My correspondence (since 1931) with my Spanish pen-pal Jesus was interrupted by the Spanish Civil War which started in July 1936. Though there were no letters from Jesus that year, I continued to write to him infrequently. I hoped to hear back even though I understood that the war slowed down (or stopped) mail between America and Spain.
When I see its provocative drawing of a red hood (which looks a lot like a white KKK hood) plus a flag displaying the Communist Hammer and Sickle, the encounter between me and Ma comes back in vivid detail.
Ma and Pa were immigrants from Russia. Ma came to America in 1905, from a small town near Odessa in the Ukraine. Ma was sent here by her mother to get her away from the frequent and ferocious pogroms against the Jews. For Ma anything and anyone Russian (except Jews from Russia) was bad and dangerous to our well being. She despised the Soviet Union (which included the Ukraine) and by extension Communism.
Pa was from the cosmopolitan city of Kishinev, Bessarabia Russia, and like many young men at the time he had been conscripted into the Tsar’s army for fifteen years of service. By 1907, Ma and her American cousins in Chicago (on her mother’s side) raised enough money to pay the required ‘”ransom” to get Pa out of the army and bring him to the U.S. This arrangement was contingent on his agreeing to marry Ma, his first cousin (on their father’s side). Before Pa’s conscription, he had been active in one of the many Jewish Socialist organizations in Kishinev. Pa was sympathetic to Communism, and after the fall of Imperial Russia, he hoped that the Soviet Union’s noble experiment with Communism would make a better life for all who lived there.
Pa wasn’t alone in his sympathies. In the 1920’s and 1930’s there was a strong Socialist movement in the U.S. and a smaller but devoted membership in CPUSA (Communist Party USA). Also, some Americans, including my sister Rose and her husband Len, supported the Republicans (“Reds”) during the Spanish Civil War. Support for Socialism and Communism all but disappeared in the U.S. when the world learned of Stalin’s ruthless totalitarian rule and when the Red-scare perpetrated by McCarthy happened in the 1950s.
The red postcard arrived during the day while I was at work, and Ma saw it first. When I got home that evening, she was at the door waving the postcard at me, yelling, “Clara, Clara why are you making tsuris for our family by still writing to that man, that goy who I see now is a Communist and a Russian sympathizer?”
This postcard was dated June
19, 1937 and I am surprised that what Jesus wrote about the war got past the
Esteemed friend Clara: Taking advantage of a forced rest by means of an inopportune gunshot wound to my arm, I hasten to reply to your letter. I don't ask that you pardon my tardiness since you will understand the circumstances we Spaniards find ourselves in, and I do hope you will not blame me.
I pardoned his tardiness, but was distressed about his “inopportune gunshot wound.” I have no other letters or postcards Jesus might have sent during the Spanish Civil War.
*Note: This is an excerpt from the book in process Clara's Stories: An Imagined Memoir Inspired by the Life of Claire LeBrint Metzger. Fictional Clara is writing her memoir at age 80 in the year 1994. The real Claire LeBrint Metzger was born in 1914 and died in 2002, and was the beloved Aunt of Betsy Fuchs.