Letter from an Offspring of the Spanish Civil War

In more than one way, I am an offspring of the Spanish Civil War. Both my parents were there, fighting with the International Brigades. My mother, born on July 25, 1915, a Med School student in Bucharest, worked as a nurse at the International Hospital in Barcelona and Vic. In the 1970s, I asked my mom how could she swallow the crude Stalinist propaganda about Lenin’s most trusted comrades being Nazi agents. It was the raping of common sense. She told me that this was not their main concern. Hitler was. Her good friend, Lucien Goldmann, my aunt’s then partner, broke with the party because he refused to believe in the “confessions.” My mother and my aunt did not leave the “family.” In the French resistance, my aunt worked in the same network with Peter Mod and Arthur London (FTP-MOI). One was condemned in the Rajk purge, the other one in the Slansky trial.

My father, born in in Soroca, Bessarabia, in 1912, lost his right arm in the battle on the River Ebro. The surgery took place on the front, with no anesthesia, it was a dum-dum bullet. At the hospital in Vic, my mother became friends with Erika, doctor Glaser’s daughter. He was a German Jewish socialist (or maybe a communist), his wife worked in the hospital too. Then, the Brigades left, they, the Glasers, my parents, so many others, ended up in France, in refugee camps. They were, as Koestler put it, the scum of the earth (la lie de la terre). Noel Field and his wife adopted Erika. They ended up in Switzerland.

A left-wing idealist, the quaker Field was also friends with Allen Dulles. But Noel was a Soviet spy, not an American one. Historian Tony Sharp wrote an illuminating book about the amazingly complicated Field case. I am late with my review, dear Mark Kramer, but it will reach you soon. Noel Field was good friends with Alger Hiss. His testimonies were crucial in the Rajk (Budapest, 1949) and Slansky (Prague, 1952) trials. Erika was arrested in East Berlin and deported to the Gulag. She survived and later wrote one of the most moving memoirs published during the Cold War. Noel’s brother, Herman Field, was arrested and jailed in Poland. I met him when he launched his memoir at the Wilson Center in Washington. Noel never returned to the States; he worked as an editor in Budapest and died there. He never published a memoir. Most likely, he never wrote one. I talked about Erika and Noel with Flora Lewis in Budapest, in March 1999. It was a surreal experience. Our conversation took place at Laci Rajk’s place, Adam Michnik, Karen Dawisha, Ilya Prizel, Istvan Rev, Miklos Hataszti, Kati Marton, and Richard Holbrooke were there. We were all participants in a conference at CEU. The title was Arendtian, “Between Past and Present.”

In Warsaw, in April 2000, I talked for hours, at the Bristol Hotel, with Laszlo Rajk-Jr about Noel. We were there, invited by “Gazeta Wyborcza,” for a conference on “The Many Faces of Post-Communism.” How about the many faces of communism? The face of Rakosi versus the face of Rajk, the face of Bierut versus the face of Gomulka. And so on…

What a story, what a century! This is all part of the book I am writing together with Marius Stan, “Two Sisters in Dark Times.” The challenge is immense, I am sure we will meet it honorably 🙂 The problem is the huge quantity of material to be integrated into a gripping narrative. Bringing back subjectivity into political history is a must. We’re doing our utmost…

Also for you:

Vladimir Tismaneanu

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