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Spanish Civil War Collection

Identifier: RG 1477

Scope and Content Note

This collection contains correspondence, pamphlets, periodicals, newspapers, press releases, writings, clippings, brochures, fliers, and posters from the era of the Spanish Civil War, and later, documenting American and international fund-raising for humanitarian relief of Republican Spain; American and international public opinion about the war; the participation of Jews in the International Brigades; and analyses, commemorations, and reminiscences of the war and, particularly, of the International Brigades, in later years.

About 10% of the collection comprises papers of Charles S. Zimmerman, secretary-manager of the Local 22 of the International Ladies’ Garment Workers’ Union, in his capacity as a leader of the relief organization Trade Union Relief for Spain (Series I). This material provides a lively impression of labor circles in New York City in this era, and the attitudes of labor leaders toward the events in Spain. Series II.2 contains additional material from organizations active in the era of the Spanish Civil War that did not appear to have any direct connection to Zimmerman, such as appeal letters with only a generic greeting, as well as loose pamphlets and fliers.

Other noteworthy items in the collection include original writings and correspondence of various provenances that were collected together by archivists at the Bund Archives (Series II.1); a significant number of publications and periodicals, as well as some posters, of the anarchist-leaning Spanish trade union confederations known under the joint acronym CNT-FAI, in English as well as other languages (SeriesII.2, II.4.A, and II.5); two issues (one as a photocopy) of the Yiddish newspaper Botvin, published by the one specifically Jewish unit in the International Brigades, the Naftoli Botwin Company of the Palafox Battalion (Folder 145/Oversize Box 17); illustrated contemporary periodicals from Spain ( Series II.4.B/Oversize Box 18); and the proceedings of an international conference held in Tel Aviv, Israel, in 1972, that focused on Jewish participation in the International Brigades (Folder 98).

In general, the contemporary pamphlets, newspapers and periodicals in multiple languages (in Series I and II) provide international reflections on the war from many perspectives.


  • Creation: 1909-2013

Language of Materials

In English, Yiddish, French, German, Spanish, Catalan, Hebrew, Polish, Russian, and Italian, with a few items that use Esperanto, Swedish, and Chinese.

Access Restrictions

The collection is open to the public. Permission to publish part or parts of the collection must be obtained in writing from the YIVO Archives.

Use Restrictions

There may be some restrictions on the use of the collection. For more information, contact:

YIVO Archives, YIVO Institute for Jewish Research, Center for Jewish History, 15 West 16th Street, New York, NY 10011


Historical Note

The Spanish Civil War (in brief outline)

On 17 July 1936 a group of generals of the Spanish Republican Armed Forces mounted a challenge to the democratically elected government, the Second Spanish Republic, which dated from 1931. The rebels, known as the 'Nationalists,' failed initially to gain complete control of the country, and civil war ensued. One of the rebel generals, Francisco Franco, assumed full political and military command of the Nationalists on 29 September 1936.

At the time of the attempted coup, the Spanish Republic was led by a 'Popular Front,' a broad coalition of leftist parties, including liberals, socialists, and communists, with Manuel Azaña as president since May 1936. In November 1936 the anarcho-syndicalist party of the CNT-FAI (trade union confederations), a considerable force in the fight against the Nationalists, was persuaded to join the government as well. Francisco Largo Caballero, leader of the Spanish Socialist Workers Party (PSOE) and the workers' general union (UGT), became prime minister in September 1936. He was succeeded in May 1937 by Juan Negrin, also a socialist, of the PSOE. Beginning in November 1936 the Republican government was based at Valencia, while the siege of Madrid continued.

Supporters of the rebellion included the Catholic right-wing coalition CEDA (Spanish Confederation of the Autonomous Right); monarchists and Carlists; and the Fascist Falange. The Nationalists received assistance from both Fascist Italy and Nazi Germany.

France and Great Britain entered into a Non-Intervention Agreement, and many other European countries eventually signed it, including Germany and Italy (although they aided the rebels), as well as the Soviet Union (which nevertheless gave military aid to the Republic). The United States also followed a policy of neutrality, and on 8 January 1937 Congress passed a joint resolution prohibiting the export of arms to Spain.

The war claimed an estimated 500,000 casualties. It ended on 1 April 1939 with the military victory of Franco and the Nationalists. Franco went on to rule Spain as a dictator until his death in 1975.

International Brigades

With Stalin's encouragement, on the 18 September 1936 the Comintern, or Communist International, passed a solidarity measure in support of the Spanish Republic, and subsequently recruited volunteers internationally to fight in the Republic's defense. The Comintern appointed French Communist leader André Marty as political commissar of the International Brigades.

Among the first foreign volunteers to fight for the Republic were some of the individuals who had traveled to Barcelona to take part in the People's Olympiad (scheduled to begin on 19 July but cancelled due to the war), an alternative sporting event organized as a protest against the 1936 Summer Olympics being hosted in Berlin by Nazi Germany.

The first International Brigade volunteers arrived in Spain in October 1936, and contributed to the defense of Madrid. The Brigades participated in other major battles of the war and were finally demobilized by the Republican government in September 1938.

Over the entire course of the war, between 32,000 and 35,000 men and women from at least 50 different countries fought in the International Brigades (Beevor, p. 157-158). The largest number of foreign volunteers, nearly 9,000, came from France, while Poland, Italy, the United States, and Germany each accounted for between 2,000 and 3,000 volunteers (Beevor, p. 468, n. 4). The main recruitment center for the Brigades was Paris, and the headquarters and training base in Spain was in the city of Albacete, in the southeast.

North Americans mainly fought in the Abraham Lincoln Battalion, formed in January 1937, or in the George Washington Battalion, formed in July 1937, both of the XV Brigade. The two were merged after heavy casualties during the Battle of Brunete, outside of Madrid, in July 1937. Veterans later identified under the rubric 'Abraham Lincoln Brigade.'

Jewish Participation in the International Brigades

Rough estimates suggest that at least 5,000 participants in the Brigades, or perhaps around 15%, were Jewish (Zaagsma, p. 1, 6; Prago, p. 4). The largest contingents of Jews came from Poland, the United States, and France (Prago, p. 4). Since the Brigades were generally organized by language and nationality, Jews were dispersed among different units, and statistics have been difficult to ascertain. On 12 December 1937 the first and only specifically Jewish unit was formed, within the Palafox Battalion of the XIII Brigade (Dabrowski Brigade); it was named the Naftali Botwin Company, after a young Polish Jew and Communist who was executed in Poland in 1925 for having killed a police agent.


Beevor, Antony. The Battle for Spain: the Spanish Civil War, 1936-1939. New York: Penguin Books, 2006.

Prago, Albert. Jews in the International Brigades in Spain. Reprint from Jewish Currents, February and March 1979. 16 p.

Zaagsma, Gerben. "Jewish volunteers in the Spanish Civil War: a case study of the Botwin company." Master’s thesis, University of London, 2001. 26 p.


7.0 Linear Feet (19 boxes + 14 posters)


This collection contains correspondence, pamphlets, periodicals, newspapers, press releases, writings, clippings, brochures, fliers, and posters from the era of the Spanish Civil War, and later, documenting American and international fund-raising for humanitarian relief of Republican Spain; American and international public opinion about the war; the participation of Jews in the International Brigades; and reminiscences and commemorations of the war and, particularly, of the International Brigades, in later years. A portion of the material on relief work pertains to trade union activities, as documented in papers of Charles S. Zimmerman, of the International Ladies’ Garment Workers’ Union, in his capacity as leader of Trade Union Relief for Spain, in New York City. Other organizations represented include the Medical Bureau and North American Committee to Aid Spanish Democracy; the Spanish Information Bureau in New York; the Friends of the Abraham Lincoln Brigade; and the Israeli branch of the association of volunteers in the International Brigades. There are also autobiographical manuscripts by Benjamin Lubelski and Sigmund Stein, who participated in the International Brigades; and contemporary publications in a variety of languages, including publications of the anarchist-leaning Spanish trade union confederations CNT-FAI.


During the present processing, the materials were arranged into three series based on provenance and, secondarily, on proximity to the era of the Spanish Civil War. Series I reunites all the material that, on the basis of internal evidence, could reasonably be assumed to belong to the papers of Charles Zimmerman (these files were previously found scattered throughout the collection). Series II gathers together all other materials of various provenances that pertain directly to the era of the war. Series II also includes some materials dating from after 1940 that document activities of organizations of veterans of the war, or organizations aiding Spanish refugees. Series III contains more recent published material about the Spanish Civil War, or Franco’s Spain, dating from 1942 to 2013.

  1. Series I: Charles S. Zimmerman papers related to the Spanish Civil War, 1936-1945
  2. Subseries 1: Trade union relief efforts, 1936-1945
  3. Subseries 2: Zimmerman correspondence, 1936-1940
  4. Series II: Archival materials of other provenances, related to the Spanish Civil War, 1909-1986
  5. Subseries 1: Writings and correspondence of individuals, 1936-1955, undated
  6. Subseries 2: Organizations, 1936-1986
  7. Subseries 3: Clippings, photographs, and miscellaneous ephemera, 1931-1946
  8. Subseries 4: Publications, 1909-1941
  9. Subsubseries A: Periodicals, 1932-1941
  10. Subsubseries B: Illustrated periodicals, 1931-1937
  11. Subsubseries C: Newspapers, 1935-1940
  12. Subsubseries D: Pamphlets, 1909-1941
  13. Subseries 5: Posters, circa 1936-1947
  14. Series III: Other research materials on the Spanish Civil War or Franco's Spain. 1942-2013
  15. Subseries 1: Organizations and individuals, 1945-2011
  16. Subseries 2: Publications, 1945-2001
  17. Subseries 3: Theses, 1950-2012
  18. Subseries 4: Clippings, ephemera, miscellaneous references, 1942-2013
  19. Subseries 5: DVDs, circa 1998-2007, undated

Acquisition Information

This collection was created in the Bund Archives of the Jewish Labor Movement, which had the practice of creating subject collections. The most substantial portion of the materials from a single source comprises papers of Charles S. Zimmerman (about 10% of the collection), pertaining to his activities in helping to raise funds for relief efforts in Republican Spain during the Spanish Civil War (Series I). Another significant portion of the collection (approximately 60%) is made up of archival materials of various provenances related directly to the era of the Spanish Civil War (Series II). The remainder of the collection (approximately 30%) comprises other research materials pertaining to the Spanish Civil War, or Franco's Spain (Series III). The Bund Archives was transferred to YIVO in 1992.


Some of the material related to American aid to Republican Spain, Series I, has been microfilmed on one reel, Microfilm No. 529.

Related Material

This collection was originally part of RG 1400, the Bund Archives collection, held at YIVO. Among the many other collections that originally came from the Bund Archives, are other personal papers of Charles S. Zimmerman, RG 1491.

Another related collection at YIVO is the Zygielman family papers (RG 2013), which contains material on Benjamin Lubelski (birth name: Boleslaw Zygielman), a fighter in the International Brigades.

The Kheel Center for Labor-Management Documentation and Archives at the Cornell University Library holds records of the International Ladies' Garment Workers' Union (ILGWU), including records of the Local 22, and the following collections originating with Charles Zimmerman:

The Tamiment Library and Robert F. Wagner Archives, at New York University, holds the Charles S. Zimmerman papers (TAM.076); the Abraham Lincoln Brigade Archives collection, comprising over 300 individual collections related to North American volunteers in the Spanish Civil War; and a Spanish Civil War Poster Collection (ALBA.GRAPHICS.001).

Processing information

During a prior processing, the collection was arranged into general groupings according to subject matter and genre, but with no regard for provenance. The materials were also transferred to acid-free folders at that time; the folders were not given titles. The documentation from that processing comprises an outline of series (in Yiddish), and a partial inventory list, covering approximately one third of the collection. During the present processing, additional acid-free folders were provided as necessary; and folders were given titles based on their content. A new arrangement was undertaken in order to account for provenance, and to make the material more accessible for users. Please see the Arrangement note for further details.

Guide to the Spanish Civil War Collection 1909-2013 RG 1477
Partially processed by Shloyme Krystal / Additional processing completed, and finding aid compiled and encoded by Violet Lutz
Language of description
Script of description
Language of description note
Description is in English.
Made possible by the Cataloging Hidden Special Collections and Archives Grant from the Council on Library and Information Resources through the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation to support "Illuminating Hidden Collections at the Center for Jewish History."

Repository Details

Part of the YIVO Institute for Jewish Research Repository

15 West 16th Street
New York NY 10011 United States