Remembering the Dąbrowski Brigade

Post date: 21/02/2023

This piece, originally shared in the Friends and Family of the Abraham Lincoln Brigade (FFALB) Google Group, tells the story of the 13th Dąbrowski Brigade, which fought on the side of the Spanish Republic as part of the International Brigades. 

It also highlights the role of the Polish International Brigade memorial organisation, the Volunteers of Freedom Association, and its work to commemorate and celebrate the anti-fascist legacy of the Polish volunteers. Their website can be found here and their Facebook page here. A video report on the unveiling of a mural dedicated to Polish volunteers in Warsaw can be found on the Volunteers of Freedom YouTube channel here.

This year, the annual Battle of Jarama commemoration and march, organised by the Madrid-based International Brigade memorial organisation AABI, is dedicated to the members of the 13th Dąbrowski Brigade who participated in the battle. The Brigade, and one of the Battalions that composed it, was named after Jarosław Dąbrowski, a Polish general who fought on foreign soil in defence of the Paris Commune. The Brigade was initially composed chiefly of Polish miners living and working in France and Belgium and continued to have a strong Polish presence throughout the civil war. However, Spanish and Eastern Europeans joined its ranks and one of its units, the Chapaev Battalion, was known as the ‘Battalion of 21 nationalities’. Internationalism in action!

Hungarians of the Chapaev Battalion pictured in 1938.

The Dąbrowski Brigade is also notable for the Jewish unit, the Naftali Botwin Company, that was formed in the Palafox Battalion of the Brigade in December 1937.

Banner of the Naftali Botwin Company.

The contemporary Polish organisation, the Volunteers of Freedom Association, works to restore this history, the memory of people, organisations and movements that have been excluded from the dominant historical narrative. They focus especially on members of the Dąbrowski Brigade who fought against fascism in defence of the Spanish Republic. The beginning of the Volunteers of Freedom Association dates from 2015, when volunteers organised to stop the renaming of Dąbrowski Street in Warsaw. As part of this campaign they developed activities (discussions, debates, rallies, petitions, film screenings) and, as a result, the history of anti-fascist volunteers has returned to public discourse and – above all – has reappeared in social memory.

In 2017 the Volunteers of Freedom Association was formally established and new activities included publication of memoirs of Polish volunteers, creation of a mural devoted to the Dąbrowski Brigade in Warsaw's Przychodnia Squat and participation in international research projects. And now, they can announce an exhibition of posters and items related to Polish volunteers, organised with the Museum of Independence in Warsaw. The exhibition will be accompanied by films and lectures and will run from July to October. The Volunteers of Freedom Association is also able to organise visits for guests from foreign associations of the friends of the International Brigades, to include a tour of Warsaw related to anti-fascist resistance during the occupation (such as the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising), a presentation of original banners of Polish volunteers in museum collections and more. Such a tour was organised last year for AABI’s Almudena Cros. 

According to Jeremi Galdamez:

We consider the memory of the Volunteers of Freedom (as the people joining the ranks of the International Brigades were called), their attitude and values to be particularly important nowadays, in the light of the growing wave of nationalism, prejudices and inequalities. We are convinced that the history of Polish International Brigaders and their struggle ‘for your freedom and ours’ deserves to be recalled and nurtured.

Posted on 21 February 2023.

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