George & Ruth-Songs & Letters of the Spanish Civil
- Artist: Tony Saletan, Sylvia Miskoe, Dan Lynn Watt, Molly Lynn Watt
- Format: CD
- Release Date:4/27/2004
'The Spanish War was one of the decisive events of our epoch, everyone said so at the time it was being fought, and everyone was right.' Lionel Trilling, quoted in The Passionate War by Peter Wyde. This 2-CD set tells the story through songs and letter excerpts of two idealists starting their marriage while participating in an international effort to stop fascism in 1937-1938 before the start of World War II. George Watt went to Spain to fight with the Abraham Lincoln Battalion of the International Brigade for the democratically elected government of Spain. Ruth Rosenthal Watt remained in New York City at a job with the WPA. While fervent in her denunciation of war and active in organizing peace demonstrations, she also worked to foster public opinion favoring US involvement in Spain. She canvassed friends to send care packages to individual soldiers containing the necessities for the foxhole - coffee, cigarettes, gum, wool garments, and most importantly, news from the home front. She coped with the loneliness of being left behind, typing daily letters to George from her desk at work while avoiding the scrutiny of her boss. George learned to be a soldier at the front, to speak Spanish while handling his machine gun, to survive the fire of battle and the excruciating loss of comrades while far from the comforts of home. Music was an important part of rallying support around the world and keeping up the spirits of the troops in Spain. Songs of the period are sung in Spanish, English, German, French and Yiddish and interwoven with the reading of excerpts of letters exchanged between George and Ruth. The Spanish Civil War and the International Brigade For 1500 years the Spanish people were kept in poverty, and oppressed by a backward monarchy, wealthy landowners, the church and the military caste. In 1936 a united front of republicans, liberals, labor unions, communists, socialists, anarchists, Trotskyists and others on the left won the most democratic election ever held in Spain. The Republic started to provide relief to the suffering. The military and others on the right feared more reforms. Four generals, led by Francisco Franco, started an insurgency and attacked the Republic. They were aided by the military forces of Hitler's Nazi Germany and Mussolini's Fascist Italy and a supposed non-interventionist policy, including an embargo on arms for Spain's defense, on the part of the United States, Britain, France and other liberal democracies. Only the Soviet Union and Mexico officially came to the aid of democratic Spain. As an act of conscience, thousands of volunteers from many countries unofficially went to Spain to join the International Brigade, fighting to defend the republic and trying to stop the Second World War before it happened. The American volunteers in Spain formed the Abraham Lincoln Battalion, nearly one third died in Spain. The Spanish Republic fought valiantly against overwhelming odds for three years, but succumbed with the fall of Madrid in March 1939. Francisco Franco silenced all opposition and maintained a fascist dictatorship in Spain until his death. George Watt Like many student activists of his day, George left his home in July 1937 and traveled secretly from New York to Spain to join 2,800 Americans, 1,500 Canadians and tens of thousands of volunteers from Europe and Latin America, who made up the International Brigade. He and his traveling companions posed as tourists to evade the US and French governments' embargos on aid to the Republic. Before his departure, George had been a leader in the Young Communist League, and Executive Secretary of the American Student Union, a united front coalition of left-wing student organizations. In Spain, George served in the Mackenzie-Papineau battalion originally formed of Canadian volunteers, which also included many from the US. He was sent to Officer's Training School, and eventually became Political Commissar of the Lincoln Battalion, with responsibility for the morale and political education of his fellow volunteers. He returned home in January 1939, one of the last American volunteers to leave Spain. Ruth Rosenthal Watt George Watt and Ruth Rosenthal were married in January 1937. When George left for Spain in July of that year, he was 23 and Ruth was 22. Ruth lived in an apartment on East 16th Street in New York City. She was suspended from extra-curricular activities at Hunter College for leading a peace demonstration and helped organize a boycott of Japanese silk stockings. She knitted incessantly for the fellows in the International Brigade, rounded up and mailed supplies, and got everyone to write letters to keep up their spirits. She loved going to movies. She swooned over Rudolf Valentino's love scenes and went repeatedly to see Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs. She was inspired by serious movies about the Dreyfus Affair and the blockade of Spain. She held a job in the geology department of the youth services of the WPA. This job provided a typewriter she secretly used for her almost daily letters to George, and kept the carbon copies. She wrote of her love and life, her work for the Republican cause in Spain, and her trials and triumphs taking on leadership roles in the Young Communist League and the Communist Party. The Songs All the songs in our program were sung by International Brigaders in Spain during the Spanish Civil War, or written during or shortly after the war in the United States. The Internationale was composed in the 19th century, became an international socialist anthem and was sung in several languages during the civil war in Spain. A number of the songs in this program were recorded during or shortly after the Spanish Civil War. An album of 78 RPM recordings, Six Songs for Democracy, was recorded in Barcelona in 1938, featuring German singer Ernst Busch and a chorus from the Thaelmann Battalion, German volunteers in the International Brigade. The album which included Los Cuatro Generales, Freiheit, The United Front Song and the Peat Bog Soldiers, was released by Keynote records in 1940 (Keynote 101). A group of American singers including Pete Seeger, Tom Glazer, Baldwin Hawes and Bess Hawes recorded songs in English and Spanish, released in an album as Songs of the Spanish Civil War, Asch Records, 1942. Our program includes Viva La Quince Brigada, Young Man from Alcala, The Cookhouse, Quartermaster Store, Si Me Quieres Escribir, Venga Jaleo and Jarama Valley from that album. Songs from both albums were popularized later by singers such as Paul Robeson, Pete Seeger, Ronnie Gilbert, The Weavers and others. Both albums were later re-released on a single Folkways LP, Songs of the Spanish Civil War, Volume 1 (Folkways, FH5436, 1961, reissued on CD by Smithsonian Folkways). Some of the English translations we use are from the booklet that accompanied the Folkways record. Tony Saletan researched some less known songs of the time. Woody Guthrie composed Mr. Tom Mooney is Free. Don't Buy Anything Japanese sung to the tune of Bai Mir Bistu Shein, was a topical song of the day. Tony found verses in Yiddish to Viva La Quince Brigada and the United Front Song, and two songs by poet and composer Lewis Allan about the Spanish Civil War, Abraham Lincoln Walks Again and Beloved Comrade (Music by Fred Katz). These two songs, now largely forgotten, were widely sung. A Note About the Historical Context in Songs We hope that listeners will understand that to reflect the historical context we retained the original wording in songs, although some of the uses are harsh. Moroccan mercenaries fighting on the fascist side were called 'Moors' by the volunteers in the International Brigade. They were feared as fighters and despised as mercenaries, and a few of the songs composed in Spain include derogatory language. In the years before World War II Japanese aggression in China was part of the fascist offensive worldwide. The song Don't Buy Anything Japanese was written to promote a boycott of Japanese silk. After The War Ruth and George's son Dan was born in March 1940, a little over a year after George returned home from Spain. Sadly, Ruth died shortly after Dan's birth from complications of childbirth. Fifteen months later, George married their friend, Margie Wechsler, who raised Dan and their son Steve. The Watt family often told stories and sang songs of the Spanish Civil War. Perhaps it was the fashion of the times, but Ruth was not mentioned in their home. Dan and Molly discovered their letters in a box in January 2002, several years after the deaths of George and Margie Watt. The letters brought Ruth's voice to life after 65 years, and became the inspiration for this program. George Watt served in the Army Air Corps in World War II, was shot down over occupied Belgium and escaped through the help of a Belgian/French underground organization. Later, he wrote about this experience in his book, The Comet Connection, published by the University Press of Kentucky. One chapter of the book also described his experiences in Spain. George was a member of the American Communist Party until 1958. During the McCarthy period he was prosecuted and convicted under the Smith Act, but his conviction was overturned by an Appeals Court. During the last two decades of his career, George worked as a social worker and administrator at Maimonides Hospital's Community Mental Health Center. Recently, Tony Saletan learned that his father, David Saletan, who had a dental practice in New York, provided pro bono dental work for American volunteers on their way to Spain. The Performers This program was created collaboratively by Dan Lynn Watt, Molly Lynn Watt and Tony Saletan. Dan and Molly selected, excerpted and edited the letters of Dan's parents George and Ruth Watt. Dan reads George's letters while Molly reads Ruth's. Tony Saletan researched the songs, created the musical arrangements, sings and provides guitar, banjo and piano accompaniment. Sylvia Miskoe provides accompaniment on accordion. The performers share a friendship over decades and a life-long commitment to activism for peace and social justice and involvement in folk song, music and dance. Molly and Dan Lynn Watt are teacher educators, curriculum developers and writers living in Cambridge Cohousing, Cambridge, Massachusetts and in Antrim, New Hampshire. Tony Saletan is a folk singer, musician, dance caller and educator, living in Lexington, Massachusetts. He was a pioneer in public television having hosted eight programs and series on WGBH since 1955. Sylvia Miskoe lives in Concord, New Hampshire and plays for Scottish country dancing and contra dancing with White Cockade and is music director of the Strathspey and Reel Society of New Hampshire, a Scottish music orchestra and has recorded five CDs with these groups. Dedication The performers dedicate this album to those working for peace and social justice throughout the world.