Biographies/Samuel Kirchenbaum

Tags: FTP-MOI Ebro Offensive Jewish Russian Extramadura Queen Mary Botwin Company WWII

Researcher: Mark Kirman, Stuyvesant '23

Samuel Kirchenbaum was born on November 16, 1906 in New York City. His parents, Max and Yetta Kirchenbaum, were Russian immigrants who arrived in the United States in search of a brighter future at the turn of the 20th century, escaping the widespread poverty and starvation that existed in Russia during the late 1800s. Growing up with two brothers and two sisters and witnessing his parents strive for freedom and liberty, these values were imprinted on Samuel. There is no information about what school Samuel went to, or what job he had, but it can be inferred that after experiencing the Great Depression in the early 1930s, Samuel felt disillusioned with the United States and capitalism, seeing the poverty and starvation that his parents had tried to escape, all over again in the United States. This likely pushed Samuel towards communism, and when he learned of the conflict taking place in Spain, Kirchenbaum felt strongly about fighting against fascism in Spain. Kirchenbaum received his passport, with the number 375018, on March 15, 1937, and it listed his address as 1507 Kings Highway, Brooklyn, New York.

Kirchenbaum sailed for Spain on April 21, 1937 aboard the Queen Mary, and arrived in Spain on May 5, 1937. He was part of the Botwin Company, a subunit of the Palafox Battalion of the International Brigades and of Jews who had completed the short training course but had not yet been placed in a combat force. The Company’s flag bore the words “For your freedom and ours,” showing how the main motivation for Kirchenbaum and the other Jewish volunteers he was with was to fight for freedom and to eliminate injustice. As a member of the Botwin Company, Kirchenbaum participated in battle on the Extremadura Front in February 1938, being one of the 20 only remaining survivors out of the original 120, and he participated in the Ebro offensive in July 1938.

In October 1938, the Spanish government ordered the withdrawal of the International Brigades, so surviving volunteers crossed the border into France, typically becoming unwanted guests of the French government, and most were interned in detention camps in southwest France set up by French authorities. Kirchenbaum eluded capture and imprisonment after the fall of France to Nazi Germany in the summer of 1940 during World War II, and he was joined by other former Botwin Company fighters Abraham Lissner and Leon Pakin to form the Jewish “Second Unit” which achieved considerable fame for its bold actions against Nazi occupiers. Kirchenbaum played an important role in the Jewish second detachment of the FTP-MOI, the migrant division of the Francs-tireurs et partisans resistance organization. He was the leader of the Jewish detachment of the FTP-MOI, which consisted mainly of Polish Jews. Kirchenbaum and the Jewish detachment targeted Jewish workshops working for Germans on May 31 and June 29, 1942. There is information that Kirchenbaum returned to the United States on July 2, 1938 aboard the President Harding, and Samuel is listed as Sevek Kirchenbaum, so he may have changed his name to conceal his identity, since Samuel is a name of Hebrew origin.

After returning to the United States, Kirchenbaum married Ruth Kirchenbaum and had a daughter named Renee Kirchenbaum. He later married Judith Kirchenbaum, whom he stayed with until his death on November 21, 1993 in Miami, Florida. Kirchenbaum was buried in the Beth David Cemetery.


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