Fisher, Harry 1911-2003
Fisher, Harry 1911-2003
CAREER: Henry Rose Stores (division of Sears Roebuck), clerk, 1920s-1930s; worked for Soviet TASS news agency, New York, NY, for fifty years, beginning in the 1940s. Military service: Member of Abraham Lincoln Brigade, 1937-38; U.S. Air Force, gunner during World War II.
Comrades: Tales of a Brigadista in the Spanish Civil War (memoir), University of Nebraska Press (Lincoln, NE), 1998.
Also author of unfinished book, Legacy.
Fisher's papers are held at the Tamiment Library/Robert F. Wagner Labor Archives, Elmer Holmes Bobst Library, New York University.
SIDELIGHTS: Harry Fisher died as he lived, fighting for his beliefs. On March 22, 2003, at the age of ninety-two, he succumbed to a heart attack in New York City during a protest of the Iraq War. Born in New York, Fisher was placed in the Hebrew National Orphan Home so that his mother could work in the garment industry to support her two younger children. As a young man, he worked for a division of Sears, Roebuck, and joined the Young Communist League and the Department Store Employees Union, Local 1250. Like many like-minded idealists, he took part in strikes and political rallies during the Depression years.
Fisher traveled to Spain in 1937 to join the International Brigades. He served in the Lincoln Battalion (later named the Abraham Lincoln Brigade), which was comprised of approximately 3,000 American volunteers who had enlisted to preserve Spain's left-wing loyalist monarchy although the government was eventually toppled by fascist revolutionaries led by Franco. Fisher fought in most of the major campaigns and served as a runner for Commander Oliver Law, the first black to command an integrated military unit. When he returned to the United States, he married union organizer and business manager for Local 1250 Ruth Goldstein, and the couple had two children. During World War II, Fisher was a B-26 turret gunner, and following the war, he spent five decades working for the TASS news agency, the official news agency of the Soviet Union.
Fisher published his memoir, Comrades: Tales of a Brigadista in the Spanish Civil War, toward the end of his life, drawing on many of the letters he had written during that period. The book was subsequently published in German and in Spanish, leading to speaking tours around the world. Rather than being forgotten, Fisher enlarged his circle of friends and admirers as a result of these activities.
Like the Vietnam war, the Spanish Civil War remains controversial. The Loyalist volunteers, while united by their hatred of fascism, were led by communists and despite the good intentions of the volunteer soldiers, their participation has been criticized as an example of political naivité. Fisher describes the hardships faced by the men, including dysentery and lice. Although their training was inadequate and they found themselves up against superior forces, Fischer characterizes his fellow soldiers as fierce fighters always willing to engage the enemy in combat; most were killed while helping the loyalists.
Despite his hatred for the fascist cause, Fisher displays empathy for many of his foes, who he believes "were just kids who happened to live in territory controlled by the fascists, kids who would surely have preferred soccer games."
The last chapter of Comrades is devoted to a trip the surviving seventy-three volunteers of the Lincoln Battalion took to Spain in 1996 for the sixtieth anniversary of the founding of the International Brigades. Fisher describes how the Spanish government officially invited and received them, held rallies, hosted several discussions, and constructed exhibitions to commemorate the group's contributions. Frances Lannon wrote in the Times Literary Supplement that Fisher's memoir "tells us a little more about those who risked their lives in Spain," while Nation contributor John L. Hess called it "a powerful account of the war."
BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:
Fisher, Harry, Comrades: Tales of a Brigadista in the Spanish Civil War, University of Nebraska Press (Lincoln, NE), 1998.
Nation, November 2, 1998, John L. Hess, review of Comrades, p. 27.
Times Literary Supplement, December 25, 1998, Frances Lannon, review of Comrades, p. 28.
Harry Fisher Home Page, http://www.harryfisher.net (March 15, 2005).
New York Times, March 30, 2003.