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Chapter 1: The Beginning


olimpiade leaflet
olympiade invitation letter
Peoples' Olympiad Leaflet
Bernard N. Danchik Papers
(Tamiment/NYU: ALBA 033:2)
Invitational Letter Requesting American Participation
Bernard N. Danchik Papers
(Tamiment/NYU: ALBA 033:1:3)

     In the mid-1930's the United States and most of the world was in the grip of the Great Depression. In Europe, due to the harsh economic and political times, nation after nation succumbed to right wing strongmen. Some looked to Germany under Adolf Hitler as a successful prototype of a fascist state. Hitler in turn took every opportunity to flaunt Germany's re-emerging power. The Berlin Olympics, scheduled to take place in the summer of 1936, were one such event meant to showcase the fruits of fascism.
     To protest these games, Spain, which had recently elected a left wing government, composed of various centrist and leftist groups, known as the Popular Front, announced a counter event called the Peoples' Olympiad. These counter-Olympic Games were meant to showcase the solidarity of the peoples of the world and were scheduled to take place in Barcelona immediately preceding the ones in Berlin.

CCNY Wrestling Team with Chakin
U.S. Barcelona Olympiad Team with Chakin

Chakin (front left) with the CCNY Wrestling Team
Microcosm, 1934
(C.C.N.Y. Archives)

Chakin (fourth from right) with U.S. Olympiad Team
Bernard N. Danchik Papers
(Tamiment/NYU: ALBA 033:2)


     Among the small group of American athletes selected to represent the United States at the Peoples' Olympiad was Alfred "Chick" Chakin, an instructor in the hygiene department and the wrestling coach at the School of Business and Civic Administration. Described as "a boy with a grand smile and grip," Chakin, who had been a runner-up for the 1924 Olympic Games, had been exercising the bodies of City College students at Lexington and 23rd since 1932. He jumped at the chance to go to Spain, believing that the games would be "a powerful demonstration against fascism." (Danchik's scrapbook, ALBA 033:2; 1936 Barcelona Olympics vertical file, ALBA)


Chakin with some of the Athletes
Barcelona in the 1930s

Chakin (left) with some of the Athletes
Bernard N. Danchik Papers
(Tamiment /NYU: ALBA 033:2)

Barcelona in the 1930s
Bernard N. Danchik Papers
(Tamiment/NYU: ALBA 033:2)

     The team, arriving in Barcelona on July 15, proceeded to take in the sights and to train for the start of the Olympiad. However, hours before the games were set to begin, the athletes awoke to find themselves in the middle of a civil war. Bernard Danchik, one of the ten American athletes, described what happened in his scrapbook:

     Rifle and pistol fire, stuttering machine guns, bombing and shelling. They don't do things by halves out here. We are locked in our hotel and every time we shove our heads out of the windows, we are shot at. We are finally allowed out when things are comparatively quiet. Martial law and we can't stay out late. We go around picking up bullets and taking pictures. This beautiful city is a mess. Churches are burning all over the town. (from a note in Danchik's scrapbook, ALBA 033:2)

Ruined Church
Girl with a Rifle on Patrol
Barricade in a Street
Ruined Church
Barcelona, July 24, 1936
Bernard N. Danchik Papers
(Tamiment/NYU: ALBA 033:2)
Girl with a Rifle on Patrol
Barcelona, [July 1936]
Bernard N. Danchik Papers
(Tamiment/NYU: ALBA 033:2)
Barricade in a Street
Barcelona, July 23, 1936
Bernard N. Danchik Papers
(Tamiment/NYU: ALBA 033:2)

     Coach Chakin later told reporters that steady fighting went on for two days straight:

     ... we saw the wounded fall on all sides. Boys of 14 and 15 picked up guns and awkwardly raised them to their shoulders. It seemed as if all the workers were out on the streets bearing arms against the soldiers. ...

     During this time the churches were burned because they provided havens for the Fascist soldiers, who used many of them as fortresses from which to snipe at the citizens. I personally saw no fewer than twenty-five churches burned, the flames leaping high into the evening sky.
... (from a clipping in Danchik's scrapbook, ALBA 033:2)


     The sympathy of the Americans was solidly behind the Popular Front government. One or two members of the delegation even took part in helping the Spaniards construct a barricade in the street.


Chakin Marching to the Stadium
Chakin Returning to New York
Chakin Marching to the Stadium,
Barcelona, July 22, 1936
Bernard N. Danchik Papers
(Tamiment/NYU: ALBA 033:2)
Chakin (right) Returning to New York
Normandie, August 2, 1936
Bernard N. Danchik Papers
(Tamiment/NYU: ALBA 033:2)


     When fighting began to die down, the athletes who arrived to participate in the Olympiad were allowed to march to the stadium.

     We are cheered in the streets and have a very colorful procession. After we exercise, we find that we are stuck in the stadium. Shooting on the grounds. We finally leave and go dodging bullets. When we get to a corner, they stop the war so that we can pass. I could go on for days. To make it short, after several meetings we find that we have to leave town, because it is too dangerous for us to stay. We hate to go, but we must. We find that one of the Frenchman got wounded pretty badly and that the French team left. The British team want[sic] to leave and they offer to take us along on their Battleship. The American consul is scared and threatens to wash his hands off us if we do [not] go at once. (Danchik, from a note in his scrapbook, ALBA 033:2)


     The Americans were forced to leave. Chakin was back in New York at the beginning of August. However, the memories of the events he had witnessed in Spain left him no peace. Less than a year later, Chakin would be back to take an active part in the support of the Spanish government.


General Francisco Franco
Spain in July of 1936
General Francisco Franco
Spanish Civil War Postcard Collection
(Tamiment/NYU: ALBA 242:1)
Spain in July of 1936
(Library of Congress)


     The Spanish Civil War began on July 17, 1936 with a rising of the army in Spanish Morocco under General Francisco Franco. The next day the uprising became general as various forces rose up in Spain itself, a portion of the professional army joining the insurgency. However they were only moderately successful, failing to capture the important cities of Valencia, Barcelona, and Madrid, as well as large tracks of land in the southern part of the country. Spain was split into two camps: people in areas loyal to the Popular Front republican government, called Loyalists, and those in areas in possession of the rebel forces, called Nationalists.


Franco's Legionnaires
Franco and Adolf Hitler
Franco's Moroccan Troops
Franco's Legionnaires
Spanish Civil War Postcard Collection
(Tamiment/NYU: ALBA 242:1BX)
Franco and Adolf Hitler
VALB Photograph Collection
(Tamiment/NYU: ALBA Photo 015:3:128:1)
Franco's Moroccan Troops
Spanish Civil War Postcard Collection
(Tamiment/NYU: ALBA 242:1BX)

     Appealing to France for assistance, Spain was initially promised support, but realizing that aid to the Loyalist government might lead to a spread of hostilities to other parts of Europe, France decided on non-intervention. Together with Great Britain, they formed a non-intervention committee designed to keep arms and military supplies from reaching either of the two factions. (Carroll, 59)
     Hitler and Mussolini, both early allies of Franco, provided the Nationalists with planes to airlift the highly trained African army from Morocco to Spain. When the policy of non-intervention was announced, both Italy and Germany agreed to lend their support, but both continued to aid Franco. They were soon countered by the Soviet Union, which began to aid the Loyalists. Part of the support for the republic came from the Comintern, an international communist organization based in Moscow, which decided to send volunteers to help the Spanish government.

Scenes of Devastation Inflicted on Madrid
International Brigade Volunteers
Scenes of Devastation Inflicted on Madrid
Spanish Civil War Propaganda Leaflet Collection
(Tamiment/NYU: ALBA 253:1:1)
International Brigade Volunteers
Arthur H. Landis Photograph Collection
(Tamiment/NYU: ALBA Photo 066:3:5:2)


     In November of 1936 the Nationalists, supported by the fascist powers, had reached Madrid. By this time, most of the western part of Spain had fallen. Nothing appeared to stand between Franco and victory. The city was subjected to a large-scale bombardment, but it was not taken. The first international units turned the tide and stopped the fascist advance. The slogan ¡No pasarán! (They shall not pass!), proclaimed by Dolores Ibarruri, a vehement Spanish communist deputy, was embraced by all segments of the Loyalist population and they redoubled their resistance efforts.


Mothers Evacuate Madrid Postcard
Unexploded Bombs Dropped on Madrid
"Mothers! Evacuate Madrid"
Spanish Civil War Postcard Collection
(Tamiment/NYU: ALBA 242:3)
Unexploded Bombs Dropped on Madrid
VALB Records 1933-2006
(Tamiment/NYU: ALBA 019:6:26)


     Fighting on the outskirts Madrid became a fact of life for all Madrilenians as the city settled into a siege; the front line was only twenty minutes by tram, while the last stop on the subway fell in the Nationalist zone. (Eby, 118)


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