A marble plaque just inside the entrance of the cemetery of la Puebla de Hijar in Aragon informs visitors that Francisco Zapater y Gómez, a grandnephew of one of Francisco Goya’s closest friends and the artist’s first biographer, is buried there. A stone just a few feet farther along marks the grave of six local residents who were assassinated by a roving band of anarchists during the early days of the Spanish Civil War. No monument would be placed here to commemorate the men and women who had lost their lives in this place for defending the Second Spanish Republic until almost forty years later, when the town council voted to place a marker to acknowledge them in 1981. La Puebla de Hijar was one of the first towns in Spain to make this gesture of recognition and reconciliation. The simple, elegant monument placed in the town cemetery bears no individual names, only the inscription “In memory of all those who fell for the Republic.” Nor does it mark the precise site of the graves of those died in the prolonged and ultimately unsuccessful struggle to put down a military rebellion against a democratically elected government. Due to the intense fighting along the Ebro Valley, many soldiers and civilian victims were buried in hastily dug common graves, and in the aftermath of the conflict, local political and religious authorities often barred Republican families from burying their dead in municipal graveyards.
During the war, the International Brigades fighting on the Ebro Front set up a field hospital in the town. It was there that a young American volunteer named Sam Levinger died from wounds suffered during a siege on a nearby town called Belchite. Sam’s story, his commitment to democracy, and the presence of his remains in the municipal cemetery of la Puebla de Hijar would have been forgotten forever were it not for the efforts of his niece Laurie Levinger, who has written a marvelous book about him titled Love and Revolutionary Greetings: An Ohio Boy in the Spanish Civil War. I first learned about the book from the author, who contacted me after reading a post I had written about the battle of Belchite. This year, the Associación de Amigos de las Brigadas Internacionales has published Augustín Lozano de la Cruz‘s able translation of the book under the title Amor y saludos revolucionarios: Un chico de Ohio en la guerra civil española. The Spanish edition has been very warmly received. On September 29, a few days after the seventy-fifth anniversary of Sam’s death, a group of Spaniards moved by his sacrifice gathered in the municipal cemetery of la Puebla de Hijar to pay their belated respects. The president of the Associación de Amigos de las Brigadas Internacionales and the mayor of la Puebla were both on hand and a number of local cultural figures read excerpts of Sam’s poems and letters home. It was a moving experience.
Love and Revolutionary Greetings falls into the category of social history, a subgenre that focuses on the experiences of ordinary people. Like David Kertzer’s Amalia’s Tale and The Kidnapping of Edgardo Mortara, Love and Revolutionary Greetings is a painstaking reconstruction of events on the basis of existing documents. However, unlike Kertzer, Levinger has sought to tell the tale of someone very close to home: an idealistic uncle who went off to war before she was born and never came back. Sam Levinger’s mother had forged a career as a writer, and her son had plans to follow in her footsteps once the war was over. Laurie Levinger’s book draws upon the manuscripts and correspondence of both, a treasure trove of material that includes articles, letters, and poems written by her uncle in Spain as well as the unfinished manuscript of a biographical novel about him penned by his bereaved mother.
Love and Revolutionary Greetings is a must-read for anyone interested in the history of the International Brigades, but it also provides a fascinating glimpse into socialist activism in the United States during the same time period. Laurie Levinger is author of two other books: What War? Testimonies of Maya Survivors and Just a Dropped Stitch.