International Brigade, Dismiss!

The International Brigades were the foreign volunteers from over 50 countries who fought on the Republican side against the Nationalist forces of General Franco during the Spanish Civil War. It was formed in 1936 and two years later, they were disbanded as part of a plan to get Franco’s foreign backers to withdraw their support and to persuade France and Britain to end their arms embargo on the Republican side.

Although the plan was ill-advised, it was doubtful whether the continuing presence of the Brigades would have tipped the scales for the Republicans. The Brigades participated in the battles of Madrid, Jarama, Guadalajara, Brunete, Belchite, Teruel, Aragon and the Ebro, most of which ended in defeat.

On 25th October 1938, the final parade and disbandment of the International Brigade was held in Les Maises near Montblanc. It was presided by Prime Minister Juan Negrin and General Enrique Lister of the XI Division. Robert Capa travelled there to photograph the parade and his photos appeared in the Picture Post (November 12, 1938).

The Picture Post story covered the involvement of 2000 British men who joined the International Brigade. When 305 of them arrived back at Victoria Station in central London, they were met as heroes by a crowd of supporters including Clement Attlee and Stafford Cripps. They were the lucky ones. Others who came from other fascist countries (like Germany, Italy or Hungary) could not safely return home. And since the Brigades were organized originally by the Comintern – an international organization that advocated world communism – they were received back poorly in other countries by governments which feared the communist agitations in their own countries. The Belgian and Dutch volunteers lost their citizenships, and in the United States, they were pursued by the FBI and the Congressional committees.

Fittingly Robert Capa’s career was indelibly intertwined with that of the Spanish Civil War. At its outbreak, he was still a jobbing photographer in Paris, going by his real Hungarian name of André Friedmann. His girlfriend Gerta Pohorylle came up with the character of ‘Robert Capa’ a pseudonym they would both use and whom they would would tell potential clients was an esteemed American photographer. Later, after the ruse was discovered, Friedmann mainly used the ‘Capa’ handle and Gerta assumed the name ‘Gerta Taro’.

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