Jewish volunteers, the International Brigades and the Spanish Civil War

Jewish Volunteers, the International Brigades and the Spanish Civil War discusses the participation of volunteers of Jewish descent in the International Brigades during the Spanish Civil War. It focuses in particular on the establishment of the Naftali Botwin Company, a Jewish military unit that was created in the Polish Dombrowski Brigade. Its formation and short-lived history on the battlefield were closely connected to the activities and propaganda of Yiddish-speaking Jewish migrant communists in Paris who described Jewish volunteers as 'Chosen Fighters of the Jewish People' in their daily newspaper Naye Prese.  

Gerben Zaagsma analyses the symbolic meaning of the participation of Jewish volunteers and the Botwin Company both during and after the civil war. He puts this participation in the broader context of Jewish involvement in the left and Jewish/non-Jewish relations in the communist movement and beyond. To this end, the book examines representations of Jewish volunteers in the Parisian Yiddish press (both communist and non-communist). 

In addition, it analyses the various ways in which Jewish volunteers and the Botwin Company have been commemorated after WWII, tracing how discourses about Jewish volunteers became decisively shaped by post-Holocaust debates on Jewish responses to fascism and Nazism, and discusses claims that Jewish volunteers can be seen as 'the first Jews to resist Hitler with arms'.

Published:    06-04-2017
Format:    Hardback
Edition:    1st
Extent:    264
ISBN:    9781472505491
Imprint:    Bloomsbury Academic
Series:    War, Culture and Society
Illustrations:    10 bw illus
Dimensions:    234 x 156 mm

A Note on Translations

Introduction: From 'Chosen Fighters of the Jewish People' to Jewish Resistance Fighters

PART I - Jewish Volunteers in the International Brigades
1. Backgrounds and Contexts
2. The Naftali Botwin Company

PART II - Jewish Volunteers in the Parisian Yiddish Press
3. Analysing the Yiddish Press in Paris in the 1930s
4.'Chosen Fighters of the Jewish People': Jewish Volunteers in Naye Prese
5. Jewish Volunteers in Parizer Haynt and Undzer Shtime

PART III - Postwar: Becoming Jewish Volunteers
6. Jewish Volunteers and Jewish Resistance: Setting the Stage
7. Debating Jewish Volunteers: The Long 1970s
8. 50 years: Jewish Volunteers as Jewish Resistance


“Gerben Zaagsma's book will become the standard work on the participation of Jews in the International Brigades in the Spanish Civil War. Meticulously researched and broadly focused, the book makes important contributions to the history of the Jewish Left and the politics of commemoration in the twentieth century.” – Derek Penslar, Samuel Zacks Professor of Jewish History, University of Toronto, Canada

“Gerben Zaagsma has produced a superb study of a vital dimension of modern Jewish and European history - the engagement of a core group of Jewish volunteers in the Spanish Civil War. This fascinating book provides a penetrating analysis of Jews' politicized military activity in the context of the multi-layered, long and short-term symbolic significance of their efforts. It is Jewish and transnational history at its finest, focused on Yiddish-speaking Polish Jews from Paris, confronting fascism in order to support what they believed to be a universal, humanitarian cause.” – Michael Berkowitz, Professor of Modern Jewish History, University College London, UK

A 35% discount code for pre-orders through Bloomsbury Academic willl be available soon and will be posted here.​