WHY SPAIN NEVER DIED
By Howard FastABOUT three years ago I wrote piece that moved a Spanish vet, stationed somewhere in the south, to write to me; and in the course of telling me what he had liked about my writing, he mentioned the heart breaking process he was going through. Held back from combat, called a Red, doing KP day in and day out, he recalled the time he had spent in a Spanish concentration camp--mentioning in passing that he had not lost heart then, but it seemed as if he would surely lose heart now.
But he didn't lose heart. Only a few days ago I read a death notice his comrades of the Abraham Lincoln Brigade had inserted in the papers, and there was his name along with others; no field given, no battle, no date, only the simple reminder that he had laid down his life in the struggle against fascism, perhaps in Europe, perhaps on some tiny pinprick of land in the limitless Pacific.
Staring at his name, I think I came as close to understanding the term anti-fascist as I ever will; I say as close, because I don't know how there can be full understanding for us, seeing a piece here, a fragment there, the homeliness along with the heroic. Some day, the whole of it will be related to the unending stream of life, and then there will be a writer and a poet to make stories and songs of it, the way they should be made.
But it's hard to see a thing in the process. Not long ago a boy of sixteen, small for his age, delivered a package to my house. We got to talking, and in the course of things, as casually as you would mention the weather, he remarked that he too was an anti-fascist, giving me one of the nicest compliments I have ever had.
He pointed to a scar on his face; a spent bullet had done that, in the battle of the Karl Marx House, but he was only a baby then and hardly remembered it. When I asked him how he happened to be there, finding no accent in his speech to indicate it, he mentioned, still casually, that his father had been a Communist leader and city official in Vienna. After Hitler, they went on working against the Nazis, but when the Nazis took his father, his mother escaped with him to France and then to Scotland. His father died in a concentration camp. He was only twelve, he explained, when he really had to think and act for himself; and he pointed out, somewhat apologetically, that he had no right to call himself a real anti-fascist before then.
So there was another fragment, a boy alone, yet never lonely, landless, nationless, yet having all men as his brothers--beginning something, traveling a road that is marked plainly enough for him. And in a way, it is all a thing of beginnings, with the end still a promise and a hope.
I REMEMBER how well that was put to me by a small man who undertook to teach me Spanish in return for some English. He was a Spanish announcer who was known as the Major. The Major was very small, not more than five feet three inches, very lean, very straight in his military bearing. He was also a very great man, and the Spanish people knew his voice when they heard it on their radios.
You see, we were at peace with Spain; we had an ambasador at Franco's court, so the Major could say very little. But it did not matter; the people knew his voice. They remembered that his battalion had fought steadily and gloriously all through the war. When the end came he led his battalion over the mountains into France, one of the last. They knew that at the border he had stopped and climbed onto the top of a rock--he was such a small man--climbed up there and stood there with the bullets whistling around him, stood there until the fascists could hear him roar, in a voice like a lion.
Then he led his men into France, and they were disarmed and interned. Later, he and a comrade were removed from the south of France to a concentration camp in North Africa. And there they stayed, month after month, until that terrible black day when France fell.
He did not tell me the story in detail, because in detail he would have had to make much of himself, and a man does not make much of himself over so small a deed. It was sufficient to point out that he and his friend had planned their escape for months; they knew how to get through the wire and evade the guard. And the main airstrip was less than a mile from the enclosure, in plain sight. When the great bomber dropped down onto the airstrip, the Major and his friend did not know what it contained. It was enough for them to make out the Italian markings; only afterward they learned that the men in fascist uniform who got out of the plane were a special armistice commission, sent from Italy to receive the surrender of this French port. However, this was the moment, and they made the most of it.
They got through the wire, killed the fascist soldier who was guarding the plane, took off, and flew it to Gibraltar, where, somehow, they managed to land. A certificate, signed by the governor of the Rock, attests to the delivery of one slightly damaged Italian bomber, and acts as a receipt for the same.
I don't know where the Major is now, perhaps in Spain once again. The fragments are scattered worldwide, but some day, not too far off we hope, they will come together again. Madrid will dry her tears of sorrow and from the ashes and broken stones, a hundred other cities will arise, with pride and dignity.
Then the Major's words will be engraved on more than one splendid monument: "We will come back."