Jewish Volunteers, the International Brigades and the Spanish Civil War discusses the participation of volunteers of Jewish descent in the International Brigades during the Spanish Civil War. It focuses in particular on the establishment of the Naftali Botwin Company, a Jewish military unit that was created in the Polish Dombrowski Brigade. Its formation and short-lived history on the battlefield were closely connected to the activities and propaganda of Yiddish-speaking Jewish migrant communists in Paris who described Jewish volunteers as 'Chosen Fighters of the Jewish People' in their daily newspaper Naye Prese. Gerben 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 in the left and Jewish/non-Jewish relations in the communist movement and beyond. To this end, the book examines representations of Jewish volunteers in the Parisian Yiddish press (both communist and non-communist). In addition it analyses the various ways in which Jewish volunteers and the Botwin Company have been commemorated after WWII, tracing how discourses about Jewish volunteers became decisively shaped by post-Holocaust debates on Jewish responses to fascism and Nazism, and discusses claims that Jewish volunteers can be seen as 'the first Jews to resist Hitler with arms'.
Gerben Zaagsma's book will become the standard work on the participation of Jews in the International Brigades in the Spanish Civil War. Meticulously researched and broadly focused, the book makes important contributions to the history of the Jewish Left and the politics of commemoration in the twentieth century. Derek Penslar, Samuel Zacks Professor of Jewish History, University of Toronto, Canada Gerben Zaagsma has produced a superb study of a vital dimension of modern Jewish and European history - the engagement of a core group of Jewish volunteers in the Spanish Civil War. This fascinating book provides a penetrating analysis of Jews' politicized military activity in the context of the multi-layered, long and short-term symbolic significance of their efforts. It is Jewish and transnational history at its finest, focused on Yiddish-speaking Polish Jews from Paris, confronting fascism in order to support what they believed to be a universal, humanitarian cause. Michael Berkowitz, Professor of Modern Jewish History, University College London, UK