Shmuel Segal. 1917-2012
By Charlie Pottins, Jewish Socialists’ Group, UK
Shmuel Segal, the last surviving member of the International Brigades that came from Palestine, and continued to live in Israel, passed away on Friday, January 13, 2012
Shmuel was born on November 11, 1917 in Minsk, Russia, to a religious, bourgeois and Zionist family. Shmuel always used to tell that Haim Nahman Bialik (Israel’s national poet), was a friend of his father, Nahum, studied with him in the famous Volozhyn yeshiva, and wrote his poem HaMatmid about his father. The poem describes a young man leaving the world of Jewish learning. His father later became a medical doctor. Shmuel’s mother, Esther, taught German literature in the university. The parents and their three children, Zeev, Raaya and Shmuel arrived to Tel Aviv in 1926 and Shmuel enrolled in the town’s educational system, first religious and then secular.
“While at school, at higher grades, we used to go on Hebrew [i.e. Jewish] work vigils, meaning firing the Arabs and protest against [Jewish] employers of Arabs. I remember till now, there was a very nice Arab guard, and he told us: ‘What is all this enthusiasm about? We don’t deserve work? Don’t we have a family? Don’t I have children? What is this slogan of ‘Hebrew work’ for? In order to kick us out of work?’ This probably affected me.” (excerpt from Madrid before Hanita, a documentary movie about the volunteers from Palestine in the international brigades in Spain. Directed by Eran Torbiner, 2006) Shmuel joined the youth movement of the Communist Party, handed out leaflets, tried to recruit more members, painted slogans and occasionally got arrested by the mandate police that struggled against communist activists with the encouragement of the Zionist establishment.
“In ’36, when the war broke in Spain, we all followed it closely. All the newspapers’ headlines were about what was going on in Madrid. In bold letters. Whether Madrid holds on or not. A fight against fascism, for the first time, with a gun in the hand. And the identification of this rebellion with international fascism was almost immediate.” (Madrid before Hanita).
In July 1937 Shmuel travels abroad with the purpose of joining thee international brigades. In order to calm his parents, he tells them that he goes to Spain in order to cover the war as a journalist.
“From the minute we crossed the Pyrenees, the moment we volunteered, they took us by train to Albacete. Albecete was the HQ of the international brigades. What was happening at the train stations is unbelievable. It seemed to me that no one stayed at home. How we were welcome. They knew that a train with volunteers was coming. I am not a guy that gets excited, but on that drive I was, and not only me.” (Madrid before Hanita).
In Albacete, after a shooting test, Shmuel was sent to snipers course, and then was assigned to Mickiewicz battalion, 13th brigade, and saw action in, among others, Huesca, Teruel and Extremadura. After being wounded he was assigned to an artillery unit until October 1938 when it was decided that the international volunteers will stop their service in a hope that Nazi Germani and Fascist Italy will withdraw as well. When that did not happen a proposal came up to continue fighting, and Shmuel offered to continue fighting. That idea did not succeed and Shmuel left Spain with the rest of the brigades’ people.
Having lost his Palestinian passport, he could only enter the UK until his true citizenship is determined. A few weeks later a new passport was sent, proving that Shmuel is a Palestinian citizen, however, the British High Commissioner preferred that Shmuel remain outside of Palestine.
When WWII broke out Shmuel volunteered immediately to the British Army but was refused because of his communist past. He then volunteered, in Manchester, where he lived and studied engineering, to a bomb clearing squad.
In the end of the war he is drafted because of his fluency in Russian to serve in the HQ of the military government in Vienna. He stays there until news of the war in Palestine reaches him in 1948. He returns and volunteers to the army and serves as an artillery officer.
Shmuel worked as an engineer, and afterwards, until he was eighty, as a lawyer. He did not remain a communist activist, but continued to be a supporter and member of various left-wing organisations such as “Haolam Hazeh-Koah Hadash”, “Sheli”, and of course, in the brigades’ veterans union. A a lawyer he represented, pro bono, leftist activists in civil and military courts.
Shmuel married in 1950 with Drora, and they have two children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren. After Franco’s death in 1975, Shmuel returned to Spain with his wife and family several times, to attend events of veterans and their supporters. His last visit in Spain was in 2008.
(Thanks to Eran Torbiner, maker of the documentary movie “Madrid Before Hanita,”
for sending this to the JSG)