Rose Freed was born on June 10, 1911, to a Polish Jewish family living on the East Side of New York. Her parents, Abraham and Dora Freed, were among the 2.2 million Polish immigrants who came to the United States in the late 19th century after suffering from insurgencies and famine in Poland. Rose had two older brothers, one older sister, and one younger sister. As an 18-year-old, Rose worked as a bookkeeper. However, she would soon realize her passion for helping others through medicine.
Rose completed her nursing training at Greenpoint Hospital in her twenties while taking classes at Columbia night school. She was a Brooklynite, living at 307 Berriman Street, Brooklyn, New York, located in the East New York neighborhood. After receiving her medical degree, Rose worked as a laboratory technician and microbiologist at Greenpoint Hospital. While she served the North Brooklyn community, Rose learned about the Spanish Civil War. Rose’s affiliation with the Communist Party and her strong sympathy for the Republic compelled her to be a part of the good fight.
Rose received her passport on January 12, 1937. A few days later, on January 16, 1937, Rose boarded the Paris, joining the first American hospital unit headed out to Spain.
Rose arrived in Spain on January 28, 1937. In a letter addressed to her friend Lou, Rose details her first moments upon arrival: “[We] left Paris with John Langdon Davies, who recently wrote the book “Spain Behind the Barricades,” who saw us off to Cerbere. We traveled all afternoon and night. With the Pyrenees on one side and the blue Mediterranean on the other, it was really like entering Paradise. There is no country in the world more beautiful than Spain. It is hard to imagine a heinous war in this idyllic country. We stayed at Cerbere until late afternoon, at which time Spanish soldiers came up to escort us into Spain. We entered a large bus and started up the Pyrenees! The roads were perfect. For two hours we traveled up the mountain, and then to Port Bou. Radios installed in the trees shouted greetings to us. With our armed escorts and our uniforms the people were thrilled and cheered us wildly as the word got around as to who we were.”
After spending two days in Port Bou, Rose and her peers left for Barcelona. She described to Lou her encounters with the Spanish people writing how it is “impossible to tell you how the Spanish people have catered to us. There is nothing we wish that is not granted to us. They look upon us almost as saviors. I feel embarrassed when I remember that ours is a common cause. What suffering these people must have endured to display such gratefulness towards our puny aid!” While in Barcelona, the Medical Bureau to Aid Spanish Democracy was invited as guests to the palace of Louis Company, President of Catalonia. Rose tells Lou later that night how she felt entranced by the palaces’ chandeliers, and how “bitter the thought that Franco and his fascist horde is burning, plundering, destroying, yes, raping glorious Spain.”
Though Rose’s first few weeks in Spain may have felt like paradise, the reality of the war quickly set in. On March 20, 1937, Rose informed Lou that “When I did not work 40 hours at one stretch I was a night charge nurse. In fact, that’s what I’m doing just now. It is 5:30 am, and I’ve just finished making the rounds of our three hospitals—giving medications and hypos and dressing wounds and circulation in the operation room.”
Unfortunately, working as a nurse did not protect Rose from falling victim to war casualties. During the Spanish Civil War, civilian bombing was a popular tactic used by Spanish nationalists and their allies. Many hospitals were impacted. While Rose was working in Taracon, one bomb fell about 5 yards from Hospital No. 3, crashing all windows and breaking the water main. Just the roar of planes could send a hospital room silent. To Lou, Rose explained that “The crash—you cannot—never can anyone realize the horror of what seems like the earth opening beneath you—the light of the magnesium flare bomb to see if they struck right—and then eight more crashes—then silence, too long, and shrapnel flying in all directions.”
As casualties from the war increased, the Medical Bureau suffered from shortages of beds, sheets, and pillowcases for wounded soldiers. Rose’s letters to Lou were published to raise funds for supplies, via a pamphlet titled From a Hospital in Spain, Nurses Write. These letters presented an intimate picture of how nurses lived and worked in Spain.
Despite these struggles, the spirit of the soldiers uplifted Rose. One soldier in particular, Morris Dashevsky, had an extraordinary impact on Rose. After being hit in the thigh by a sniper while carrying a wounded volunteer to safety, Morris was hospitalized at Plaza de Altazana in Albacete. Morris most likely met and fell in love with Rose here.
Not long after meeting each other, Rose and Morris got married in Spain. On August 37, 1938 aboard the President Harding, Rose and Morris returned to America after discovering that Rose was pregnant. Together, they returned to Morris’ father’s house in Massachusetts. By 1940, accompanied by Morris and their child, Rose returned to Brooklyn and lived in East Flatbush at 856 East 49 Street. Not much is known about Rose’s life after returning from the war. Rose died in August 1968 in Brooklyn, New York.
Cory. “Greenpoint Hospital.” Brooklyn Relics, January 12, 2014. https://brooklynrelics.blogspot.com/2014/01/greenpoint-hospital.html#:~:text=Built%20in%201914%2C%20Greenpoint%20Hospital,and%20Neo%2DClassical%20architectural%20styles. //
“Dashevsky, Morris.” The Abraham Lincoln Brigade Archives, July 13, 2022. https://alba-valb.org/volunteers/morris-dashevsky/. //
“Freed, Rose.” The Abraham Lincoln Brigade Archives, July 29, 2022. https://alba-valb.org/volunteers/rose-freed/. //
“From a Hospital in Spain : American Nurses Write.” Internet Archive, January 1, 1970. https://archive.org/details/FromAHospitalInSpainAmericanNursesWrite/page/n4/mode/1up. //
Fyrth, Jim, Sally Alexander, Jim Fyrth, and Sally Alexander. Women's Voices from the Spanish Civil War. London: Lawrence & Wishart, 2008. muse.jhu.edu/book/34789. //
Hashempour, Parisa. “‘I Can Fight as Well as Any Man’: Problematic Feminism in the Spanish Civil War.” Epoch Magazine, December 2, 2020. https://www.epoch-magazine.com/post/i-can-fight-as-well-as-any-man-problematic-feminism-in-the-spanish-civil-war. //
“Spanish Civil War Pamphlets Accessible Online.” The Volunteer, September 28, 2012. https://albavolunteer.org/2012/09/spanish-civil-war-pamphlets-accessible-online/. //