Biographies/Bernard Gerber

Tags: Jewish Ambulance Driver Member Of Communist Party Service Sanitaire Battle of Belchite American Medical Bureau Villa Paz Aragon Front Young Communist League

Researcher: Tanim Miah, Stuyvesant '22

The Jewish contribution to the International Brigade during the Spanish Civil War was often marginalized in the aftermath of the conflict. However, the Jewish people were among the first to volunteer to contain the spread of fascism. Thousands of Jews from 53 different nations, nearly 1,250 of them from the United States, risked their lives to travel to Spain to fight for the Republic. These Jewish volunteers originated from socialist and communist organizations, comprised nearly 10 percent of the volunteers, and were inspired by a “strong sense of Jewish social justice.” One such volunteer was Bernard Gerber, who offered his services to the Republican cause as an ambulance driver.    


Bernard Gerber was born on July 11, 1911, in Brooklyn, New York to working-class parents. He attended high school as teen, before entering the industrial workforce after graduation. Specifically, Gerber worked as a printer and later in a shoe factory located on 32-420th Street in midtown Manhattan. After entering the workforce, he joined the Workers Local of the United Shoe trade union. As an adult, Gerber became heavily involved in the labor struggle, and joined the Young Communist League in 1928, and the Communist Party of America in 1932. While in the league, Gerber received political training at the District and Section School of the YCL. He served as a daily worker agent within the party but held no official leadership position. Indoctrinated in the struggles of the communist party, Gerber led a strike against his shoe factory, leading to his arrest and imprisonment between 1934 and 1935. 


Once the Spanish Civil War erupted, Gerber was determined to travel to Spain to aid his communist comrades in the struggle. He listed his address as 246/8 East 51st Brooklyn, New York and received his passport on May 25, 1937. He sailed aboard the MV Georgic on June 12, 1937, and arrived in Spain two weeks later. Once he arrived he registered for the Spanish Communist Party and trained with the Battalion of Instruction Tarazona in the city of Albacete to serve as a front-line infantryman. However, due to his technical skills, and before entering combat, Gerber was transferred into the Service Sanitaire, which was a front-line surgical unit. He became a trained mechanic, truck driver, and sterilizer, and served as an ambulance driver. Members of the International Brigades who had the skill to drive and maintain medical vehicles, such as Gerber, would work within the American Medical Bureau to Aid Spanish Democracy (AMBASD) as chauffeurs. Gerber picked up an ambulance on August 6, 1937, at Port Bou for the First Evac Group. He was commissioned at Villa Paz with other ambulance drivers, and it was at this time the Group of Evacuation became a formal military unit. This unit notably drove towards the Aragon front in an attempt to assist in the battle of Belchite at Quinto.  

Bernard Gerber continued to serve within the First Evacuation Group until late 1938 when it became clear that the Nationalist forces were poised for victory. Gerber returned to the United States on December 20, 1938, aboard the RMS Ausonia. He later moved to Deerfield Beach, Florida, dying in February 1979 at the age of 67.



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