Biographies/Max Kirschbaum

Tags: Member Of Communist Party Ambulance Driver Congress of Industrial Organizations Workers Alliance of America Jewish WWII Ebro Offensive Young Communist League International Labor Defense WPA WPA Trade Union New York Workers School Albacete Aragon Teruel Extramadura International Red Relief (SRI)

Researcher: Danielle Que, Stuyvesant '23

Max Kirschbaum was born on March 9, 1910, in Ohio. His parents were Henry and Sophie Kirschbaum, a worker and professional dress designer with ties to the Communist Party and anarchism, respectively. He was a member of the Jewish faith, being able to speak Jewish-English. He grew up in Cincinnati, Ohio, attending the general education program until high school. At the age of 14, he was first exposed to communism through the Pioneer movement by his father, who was a trade union member. Five years later, he became part of the Young Communist League (YCL).

Kirschbaum took part in the Works Progress Administration (WPA), the New Deal agency established to create jobs, particularly in constructing public roads and spaces. This allowed him to move to New York City, where he lived with his family at 2070 Vyre Avenue in the Bronx. As part of the WPA, Kirschbaum joined the WPA trade union and was employed in a 50-member company within the dress manufacturing industry, with an average salary of around $20 (around $450 in today’s money). In 1935, Kirschbaum registered with the Communist Party in Brooklyn, which was led at the time by the influential organizer Carl Vedro, joining the 5th Branch of the 17th Section in District 2 of the party. He would serve as the organizer of that branch from June 1935 to June 1937. From 1935 to 1936, Kirschbaum also attended the New York Workers’ School, which was created by the Communist Party of the USA (CPUSA) in 1923 to educate supporters on Marxism and the communist movement in America. Additionally, from 1934 to 1936, Kirschbaum was involved with the International Labor Defense, the US branch of the Socorro Rojo (“Red Relief”), a social service organization organized by Communist International and which had headquarters in NYC. Kirscbaum also had a criminal history, largely tied to his political activism. He was arrested twice and tried for criminal syndicalism, going in front of magistrates in Cincinnati and New York. He spent 5 days in the Brooklyn County Jail in August 1934. Kirschbaum has also been detained three times and processed five times in April-June of 1930 and June-July of 1934.

While Kirschbaum was a member of the Communist Party since January 1935, he also became involved with the Workers Alliance of America (WAA) and the Congress of Industrial Organizations (CIO). The CIO was founded on November 9, 1935, to promote industrial unionism, which emphasized unionization along industry lines as opposed to based on individual crafts and skills. This would have appealed to Kirschbaum as he worked in automotive factories when employed with Chrysler around this time, making him the target group for the CIO. More importantly, however, the WAA was initially founded by the Socialist Party in early March 1935 amidst a period of turmoil amongst the political far-left. However, the communists’ Communist Party USA (CPUSA) soon merged into the WAA in 1936 after a full year of negotiations, making it an umbrella organization for workers associated with the far-left. Interestingly, the WAA soon became associated with the administration, as around 75% of its members were WPA, including Kirschbaum. It is most likely that Kirschbaum gained access to his tickets to Spain through the CPUSA—the central provider for passes and other essentials to journey to Spain—via the WAA.

When he was 28, Kirschbaum departed the United States on May 8, 1937, aboard the American Importer and arrived in Barcelona, Spain on May 30. He was part of the Lincoln-Washington Battalion of the XV International Brigade (more commonly known as the Abraham Lincoln Brigade). Kirschbaum was specifically part of the 58th Battalion, 1st Company. Upon arrival, he had to march through the Pyrenees to join the rest of the brigade, where he was assigned to the brigade’s Auto Park in Albacete until July 1937, being given the job of a driver. From July to September of 1937, he served as an ambulance driver for the first group during the Sanidad Evacuation. His last assignment was as a chauffeur for front-line hospitals from October 1937 to August of 1938. Kirschbaum held the rank of a soldier for his whole time in Spain, but was nominated for the rank of Lieutenant in February 1938. As part of the Lincoln-Washington Battalion, Kirschbaum took part in and survived the battles at Brunette (referred to as the Center Front), Aragon & Huesca, Extremadura, Teruel, and the Ebro Valley. He served as an ambulance driver for all the battles except for the Ebro Offensive, where he was a soldier. Kirschbaum’s last battle in the Spanish Civil War was during the Ebro Offensive in August 1938. It was at this battle, in the Sierra Pandols, that Kirschbaum was injured, being hit by a trench mortar on August 17, 1938. He suffered injuries to his left leg, chest, shoulders, neck and head, and stayed at the Preventorium of La Sabinosa (in Tarragona, near Barcelona) for 10 days. By October 1938, the International Brigades had been disbanded, and he soon returned to New York City on December 20, 1938 aboard the ship Ausonia.

In October of 1943, Kirschbaum enlisted to join the US Army during World War II. He first arrived at Camp Upton in Yaphank, Long Island, New York for processing. However, as a self-proclaimed veteran of the Abraham Lincoln Brigade, Kirschbaum had put himself subject to Counterintelligence Operations and their quest “to acquire an intimate knowledge of the following ‘subversive or potentially subversive groups:’ … 2. Communist.” Over the course of a month, he was questioned about his history of fighting in Spain, writing in a letter that this investigation was likely due to him being an “accused” communist. That same letter was part of a Communist Party campaign organized by Abraham Lincoln Brigade veterans to stand against such counterintelligence procedures. Kirschbaum was then transferred to Camp Blanding around November-December of 1943 to join the Army Infantry. Here, Kirschbaum was told that he should refrain from political conversations due to the ongoing investigation into his political beliefs. He was questioned again by a Counter Espionage unit from G-2 (military intelligence) at Camp McCain one month later, right after reuniting with his unit. The questions covered his entire past, from his criminal history in the 1930s to his involvement with the CPUSA, WPA, WAA, and CIO. This repetitive and intrusive questioning ticked off Kirschbaum, who believed his political beliefs and voting record were private, and that he wants these investigations to come to an end. In his frustration, he wrote asks to once-and-for-all be considered either a criminal or an American soldier. Then, just four weeks later, and two weeks after receiving a promotion to become the Company Mail Clerk, Kirschbaum was notified that he had been found to be a communist and could not continue in his job.

Max Kirschbaum eventually moved to Rockledge, Florida in 1980, where he lived until his death on March 30, 1994.


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