Allan Christiansen, Chair of the Danish Friends of the International Brigade, Spain 1936-1939, writes…
On 18 July 1936, right-wing and fascist officers – under the command of generals such as Franco – let a revolt against the democratically elected Popular Front government of the Spanish Republic revolt supported by the big landowners, the industrial capital and, not least, the Catholic church.
The Spanish people took up arms against the fascist coup and thus the civil war was a reality.
Only six weeks after Spain was plunged into civil war, fours Danes – the three brothers Åge, Kai and Harald Nielsen and Hans Petersen – arrived in Barcelona after a long and arduous journey on bikes through Europe, where they were enrolled in the Centuria Thälmann.
A total of between 500 and 550 Danes fought in the Spanish Civil War alongside Spanish Republicans. Most volunteers from Denmark sailed from Esbjerg on the steamer AP Bernsdorff to Belgian or French ports. From there, they travelled via Paris to Perpignan and then on foot across the Pyrenees to Figueres or by ship from Marseille to Barcelona. Besides these routes, many mariners jumped ship when they arrived in Spanish ports and joined the International Brigades.
There were Danes in all five Brigades and higher staffs, but the majority of the Danish volunteers were enrolled in the Scandinavian Company in the 11thInternational Brigade’s 3rd Battalion, Ernst Thälmann.
In the spring of 1937, these were the Danes who initiated the collection of funds for a flag inscribed ‘To DKP from the Danish front fighters in the Spanish People’s Army’.
The flag was conveyed by courier to the DKP Danish Communist Party. It was partly to serve as a greeting from the volunteers to the comrades at home and partly as a reminder that the Republic still needed international solidarity.
Above: The flag is handed over to AABI in front of the star in Rivas Vaciamadrid in 2009.
For many years, the flag hung at the first floor of the DKP’s party house in Absalonsgade in Odense. How it ended up in Odense is lost in the mists of time; maybe it was taken there following the clean-up of the party house in Dronningens Tværgade in Copenhagen in the 1950s or 1960s.
After many years of ‘smoke and steam’ the flag faded and its seams broke. A woman who was employed at the party office mended the embroidery, but around 1987 it was so faded that it was put in the attic.
It was not allowed to disintegrate in this manner, though. A small committee was established to restore and re-hang the flag. Textile conservators at Odense Museum believed that it would be better to leave the flag as it was, reasoning: ‘It has hung proudly inspiring the young at party meetings even while it was fading’ and they were right about that.
Instead, the committee agreed to get a copy of the original in ¾ size and hang it in the room among the photo boards of Lenin and Martin Andersen-Nexø. But the flag’s journey did not end there. In 1996, one of the founders of the committee contacted the the Association of Danish Spain Volunteers and Friends of the IB and handed over the flag to the Chair with the following words: ‘The flag comes from Spain and now it’s about time that it returns to Spain.’
Since then, the flag has been to Spain many times and has represented the Danish volunteers at different events. This spring, it’s 14 years since the Association was handed the flag and 73 years since it began its long journey. The flag’s long and eventful journey has ended and it has returned to Spain, probably forever.
On 28October 2009, the flag was officially handed over to representatives of the AABI Spanish International Brigades memorial association in the city of Rivas Vaciamadrid, situated 14 km south-east of Madrid. Plans have been made to build a museum dedicated to the fight for the defence of Madrid and here the flag will finally get the home it deserves.
We hope and believe that it will tell the story of the Danes who left for Spain to fight shoulder to shoulder with the Spanish people for a free and democratic Spain. It should also remind us that more than 200 Danes are buried in Spanish soil – no one knows where!
But from their blood and the blood of many others, the flowers of freedom shall once again sprout from Spain’s soil.
Posted on 15 December 2018.