Irving J. Rifkin was born on March 4, 1917 in Brooklyn, New York. His parents, Julius Rifkin and Clara Schneider, were Russian Jewish immigrants. His father would later be drafted in the Second World War, and was a high-ranking member of the Cambridge Masonic lodge, along with all six of his brothers. He had one younger brother, Victor, an older sister, Florence, and an older brother, Charles. The census records of his family indicate that they likely lived at 3916 Laurel Ave, just over a mile west of Coney Island. In 1935, while he was a pre-medical student at City College, he joined the Communist party. While in college, he participated in the ROTC program, which likely motivated his decision to fight in Spain.
After graduating from City College in spring 1938, he boarded the Queen Mary which arrived in Spain on July 16 1938. Rifkin’s family did not know he was going to fight in Spain until they received a letter he wrote on July 14. He also sent a postcard to his close friend and actor Robert Martin Loewer. The postcard was one of many by Spanish Republicans which depicted the failed uprising against the Republic led by General José Sanjurjo in 1932. The description on the postcard reads “Sanjurjo, the incarnation of the absolutist spirit of the typical Spanish Army commander, leads in Seville an armed uprising against the first Government of the Republic, and flees to Portugal without waiting for the outcome.” Sanjurjo supported the Nationalist rebels, but was unable to join in on the fighting, as he died in a plane crash on July 20th, 1936. These postcards were intended to boost morale and convince the soldiers that they were not fighting a lost cause. On the card, he wrote “I’m sending this card from Spain, as you may know by this time. The war is just two years old today and the Spanish people, old peasant women, kids all still show magnificent enthusiasm. They can never be beaten.”
Rifkin served in the Third Company of the Abraham Lincoln Brigade in the summer and autumn of 1938. He took part in the Battle of the Ebro, which was the largest battle of the Civil War by length and number of soldiers. Despite some initial successes by the Republican forces during the battle, the engagement eventually turned into a war of attrition. The air support provided by Germans and Italians allowed Franco to regroup and push back the Republicans. On September 3rd, 1938, Franco successfully launched a counterattack from the town of Gandesa, and managed to capture the strategically important town of Corbera. Rifkin and several other members of the Third Company were in Corbera when it fell to the Nationalists, and they were captured on September 7th. His ultimate fate is unknown, although he was likely executed shortly after his capture. His last letter to his family was sent two weeks prior on August 24th.
Dunphy, John J. “A Post Card from the Spanish Civil War.” Medium. Medium, August 1, 2020. https://johnjdunphy.medium.com/a-post-card-from-the-spanish-civil-war-43b48f4162a1.
Ink, Social. “Rifkin, Irving J.” The Abraham Lincoln Brigade Archives, June 23, 2020. https://alba-valb.org/volunteers/irving-rifkin/.
“Irving Rifkin (1917 - 1938) - Genealogy - Geni.com.” Geni. Accessed June 3, 2022. https://www.geni.com/people/Irving-Rifkin/6000000062286639264.
“Julius Rifkin (1887 - 1973) - Genealogy - Geni.com.” Geni. Accessed June 3, 2022. https://www.geni.com/people/Julius-Rifkin/6000000062287030844.
"United States Census, 1930," database with images, FamilySearch (https://www.familysearch.org/ark:/61903/1:1:X4JY-G1V : accessed 4 June 2022), Irving Rifkin in household of Julius Rifkin, Brooklyn (Districts 1251-1500), Kings, New York, United States; citing enumeration district (ED) ED 1455, sheet 4A, line 47, family 87, NARA microfilm publication T626 (Washington D.C.: National Archives and Records Administration, 2002), roll 1526; FHL microfilm 2,341,261.