The outbreak of the Spanish Civil War intensified conflicts between Nazi and Fascist expansion in Europe and the efforts to preserve democratic governments. When Spanish military officers, led by General Francisco Franco, rebelled against the legally elected republican government in July 1936, the Spanish people spontaneously organized loyal military forces and civilian militia groups to suppress the uprising. But within weeks, Hitler and Italy’s fascist leader Benito Mussolini agreed to provide military support for Franco’s rebels. With such assistance, Franco’s forces marched toward the capital city of Madrid. The elected Republic then asked for help from other nations. England and France, fearing the outbreak of another world war, tried to “appease” Nazi Germany and refused to help the Republic; instead, they adopted a policy of “non-intervention.”

The United States followed similar policies. Although Roosevelt criticized German and Italian support of the rebellion and in 1937 suggested a “quarantine” of such aggression, he lacked domestic support for an interventionist foreign policy.

In response to the Spanish Republic’s request for assistance, the Soviet Union sent supplies and military advisors, and the Communist International (a coalition of Communist parties based in Moscow) urged individual volunteers to form an International Brigade to fight against Franco and his fascist allies. Over 35,000 men and women from 52 countries responded to the call and journeyed to Spain. Recent research shows estimates that from 6,000 to 10,000 of these volunteers were Jews.

Read an interview with driver Evelyn Hutchins on her reasons for joining the fight against fascism. James Lardner, the son of humorist Ring Lardner, writes a thoughtful letter to his mother explaining why he has decided to fight in Spain.  The Don Henry Story is a case study of one man’s decision to fight in Spain.