Leon Rosenberg, or Leo as he liked to be called, was born on June 26, 1910 in New York City to Jewish parents. His address is listed as 425 East 6th Street, NYC, located in the East Village. This is not surprising as the East Village became an ethnic enclave for Jewish people in the turn of the 20th century. The East Village used to be an ethnic enclave for German people, but it became dominated by Jewish immigrants from Eastern Europe. The influx of Jewish immigrants in the late 1800s to the early 1920s was due to the assassination of Tsar Alexander II, which Jews were scapegoated for, so they fled to the United States and sought freedom from persecution.
Little is known about his parents or family, but his parents were likely Communist, which inspired him to become Communist. He worked as a journalist and was affiliated with the American Federation of Government Employees, which was associated with the American Federation of Labor. Not much is known about the specific reasons he went to fight in the Spanish Civil War, but like many other volunteers, he wanted to fight fascism and stop the Nationalists from taking over Spain. He left his wife and family on March 10, 1937, aboard the Washington, and arrived in Albacete alongside other members of the 15th International Brigade on March 27, 1937.
Rosenberg was a member of the Washington Battalion, whose first initiation as a fighting unit was the Brunete Offensive. Rosenberg’s first battle, however, was the Battle of Jarama, so it is likely that he was first part of the Lincoln Battalion, and then reassigned to the Washington Battalion, due to strategic needs. The Battle of Jarama (February 6 - February 27, 1937), was the first major battle in the war, in which Franco tried to capture Madrid by dislodging Republican lines at the Jarama River. Although the Nationalists did not end up capturing Madrid, they managed to gain some ground. The Republicans were able to defend the Jarama River, but they suffered heavy casualties, as did the Nationalists. Rosenberg attributed the failure of the Battle of Jarama to a commanding general’s stubbornness, who sent the soldiers to attack a heavily fortified enemy position without proper support from planes, tanks and artillery. The next battle Rosenberg fought in was the Brunete Offensive (July 6 - July 25, 1937), the first military action for the men in the Washington Battalion. Their plan was to capture the town of Villanueva de la Canada by softening the town’s defenses with artillery and aerial bombardment. As Rosenberg notes in a journal entry he wrote, he was paralyzed with fear when he heard gunfire right above his head. However, as the true fighter he was, he didn’t let this control him; He faced the danger of getting shot head-on, and let his love of freedom control his actions. Gunfire intensified at Brunete, and he and other volunteers continued to fight, until they had to find cover behind some stones. Rosenberg didn’t give up; He knew many of his friends had died, so he fought hard for them, and eventually the Republicans were able to capture the town of Villanueva de la Canada. Rosenberg later found out that the original plan was not to attack the town, but go around it and capture territory the Nationalists had left behind. He was understandably frustrated as this would’ve saved many lives, time, and resources. The Lincoln and Washington Battalion continued to suffer casualties in the Brunete Offensive, and Rosenberg attributed this to the incredible heat, thirst and incessant bombing. Rosenberg also noted that he had become attached to other soldiers; They had become a family and the death of comrades was personal. It was during the Brunete Offensive that the Lincoln and Washington Battalions had merged, after over half of the men died. Although the Brunete Offensive was a loss for the Republicans, it made the soldiers more knowledgeable and experienced. The Spanish praised the soldiers for their heroic efforts, but in Rosenberg’s eyes, he didn’t think of himself as a hero; He thought of himself as someone who was doing his duty to fight fascism. He also fought in the Battle of Teruel (December 1937 - February 1938), joining a Czech anti-aircraft battery as a replacement for men who had died.
Although Rosenberg had been a brave soldier, he was involved in minor controversies. On December 22, 1937, he was kicked out of the officer training school for being too individualistic and having a negative attitude. He tried to get his superiors to change the decision and let him stay in the school, to no avail. This situation made him realize that he needed to change himself, therefore he tried to start anew by requesting to handle artillery on a field. Eventually, he joined the 4th Artillery Group and trained at Almansa, the training base for the International Artillery. Rosenberg was also in P.O., which is unclear what it means, but he was accused of being a troublemaker and acting suspiciously in the front lines. He was also advised not to be permitted to handle mail. This, coupled with the dismissal from the officer training school, allowed the promise of repatriation to fall through. However, he eventually returned to the US on February 4, 1938 aboard the President Harding and died on January 17, 1997, Hallandale, Florida.
Brooks, Chris. “Brunete the Good and the Bad - by Leo Rosenberg.” The Volunteer, 16 Sept. 2018, https://albavolunteer.org/2018/02/brunete-the-good-and-the-bad-by-leo-rosenberg/.
Brooks, Chris. “The First Day - by Leo Rosenberg.” The Volunteer, 16 Sept. 2018, https://albavolunteer.org/2015/01/blast-from-the-past-the-first-day/.
Ink, Social. “Rosenberg, Leon.” The Abraham Lincoln Brigade Archives, 25 Nov. 2022, https://alba-valb.org/volunteers/leon-rosenberg/.
RGASPI Fond 545, Opis 6, Delo 917