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Series X: Correspondence and Mailings
At a Glance
This collection is arranged in 16 series.
Scope and Contents
Records of the North American Committee to Aid Spanish Democracy and Medical Bureau to Aid Spanish Democracy, two New York City-based American organizations working to raise funds and provide medical and humanitarian aid for the Republican cause in the Spanish Civil War (1936-1939), and to refugees who fled Spain after the defeat of the Republican forces in April 1939. The organizations formally merged in January 1938 and became known as the Spanish Refugee Relief Campaign. These files include the organization's official reports, correspondence, pamphlets, broadsides, photographs, and publicity material, as well as several scrapbooks of news clippings.
A splinter group departed from the Spanish Refugee Relief Campaign in March of 1940 to form the Joint Anti-Fascist Relief Committee. The records of that group are not included in this collection. They are located in the Veterans of the Abraham Lincoln Brigade Archives at New York University.
Using the Collection
Rare Book and Manuscript Library
Restrictions on Access
You will need to make an appointment in advance to use this collection material in the Rare Book and Manuscript Library reading room. You can schedule an appointment once you've submitted your request through your Special Collections Research Account.
Boxes 1-5 and Flatboxes 433-438 of the collection are located on-site.
Boxes 6-337 of the collection are located off-site. You will need to request this material at least three business days in advance to use the collection in the Rare Book and Manuscript Library reading room.
This collection has no restrictions.
Terms Governing Use and Reproduction
Single photocopies may be made for research purposes. The RBML maintains ownership of the physical material only. Copyright remains with the creator and his/her heirs. The responsibility to secure copyright permission rests with the patron.
Researchers must wear gloves when handling photographs.
Identification of specific item; Date (if known); Spanish Refugee Relief Association records; Box and Folder; Rare Book and Manuscript Library, Columbia University Library.
Materials may have been added to the collection since this finding aid was prepared. Contact firstname.lastname@example.org for more information.
Alternate Form Available
Pearl S. Buck letter and telegram is on: microfilm.
W.H. Auden letters are on: microfilm.
General Office Files: Picasso Tour is on: microfilm.
Ownership and Custodial History
Gift through Herman Reissig, Executive Secretary of the Spanish Refugee Relief Campaign, 1942.
Gift of the Veterans of the Abraham Lincoln Brigade, 1979.
Immediate Source of Acquisition
Source of acquisition--Reissig, Herman, executive secretary of the Spanish Relief Campaign. Method of acquisition--Gift; Date of acquisition--1942. Accession number--M-42.
About the Finding Aid / Processing Information
Columbia University Libraries, Rare Book and Manuscript Library
Cataloged Christina Hilton Fenn 09/--/89.
2022-12-13 PDF finding aid replaced with EAD by CLB.
History / Biographical Note
This collection contains the records of the New York City-based North American Committee to Aid Spanish Democracy (NAC) and the Medical Bureau to Aid Spanish Democracy (MB), known after April 1939 as the Spanish Refugee Relief Campaign (SRRC). The NAC and MB were active in the United States (and to a lesser extent, Canada and Mexico) on behalf of the democratically elected Spanish Republican government during the Spanish Civil War (1936-1939). The two organizations formally merged in January 1938. After the Nationalist victory in 1939, the Medical Bureau and North American Committee to Aid Spanish Democracy (MBNAC) changed its mission to providing humanitarian aid to the half million Republican refugees who had fled Spain and were housed in camps in southern France. The organization's name changed as well, to the Spanish Refugee Relief Campaign (SRRC).
The United States government followed an official policy of non-intervention during the Spanish Civil War. The 1935 Neutrality Act prohibited trading or supplying military aid to any party in a war, and a 1937 Congressional joint resolution explicitly prohibited trading arms with Spain. Non-interventionist laws did not, however, apply to organizations offering humanitarian aid to civilians affected by military conflict. This provided official justification for the operations of organizations concerned with the Spanish Civil War in the United States, even as they lobbied the Roosevelt administration and rallied public support for lifting the arms trade embargo and intervening in the war.
The North American Committee to Aid Spanish Democracy, directed by Methodist bishop Francis J. McConnell and Congregationalist minister Herman F. Reissig, was founded in October 1936 in New York City. The Medical Bureau to Aid Spanish Democracy was also founded in 1936. Its leader was Dr. Edward Barsky, a New York City surgeon and member of the Communist Party USA. Following their official merger in January 1938, Roger Nash Baldwin of the American Civil Liberties Union chaired their executive board. The two organizations' aims were similar: to provide funds and needed medical supplies, including ambulances, to the Spanish Republican cause. Both before and after their merger, the MB and NAC also collaborated with other politically liberal and leftist groups who saw the Spanish Civil War as a critical front in the global fight against Fascism.
Neither the NAC nor the MB officially encouraged Americans to enlist in the war as combatants. The Americans who did do so became known as the Abraham Lincoln Brigade. However, in January 1937, the MB did send a ship of medical workers and hospital supplies to Spain to assist the Republican Medical Service. This team, led by Edward Barsky himself, was considered part of the Abraham Lincoln Brigade.
While the Medical Bureau and North American Committee to Aid Spanish Democracy were based in New York City, their organizing efforts were national in scope. Local chapters existed across the United States. From 1937 to 1939, the MB and NAC organized events, published appeals to readers of local and national publications, and coordinated with other organizations with anti-Fascist principles to raise funds and public awareness on behalf of the Spanish Republican war effort. Affiliated and sympathetic organizations included labor unions, social workers, religious groups influenced by Progressivism and the Social Gospel, the Socialist Party, the Communist Party, and others associated with the anti-Fascist Popular Front.
Among the organization's major events were the Village Fair, a carnival fundraiser held annually from 1938 through 1940 in Greenwich Village, featuring performances, midway games, and an outdoor beer hall. A mass meeting to pressure the United States government to list the embargo on the sale of arms to Republican Spain took place at Madison Square Garden in 1938. The Spanish Refugee Relief Campaign also coordinated the first North American exhibition of Picasso's mural Guernica (1936) and associated studies at the Valentine Gallery in New York City in May 1939 as a fundraiser for refugee relief.
The defeat of Republican Spain in April 1939 led to conflict within the coalition that had made up the Medical Bureau and North American Committee to Aid Spanish Democracy. Disputes erupted over whether communist refugees from Spain were being subjected to neglect by the organization's non-communist leaders, or favoritism by its communist rank and file. A March 1940 international conference in Mexico City of organizations working on behalf of Spanish refugees provided the backdrop for the departure of the Spanish Refugee Relief Campaign's communist members. This group re-formed as the Joint Anti-Fascist Relief Committee, with Edward Barsky again among its leaders. The remaining members of the Spanish Refugee Relief Association attempted to ally themselves with Varian Fry's Emergency Rescue Committee. However, in addition to its ongoing financial problems, the Spanish Refugee Relief Association's efforts were further hampered by an investigation by the House Un-American Activities Committee.
From 1948 to 1965, Reissig worked as director of international relations for the Congregational Christian Council for Social Action in New York City. Barsky was held in of Contempt of Congress for refusing to turn over the records of the Joint Anti-Fascist Refugee Committee to HUAC in 1946.