At the turn of the 20th century, New York City’s garment industry experienced a rapid expansion, and with it came an influx of Eastern European Jewish immigrants seeking employment in the United States. Approximately 75% of the workers employed in this industry were Jewish, many of whom were attracted by the prospect of working for Jewish employers who could provide a familiar social environment as well as the opportunity to observe the Sabbath. Although, the rise in employment opportunities also meant that these workers were exposed to widespread exploitative conditions which subjected these individuals to hazardous working conditions for a relatively low pay.
Abraham “Abe” Schwartz was one of the many Jewish textile workers who witnessed the numerous investigations, labor strikes, and public demonstrations that occurred in response to the unsafe conditions many in the Jewish community had worked in. Which in turn, motivated his decision to not only embrace Leftist political ideology, but participate in the fight for democracy in the Spanish Civil War.
On February 28th, 1934, Schwartz received his passport (#80010), and listed his place of residence as 2187 Douglass street, Brooklyn, New York. He set sail on February 20th, 1937, lle de France, and arrived in Spain on March 14th, 1937.
During his time in Spain, Schwartz served with the XV BDE, Washington Brigade, and died the night of Yom Kippur in the Villa Paz Hospital in May 1937 of Typhoid malignant malaria, military tuberculosis, and Lobar pneumonia. The following day, he was buried in the village cemetery of Saelices. During which, the Political Commissar spoke about Schwartz’s achievements and his Antifascist work. As his coffin was lowered, the Spaniards attending the burial sang “Internationale”, in honor of his bravery during the war effort, and as a soldier who left his family and future behind to fight for democracy.
In a letter addressed to her brother, Rose Freed, Schwartz’s bedside nurse, described the veteran as an amicable man. Schwartz had endeared all who met him, and became fast friends with many of the Spanish villagers living in Saelices. Freed was especially close to Schwartz, citing his death as the saddest experience she endured during her year-long stay in Spain. She explained that she was at his bedside when he died. His mind was still clear enough for him to speak about not only his own family, but also the issues he faced as a member of the working class.
Nelson, Cary, and Jefferson Hendricks, editors. Madrid 1937: Letters of the Abraham Lincoln Brigade from the Spanish Civil War. Routledge, 2013.
Sachar, Howard. “Jewish Immigrants in the Garment Industry.” My Jewish Learning, My Jewish Learning, www.myjewishlearning.com/article/jewish-garment-workers/.
“Schwartz, Abraham.” The Abraham Lincoln Brigade Archives, The Abraham Lincoln Brigade Archives , 27 Apr. 2020, alba-valb.org/volunteers/abraham-schwartz/.
Sugarman, Martin. “Against Fascism – Jews Who Served in The International Brigade in The Spanish Civil War.” Against Fascism – Jews Who Served in The International Brigade in The Spanish Civil War, Martin Sugarman, 7 Jan. 2016, www.marxists.org/subject/jewish/spanjews.pdf.