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Republican Spain Grieving Over a Fallen Soldier
Republican Spain Grieving Over a Fallen Soldier
Lawrence Cane Papers
(Tamiment/NYU: ALBA 029:1:2)

     The war was lost. By the close of 1938, it had become apparent that the end was imminent, but to many the defeat still came as a shocking blow. “It was in Spain,” said the French writer Albert Camus, “that men learned that one can be right and yet be beaten, that force can vanquish spirit, that there are times when courage is not its own reward. It is this, without doubt,” he concluded, “which explains why so many men throughout the world regard the Spanish drama as a personal tragedy.” (Prescon, 3)
     Shortly before the Republic’s collapse, President Roosevelt admitted that the embargo had been a grave mistake. Speaking to Congress in early January, he stated:

     Democracies cannot forever let pass, without effective protest, acts of aggression against sister nations – acts which automatically undermine all of us.

     At the very least, we can and should avoid any action, or any lack of action, which will encourage, assist or build up an aggressor. We have learned that when we deliberately try to legislate neutrality, our neutrality laws may operate unevenly and unfairly – may actually give aid to an aggressor and deny it to the victim. The instinct of self-preservation should warn us that we ought not to let that happen anymore.
(Tierney, 126)

free U.S. citizens postcard
released American prisoners
Free 39 U.S. Citizens Postcard
Spanish Civil War Postcard Collection
(Tamiment/NYU: ALBA 242: 1)
13 Released American POWs
VALB Photograph Collection
(Tamiment/NYU: ALBA 015:5:10:19)

     Not all the Americans were lucky to return after the withdrawal. Volunteers who were captured and kept alive were still languishing in prison, waiting to be exchanged for Italian prisoners. The last of these captive volunteers would be set free only in 1940, almost a year after the end of the war in Spain. (Geiser, 232)

Gibraltar gives refuge to spaniards
Czech volunteers in concentration camp
Gibraltar Gives Refuge to Spaniards
Spanish Civil War Postcard Collection
(Tamiment/NYU: ALBA: 242:3)
Czech Volunteers in Concentration Camp, France
Irving Weissman Photograph Collection
(Tamiment/NYU: ALBA Photo 165:1:2:1)

     Having triumphed, Franco went on to execute tens of thousand of Spaniards, and put greater numbers in prison. Some of the remaining Loyalist troops, along with some of the International Brigade volunteers who had no place to go, crossed the Pyrenees Mountains and were interned in France. When World War II began, some of these men joined the French army. When France fell, a number of them died in concentration camps, while others joined the Free French and fought for the liberation of Europe.
     Spanish troops were among the first units that entered liberated Paris in 1944, atop of tanks which bore the names of Brunete, Teruel, and Madrid.

Cane with other decorated veterans
Cane receiving silver star
Lawrence Cane with some of the Other Decorated Veterans
Small Photograph Collections
(Tamiment/NYU: ALBA 036:1:69:1)
Lt. Lawrence Cane Receiving the Silver Star from Maj. Gen J. Lawton Collins
(From the Collection of Professor David Cane)

     When theUnited States entered World War II, a large number of American veterans of the Spanish Civil War joined the fight.
     Among the veterans who joined was Lawrence Cane, who landed on Normandy beach on D-Day in 1944. Writing to his wife on V - E Day, May 8, 1945, Cane, reflected on the odyssey which began when he left for Spain to fight fascism and was now nearing completion:

     I thought back, back to the long ago of 1937.
     I wondered that day, as I stood on the top deck of the Acquitania and watched the Statue of Liberty, if I would ever see her again.
     Then came France and the romantic and exiting secret moves via the underground railroad.
     The hike over the Pyrenees and finally the thrill of being stopped by Spanish sentries.
     The first three days in Spain at that old fort. The filth, the human faesces
[sic], the rotten wine, my first introduction to baccalaue and garbanzas.
     Enlistment at Albacete. The training period under the hot Spanish sun at Tarazona de la Mancha.
     Then, the bloody street-fighting at Quinto and Belchite, the suicidal charge at Fuentes del Ebro, where I got myself hit.
     The stay in the hospital. Typhus – and the raging delirium.
     Then, the silly running away from the hospital to the Battle of Teruel. The incredible suffering and hardships of that campaign.
     The attack at Mont Atalaya and Seguros de los Banos, which they called the most brilliant tactical maneuver of the Spanish Civil War.
     The terrible retreat in Aragon. The weeks spent behind enemy lines, and final escape to our own forces.
     The assault crossing of the Ebro and the Battle of Gandesa.
     Then battles at Sierra de Caballs, the fantastic and grewsome Sierra de Pandols, and the Sierra de Laval de la Torre.
     Then, our retirement and the stay near Puigcerda in the Pyrenees. The trip home.
… (Cane, 191-192)

matchbook from Normandie
Normandie dining room
Matchbook from the Normandie
Bernard N. Danchik Papers
(Tamiment/NYU: ALBA 033:2)
Normandie 3rd Class Dining Room
Bernard N. Danchik Papers
(Tamiment/NYU: ALBA 033:2)

     Normandie, the ship which had played a part in the Americans’ Spanish saga, met with an ironic demise. Seized by the United States government during World War II, the fastest and largest ship of its day – it was bigger than The Titanic – was converted into a troop carrier with the intention of transporting Americans to Europe in order to fight fascism. The USS Lafayette, as the rechristened ship was now called, would never get a chance to fulfill its new duty. In early February of 1942, the vessel caught fire and capsized on the west side of New York City. It was the same location where, only a few years before, Coach Chakin had disembarked from its decks after returning from the canceled Barcelona Olympiad, and where the first group of American volunteers had embarked months later to form the Lincoln Battalion. (See http://www.historynet.com/the-fate-of-the-ss-normandie.htm)

protest in DC
leaflet on Spain
IUC-CIO Protest in Washington DC, 1946
VALB Photograph Collection
(Tamiment/NYU: ALBA Photo 015:5:30:2)
Leaflet on Spain
Songs/Music Vertical File

     Protests against Franco and Nationalist Spain were a frequent occurrence after the Civil War ended. Although indebted to the fascist powers of Italy and Germany, Franco remained largely neutral during World War II. However, a large number of Spanish volunteers fought alongside German troops during the invasion of the Soviet Union.
     After the war, with the world rapidly descending into a Cold War, Franco was embraced by the West as an ally against communism. The country remained under Franco’s rule until his death in 1975, following which Spain eventually became a republic.

CCNY plaque
CCNY scholarship
Plaque Commemorating CCNY Students, Staff and Alumni Killed
(C.C.N.Y. Archives)
CCNY Scholarship in Honor of Those Killed in the Spanish Civil War
(C.C.N.Y. Archives)

     In 1980 a plaque was unveiled at City College honoring the students, alumni, and faculty who were known to have died fighting in the Spanish Civil War. Among the names engraved was that of Coach Alfred Chakin whose wife Jennie was present to read the names of the men.
     Speaking afterwards, in an interview for the documentary “The Good Fight,” Jennie said that her feelings were those of pride, ambivalence, and fear when she first learned of Chakin’s decision to go back to Spain. Lying awake at night she considered disclosing the fact that her husband had a trick knee, which would prevent him from being accepted. Considering the matter further, she decided that he would never forgive her for doing this, and let him go. His death came as a hard blow, especially since his body was never recovered. Yet his courage to fight for what they both believed in had always been a matter of pride for Jennie. The fact that he died for a good cause made it easier for her to live with his death.

Sack membership card
Sack with wife
Ely Sack’s Veterans of the Abraham Lincoln Brigade (VALB) Membership Card
Ely J. Sack Papers
(Tamiment/NYU: ALBA 094:1:12)
Ely Sack with his Wife Edith Decades Later
Small Photograph Collections
(Tamiment/NYU: ALBA 036:2:33:1)

     When he came back to New York, Ely Sack married and became a certified public accountant. He moved to Florida, and raised four children. Writing many years later on about why he went to Spain, Sack related:

     So, why did I decide to go to Spain to fight on the side of the Spanish Loyalists against Franco and Fascism? I did considerable soul searching, debating the pros and cons of whether to join the Abraham Lincoln Brigade. The reasons not to go were the anguish to my parents, giving up a decent office job and risking life or limb.

     The reasons to go were, as a Jew, I wanted to fight for democracy and equality and to stop Fascism. In retrospect, my thinking as a twenty-one year old was something like this: I had no wife or children, nor any material possessions of any great value and if others had the courage of their convictions to fight in Spain, why shouldn’t I? Rightly or wrongly, I felt I would be a coward not to volunteer. I have never regretted my decision. (autobiographical narrative, ALBA 094:1:11)

     When he died in 2001, Ely had nine grandchildren and three great-grandchildren.

Cane with wife
Cane with son
Lawrence Cane with his Wife Grace, January 1944
(From the Collection of Professor David Cane)
Larry Cane (right) with his Son David Cane During the Anti-Vietnam March on Washington, November 15, 1969
(From the Collection of Professor David Cane)

     After coming back from Spain, Larry Cane married Grace Singer. His first son, David, was born while he was away in Europe during World War II. A daughter, Lisa, and a son, Joshua, soon added to the growing family, which had moved to Connecticut. Cane kept the idealism that had prompted him to leave for Spain for the rest of his life. He remained friends with many of the other volunteers he met there. Larry died in 1976 from an apparent viral infection. (Cane, lii)

Cane at Baruch
David and Suzanne Cane at Baruch College
November 4, 2009
(Photo by Alex Gelfand)

     On November 4, 2009, almost 75 years after Lawrence Cane graduated from what was then the School of Commerce and Civic Administration, his son, David Cane, a professor of chemistry at Brown University, spoke about his father at Baruch College.

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