Biographies/Milton Epstein

Tags: Member of Communist Party Young Communist League Zaragoza Polish Fuentes de Ebro Jewish Mackenzie-Papineau battalion Battle Of Gandesa Ebro offensive Battle for Teruel Member Of Communist Party

Researcher: Alex Fertman, Stuyvesant '24

On August 5th, 1912, In Chicago, Illinois, Milton (Moses) Epstein, was born. His father was Jacob Epstein, a Polish immigrant. Milton attended primary school as well as university. After his education, he became a railway and metal worker. In 1929, the stock market collapsed, leading the world into “The Great depression.” This had an effect everywhere and jobs were hard to come by. In fact, 60% of people were classified as poor by the federal government in 1933 which was abnormally high.

During the great depression, the soviet union seemed to be flourishing from an outside perspective. This led a large contingent of people including Milton to turn to communism. This was due to its promise of eliminating the poverty that had been brought upon by the great depression. It appealed especially to people working in factories and on farms which are industries that had taken huge hits during the depression; Milton worked in one of those industries.

After becoming a communist, he traveled to Canada and joined the young communist league of Canada in 1933, eventually becoming a section organizer. Organizations such as the Trade Union organization league as well as the Workers Unity league were a part of the young communist league and worked to fight for the pay of workers as well as safe working conditions for industrial workers.

During this time, over 1,500 including Milton were recruited from the communist party of Canada for the international brigades to serve in the republican forces during the Spanish civil war. It attracted many communists due to the fight against fascism and for communism by the republican forces against Franco’s nationalist regime. In order to fight in the war, he traveled to New York city in order to apply for a passport. In the passport, which was passport #423907, he used the street address of Montgomery street, Brooklyn, New York. He was then able to set sail upon the Statendam to Spain on June 4th, 1937, and went aboard the U.S.S. Statendam.

He arrived in Spain on June 22nd, 1937 where he was assigned to the Mackenzie-Papineau battalion, named after 19th-century leaders that contributed to Canada’s independence movement. At full-strength, the battalion had around 600 men, mostly consisting of Canadians but also having Americans, Cubans, Spaniards, and a small number of Irish. He was trained in communications and the entire battalion had some of the best and lengthy training any unit had received up to that time.

They fought their first battle in October 13th, 1937 in the Zaragoza offensive at Fuentes de Ebro where the aerial bombardment from the fascists was ineffective; but tanks followed which overwhelmed them and ended up costing the battalion its defeat. Despite this, Milton along with others in the Mackenzie-Papineau battalion were cited for bravery.

A battle where the Mackenzie-Papineau battalion was the battle of Teruel which occurred on December 15th, 1937, when the republicans were bombarded with attacks from nationalists but still held their ground, even being mistaken for retreating. They then pushed an offensive and surprised the enemy and ended up being victorious and it ended up giving them the special citation of bravery from the republican army, as well as being held in high regard from military observers in Britain and the United states.

The Mackenzie Papineau battalion's last battle was the Ebro offensive which started on July 25th, 1938. Republican forces crossed the Ebro river to mount an offensive against nationalist forces. They were overwhelmed by fascist forces and were forced to retreat. This was hard and Milton died on July 30th, 1938 Many other members of the Mackenzie-Papineau battalion held off six-tank attacks which permanently stopped the fascist offensive. Many in the battalion died giving their lives holding off fascist forces to buy time for others to retreat and live another day. Milton was one of those who perished in the battle and died on July 30th, 1938. He was 25 years old.

Even though Milton may have died young, he truly made an impact on what he cared about and the Abraham Lincoln brigades. He was not only cited for bravery in the war but was a true man of the cause against fascism and died in that pursuit.


“A Short History of the Communist Party of Canada.” n.d. Communist Party of Canada - Parti Communiste Du Canada. The Chief Agent, CPC. Accessed June 9, 2023.

Baldwin, Jerome. 2009. “Canadians in Spain: The Mackenzie-Papineau Battalion.” Warfare History Network. October 2009.

Brooks, Chris. 2018. “The History of the MacKenzie-Papineau Battalion by Frank Rogers.” The Volunteer. Veterans of the Abraham Lincoln brigade. November 17, 2018.

“Epstein, Milton.” 2019. The Abraham Lincoln Brigade Archives. December 10, 2019.

“EPSTEIN, Milton | SIDBRINT.” n.d. Universitat de Barcelona. Accessed June 9, 2023.

Kowalsky, Daniel. n.d. “Stalin and the Spanish Civil War.” Columbia University Press. Accessed June 9, 2023.

“Mackenzie-Papineau Battalion.” n.d. Spartacus Educational. Spartacus Educational. Accessed June 9, 2023.

Markowitz, Norman. 2019. “The Communist Party in the ’30s: The Depression and the Great Upsurge.” People’s World. May 14, 2019.

“Milton Epstein | Canadian Cultural History about the Spanish Civil War.” n.d.

Momryk, Myron. n.d. “Canada a Country by Consent: The Great Depression: The Mac-Paps.”

National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, Health and Medicine Division, Board on Population Health and Public Health Practice, Policy and Global Affairs, Science and Technology for Sustainability Program, and Committee on an Evaluation of Permanent Supportive Housing Programs for Homeless Individuals. 2018. The History of Homelessness in the United States. National Academies Press (US).

Penner, Norman, and Richard Foot. 2006. “Communist Party of Canada | the Canadian Encyclopedia.” Historica Canada. February 6, 2006.

“Resources – Friends and Veterans.” n.d. Friends and Veterans of the Mackenzie-Papineau Batallion. Accessed June 9, 2023.

Richardson, Gary. 2013. “The Great Depression | Federal Reserve History.” Federal Reserve History. November 22, 2013.

Wikipedia Contributors. 2020. “Communist Party of Canada.” Wikipedia. Wikimedia Foundation. January 15, 2020.



(Communist Party of Canada)