Biographies/Rubin "Ruby" Kaufman

Tags: Member Of Communist Party Veterans of the Abraham Lincoln Brigade Brunete Offensive Jewish Ebro Offensive Jarama Young Communist League Murcia Hospital Villanueva de la Jara Albacete WWII Veteran Union Organizer 15th Brigade Mackenzie-Papineau Battalion Quinto SS Normandie

Researcher: Samuel Lubelsky, Stuyvesant '23

Rubin (“Ruby”) Kaufman was born on February 15, 1917. He lived at 318 Kesciosko Street, Brooklyn, New York in his youth and was a furrier by trade. Kaufman was registered for both the Communist Party and the Young Communist League, the Communist Party’s officially recognized youth wing. The YCL was particularly prominent in the borough Kaufman lived in, Brooklyn, which was its founding location. Kaufman was a trade unionist, partaking in many “pretty tough” workers’ strikes, and was also Jewish. The intersectionality of the Jewish goal to weaken fascism and the ideological goal to protect fellow communists and other radicals likely made the choice to come to Spain somewhat easier for the nineteen-year-old.

Kaufman sailed aboard the Normandie on December 26, 1936, to Le Havre, France, in the first group of American volunteers. The volunteers on this initial trip, hailing from locations all across the United States, went to Spain to fight in the Spanish foreign legion. As one of the 80 confirmed volunteers on board the Normandie, Kaufman met relative friendliness from most he came across on the journey. Upon arrival in France he was greeted by custom inspectors with cheers of “Vive l’Espagna!”(Long live Spain). After various detours and connections, Kaufman’s battalion eventually reached Albacete. In Albacete, Kaufman and the other men received their guns. There were not many guns and the guns that were there were almost all faulty in some major way; Kaufman’s gun was especially bad, oftentimes being unable to fire.

Following their initial reception, he and the brigade trained in a nearby training base in the small and traditional town of Villanueva de la Jara. The battalion he trained under was formally known as the 15th international brigade but quickly adopted the informal title of the Abraham Lincoln Brigade. It was here in training that their lack of weaponry became apparent - only about 1 in 8 men had a gun and the other equipment they received(belts, etc.) was also mostly in a bad state. In spite of these challenges, Kaufman would soon enter the battle of Jarama with the rest of the brigade. He, some French soldiers, and another soldier from the Brigade who would become a friend, Joseph(Joe) Dallet, were eventually separated from the brigade to defend a position. Unlike most of Kaufman’s battles, the men were not in trenches and had only stone parapets surrounding them and two machine guns as their weaponry. On the 23rd of February, Kaufman was hit by a grenade and shot through the leg almost simultaneously by advancing Nationalist soldiers. During the night, Dallet carried Kaufman on his back to a hospital in Murcia.

Kaufman would stay at the hospital for about two months, getting released in late march or early april. Here he met a prominent figure that he would continue to know throughout the war, Robert Hale Merriman, who was also at the hospital. After leaving the hospital, Kaufman would go on to remark about his experience at Jarama as being the price he had to pay to learn how to fight.

Around this time, he met William Herrick and they became acquaintances. Herrick would later write that Kaufman informed on him to the communist party because Kaufman found out Herrick received letters from a lovestonite friend. Herrick was very annoyed and wrote that he told Kaufman directly he was a “prick”.

Following his recovery, Kaufman went to Tarazona where he trained the seaman section(the machine gun company) of the Mackenzie-Papineau Battalion. Here, Kaufman would once again meet Merriman - Kaufman would later remark that he and Merriman were the only vets in the Mac-Paps. In his diary, Merriman recognized Kaufman as a problem because of his tendency to dominate exercises. Dallet would also arrive in the training camp, though he departed back to the Lincolns at once, deciding he didn’t need any training. Soon later, Kaufman went with Merriman to the site of the battle of Brunete to observe. They were almost killed by the bombings and the great fires that pervaded the warzone.

Kaufman re-entered the front lines in the Mackenzie-Papineau Battalion. Kaufman was one of the few people with battle experience in the battalion, resulting in him gaining the adjutant commander position. On July 16, Kaufman shot himself in the foot while cleaning his gun. He was sent to the Socorro Rojo Internacional Number 1 hospital and was able to make a very quick recovery and return to the battalion for their battle at Fuentes de Ebro(The Zaragoza Offensive). While he stayed at the hospital, Merriman came over to see how he was faring.

In the Zaragoza offensive, the battalion attempted to retake many nationalist-held towns including Fuentes de Ebro, but the inexperience of the Mac-Paps proved disastrous. Kaufman described many of the recruits as very good and very brave men who truly believed in the cause but had no battle experience. By the end, Kaufman was wounded and Joe Dallet was killed. Propaganda spread that the battle was lost due to a traitorous tank commander that was supposedly the brother-in-law of Tukhachevsky(a Soviet General killed by Stalin in a show trial), but Kaufman did not buy into this. Merriman would also point out around this time Kaufman’s mistake of leaving a flank open while retreating, leaving other groups in a bad position. Despite all that went wrong in the battle, Kaufman remarked that the Mackenzie-Papineau battalion did pretty well for a battalion of recruits(a statement which Merriman later affirmed).

On October 27th, Kaufman and the Mac-Paps were withdrawn from the front lines to Quinto. Here, Kaufman participated in some political meetings though he did it grudgingly and was never very interested in them.

Summing up his experience in Spain, Kaufman was somewhat disappointed that his two main battles (Ebro and Jarama) were “fouled up”. Kaufman returned to the US on February 16, 1938, aboard the Lafayette. Returning to NYC, he married his wife, Lottie T. Evendorf(born 1915) on September 23, 1938. Around this time, Kaufman joined the VALB (Veterans of the Abraham Lincoln Brigade). The VALB mainly held fundraisers to support veterans of the Spanish Civil War, Spain, and other causes they considered worthy. His participation in the VALB would put him on the radar of various government agencies.

Kaufman later enlisted in the US army during WWII on March 30, 1943, but was medically discharged on February 16, 1944, due to Bronchial Asthma. While it’s unclear if Kaufman actually had Bronchial Asthma, it was very common for Spanish Civil War veterans to be sidelined in WWII. Since it is fairly certain that the US government knew of Kaufman’s participation in the Spanish Civil War, it's very possible that their reason for dismissing Kaufman was not legitimate.

Kaufman died in a car accident on February 4, 1972, in Sheboygan, Wisconsin.


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