Benjamin Barsky (born Bencjon Zabarski) was a Jewish Russian immigrant who was born to Szmul and Miriam Zabarsk in the Russian shtetl of Lisianka, near Kiev. The eldest son out of five, Barsky and his family spent two years living with relatives in Woromin, Poland before emigrating to New York in 1923 through Ellis Island. According to Ellis Island records, the Zabarski family boarded the Minnekahda and arrived at Ellis Island on February 25th, 1923, when Benjamin was listed as being five years old.
The Zabarski family settled in the Bronx, selling fish in a small store on E.180th Street, and eventually changed their last name to Barsky. Benjamin graduated from James Monroe High School before attending the City College of New York. He became active in the Young Communist League in 1934, and soon after, the Communist Party.
Barsky received his passport in April of 1937, where he was listed as being in his mid-twenties. He sailed aboard the American Importer, whose passengers claimed to be on a holiday trip to France. The ship arrived in Liverpool on May 17, 1937. The ship was already under American State Department surveillance, so a British immigration officer forwarded the list of all passengers on the ship to the American Consulate in Liverpool. On these records, Barsky was listed as a 22 year old student. The ship then sailed to Cherbourg, France, before crossing the Pyrenees Mountains into Spain.
In the town of Tarazona, Barsky trained with the Mackenzie-Papineau (Mac-Paps) Battalion, which, despite being a Canadian unit, included many American volunteers. He quickly rose through the ranks, serving as a Cabo (corporal) and later an acting Teniente (Lieutenant) in the war.
On July 24, 1938, Barsky and the Mac-Paps crossed the Ebro via rowboats, rafts, and any flotation devices they could find. The volunteers were a part of the campaign to stop the Fascists from capturing the Republican capital of Valencia, which would cut the Republic in half. Very quickly, the Republicans were able to open a 50km front, and are armed with rifles, grenades, and machine guns. Along with British and Spanish Battalions, the Mac-Paps took the town of Asco, moved into the town of Corbera, and were then deployed on the Gandesa-Corbera road on their way towards Gandesa.
In order to make it to Gandesa, Republican troops needed to beat out the heavily fortified Fascist forces that controlled Hill 481, known as “the Pimple”. On August 1st, the Mac-Paps relieved the British battalions that had just been badly mauled by Fascist forces in their attempts to make it up Hill 481. During this fighting at the Battle of the Ebro, Barsky was killed in action on August 10, 1938.
“Barsky, Ben.” SIDBRINT. Accessed June 2, 2022. https://sidbrint.ub.edu/ca/content/barsky-ben.
Czitrom, Daniel. “Chapter 1: Secrets of the Pogrom.” Essay. In Kitchen Table History: A Family Memoir, n.d.
Czitrom, Daniel. “Chapter 3: Four Roads to Spain.” Essay. In Kitchen Table History: A Family Memoir, 35–41, n.d.
Czitrom, Daniel. “Kitchen Table History: In Search of Ben Barsky.” The Volunteer, August 30, 2017. https://albavolunteer.org/2017/08/kitchen-table-history-in-search-of-ben-barsky/.
Ink, Social. “Barsky, Benjamin.” The Abraham Lincoln Brigade Archives, June 3, 2020. https://alba-valb.org/volunteers/benjamin-barsky/.
“Zabarski, Bencjon.” Passenger search - The Statue of Liberty & Ellis Island. The Statue of Liberty―Ellis Island Foundation, Inc. Accessed June 2, 2022. https://heritage.statueofliberty.org/passenger-details/czoxMjoiNjAzMTYzMDEwMDkwIjs=/czo5OiJwYXNzZW5nZXIiOw==.
“Zabarski, Szmul.” Passenger search - The Statue of Liberty & Ellis Island. The Statue of Liberty―Ellis Island Foundation, Inc. Accessed June 2, 2022. https://heritage.statueofliberty.org/passenger-details/czoxMjoiNjAzMTYzMDEwMDg2Ijs=/czo0OiJzaGlwIjs=.