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Letters from the Spanish Civil War

A U.S. Volunteer Writes Home

Peter N. Carroll, Fraser Ottanelli

Publication Year: 2013

Letters from the Spanish Civil War provides a unique perspective into the motivations that led a young man from the American heartland to defy U.S. neutrality and travel to Spain to fight in defense of democracy against Nazi- and Fascist-backed aggression. Born in a small town in rural Ohio, Carl Geiser came from a deeply religious German-speaking family that had recently emigrated from Switzerland. The onset of the Great Depression exposed Geiser to the reality of hard times and discrimination, challenging his belief that hard work would bring self-reliance and just rewards. This awakening led him to question the logic and values of capitalism and to become active in a range of youth and student organizations linked to the Communist Party.

Following the 1936 military uprising that was supported by Hitler and Mussolini against Spain’s legally elected Republican government, Geiser decided that more needed to be done than simply delivering speeches and raising money to fight fascism. Joining with over 35,000 volunteers from fifty countries to cross the Pyrenees and help defend the beleaguered and isolated government, Geiser acted on his personal political ideology, which was based on American small-town communal values and internationalist ideals of class-based solidarity.

In Letters from the Spanish Civil War, possibly the largest surviving collection of letters written by a U.S. volunteer during this conflict, Geiser eloquently describes to family and friends the deep personal motivations that led him to risk his life to defend democracy in a faraway country. His detailed descriptions of the daily reality of warfare in one of the first battlefields of World War II sought to inspire those back home to awaken the U.S. public opinion and policy makers to the global threat of Fascist expansionism.

Published by: The Kent State University Press


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pp. 1-1

Title Page, Copyright, Dedication

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pp. 2-7


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pp. 8-9

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Preface and Acknowledgments

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pp. ix-x

Carl Geiser had a strong sense of his own history. The only book he wrote, Prisoners of the Good Fight, carefully documented the experience and context of his own POW status during the Spanish Civil War. After that project, Geiser worked with family members and friends to transcribe and annotate the letters he sent home from the war. In preparing the letters for...

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pp. 1-14

“Probably you are a bit surprised to hear I am in Spain fighting with the army of the Spanish Republic,” Carl Geiser wrote to his brother, Bennet, nine days after he crossed the border into Spain on May 1, 1937. “And so I suppose you want to know why I am here.” Geiser’s politics were no secret to his family, but the new recruit had been prudent, so far, to...

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Carl Geiser’s Letters

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pp. 15-180

[handwritten on Cunard Line stationery]

Sunday [April 18, 1937]
Dear Impy:
Just finished watching “Charlie Chan at the Opera,” for we have movies every other day or so. And now I will take time out to write you a while.
Everything is going marvelously. The only thing missing is you (and especially since there is not even one pretty girl on board—they are practically...

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pp. 181-183

The sun was rising in a cloudless sky on a fresh and lovely spring morning.197 Bushes and small trees along the ridge provided cover as we advanced rapidly. In less than ten minutes we came to a dip in the ridge. A faint odor of wood fires alerted me. I halted when I saw ahead of us several hundred soldiers preparing their breakfasts on a slope facing us. They...

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pp. 184-187

General Franco ordered the execution of any International Brigader taken prisoner, a policy largely followed through the war. Geiser, along with the other soldiers captured with him, expected to face a firing squad. When told to assemble in front of a wall, they steadied themselves, ready to sing “The Internationale” as a last act of defiance against their executioners. But...


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pp. 188-201

Suggested Readings

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pp. 202-202


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pp. 203-206

Back Cover

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pp. 218-218

E-ISBN-13: 9781612776859
E-ISBN-10: 161277685X
Print-ISBN-13: 9781606351741

Page Count: 200
Publication Year: 2013

OCLC Number: 867741305
MUSE Marc Record: Download for Letters from the Spanish Civil War

Research Areas


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Subject Headings

  • Geiser, Carl -- Correspondence.
  • Spain -- History -- Civil War, 1936-1939 -- Participation, American.
  • Spain -- History -- Civil War, 1936-1939 -- Prisoners and prisons.
  • Spain -- History -- Civil War, 1936-1939 -- Campaigns.
  • Spain. Ejército Popular de la República. Abraham Lincoln Battalion -- Biography.
  • Prisoners of war -- Spain -- Correspondence.
  • Prisoners of war -- United States -- Correspondence.
  • Soldiers -- Spain -- Correspondence.
  • Soldiers -- United States -- Correspondence.
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