Biographies/Wilfred Mendelson

Tags: Jewish Member Of Communist Party Union Organizer Young Communist League Communist National Student League City College of New York

Researcher: Andrew Lys, Stuyvesant '21

Wilfred “Mendy” Mendelson was born on August 17th, 1915 in Brooklyn, New York. He was born to two lifelong socialists. His father was a member of the Polish Jewish Workers Socialist Bund and his mother was a member of the International Ladies Garment Workers Union.  As a young child, he was taught about socialism, even proclaiming a hunger strike for the Irish socialist Terence MacSwiney at the age of five. Mendelson lived near Bronx Park, until his parents participated in a strike against the landlords and moved into the Amalgamated Cooperative Houses. There, Wilfred attended DeWitt Clinton and graduated in June 1931. He entered the City College of New York in the fall of 1931. Mendelson was heavily involved in political activism. He was a member of the Young Communist League, the independent Student newspaper, and the National Student League. When the principal of CCNY, Freddie Robinson, invited Italian fascists, Mendelson helped organized anti-fascist protests and was met with disciplinary action from the school. Mendelson was arrested many times at strikes and protests. Mendelson organized countless strikes and helped win union working conditions for the workers of cafeterias, Nathan’s restaurants, and farmers. Unfortunately, Mendelson was expelled from college, and he never finished. After college, he became more heavily involved with the Communist Party, becoming the Acting-Organizational Secretary for the Communist Party of the 2nd Assembly District—his home neighborhood. After college, Mendelson was heavily invested in educating himself about communism, and when Franco’s generals attacked Spain, it was Mendelson’s natural cause to join the fight for the Republic. Mendelson had been deliberating on joining the war for a long time, but he was finally pushed to join the war effort after hearing Spanish veterans speak at the New York Hippodrome. He made the final decision on December 9th, 1937. After heavily studying the situation in Spain and dealing with passport and recruitment issues, Wilfred “Mendy” Mendelson left for Spain on the United States Liner S.S. Manhattan on May 18th, 1938. He arrived in Spain on May 29th, 1938. Mendelson came with about five other American volunteers to the Republican camp at Marsa. When he arrived, he was put into a training program. Mendelson had a tenuous grasp on Spanish, but nonetheless he helped teach the other volunteers. He also had an opportunity to stay in the rear, but he chose to fight on the front. After completing his basic training, Mendelson joined the Lincoln-Washington Battalion of the Abraham Lincoln Brigade on June 30th, 1938. The Brigade’s objective at this point of the war was to redirect Franco’s forces away from Valencia. On July 25, 1938, the Army of the Ebro crossed the River, and the Abraham Lincoln Brigade went with the second wave of Republican troops. The Army of the Ebro managed to capture 500 square miles of land and successfully locked down Francoist troops for four months. As the Brigade landed on the shore of Asco, Mendelson was outside the small town of Villalba de los Arcos, and this is where Wilfred suffered a fatal injury. Mendelson was sent back across the Ebro on a stretcher to the base hospital, but he died before cross the river back. He was buried in Asco, on the side of a railroad bridge next to the river. He died on July 29th, 1938, exactly two months after arriving in Spain.


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