aragon, leading a section of the machine Gun company in Belchite and Quinto. In October he commanded some guns in Fuentes de Ebro. In Teruel, in January of 1938, Wolff was captain and field aide and became, in March 1938, the last commander of the Lincoln Battalion, which intervened in the great offensive of the Ebro on July 25, 1938, participating in one of the most heroic events as was the Res In Sierra Pandols, with an excessive cost of casualties for their own. He led the soldiers into dangerous retiring, avoided catches and wandered only behind the enemy lines until he managed to swim in the Ebro. When Negrín announced the withdrawal on September 21, he was in charge of directing them from Corbera and Gandesa.
On his return to the United States he stood out for his long career as an anti-fascist fighter and his role in the struggle for human rights. Over the next few years he has demonstrated a strong personality, with great organizational skills that he would later develop by taking responsibility for the "Bay area Post" in the southwestern United States, based in California. He did not squander any opportunity to make known the heroic work that both he and his companions had carried out in Spain. He was an indisputable protagonist in the search for recognition by the institutions towards what they meant. He did not always succeed but in the hard years of the McCarthyism he got lawyers and funding to help many of the defendants, to the point that most of them came to regard him as the real motivator of human rights among the volunteers American. It gained great prominence by successfully organizing all kinds of activities to finance medical aid to the Republican refugees in France. The VALB's internal information bulletins often highlight their serious awareness and outreach efforts and also their attempts to dynamize other venues such as New York.
He took part in protests in the streets of new York, urging the official institutions of Washington to lift the embargo of transport to Spain and to provide assistance to the Spanish refugees trapped in French concentration camps. When the French government threatened to deport those war victims back to
Franco's Spain, where many would face summary executions, Wolff joined with other Lincoln veterans in demonstrations at the French consulate's door in new York, being arrested in 1940 for this reason and for which he spent fifteen days in prison. During the process, in the midst of the government's anti-communist campaign, he was accused of being a communist militant, being closely monitored by the FBI and other government agencies for decades.
Again, to defeat fascism, he enlisted in 1942 in the American Navy that had entered into World War II in favor of the Allies. He graduated from the Parachute school and fought on the fronts of Italy and France. On his return from World War II, he and other veterans of the Lincoln continued to work for the implementation of democracy in Spain, pressuring the State Department to break relations with Franco's Spain and provide assistance to refugees Spaniards and prisoners of the Francoist regime. However, the United States Government was creating an anti-Communist alliance that included Franco's Spain. This led the Justice Department to classify Lincoln Brigade veterans as a dangerous organization in 1947 and to detain some of its members in 1950. He and Moe Fishman presided over the veterans ' defense before the "Subversive activities Control erased" view during 1954, and took the subsequent appeal through the federal courts. During this period, Wolff also worked for the beleaguered "Civil Rights Congress," a leftist organization that defended African Americans accused of major crimes with dubious evidence.
As the anti-Communist Crusade declined in the 1960, Wolff continued to be active in the "Committee for Spanish Democracy in the United States," an organization that pressed against the American treaties with the Franco regime, helped the families of Franco's political prisoners and defended political reform. He also spearheaded the revival of "VALB" in the demonstrations against the Vietnam war. He wrote a personal letter to Ho Chi Minh, offering him the services of the Abraham Lincoln Brigade. Wolf advocated the completion of the
To Cuba and helped provide medical help to children in Havana's hospitals. During the decade of 1980, in the company of other veterans, he created an organization in order to send ambulances to Nicaragua.
His contacts with the ex-brigades were continuous and his capacity for leadership and organization to get many volunteers to come to Spain after Franco's death has been recognized by all. In these organizational and administrative tasks, he used to count on the valuable cooperation of two very important women in his life and in the destinies of the VALB: Frieda, his wife, who died in 1984, and Marion Watchel, the widow of Robert Merriman, died in 1991.
At the same time, of the multiple voyages, the two most significant were those of 1996 and 2005. In 1996 the Spanish Parliament granted international volunteers the Spanish nationality and received the affection and applause of the Spaniards in Madrid, Albacete and Barcelona. And in 2005, almost seventy years later, several events took place to remember the Battle of the Ebro, where his troop had an outstanding performance. In that act, aboard a boat in the Ebro, he threw a handful of carnations while remembering the men who died beside him there.
During his last years, he spent more time painting and writing his memoirs in a novel Way. Among his works should be highlighted Western Front Now! (1941) and Fascist Spain: Menace to World Peace (1947). Also worthy of mention are his three autobiographical novels, A Member of the Working Class, the Premature Anti-fascist and Another Hill: An Autobiographical Novel. The latter translated into Spanish under the title Another Hill (2005). Here he tells us, in a novel key, his experiences in Spain and tells us about his anti-fascist convictions and his communist whims. The protagonist, who corresponds to his biographic profile, matures in the front and becomes a man in the Spanish War.
In spite of everything, Milton Wolff always saw himself as a man of action. Because of his determined nature, he always knew how to make a decision and end things. In his thought he has always been promoting democracy in Spain. He came in 1937 with that ideal and although he returned to the United States after the defeat of 1939, he continued to fight with all the media from his country, and when democracy triumphed in Spain, he visited us on many occasions. A very affectionate memory for him and our respect and admiration.