In Jewish Volunteers, the International Brigades and the Spanish Civil War (Bloomsbury Academic, 2017), Gerben Zaagsma, Senior researcher at the centre for contemporary and...

In Jewish Volunteers, the International Brigades and the Spanish Civil War (Bloomsbury Academic, 2017), Gerben Zaagsma, Senior researcher at the centre for contemporary and digital history at the University of Luxembourg, discusses the participation of volunteers of Jewish descent in the International Brigades during the Spanish Civil War, focusing particularly on the establishment of the Naftali Botwin Company, a Jewish military unit that was created in the Polish Dombrowski Brigade.

Zaagsma analyses the symbolic meaning of the participation of Jewish volunteers and the Botwin Company both during and after the civil war. He puts this participation in the broader context of Jewish involvement and Jewish/non-Jewish relations in the Left, and asks to what extent Jewishness and Jewish concerns mattered in the International Brigades and why the Botwin Company was actually created. To this end, the book examines representations of Jewish volunteers in the Parisian Yiddish press (both communist and non-communist).

In addition, he analyses the various ways in which the memory of the experiences of Jewish volunteers and the Botwin Company came to be constituted and constructed after the Second World War and the Holocaust. To that end the book traces how discourses about Jewish volunteers became decisively shaped by post-Holocaust debates on Jewish responses to fascism and Nazism, analyses how, and why, volunteers of Jewish descent eventually became Jewish volunteers after the war, and discusses claims that Jewish volunteers can be seen as ‘the first Jews to resist Hitler with arms’.


Max Kaiser is a PhD candidate at the University of Melbourne. He can be reached at [email protected].

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