Biographies/Paul White

Tags: Seaman's Union Member Of Communist Party Aragon Front Executed

Researcher: Chengtao Zhang, Stuyvesant '20

Paul White was born in 1909 in New York City. He spent one year in a New York City high school and two years in the U.S. Army. He then worked on the East Coast waterfront with his friend Joe Bianca and became an official in the Seaman's Union. He was also a member of the American Communist Party. Upon the outbreak of the coup d'état against the Republic and the Popular Front in 1936, White and his friend Bianca joined the Abraham Lincoln Brigade to fight for the Communist Party and against fascism during the Spanish Civil War.
White arrived in Spain in May of 1937. He worked under Robert Merrian to organize transporting the Battalion to the Aragon battlefront. In August of 1937, White was sent on a mission to collect the leftover American soldiers in Madrid and bring them to the frontline. White and his partner Edwin Rolfe achieved the near-impossible task and managed to collect full rations and most of the soldiers all within six hour.
After the Republic's defeats in the Argon front, White along with other members of the Brigade left without permission because they claimed that their contracts had expired and they should be allowed to return home. They were arrested and sent back to the frontline, but White stole an automobile to escape towards the French border. White was arrested in Catalonia and David Doran, the brigade commissar at the time, believed White should be executed for desertion. However, Doran was overruled and White was sent back to the frontline.
After that incident, White was afraid of fighting in battles again because he felt the Republic was doomed and all the fighting would be futile. In March 1938, White was sent to get supplies and ammunition, but he tried to escape again towards the French border. As White approached the border and saw deserters and troops, his fear grew as he realized that even if he did escape, he would still have to face everyone back home and live under the name of a deserter. At the same time, he heard that his wife had given birth to his son and began to regret what he had done, because he wanted to set a great example for his son and wanted his son to be proud of him. White was arrested soon after in a town near the border, but he viewed it as a way to save him from completely wrecking his life. He then returned to the frontline and confessed his actions. White admitted that his escape to safety would not have protected him from the loss of everything and everyone he loves, and he asks for another chance to serve in his ranks in order to redeem himself and erase this stain on his military record.
In April, 1938, White was charged with desertion, and his battalion officer John Gates, who was known to be a strict disciplinarian, ordered him to be executed. White’s execution was done secretly at night without anyone in the Battalion knowing the detail and reason of it. The next day it was announced that White had been executed as a deserter by the unanimous decision of the battalion, but it was not the case since most of the battalion did know about the execution. This caused huge controversies within the battalion, including White’s friend Joe Bianca shouting “those sons of bitches!” at the commanders. Because of these dissents, it was quickly announced that no further execution would take place within the Abraham Lincoln Battalion. According to John Gates, the day after White’s execution, an order came down from the Division to countermand the execution.


Simkin, John. Spartacus Educational, Spartacus Educational, 28 Apr.2020,


Ink, Social. “White, Paul.” The Abraham Lincoln Brigade Archives, 28 Apr. 2020,