Biographies/Conrad Kaye

Tags: Brunete Offensive Belchite Great Retreat Intendencia Fuentes de Ebro Teruel George Washington Battalion Russian WWII Veteran

Researcher: Oscar Kaye, Stuyvesant '23

Conrad Kaye was born on March 19, 1908 in Russia. It is not known when he immigrated to the US or when he was married, but he received his American citizenship in 1932 from the Superior Court of New York City. He lived at 305 West 19th Street in Chelsea with his wife, and worked primarily as a food worker and a meat cutter. He also listed an alternate residence at 323 First Avenue in Gramercy Park. Expecting to see the American Dream unfold around him, Conrad was disheartened to see that his financial situation in the US wasn’t much better than his homeland. He grew tired of his life working as a menial laborer, and yearned to do something about the ideals he believed in. When he received word from fellow unionists that many were volunteering to fight for freedom in Spain, he felt that even dying for freedom was better than participating in an illusion of it. Only five years after attaining his citizenship, Conrad chose, like many others in the city, to leave his wife and family to support the Spanish Republic. He applied for and received a passport on March 15, 1937. He left just a month later on April 28, sailing on the Normandie to Spain. He arrived on May 30.

By that time, the Abraham Lincoln Brigade had already sustained heavy losses during the Battle of Jarama. Conrad received haphazard and chaotic training, most of which was composed of various speeches in almost every language besides English. After barely two months, Conrad, alongside his fellow Americans, were organized as the George Washington Battalion, fresh reinforcements for the XVth Brigade, or the XV Brigada Internacional. They were commanded by Mirko Markovic. Conrad and his battalion went into action alongside the Lincoln Battalion on the second day of the Brunete Offensive. Their job was to attack the north end of the village Villanueva de la Canada, while the British and Dimitrov battalions attacked from the south. Conrad saw heavy fighting in securing the town, and did not get much of a rest before being sent out with the rest of the XVth Brigade to assault the dreaded Mosquito Ridge. Despite being turned away again and again by Nationalist troops, Conrad and his fellow Americans were told to repeat their attack. Conrad saw many of his friends and brothers in arms die that day. After failing to take the region, Conrad discovered that the Lincoln Commander, Oliver Law, who was already the replacement commander for the dead previous commander Robert Hale Merriman, had also been killed. Both the Washington and the Lincoln Battalions had suffered such heavy losses that they were reorganized into a single battalion - the Lincoln Washington Battalion. However, Conrad, along with his surviving Americans after the war, only referred to it as the Lincoln Battalion.

Conrad had no time to recover before being thrust into the next piece of action. He was promoted to Intendencia, or Quartermaster of the base, and would be overseeing training and supplies for the entire Lincoln Battalion. This did not mean he would not have to fight. He marched alongside the rest of his friends to the Aragon Front, a series of offensives and battles that were meant to push the Nationalists out of Spanish Republican territory. They arrived in August. At Quinto, Conrad did not have to do much shooting - the Americans were led into the town as a second assault following Spanish-controlled Russian T26 tanks. But at Belchite, the fighting was much heavier. Close-quarters, house-to-house, ugly, brutal fighting. For two weeks hundreds of men died fighting for one piece of territory.

Conrad had less than a month to rest before the Lincoln Battalion was sent to the next town. On October 13, the entire XVth Brigade did battle at Fuentes de Ebro. The Spanish Battalion led the attack with Russian tanks - and did not properly coordinate their advance with the infantry. The assault fell apart and became a slaughter. All Conrad could do was make sure as many of his brothers got to safety as possible. The battle was over quickly, as they had been turned away almost immediately, but the Lincoln brigade mercifully had fewer casualties than usual. After Fuentes de Ebro, the XVth Brigade was ordered to retreat to a reserve spot where they could rest and recover. It was the first time they had been given the chance to do so since Jarama Valley.

During the few months they had to relax, Conrad was appointed Rank Ensign, or second lieutenant, and Base Quartermaster. He was placed in charge of all the supplies and training of the troops in the International Brigade. This was a hard job during the cold winter months, when food was scarce and warmth scarcer.

In late December of 1937, the Lincoln Battalion was called to hold the recently captured city of Teruel. They spent Christmas freezing in one of the coldest winters Spain had seen in years. Conrad and the rest of the battalion were defending positions that overlooked Teruel, and began calling it the “North Pole,” because of the cold. It was not long before the Nationalists began attacking the city with all their strength. The XVth Brigade lost two whole companies trying to hold Republican territory. For three weeks Conrad sat in the trenches, freezing and shooting desperately at a vastly better manned and equipped army. The Lincoln Battalion was pulled out for rest, but before they could reach their rest areas, they were ordered to a different side of the front, in an offensive that was meant to take some of the Nationalist pressure off of bombarding Teruel. Exhuasted, Conrad and his brothers attacked the Nationalist base at Segura de los Banos, but no Nationalist forces were diverted from Teruel. They were called back, and took up reserve positions in Aragon, waiting for the enemy’s attack.

In March, the Nationalist army cut through Republican forces and drove them to the sea. Conrad lost many of his brothers during the Great Retreat. The Lincoln Battalion was continuously dispersed and reformed as Republican forces continued to give ground. Robert Merriman and Dave Doran, the two commanders of the Lincoln Battalion, had gone missing. Anyone who was lost was assumed to have been captured and executed by the enemy. No one was in charge. It was chaos. The remnants of the Republican army barely made it to the far side of the Ebro River. Conrad knew, then, that it was over. They had lost. Almost all the brave young volunteers from New York he had met on the Normandie were dead or gone. Facism had won in Spain, at least for now.

Conrad did not stay with his brothers in the Lincoln Battalion for the Ebro Offensive. He returned to the US on April 14, 1938.

But Conrad Kaye never gave up the fight against facism and tyranny. Just a few years later, he enlisted in the army to fight in World War II. He fought the Nazis bravely, was promoted to Sergeant, and won the Bronze and Silver Star. He returned home alive and well, a noble soldier to the end.

At some point later during his life, he moved to Mexico City. He died there, in June of 1980.


Ink, Social. “Kaye, Conrad.” The Abraham Lincoln Brigade Archives, 13 Sept. 2022,

“International Brigades.” Encyclopædia Britannica, Encyclopædia Britannica, Inc.,

Stefano. “Belchite, Ghost Town of the Spanish Civil War.” Stefano Politi Markovina, 1 Mar. 2023,