Daniel Alvin Pasternack (spelled Pasternak on some records) was born on July 20, 1914. Daniel was born to two Jewish polish-born immigrants, Joseph and Barbara Pasternak, who had immigrated to America sometime in the late 19th or early 20th century: some immigration documents show a certain Joseph Pasternak immigrating to the U.S.A. in 1883, although it is unclear whether he was the same man as Daniel’s father.
In the 19th century, Poland as a state did not exist, instead the land was partitioned among multiple Eastern and Central European powers. Judging by the information provided in Joseph’s immigration documents, he was likely from the Eastern part of Poland, the region under Russian jurisdiction. This would not have boded well for Joseph and his family, given their Jewish heritage. Among other things, Jews in Poland had to worry about pogroms, slavic riots aimed at Jewish villages, as well as state-induced poverty. Jews were expected to produce young men for the military, pay double the taxes of their slavic neighbours, and were barred from owning land or participating in certain industries, such as brewing. These factors contributed greatly to the decision of Daniel’s parents, as well as many other Jews residing in Poland, to immigrate to the U.S. through Ellis Island.
Despite economic hardship and rampant anti-semitism in America, especially during the early 20th century, Daniel was able to gain access to a higher education. This may be due to the fact that his father Joseph himself was educated, or at the very least literate, as indicated on his immigration documents. A U.S. census shows him residing in Suffolk, Brookhaven at 16 years old meaning that in all likelihood he was attending the only high school in Brookhaven at the time: Bellport High School. After high school he studied at Columbia University in New York City. While there is no record of what he studied, there is a record that he went on to be a Mechanical Engineer.
Whether he was radicalized at school, or more likely in university, by 1935 he was a member of the Young Communist League, a youth organization focused on educating future communists and contributing to the working class struggle. It also seems that in 1935 he may have been a member of the Communist Party. The American Communist Party, founded in 1919, saw rapid growth in the 1930’s as a reaction to fascist movements in Europe, as well as unemployment due to the great depression. In America the party mainly focused on popularizing unions and helping them negotiate against inhumane employers; however, it also held globalist views and closely followed the rise of fascism in Europe. Eventually, the Communist Party would send thousands of Americans to fight Franco in Spain, Daniel among them.
On June 5, 1937 Daniel received his first passport, which just one week later he would use to travel outside the country for the first time. Interestingly enough, he listed his secondary addresses in Tampa, Florida. How and why a first generation Polish-American Jewish mechanical engineer held a second address in Florida is a mystery, but given that his primary address was 215 East 18th street, right next to Gramercy Park, it is entirely possible he was relatively well off by his mid 20’s.
On June 12, 1937, just seven days after receiving his passport, he set sail on the Georgic, a brand new motorship which regularly traveled between New York, London, Southampton, and Le Havre (a port in Northern France). In 1940, the Georgic too would go on to fight the fascists, only in World War 2, as a troopship. After setting foot on land once again somewhere in North-Western Europe, Daniel proceeded south and crossed the Spanish-French border somewhere around Setcases, a mountainous region on the northeastern side of Spain, not far from Barcelona.
After Daniel joined the Mackenzie-Papineau Battalion, an international battalion fighting under the XV Brigade, aka the Lincoln Brigade, his trail went dark. Aside from a brief photoshoot of his brigade, where Daniel appears in two of the pictures, no records are kept of Daniel’s time at the front. Even the pictures are misdated, claiming they were taken 6 months after his death.
Daniel resurfaces once again at the Fuentes de Ebro, arguably among the most disastrous battles for the republic throughout the whole war. On October 13th (or, according to one source, 16th), Daniel Pasternack died to aircraft strafing, a common tactic in which a low-flying aircraft is mounted with an automatic weapon which fires at stationary targets. Because Franco’s air force was largely supplemented by German aircrafts and pilots, it is likely that Daniel was among the first Americans to be killed by the Luftwaffe, which would go on to battle the British Royal Airforce in the sky. Daniel Pasternack lived a short life defined by one decision and the four months that followed it. This one decision, and the sacrifice that followed, transformed him from an average, if somewhat successful man, to a hero worth remembering and commemorating.
“Pasternack, Daniel Alvin” The Abraham Lincoln Brigade Archives, https://alba-valb.org/volunteers/daniel-alvin-pasternack/
“Jews in the Spanish Civil War” Jewish Virtual Library, https://www.jewishvirtuallibrary.org/jews-who-served-in-the-international-brigade-in-the-spanish-civil-war#american
“PASTERNACK, Daniel A.” Brigades Internacionals Databases-Universitat de Barcelona, http://sidbrint.ub.edu/ca/content/pasternack-daniel
“Pasternack, Daniel” My Heritage Archives, https://www.myheritage.com/research/record-10134-217093010/daniel-pasternak-in-1930-united-states-federal-census
“MV Georgic” Wikipedia, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/MV_Georgic_(1931)