Sana Rose Goldblatt was a Jewish-American born on the Lower East Side of Manhattan, New York on January 8, 1915. Goldblatt grew up on Delancey Street and later moved to Brooklyn with her family. When she was 14 years old, Goldblatt attended rallies at Union Square. Youth, including high school students and young workers, participated in rallies that played an active role in reaching to the general public about the struggles of the American-working class and socialism. When Goldblatt graduated high school in 1931, she found work in the needle trade. Until 1933, Goldblatt worked through the Depression, earning five or six dollars a week to support her family. After saving enough, she began training as a nurse at the Phillip Beth Israel School of Nursing in East Harlem, Manhattan.
During her time at Beth Israel, Goldblatt remained vocal and met with nursing students to organize a union. This prevented her from pursuing her dream of studying psychiatric nursing at the renowned Menninger Clinic in Topeka, Kansas. In 1933, the Director of Nursing at Beth Israel refused to recommend Goldblatt for further training due to her political action. Instead, she graduated from Beth Israel and went to train at New York University’s Bellevue Hospital in Kips Bay, Manhattan which she also graduated from.
In 1934, Goldblatt officially joined the Communist Party. In Spring of 1937, at the age of 22, Goldblatt joined the American Medical Bureau (AMB) after viewing an ad in the Daily Worker. The newspapers circulating at the time showed the troubling conditions of civilians and fighters in the Spanish civil war. Furthermore, the ad had an address where volunteers like Goldblatt could go to sign up to participate. The AMB, also known as the American Medical Bureau to Save Spanish Democracy, was a humanitarian aid institution that was operating in Spain as a non-governmental, non-profit organization but was later incorporated into the Abraham Lincoln Brigade. Those who applied to work with the AMB received passports, making them legitimate volunteers. Goldblatt’s group was the second of the AMB to dispatch. The journey, consisting of Goldblatt and 14 other volunteers, involved taking a boat from New York to France. One train took the group to the border of France and another took them to Spain where they met with Dr. Edward Barsky, coordinator of the first AMB in Spain, at Villa Paz. From there, Goldblatt and the volunteers were sent to wherever help was needed.
When she was asked why she joined the war, Goldblatt responded “I’d seen life by then, I’d seen death. They needed medical staff [...] I had a skill that I could contribute to a cause that I believed in. What else can I say?” In her 14 months in Spain, Goldblatt served as an operating room nurse in Villa Paz, Alcorisa, and Cordoba. Goldblatt was mostly in Villa Paz, but she was also sent to the battle fronts three or four times. From January to February of 1938, Goldblatt served in Teruel. She became fascinated by French surgical innovations, specifically the autochir (ambulances chirurgicales automobiles). She marveled at the truck for the “big operating room table… for hemostats, for sutures, for bandages, for instruments…” When Goldblatt and her team were in a city close enough to the frontline, they turned a stable into an operating room. Beds and mattresses, IVs, and everything the medical team needed were placed in proximity to wherever the team operated.
Goldblatt treated Americans and members of the International Brigades. Serving on the frontlines, rushing from point to point, patient to patient and case to case, she eventually experienced burnout from being around sick patients all the time. She asked Director Barsky to switch her to a different position like laundry, saying that “...after a while you feel the whole world is sick. There isn’t a human being alive that is well.”
When Goldblatt was accompanying a pregnant British nurse leaving Spain, they were stopped by Republican guards at Barcelona. Goldblatt carried sheets of German propaganda for the Daily Worker to use as substance on the ties between Nazi Germany and Franco. In addition they carried a book on the International Brigades, which contained a chapter titled “Franco Belge.” The women were arrested by the guards for being suspicious and would have been tried and shot if not for the intervention of their male partners. Ernest Hemingway advocated for Goldblatt and the nurse’s liberation. Despite tending to the wounded soldiers fighting for the Republic, the nurses would have been tied to the nationalists due to the items they carried and the fact that the guards were barely literate and took Goldblatt’s name to be German.
On May 2, 1938, Goldblatt returned to the US aboard the Normandie. Her compassionate nature did not stop after leaving Spain. Her devotion to the cause continued in her participation in The Veterans of the Abraham Lincoln Brigade by founding the Bay Area Chapter. Later in WWII, Goldblatt served in a civilian nurse in a US Army hospital.
“I did what I could to create a more equal world.” - Sana Rose Goldblatt
On February 25, 2003 Goldblatt passed away peacefully in her home in San Francisco at the age of 88.
“Finding Aid to the Veterans of the Abraham Lincoln Brigade, Bay Area Post Records, 1928-1995 (Bulk 1937-1988).” n.d. Oac.cdlib.org. Accessed May 1, 2023. https://oac.cdlib.org/findaid/ark:/13030/k6np22cq/.
“Goldblatt, Sana.” GOLDBLATT, Sana, January 19, 2012. https://www.sfgate.com/news/article/GOLDBLATT-Sana-2626960.php
Studies, Stroum Center for Jewish. n.d. “American Jews in the Spanish Civil War: Sana Goldblatt.” UW Stroum Center for Jewish Studies. Accessed May 1, 2023. https://jewishstudies.washington.edu/american-jews-spanish-civil-war/sana-goldblatt/#whatwasit.
The Abraham Lincoln Brigade Archives. Goldblatt, Sana Rose, 17 Aug. 2022, https://alba-valb.org/volunteers/sana-rose-goldblatt/
Young Communist League/Young Workers League (1921-1946) Organizational History. Accessed 2 May 2023.http://www.marxisthistory.org/subject/usa/eam/ycleague.html