Jews in the Spanish Civil War

Naftali Botwin, executed by Polish authorities in 1925 for killing a police informant.

The Naftali Botwin Company

By Mitch Abidor

From leaders like Trotsky, Bela Kun in Hungary, Ana Pauker in Romania, and Ruth Fischer in Germany, to the Jewish sections and newspapers within many parties, Jews played a large role in the Communist movement between the October Revolution and the Spanish Civil War. Given this, it is hardly surprising that Jews participated in large numbers in the International Brigades.

The Brigades drew largely from the parties of the Comintern, and it’s estimated that of the 35,000 members of the Brigades, between 6,500 and 8,000 were Jews. The largest contingent was in America’s Abraham Lincoln Brigade, but a large number of the Poles were also Jews; in fact they played a key role in many of the units of the International Brigades: even seventeen of Bulgaria’s 400 fighters were Jews. Palestine sent a mixed Jewish-Arab contingent of almost 200 fighters, which included Left-Zionists in its ranks, alongside members of the Palestine Communist Party. The largest proportion was in the Brigades’ medical corps, which was 70% Jewish.

In 1936 a Parisian Communist, Albert Nahumi, first suggested to the leadership of the International Brigades the idea of a separate Jewish unit. Though the idea was not at first accepted, and Nahumi was killed in action, the idea did not die. In 1937, progressive Jewish circles in Paris made a major push for the unit, and on December 12, 1937 an order of the day was issued forming the Naftali Botwin Company, as part of the Polish Dombrowski Battalion. The Company was named for a young Communist who was executed in Poland in 1925 after killing a police informer.

The Company, which had about 150 members from Poland, France, Belgium, Palestine and Spain, published a Yiddish newspaper “Botwin” and its flag bore the words “For your freedom and ours” in Yiddish and Polish on one face of the flag, and in Spanish on the other.

The Botwins fought until the disbanding of the International Brigades in October 1938, and many of its members carried on the fight against fascism in the ranks of the Resistance during World War II.

The Forming of the Jewish Naftali Botwin Company

Yiddish Speech Broadcast on Republican Radio

Anthem of the Botwin Company