Paolino Sarti was born on the twenty-first of May, 1908 in São Paulo, Brazil. His parents, who were farmers, had been part of the wave of Italians who immigrated to Brazil in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. His mother died when he was young, and his older sister moved away shortly afterwards to get married, so Sarti grew up without a mother figure. His family moved back to Italy after he was born, and that is where his childhood took place.
At the age of 18, in the city of Genoa in Northern Italy, Sarti boarded the SS Conte Biancamano, bound for New York City. He arrived on the 11th of March, 1927, declaring intentions of establishing permanent residence and citizenship. His final destination was Chicago, Illinois. During his time in Chicago, he picked up English, as well as a job in a stationery factory.
In 1931 in the midst of the Great Depression, Sarti’s workmate was to be fired. Sarti volunteered himself in his place out of altruism--his workmate had a family and he did not. Following the loss of his job, Sarti moved to New York City in search of better prospects. He was unemployed for six to seven months, and was forced to sleep on park benches and in subway cars. Eventually, he was able to secure a job as a waiter, and moved into an apartment in Greenwich Village. But Sarti was deeply disaffected by his experiences with unemployment, poverty, and homelessness, and was drawn towards leftist political groups and unions, including the International Workers Order, Italian Workers’ Club, and Friends of the Soviet Union. In 1934, he joined the Communist Party USA, a Comintern-affiliated group based in New York City. He was active in the party, selling their paper, the Daily Worker, on the street, “breaking up a fascist reception,” and participating in street demonstrations.
In 1937, feeling a sense of moral duty, Paolino Sarti made the decision to travel to Spain. With a false Spanish passport, a nom de guerre, “Paulino Sala Perez,” and help from the Italian Communist Party bureau, he arrived in Albacete on October 22nd. He had travelled by steamship and railroad. He cited his reason for making the journey and facing the possibility of ultimate sacrifice as simply “to fight against fascism.”
Sarti joined the 1st Company of the Lincoln Battalion. He served at the front in Teruel and then in Seguro de los Baños, a small village to the north, from January 1st of 1938 (about two weeks after the battle began) until February 15th of the same year, when he was wounded in the leg while advancing on a fortified Nationalist position, becoming one of the 85,000 casualties at that brutal battle. After being injured, Sarti was flown to the Red Cross base in Catalonia for treatment. After surgery and recovery, he was declared no longer fit for active military service, and was reassigned as brigade guard. Throughout his time in Spain, Paolino Sarti received overwhelmingly positive reports from his commanders. He was called “of the best'', “disciplined, steady, brave”, and “a very good antifascist.”
In late October 1938, as the war neared its end and the inevitability of a Nationalist victory became clearer, Sarti began expressing a desire to be repatriated to the United States. Although the US government did not have knowledge of his membership to the Communist Party, he was concerned that he would be unable to return because of his having assumed an alias. It is unclear exactly how he got back to the United States, but upon arrival he returned to his apartment at 349 West 4th St and his job as a waiter. Two years later, on the 17th of October, 1940, he and Yolanda Moriconi were married.
Once all the information about the Americans who had illegally travelled to Spain came out, Sarti became acutely aware of the possibility of being deported. To ensure this didn’t happen, he enlisted in the Navy during World War II, serving on the USS Alaska, and receiving praise for his conduct once again. Sarti had a child, Bob, who was born while he was still serving in the war.
Despite his incredible accomplishments, service, activism, and strong convictions, Paolino Sarti did not speak of politics at home. In fact, he kept Spain a secret, including from his children. This was due to the widespread (but not misplaced) fear that characterized the McCarthy Era, and the very strong implications of Sarti’s time in Spain.
In his life after the Spanish Civil War, there were two things that were most important to Paolino Sarti: family and education. Despite the fact that he had not been formally educated past primary school, it was never even a question that his son would go to college (he did).
Paolino Sarti, who loved gardens, pinochle, Chesterfields, and anti-fascism, died on November 28th, 1956, and is buried in the Long Island National Cemetery.
Federal Archival Agency. “International Brigades of the Republican Army of Spain.” Soviet Era Documents, 2020, sovdoc.rusarchives.ru/sections/organizations//cards.
Digital Library Technology Services. NYU Libraries, wp.nyu.edu/library-dlts.