Child of Nathan Sall and Bessie Beck Sall, Bernard Sall was born in NYC on the 14th of August 1914. Bernard Sall lived in Brooklyn under 2 addresses, 1837 71st Street, and 6301 Bay Parkway. His parents were immigrants from Russia. Being a first generation American with immigrant parents Bernard Sall’s identity was one of assimilation between Russian culture and the new liberating culture of America. “The American Dream”, something that Bernard’s parents had come to America in search of all seemed to come crumbling down with the presence of World War I shortly after Bernard was born and later on the Great Depression. Bessie Sall was unemployed and Nathan Sall worked as an industrial cutter making 1200 a month which wasn’t much to live off of. Due to the crumbling of this “American Dream”, Bernard didn’t find an incentive behind studying just for it to amount to nothing hence why he had only studied in University and night courses for 2 years. He didn’t get a degree so his highest level of education remained the 4 years of high school he had completed. He didn’t have an interest in much other than utility hence why he became an electrician making 600 a month.
As a result of the Great Depression, Bernard developed a resentful perspective towards Capitalism. Seeking an escape from the prevailing misery within the United States, he made the decision to enlist in the U.S. army in 1931, serving for approximately one year. Following his army experience, Bernard chose to pursue work as a gunsmith and later transitioned into the role of a telephonist. Despite maintaining his negative opinions on capitalism, he became affiliated with the Young Communist League (YCL). Despite President FDR's enactment of the neutrality acts, Bernard and many others, particularly in New York, made the decision to involve themselves in the emerging Spanish Civil War. Aligned with the YCL, Bernard embarked on a journey to Spain aboard the SS Champlain, intending to join other organizations supporting the Republican troops in their fight against Franco and the nationalists. The voyage itself presented challenges, as Bernard and fellow volunteers had to adopt disguises to conceal their true intentions.
Arriving in Spain on January 28, 1937, Bernard quickly affiliated himself with the Spanish Communist party with ease as he was already affiliated with the communist party given that he was a member of the YCL. Bernard had also become affiliated with the XIII Brigade, the XV Brigade, and the 86th Brigade. Due to having experience in combat from being in the US army for some time, Bernard had no problem with the rudimentary training in contrast to many other young inexperienced volunteers. The only difficulty Bernard had was understanding the French instructions. Being affiliated with multiple International brigades, Bernard was involved in some of the biggest conflicts of the Spanish Civil War. Following the failed Cordoba offensive, morale was low due to the youth and inexperience however this same youth amongst the International Brigades was what motivated them to enter the Battle of Brunete which became known as one of the most decisive clashes in the Spanish Civil War. Starting as an offensive, the Republicans and Bernard had made significant progress which was quickly counter attacked by Franco who put the Republicans on the losing side yet again as the Nationalists had regained Brunete. Bernard had survived through his experience but was also witness to many of his new young comrades dying. When Franco had quit on Brunete and resumed the conquest of the Biscay Enclave, Bernard and the rest of the Republicans claimed victory as they had gained a small amount of land. Bernard and the other experienced people of the International Brigade knew that this was a bitter loss. The loss of 19,000 troops, a significant amount being from the International Brigades, left a huge sense of guilt on Bernard’s mind. Many young men, the same age as himself, had died due to their inexperience. Later on, when Bernard was stationed in Valencia, he experienced the Levante offensive in which Franco had tried to take the city of Valencia from the Republicans but failed due to their dogged determination. The unity and communist values of equity were something that Bernard had truly experienced and valued during these times as it led to some victories for the Republicans such as the aforementioned Levante Offensive failure. The major battle right before Bernard had finally decided to go back home was the battle of Ebro, the longest and largest battle of the Spanish Civil War. Crossing the Ebro river with other young men of the international brigades seemingly somewhat more experienced due to some battles fought, the Republicans tasted victory as the offensive on Corebera had worked. However, something that had a big role in Bernard deciding to go back home after this was the sheer destruction that was faced by the Republicans. The Nationalists had decided to strike back and this resulted in the Republicans being on the defensive. Bernard experienced exhaustion and pure terror in the face of seeing so many of his friends dying. Although he had seen death before, the death he experienced in the Battle of Ebro was unparalleled. The whole battle ended in Nationalist victory and a sense of hopelessness amongst not only Bernard but also many other Republicans as so much was lost yet such little progress was made. Bernard had survived due to his experience but could no longer fight and decided to return back to America on the 20th of December 1938 on the SS Ausonia.
Hooton, Ted. “The Battle of Brunete: The Decisive Clash of the Spanish Civil War.” History Hit, History Hit, 15 Jan. 2019, www.historyhit.com/the-battle-of-brunete-the-decisive-clash-of-the-spanish-civil-war/.
“Sall, Bernard.” The Abraham Lincoln Brigade Archives, 11 Dec. 2019, alba-valb.org/volunteers/bernard-sall/. Accessed 3 May 2023.
States., United. Scope of Soviet Activity in the United States. 1956.
“The Ebro Offensive.” International Brigade Memorial Trust, international-brigades.org.uk/education/the-ebro-offensive/. Accessed 3 May 2023.