Fifty years ago Dolores Ibarruri, the fiery heroine of the Spanish Civil War, told departing fighters: “You can go proudly. You are history. You are legend. . . . When the olive tree of peace blossoms again, come back.”
Today, they returned.
About 400 veterans of the International Brigades gathered for the unveiling of a monument honoring the 45,000 volunteers from 54 countries who fought against the 1936-39 uprising of Generalissimo Francisco Franco.
Now in their 70s and 80s, the veterans came from the United States, Canada, Britain, Switzerland and 14 other countries.
“To us this is the last hurrah,” said 73-year-old Moe Fishman, a retired printer from New York City. “Many of us will not be here for the next civil war anniversary.”
The ceremony at a park on Barcelona’s north side marked the first time that Spain has officially paid homage to the veterans since the restoration of democracy after Franco’s death Nov. 20, 1975.
Ibarruri, 93, known as “La Pasionaria,” is in frail health and was unable to attend the unveiling but the vets said her speech to them at their farewell parade in Barcelona Oct. 28, 1938, still rang in their ears.
“Her words have stayed with me all my life,” said 76-year-old Archie Brown, a retired longshoreman from San Francisco.
“We didn’t want to believe it then but, deep down, we knew the cause was lost,” he said.
Six months after the withdrawal of the International Brigades, Spain fell to Franco’s troops.
Today’s homage centered on the unveiling of a 40-foot-high bronze statue titled “David and Goliath” by New York sculptor Ron Shifrin. Ibarruri’s words are engraved on a plaque at its base.
The monument was co-sponsored by Barcelona and a group of American artists and intellectuals, including Woody Allen, Gloria Steinem, Gregory Peck, Leonard Bernstein and Allen Ginsberg.