A short biography of International Brigader Bert Maskey

Post date: 10/02/2022

David Mason has written a biography of his grandfather, YCL organiser and International Brigader Bert Maskey (or 'Masky') (1893-1937). The work is based on extensive research and scans of letters, photographs and other primary sources have been compiled in the document. A PDF copy of the biography is available to read here, and introductory excerpts have been reproduced below.

Maskey’s identity booklet issued as part of the 1920 Alien’s Order.

Bert Maskey was born ‘Barnett Masansky’ in Wilna in 1893, then part of imperial Russia, now Vilnius and the capital of Lithuania. He was the youngest of four brothers. The Masansky family were reasonably well-off Jewish silk merchants with contacts in London, Germany and Baltimore. Bert had a good education and was fluent in Russian, German, French, Yiddish and English. The family had liberal tendencies. Calmen Masansky, one of Bert’s brothers, was active in the Bund socialist movement. In 1907 Bert and Calmen were arrested, convicted and imprisoned for distributing socialist pamphlets...
To avoid any arrest repetitions, Bert and Calmen were smuggled into exile, at first to Germany where Calmen then sailed from Hamburg to Baltimore USA… Bert travelled on to North London, arriving there in 1911 or 1912, and spending time living in the Hackney and Highgate areas.
Bert Maskey was also involved in speaking at public meetings in the Free Trade Hall. Soviet sailors, moored in the port of Manchester, were invited as guests of honour and sat on the platform. Bert acted as interpreter and temporary host. His connections with international working-class movements were greater than that. His home acted as a safe refuge for those attempting to escape political persecution by illegal passage to North America. Leon Mason, Bert’s second son, maintained that Bert was helped by the brother who had left Wilna for Baltimore. His barber’s shop became an unofficial library and bookshop for foreign socialist literature. Bert was also responsible for helping to collect money for the first Workers’ Loan to Soviet Russia, selling stamps at a shilling a time.


Before he left, Bert spoke with Sara, Boris and Leon about his decision to go to Spain. Boris Mason, his eldest son, remembered the night Bert left for Spain. Bert had come round to see Boris before he left and they went off together to see friends, out on a tram, came back on foot. Boris said that it felt a very peculiar situation. Bert seemed to know what might happen in Spain. Leon Mason was present when Bert told Sally that he was going to Spain, expressing the opinion that ‘perhaps it might help us to sort something out’. A strange thing to say.

Two close friends, Bert Maskey and Sam Wild, left Manchester in 1936 for Spain to defend the democratically-elected republic against Franco and his fascist rebellion.

Bert Maskey: A biography by his grandson David Mason (2022)


Posted on 10 February 2022.

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