Morris Balter was born on February 13, 1913 in Brooklyn, New York. He got a degree in Chemical Engineering at the City College of New York in 1935. This meant that he specialized in biology, chemistry, physics and mathematics. He then became a laboratory technician and engineer. On March 24, 1937 he received his passport which listed his latest address in the Bronx and on March 27 he sailed for Spain. He made his trip through the boat Paris and he arrived in Spain on April 10. He was a pacifist and served as a non combatant in the war. He served as a field medic and as a lab technician for the XV battalion. He also served with the Mackenzie-Papineau Battalion at Villa Paz with the anti gas school in Albacete and he also served with the Republican Medical Service. The Mackenzie-Papineau Battalion was made up of over 1,500 Canadians who fought against fascists in Spain from 1936 to 1939 but the battalion itself was not formed until 1937. Before its forming, Canadian volunteers were part of other battalions like the Abraham Lincoln Brigade and the British one. Just like the United States, Canada was not officially involved in the war but had citizens volunteer to fight with many of them being part of the Communist Party of Canada. He also served as both a doctor and an instructor. During his time in Spain he exchanged multiple letters with his family.
You can tell from his letters that he was a family man as he still worried about his parents back home while he was in the middle of a Civil War. He wrote to his parents asking “But how about you mom - have you gotten your grippe? Now that you no longer have to work in that unhealthy store you can move into a more healthy atmosphere. As for you pop, I hope you are taking your insulin regularly and seeing a good doctor every few months, both very important if you want to remain in good health.” Even as he was surrounded by fighting he still cared about his parents health. He worried when he didn’t hear back from them. He also asked about the state of the economy, “How is the crisis affecting you? I understand that it is more severe than the one of 1929 with many millions…” And then he described the other soldiers who made up the army, “Incidentally there are many Jews here in Spain now - Jews from Germany (Hitler), Italy , Poland, U.S., England, Hungary, Austria… This is the first time then we able to hit back, united with the Spanish Peoples Army, against the anti-Semite-Fascists Hitler Mussoloini etc.”
In his letters he actually suggested that he believed that the Republic was winning, “You probably have been reading of the daily bombings by the fascists of Vlaencia, Alcante, Castellon, Barcelona and other cities, towns & villages. The fascists are trying their utmost to retaliate for their loss of … by murdering the Republican civilians women and children … because they have suddenly discovered that the Loyalist forces are one too much for them. Cowards - to shower death on defenseless people.” You can clearly see how much he cared for the cause and the hatred that he held for the fascists. He mentioned how much it meant to him, “This being my 25th birthday and one that finds me with a deeper feeling of satisfaction of accomplishment than any previous birthday.”
He also talked about where he was as he moved around in his letters, “Where I am right now (as I told you in my last letter - I am no longer at the base hospital because we had an excess of personnel due to the consolidation of the personnel from the … pilots that were bombed, with the personnel of the base hospital) everything is peace & quite. It, too, once belonged to the royalty…” He then went onto talk about his daily life “We get up at 6:30 each morning (with the bugle) - go downstairs on the football field (yes we have a football field, volley ball court, tennis courts…) for our morning exercises - breakfast at 7:00 AM. - coffee and bread, then we clean our room, make our beds etc until 8:00 when we go to class. Another breakfast at 9 AM. … To bed at 8:30 P.M. Lights out at 9:00 P.M.”
He stayed in Spain until July 12, 1938 when he began the trip back to the U.S. aboard the Aquitania. The Aquatania was a British ocean liner and was very similar in size to the Titanic. It is also actually the last known surviving four funneled ocean liner. He didn’t stay away from conflict too long however, as he served in the U.S. army during World War II in the chemical warfare section. Once again he served as a non combatant, this time in Georgia and Okinawa. During the war the U.S. did deploy gas weapons in Europe but they were never used and were just there as a caution. The Chemical Warfare Section instead worked on non chemical warfare related tasks during the war like producing flame tanks. By 1942 there were 60,000 soldiers and civilians employed by the section. Balter served from March 1942 to February 1946 and his rank was a technical sergeant. This was a rank that lasted until 1948 and the rank was above a staff sergeant but below a master one. He married after the war in January of 1949 to his wife Clara and they had two children named Lucille Balter and Joan Balter. During the McCarthy era, Balter changed his name to Martin as he was scared that his service during the Civil War could make him a target of the FBI. He died on April 27, 2008.
Ink, Social. “Balter, Morris.” The Abraham Lincoln Brigade Archives, January 1, 2022. https://alba-valb.org/volunteers/morris-balter/.
Guide to the morris kornblum papers alba.306. Accessed June 1, 2022. http://dlib.nyu.edu/findingaids/html/tamwag/alba_306/bioghist.html.
Balter, and Kornblum. “Morris Kornblum Papers 1936-1991.” ArchiveGrid -- morris+balter. Accessed June 1, 2022. https://researchworks.oclc.org/archivegrid/?q=morris%2Bbalter.
Friends and veterans. Accessed June 1, 2022. http://www.macpapbattalion.ca/history/the-international-brigade/.
“Mackenzie-Papineau Battalion.” The Canadian Encyclopedia. Accessed June 1, 2022. https://www.thecanadianencyclopedia.ca/en/article/mackenzie-papineau-battalion.
Balter, Morris. Letter to Pop,
Mom and everyone else.
Spain, April 11, 1938. (not available online)
Balter, Morris. Letter to Mom &
Pop. Plaza Altozano,
Albacete: Spain, February
13, 1938. (not available online)