Wolff, Milton 1915-2008

views updated

Wolff, Milton 1915-2008


See index for CA sketch: Born October 8, 1915, in Brooklyn, NY; died of congestive heart failure, January 14, 2008, in Berkeley, CA. Soldier, activist, and author. Wolff was the last (and in 2007 the last surviving) commander of the American volunteers known as the Abraham Lincoln Brigade who fought in the Spanish Civil War against the insurgents led by Francisco Franco. Specifically he was a member of the Washington Battalion (and later the Lincoln Battalion) of the 15th International Brigade. None of these groups were affiliated with the U.S. Armed Forces, because the United States was officially neutral in the conflict and unofficially sympathetic to Franco. Wolff was recruited through his connections with the Young Communist League in New York City, where he had been working in a millinery factory. He volunteered as a pacifist noncombatant in 1937. It turned out that he was a natural leader and a fierce fighter—so much so that he was mentioned with favor in an essay that author Ernest Hemingway contributed to an exhibition catalog titled "Jo Davidson: Spanish Portraits" shortly after the end of the war. The war ended for the American volunteers when they were expelled from Spain in 1938, and Wolff returned to New York. He reportedly recruited fellow veterans for the Office of Strategic Services and its British equivalent, then enlisted in the U.S. Army in 1942 after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor propelled the United States into World War II. Wolff served in Burma but was denied combat status, despite his distinguished military accomplishments in Spain, reportedly because he had fought on the wrong side. After the war Wolff pursued his ongoing commitment to civil and human rights by campaigning in the American South. Later, he once told CA, he was summoned to appear "before the Subversive Activities Control Board and the House Un-American Activities Committee as a hostile witness." Wolff confronted authority for the rest of his life, opposing American involvement in Vietnam in the 1960s and sending medical and humanitarian aid to El Salvador, Nicaragua, and Cuba in the 1980s in defiance of U.S. policy. In retirement Wolff decided to write about his military experiences in Spain in the form of an autobiographical novel. He was convinced, he told CA, that fiction might offer a truer picture than a strictly historical account. Another Hill was published in 1994. A later work, Member of the Working Class (2005), recounted events from his childhood.



Carroll, Peter N., Odyssey of the Abraham Lincoln Brigade: Americans in the Spanish Civil War, Stanford University Press (Stanford, CA), 1994.

Wolff, Milton, Another Hill, University of Illinois Press (Champaign, IL), 1994.

Wolff, Milton, Member of the Working Class, iUniverse (Lincoln, NE), 2005.


Los Angeles Times, January 23, 2008, p. B8.

New York Times, January 17, 2008, p. A25.

Times (London, England), January 25, 2008, p. 73.