From Sept ’07 Spotlight: Circling back to the 30s, Clifford Odets and his Group Theatre colleagues were not the only Jews radicalized by the Great Depression. The stirring documentary Into the Fire, tells the story of American women who volunteered for service in the Spanish Civil War (1936 -1939). Most of these women (Ruth Davidow, Celia Greenspan, Esther Silverstein, Rose Weiner, etc, etc) were Jewish nurses, and director Julia Newman grew up with them; they were her parents’ friends.
The documentary artfully combines “talking head” interviews with readings from letters home as well as snippets from articles by foreign correspondents. Martha Gellhorn, who covered the war for multiple American publications and counted First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt as one of her friends, is prominently featured. Gellhorn, both of whose parents were half-Jewish, discovered her calling in Spain and went on to become one of Israel’s greatest journalistic champions after filing onsite reports about the liberation of Dachau.
Most of Newman’s background material comes from the Abraham Lincoln Brigade Archive housed at New York University. According to the ALBA/VALB website, “Jewish men and women accounted for over one fourth of all international volunteers. Among the medical personnel who went to Spain from many countries, by some estimates 70% were Jews and accordingly the Yiddish language was often used in the operating rooms as a common language to overcome national differences.” For more information, visit www.alba-valb.org/curriculum.
There’s also a local connection: The beautiful voice soaring over the final credits belongs to Jamie O’Reilly who will star in Pasiones: Songs of the Spanish Civil War at the Athenaeum Theatre on Lincoln Avenue on September 7, 8, & 9. The show is dedicated to Studs Terkel who wrote the program notes for O’Reilly’s Pasiones CD. For tickets, visit www.jamieoreilly.com or call 773.267.6660.