Jesse Wallach was born on September 13, 1908 in New York City to a Jewish family. He attended university and then law school. Afterwards, he was employed as an electrical worker. In January 1937, he joined the Communist Party of the United States of America. On May 27, 1937, Jesse received passport #426878, which listed his address as 281 West 102nd Street in the Upper West Side. On June 2, 1937, he sailed across the Atlantic aboard the Aquitania. On June 20, 1937, he was arrested by the French aviso Granit near Port-Vendres, but was later released. He arrived in Spain via Massanet on June 22, 1937.
In Spain, he served in the Mackenzie-Papineau Battalion, of which he was sergeant and secretary. The Mackenzie-Papineau Battalion, or the Mac-Paps, was a Canadian battalion that fought as part of the XV International Brigade (the Abraham Lincoln Brigade) during the Spanish Civil War. The Battalion was named after William Lyon Mackenzie and Louis-Joseph Papineau, two Canadian politicians who led a rebellion in Canada one century prior, in 1837-38. Although the battalion was nominally Canadian, it had more volunteers from the USA than from Canada.
Jesse’s first battle was at Fuentes de Ebro. He fought in The Battle of Teruel, which was one of the bloodiest actions of the war, and involved heavy artillery and aerial bombardment. The result of the battle was the conquest of Teruel by Franco’s Nationalist forces. Jesse then participated in the Great Retreats, or the Aragon Offensive. In this offensive, Franco’s forces smashed through the Republican lines, after the Republican Army had been weakened at Teruel. The Republican Army was forced to retreat, and the Nationalists made it all the way south to the Mediterranean coast. Wallach was also involved in the Battle of the Ebro, the most significant battle of the war and the largest battle ever fought on Spanish soil. The battle was disastrous for the Republic, severely weakening the army and destroying the Republican Air Force.
There exists an anecdote about Jesse in the memoir of Abe Smorodin, a soldier in the same battalion as Jesse. Smorodin wrote that as the soldiers huddled together to stay warm in the chill of an Aragon winter, Jesse claimed that he dreamt nightly of neon-lit diner signs flashing the word EAT.
Jesse Wallach also appears in the diaries of Robert Hale Merriman. Merriman was a doctoral student at the University of California, Berkeley, who fought with the Republican Army in the Spanish Civil War. Meriman's ROTC experience led him to become the leader of the Abraham Lincoln Brigade in January 1937. According to the diaries of Merriman, in June of 1937, Wallach was sent to officer’s school in Pozo Rubio. At some point during his training at the officers school, Jesse Wallach was reprimanded for spreading rumors. Merriman wrote about a Comintern policy to save cadres, to not have all communist party men killed in action. According to Merriman, after the creation of this policy, Jesse Wallach “requested a safe job”.
Jesse returned to the US on December 20, 1938 aboard the Ausonia. After the Spanish Civil War, Jesse also fought in WWII, and was a tireless worker for social justice. He married the pianist Lucy Brown, and later had a second wife Clara. Jesse died in New York City on January 20, 1999.
“Wallach, Jesse.” The Abraham Lincoln Brigade Archives, 28 Dec. 2022, https://alba-valb.org/volunteers/jesse-wallach/.
“Paid Notice: Deaths WALLACH, JESSE.” NY Times, 7 Feb 1999, https://www.nytimes.com/1999/02/07/classified/paid-notice-deaths-wallach-jesse.html
“A Hall of Memories - by Abe Smorodin.” The Abraham Lincoln Brigade Archives, 16 Sept. 2018, https://albavolunteer.org/2015/02/blast-from-the-past-memories/.
Jews in the Spanish Civil War, https://www.jewishvirtuallibrary.org/jews-who-served-in-the-international-brigade-in-the-spanish-civil-war.
“Lucy Brown, Pianist and Music Teacher.” The New York Times, The New York Times, 4 Jan. 1971, https://www.nytimes.com/1971/01/04/archives/lucy-brown-pianist-and-music-teacher.html.
“Mackenzie-Papineau Battalion.” The Canadian Encyclopedia, https://www.thecanadianencyclopedia.ca/en/article/mackenzie-papineau-battalion.
Guide to the Harry Randall: Fifteenth International Brigade Films and Photographs ALBA.PHOTO.011, http://dlib.nyu.edu/findingaids/html/tamwag/alba_photo_011/dscaspace_ref624.html#aspace_ref836.
“In the Footsteps of the Lincoln-Washington Battalion.” The Abraham Lincoln Brigade Archives, 17 Sept. 2012, https://albavolunteer.org/2012/07/in-the-footsteps-of-the-lincoln-washington-battalion/.
Hoff, Raymond M. Merriman's Diaries: Exegesis. New York, NY: Raymond Hoff, 2018. https://digitaltamiment.hosting.nyu.edu/files/original/5434ae298184e90c2b45d6139c10f81d072d5c41.pdf
Beevor, Antony. The Battle for Spain: The Spanish Civil War, 1936-1939. Phoenix, 2007.