Mosess “Moe” Fishman (1915-2007)
The seemingly indestructible Moe Fishman, the public face of the Veterans of the Abraham Lincoln Brigade (VALB)
for more than half a century, died of pancreatic cancer on August 6, 2007 in New York. He was 92.
Born in New York on September 28, 1915, Fishman left school during the Depression and became a laundry worker
and truck driver. He participated in unionizing his fellow workers and found a commitment to social justice issues as a member
of the Young Communist League. When war broke out in Spain, Fishman volunteered to fight, but was rejected for lack of military
experience. However, his skill as a truck driver was needed and a second application for service was accepted—with the
proviso that he recruit ten other volunteers. Fishman quickly found the men, though none actually showed up. The recruiters
took him anyway. He arrived in Spain in April 1937 and trained as a foot soldier in the George Washington battalion. He was
wounded during the battle of Brunete, his first action. He spent a year in convalescence in Spain; the injury left him with
a lifelong limp.
Back home in New York, Fishman stayed in touch with humanitarian aid organizations providing assistance for the
civilian refugees of the Spanish Civil War. While working in the warehouse of the Joint Anti-Fascist Refugee Committee, he
studied to become a licensed radio operator. After serving in the Merchant Marines during World War II, Fishman resumed his
work for the Committee. In 1946 the JAFRC was targeted by the House Committee on Un-American Activities (HUAC) for alleged
subversive activities. Soon after, HUAC set its sights on the VALB, which was promptly included on the Attorney General’s
list of subversive organizations.
When Congress passed the McCarran Act in 1950, obliging all organizations on this list to register with the federal
government and creating heavy penalties for leaders who refused to cooperate, the entire executive committee of the VALB resigned.
In its place, two Lincoln veterans stepped forward: Milton Wolff became the National Commander; Moe Fishman became the Executive
Secretary/Treasurer. Fishman served the organization in an executive capacity for the rest of his life, more than a half century
of dedicated service. Fishman and Wolff led the VALB defense before the Subversive Activities Control Board in 1954. After
their efforts failed, they pursued the appeals process that led to a favorable court ruling in the 1970s, declaring the Attorney
General’s list and the SACB’s rulings unconstitutional.
Through it all, Fishman kept the VALB organization running, never allowing the vets to forget that “our
main purpose in life is our anti-Franco activity.” He helped produce dozens of four-page issues of /The Volunteer/;
rallied support for individual defense trials; participated in anti-Franco protests; and summoning a campaign to aid Spanish
political prisoners. There were times when he felt like a one-man band. “I’m the organization,” he said
with little exaggeration for a 1962 article that appeared in /Esquire/. “If there’s something to decide, I talk
it over with the guys and then decide what I’m going to do. Cockeyed, but that’s the way it is.”
To raise funds for the prisoners and their families, the reconstituted VALB held its first reunion in a decade
in 1957, an annual ceremonial gathering that continues now under the auspices of the Abraham Lincoln Brigade Archives. As
more veterans reached retirement age and returned to the VALB in the 1970s, Moe remained a constant in the organization’s
activities. He participated in panels and conferences, spoke to students in high schools and colleges around the country,
and travelled to international meetings about the Spanish Civil War. He patiently listened to often hostile questions and
yet offered clearly recited answers. His memory for names and historical details was remarkable. He seldom allowed a speaker
to get away with a comment with which he disagreed.
For years, seemingly forever, Moe Fishman stood at the center of a halothat surrounded the Americans who fought
in the Spanish Civil War. In just one month this spring, he appeared on Pacifica’s Democracy Now program, greeted guests
at the opening night of the exhibition “Facing Fascism,” spoke to a high school class on New York’s west
side, and shared a podium with Harry Belafonte. He relished the spotlight and used it well. Lean, well-dressed in suit and
tie, dark eyebrows and brown moustache offset by a full gray head of hair, he carried the vitality of a young man’s
cause into his old age. Each year at the annual reunion, it was his voice that announced recent deaths and called the roll
of the surviving veterans in attendance.
His silence brings the end of an era.
Peter N. Carroll