Basch, Anamarija (b. 1893)

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Basch, Anamarija (b. 1893)

Yugoslav-Jewish activist in the Belgian resistance and nurse in the Spanish Civil War. Born in Felz Sentivan, Yugoslavia, in 1893; died after 1945; married Andreas Basch (an engineer); children: son, Jan (b. 1921).

Active in radical politics, fled Yugoslavia with husband after it became increasingly repressive (early 1930s); settled in Belgium, then went to Spain (1936) to lend support to the embattled Republican government; returned to Belgium after defeat of the Spanish Republic (1939); during World War II, active in the Belgian resistance movement; her husband captured by the Gestapo and killed; survived and moved with son to Hungary after World War II.

From her earliest years in Felz Sentivan, Yugoslavia, Anamarija Basch exhibited a strong commitment to social justice. She joined the Communist movement and was active in various organizations that rendered assistance to poor workers, including adult education courses and consumer cooperatives. Anamarija's political involvement deepened after marrying the engineer Andreas Basch (born in 1890 in Subotica), who was already a seasoned Marxist revolutionary. The birth of their son Jan in 1921 further motivated the couple to work for what they considered a more just world.

In 1929, Yugoslavia became a royal dictatorship and a policy of repression of radicals, already underway for some years, greatly intensified. Andreas was unable to find steady work because of his Communist activism, and in the early 1930s the family felt compelled to move to Belgium. Here, they both found work; Anamarija was a nurse in a large hospital. Alarmed by the proximity of Nazi Germany to Belgium, Andreas became an active member of the Belgian Communist Party. Though busy with her nursing work and young son, Anamarija nonetheless remained politically active. The relatively secure world of the Basch family was shattered in the summer of 1936 when the revolt of Francisco Franco and his Fascist forces in Spain acted as a warning signal for Marxists, democrats, and Jews.

Among the foreigners who came to Spain—not for fame or fortune but to halt Fascism in its tracks—were individuals like the Basch family who had already lost their homelands to dictatorship. Only the arrival of volunteers, men and women alike, to serve in the International Brigades saved the unstable Republic from collapsing. In October 1936, the Basches departed Belgium for a Spain embroiled in a bloody civil war. Andreas was chosen as commandant of the International Brigade barracks at Albacete, and, later in the war, he taught topography at the Pozorubio officers' school. Anamarija became a nurse at the International Brigade hospital in Valencia and later moved closer to the front at the field hospital of the 15th Army Corps. Still in his mid-teens, son Jan, who had recently begun working in Belgium as an electrician, volunteered to serve in the Eleventh Brigade of the Internationals, becoming one of the youngest (some believe the youngest) of the international volunteers; later, he served in an artillery unit named for the Rumanian revolutionary Ana Pauker . Jan Basch fought in many of the most savage battles of the war, including the struggle for Madrid's University City and the battles of Jarama, Guadalajara and Huesca.

Miraculously, the Basch family was still alive in October 1938, when the Spanish Republic decided to disband the International Brigades in a desperate measure to pressure the Franco rebels to cut their ties to Hitler and Mussolini, who had been sending vast amounts of men and materiél since the start of the conflict. This gamble of the dying Republic failed; by early 1939, the war was lost, and Franco's Fascist forces had won. The Basch family returned to Belgium, deeply disappointed but proud of their participation. As Communists, they believed they had been in the vanguard of the struggle against the greatest evil of their age, unaware that Stalin's Soviet Union, despite its considerable achievements, had by the late 1930s been transformed into a vast terror-based prison camp.

By the spring of 1940, memories of the Spanish conflict rapidly became ancient history, as Nazi Germany invaded Belgium and Jewish refugees like Anamarija Basch and her family became the objects of repression. By 1941, both Jews and Communists were being rounded up and thrown into concentration camps prior to their deaths. Andreas, now an active member of the Belgian resistance, was arrested by the Gestapo and shipped to a concentration camp where he was murdered. Anamarija and her son Jan were also active members of the resistance but were able to elude the Gestapo net. After the war, they left Belgium for Hungary rather than Yugoslavia. As pro-Soviet Communists, they disapproved of the anti-Stalinist regime of Marshal Tito, preferring to live in a nation that was uncritically loyal to the Soviet Union.


Lustiger, Arno. Schalom Libertad! Juden im spanischen Bürgerkrieg. Frankfurt am Main: Athenäum Verlag GmbH, 1989.

John Haag , Associate Professor, University of Georgia, Athens, Georgia