on financement 
[versión en español].
Republican Spain at heart
by Ione Rhodes
Creation of the International Aid to Spanish children during the civil war and the Sanitary development in Republican Spain
While composing these few notes, my affectionate reflections and gratitude go out to my companion, Peter. He was the inspiration behind the International Office for Children. As delegate of the North American Committee for Republican Spain, Peter was very efficient in his work as liaison between the various other coordination committees. Even though as United Press correspondent his time was amply filled by his profession, Peter could always be counted on for urgent tasks.
Ione Rhodes in a visit to the Madrid front during the civil war (photo Mayo)
Indeed, when one has known and experienced the drama of the Spanish Civil War (1936-1939), its memory always remains alive. It was in July 1936 that I married the young american academic, Peter Rhodes. We had known and been in love with one another since our first encounter in 1934, but we had dedided to await for Peter graduation before getting married and moving to Paris. After having received his masters degree at the Columbia University in New York, Peter received a scholarship to continue his studies at Oxford. I was, on the other hand, a young teacher who had graduated from the Decroly School in Brussels. To live in Paris was our big dream. We felt that Paris was where the heartbeat of the world was to be felt. Not having money, we were in a hurry to find work. And what luck! Peter found work as a journalist at the Herald Tribune and I was teacher at a private school. And thus we became Parisians in August 1936.
It must be stressed that we were both worried about the rise of fascism in Italy and Germany. During our stay in Germany in the winter 1935-36, we were even witness to revolting acts of violence. But in France, we encountered the Front Populaire, the triumph in the struggle for wide-ranging social changes and a people full of hope in more enjoyable tomorrows. Sorry to say, these hopes were quickly overshadowed by news out of Spain. There the people had also elected a popular front government (February 1936), but a few months later, the General Franco - with the support of Hitler and Mussolini - staged a fascist coup d'Etat.
In many countries anti-fascists - workers, intellectuals, politicians - reacted. Around the world, Committees for Assistance to Republican Spain were founded. In Paris during a European conference in August 13, 1936 a "Committee of Coordination for the Assistance to Republican Spain" was founded. Co-presidents were Victor Basch from the League of Human Rights and the renowed scientist, Paul Langevin. Numerous intellectuals joined the Spanish Republican cause, among them André Malraux, Prof. Henri Wallon, Irene and Frédéric Joliot-Curie, Jean Cassou, Jean-Richard Bloch and many more. France was again to host to a major rally at the Vélodrome d'Hiver (Winter Sport Palace) where more than 7,000 people rallied. On hand were well known personalities from the government of the Spanish Republican. Victor Basch presided and La Pasionaria (Dolores Ibarruri) was elected Honorary President. Victor Basch, over 70 years old at the time, was tireless. He attended every rally that took place in favor of Republican Spain. In November 1936, he went to Spain at the demand of Alvarez del Vayo, Minister of Foreign Affairs.
And of course for Peter and me, Paris consisted not only of the Popular Front but represented the aid being delivered to "heroic and tormented Republican Spain" as well. This is why we lost no time in contacting the Committee of Coordination and Information for Assistance to Republican Spain. Here is where we became acquainted with the very pleasant secretary Madeleine Braun. We were above all seeking to practically help the children and to practically assist in medical/health questions. For the question of medical health, she informed us that in France and in several other countries there were important initiatives. They were in the process of establishing a coordinating committee on this question. In fact the committee materialized in January 1937 with 15 participating countries.
But as far as aid to children was concerned, nothing was really organized. The Republican government, with its seat in Valencia, wanted someone to help the children in Spain, and in particular cases to those in exile. This was when Peter and I decided to ask the opinion of Victor Basch. We made an appointment and visited him at home. He received us with the utmost simplicity and warmth. He addressed to me forthwith: "My dear young friend, you are a teacher and on vacation. Why not go to Spain to study this question of the children from close up. When you return to Paris, based upon your report, we will decide how to proceed." This was a precise and frank response and Peter and I were in accord with the proposition. We were approaching the winter vacations - 1936-37 - and having taken care of necessary formalities, I departed by train for Barcelona.
I was in a wagon with about sixty young soldiers on their way to the front. Very hearty and convivial, they composed songs to the flamenco rhythm. They carried the hope and aspiration of vanquishing the "fascist nazi" invader in their hearts. It was evening when I arrived in Barcelona. The city was dark - lights were avoided as a precaution to limit risks of bombardement. Somewhat worried that I would not find my way, I was reassured by a friendly voice come to find me. I was quick to feel the extraordinary fraternity shared with me by the simple citizens as well as the officials I was introduced to. Time was precious. I was soon introduced to Dr. Juan Planeyes, Under Secretary of State for Public Health. He put me in contact with a young para-medic, who explained the government's projects concerning the children with great precission. She then served as my guide for the rest of my stay. I was therefore enabled to see the hurdles concretely that had to be overcome to be of assistance to the children.
The ministry had placed an auto with chauffeur to our disposal. Thus we parted for Valencia. It was night and we were obliged to drive dangerously - without headlights - so as not to attract the attention of the enemy. Our chauffeur knew the route very well and we had confidence in him. Suddenly we came upon a terrible accident: a large truck transporting about sixty brigadiers had overturned into a ravine. Hearing the cries of horrible pain, it was clear that some were seriously wounded. We felt completely helpless because we could not understand their language. They must have been Hungarian. We had to act quickly, but being overwhelmed by the problen of their numbers and communication, we decided to take one of the brigadiers with us to alert the nearest hospital for help. At the hospital help was rapidly organized.
In Valencia we stayed at the hotel. Everyone there was fraternizing. We had the feeling of being one huge family. We departed very early the following morning for beloved Madrid. In Madrid one could sense how the longing of the population for the cultural side of life. In this struggle against fascism, a new Spain was being born, a democratic republic of a new sort. There were so many things to be seen: the children's aid centers, a large building requisioned by the workers and transformed into a cultural center. I was invited to extend my stay in Madrid another day to visit the front, where the combat often took the form of house to house fighting. Very flattered by the offer, I accepted. For me it was a great honor and gesture of profound friendship. I was later given a few photographs taken. Even today, these photos bribg back sharp recollections of those moving moments. Paradoxically it was this unforgettable visit to the front lines in Madrid, that saved our lives. The hotel where we would have spent the night in Valencia, had been completely demolished. Had we arrived the night before as we had initially planned to do, all three of us would have probably been killed.
Through what I saw during my visit, I understood that the Spanish Republic was seeking to realize a well elaborated plan for its children. They particularly wanted to have children's camps established outside the danger zones, where the children would be safe from the bombing and to open dispensaries where mothers could procure powdered milk and sugar for their infants. For this to effectively function, it was necessary to organize a regular flow of goods coming into Spain. Any project that was to function effectively had to coordinate well the donated aid coming to Spain from the various donor countries. Simultaneously culture occupied a very important place in the planning. The role of the teacher was raised in esteem. While at the front in Madrid I saw soldiers 20 years old learning to read during their rest hours. Illiteracy had been widespread. In 1937 10,000 new schools were opened. The national education budget was raised from the 1934 level of 4 mil. pesetas to 40 mil. pesetas. School attendance became obligatory.
Back in Barcelona, about to begin the trip back to Paris, I was asked to accompany someone sent to seek me: "La Pasionaria would like to meet you". I thought I was dreaming, La Pasionaria embraced me, thanked me and kissed my cheek. Had I merited this fraternal affection? When I reached Paris, more than ever Republican Spain at heart. I quit my work as a teacher. With the help of Victor Basch, I dedicated myself completely to the creation of a coordination committee for the children of Spain. In November 1937, the committee was officially created under the name of "Office International pour l'Enfance", OIE (International Office for Children). Henri Wallon, the president, and I became quickly friends. He was a precious asset in the work.
An enormous chore awaited us: diverse documents, letters in French and English, dispatching delegations to Spain to make precise assessments of the current problems confronting the children and to regularly inform our national commitees. We also assured the correct distribution of the shipments to various parts of Spain. From Paris we had to buy wholesale the various goods and ship them regularly, monthly if possible, down to Spain. We urgently needed to put a very good team together that could accomplish all this. One of the first people to volunteer was Renée Haultecoeur, who, as it turned out, was an excellent secretary. She was seconded by two other young women, one Bulgarian and the other German, both having fled fascism in their countries. But we also needed someone competent to do the buying, to do the book-keeping, write the regular financial reports to the national committees. Within two days a miracle happened. We found Alice Sportisse, who had just arrived in Paris from Algeria.
Office International pour l'Enfance was comprised of 17 national committees - all coordinated through the Paris office. Thus we could regularly - on a monthly basis - provide support for wondeful work that the spanish republic was doing for its children. By the end of the war, 20 mil. liters (5 mil. gal.) of milk had been shipped to 52 dispensaries ("white corners") and canteens. 400,000 canned goods, 1,885,000 kgs (3,770,000 lbs.) of dried vegetables, chocolate, bacon, sugar, cod liver oil, etc., arrived in Spain to be distributed to the children of factory workers, to villages close to the front, and to the camps, which for thousands of children proved to truly be isles of rescue both physically and intellectually. These shipments saved more than120,000 Spanish children from famine and death.
As for the medical assurance furnished by the "Central sanitaire internationale" CSI (International Health Central), its work was more than remarkable. Created Jan 17., 1937, 15 countries contributed regularly. By the end of the war 194 ambulances, several mobile surgical stations, 4 mobile dispensaries, 3 sanitizing trucks, etc., were sent to the Republican Spain. More than 450 doctors, surgeons, dentists, pharmacists and nurses went to Spain to give their assistance. Pierre Rouqués was one of the founders and tireless promoters of this campaign. It was he who founded the health service of the International Brigades. In response to his appeal, Dr. Edward Barsky, one of the greatests surgeons of New York, arrived in Spain in Feb. 1937. He was accompanied by other american doctors and qualified nurses. They brought first rate medical equipment over with them. Peter and I soon met Dr. Barsky and he became our very dear friend. In Paris we had the privilege of meeting delegates of the foreign committees, who had come to discuss certain problems with the coordinating committee or to acquire necessary material for Spain. This is how I came to meet Norman Bethune, the Canadian doctor who was leading a Canadian medical team in Spain and organized the first mobile blood transfusion service.
With the defeat of the Spanish Republic and the retreat of the Intrenational Brigades, Dr. Barsky returned to his practice in New York in Jan. 1939. Haunted by the problems confronted by the thousands of Spanish who fled Franco, he founded a committee for aid to Spanish refugees (the United Spanish Aid Committee) which was destined to also come to the aid of Brigadiers of different nationalities, who in the confussion of the years of defeat (1939-40) did not know where to turn for help. In 1946 and the cold war, the US goverment saw in Franco an ally against communism. The organization founded by Dr. Barsky was declared "un-American" and Dr. Barsky was sentenced to 6 months in prison. Upon his release, his license to practice was withdrawn for an additional 6 months. Messages of solidarity and sympathy reached him from all over the world. One of the numerous personalities speaking out in his defense was Ernest Hemingway. When Dr. Barsky was convicted and sentenced, Hemingway declared: "Barsky is a saint. We are putting saints in prison in this country!"
I remember other physicians who came to Republican Spain's aid. For exemple Dr. Valensi, who was a member of the Parisian Medical Committee, or Dr. Kalmanovitch, who, from Barcelona as a general secretary of the CSI, launched a vibrant appeal to doctors all over the world. I quote here only two passages: "In order for this aid to be efficient it has to be centralized and coordinated. Our cause is inseparable from that of Humanity, the cause of progress and civilization."
I will conclude (there is so much I could relate) by paying my resounding homage to the brigadiers. They numbered certainly more than 40,000 representing 54 countries. More than 9,000 were French of which 3,500 lost their lives on Spanish territory. The US Americans numbered 3,000. This was the first great combat of resistance against nazism and it is but recently that its contribution to Humanity began to be generally recognized.
In 1995 the Spanish
government honored a promise made by the Republican President Negrin:
the Intrenational Brigadiers who fought side by side with the Spanish
Republicans against Franco would receive the title "Honorable
Citizens of Spain". One year later, December 1996, France
extended the title "Ancien Combattants (Veterans) also to French
Original text deposited at the Musée de la Résistance, http://www.musee-resistance.com.
Published in Migraciones y Exilios, Edited by AEMIC, December 2004.