Paul Wendorf, a graduate of Columbia University, fought for 19 months in the XVth International Brigade at the Jarama and Brunete front, before he was killed in action. His cousin found letters which proof that he was filmed for Ivens’ The Spanish Earth in April-May 1937.

On 24 May 1937 Paul Wendorf wrote to his wife Leona Grossman: ‘There are many things to while away our time, the Circulating Library, ping-pong, (no foolin’) and amateur entertainment, lectures by Bates and G. Marion. My gosh, I almost forgot. We’ve had movies of ourselves taken by a guy who works with Joris Ivens. I am in the following scenes:  Standing in line for pay (3rd in line); carrying food (I’m the guy carrying the big bag on my shoulders); and sorting out packages just received in the mail. Watch for it’
And on June 4th: ‘In case my letter to Harold misses him, I want to repeat that I am in the following scenes in the movies taken of the Battalion: 1. Standing in line for pay. (3rd in line); 2. Carrying a big bag of bread on my shoulders.; 3. Helping to sort out newspapers received in the mail.’
(Tamiment Library and Robert F. Wagner Labor Archives Collection, processed by Jessica Weglein and Elizabeth Compa, produced on August 08, 2017)

A Unique Testimony
Besides the journalistic and literary reports of Ernest Hemingway and John Dos Passos, who were direct testimonies of the shooting of The Spanish Earth no testimonies of soldiers, volunteers of the International Brigades, left. The letters of Wendorf are therefore unique.
Thanks to Peter Davies documentary Digging The Spanish Earth and Rien Dijkstra’s (Stichting Spanje 1936-39) network the cousin of Paul Wendorf in the US found out that he wrote about the documentary. She intends to publish the letters of Wendorf, who had studied history and economics at Columbia University, and was appointed in September 1937 to the Historical Commission in Albacete and, under the supervision of Sandor Voros, and participated in writing the history of the 15th International Brigade and the American battalions. He also contributed articles to the Brigade's newspaper the Volunteer for Liberty.

Footage
Paul Wendorf departed New York on the ‘SS Paris’ on February 6th  to serve the Abraham Lincoln Brigade. He fought at the Jarama front  from March to June 1937. Joris Ivens and John Fernhout (Ferno) already filmed on this battlefield when on 12 February they experienced the first bombardment by Italian Caproni bombers in the village of Morata de Tajuña. The small film crew of Ivens and Ferno returned various times to this front in March and April among others accompanied by Hemingway. Ivens left Madrid 25 April in a car with Dos Passos, but had given a list to John Ferno with 70 subjects to film extra footage necessary for the final editing of what would become The Spanish Earth. Indeed a sequence can be seen in the final version where a soldier is sorting out newspapers, a soldier who similars Paul Wendorf, although no certain evidence can be given.

      

Wendorf participated in the Brunete offensive from July until August 1937. In January of 1938 he was charged, along with Carl Geiser, with organizing a school for political commissars. A bout of rheumatism and subsequent hospitalization prevented him from carrying out this assignment, and by March, he was returned to active service. On August 18, 1938, Wendorf was killed during an aerial attack in the Sierra Pandols. In 1939 Charles Nusser, a fellow Lincoln Brigade veteran and Wendorf's friend, married Leona Grossman Wendorf, Wendorfs widow.

Complete typoscript of Wendorf’s letter of 24 May 1937.

Dearest:

Received yesterday your letter of May 11. I am still in the same place, same trenches, same state of good health. You ask me many questions about myself. I am well-tanned, have shaved my beard as an infernal nuisance, my hair is clipped in close-cropped, Prussian military style (we have a first-class Battalion barber-shop where you get face-lotion after a shave). I have lost perhaps 20 pounds, am in the pink of condition. Yesterday, on fortifications, I carried a 60 pound block of concrete on my shoulders for a quarter of a mile, mainly uphill; also much pick and shovel work.

I got your previous letter about the exam. To repeat on my side, in case I get notice of an appointment type of letter telling them I have a contractual engagement with a private employer and will not be free for several months, but requesting to be kept on the list for future opportunities, and sign my name to it.

About the package mailing, have you been to the Friends of the Lincoln Brigade? Of course, you’re smart and you’ve been there already.

Did you get the flower I mailed? The fields around here are carpeted with red poppies. When you look down at the valley here and across at the range of hills opposite you can see red streaks and smears among the green vegetation. 

The new government seems to be going places. The new People’s Army which had been training for a couple of months now does not seem to have been put into action yet, but still the old nucleus of volunteers plus International Brigades are holding their own. When the combined forces are joined in the coming big drive, we should go fast—and the faster we go, the better I like it. [Sentence crossed out]. (I was saying something indiscreet from the military viewpoint.) 

There are many things to while away our time, the Circulating Library, ping-pong, (no foolin’) and amateur entertainment, lectures by Bates and G. Marion. My gosh, I almost forgot. We’ve had movies of ourselves taken by a guy who works with Joris Ivens. I am in the following scenes:  Standing in line for pay (3rd in line); carrying food (I’m the guy carrying the big bag on my shoulders); and sorting out packages just received in the mail. Watch for it!

And in a few days, I hope to mail a photo of myself in new summer uniform.

Gee how I hope I don’t get a winter uniform.

                        

                                                             Mucho, mucho, amor

 

                                                                        P.

 

##########

 

                                             June 8, 1937

Dear Sherry:

Say, the ’17’ is O.K. The composite masthead was good, and the general make-up swell.  And the light touches were fine. And it did seem to be written by more than one person.

About criticism, I think a little more could have been done in bringing forward the Party’s position on certain points, over and above the “People’s Front” positions. I say that with apologies because I know how damned hard it is to do just that without making an article sound like a stereotype. Rather than go much further with my own comment I am sending you a copy of a new sheet here, the “Volunteer for Liberty”, (separate cover). I also sent one to Harold. Of course the more advanced political situation here doubtless makes the problem a bit more clear, but I would like too call your particular attention to the two main articles, on the development of the people’s army and on the land question. The main trick is, I believe, presenting a question in terms of movement, of the forces operating [  ] dialectally. I don’t think it was necessary in the article “Spain in Flames” to say it was a “Left Republican capitalist government [  ] into power”. Then the article “Nine Old Men” (was it written by Hana?) I think makes too much of the abstract “progress vs. reaction” and not enough of the class forces opposed. Or maybe I’m wrong. Read the “Volunteer”! Maybe only 2 or 3 in the unit can write as well as Ralph Bates, but with a nucleus like that, it should become a good paper.

So, politics aside. how’s everything? How’s your stomach? Out here everybody gets diarrhea once in a while, and you eat rice and cold potatoes. Oh yes, about the war, our front is still quiet. Last night there was terrific bombardment going on several miles away in a direction where we have advanced recently, but I don’t know what’s happening. Right now it is so perfectly quiet here that a person would believe it was a year ago, before trenches were dug in these olive groves. There’s actually a bird whistling somewhere.

In case my letter to Harold misses him, I want to repeat that I am in the following scenes in the movies taken of the Battalion:

1. Standing in line for pay. (3rd in line)

2. Carrying a big bag of bread on my shoulders.

3. Helping to sort out newspapers received in the mail. 

 So long kid!

 

 Paul

 

P.S.  I am sending with the “Volunteer” a pamphlet circulated in peaceful parts of Spain soliciting placements for women and children evacuated from the war zones. Hope you get them. I suggested in a letter to Pearl that they might be raffled as a means of raising money. 

P.S.#2:  Just reminded myself of a poster I saw in Madrid, with the Slogans 

“Books and periodicals to the Front!”

“Culture is a Preparation for Attacking the Enemy!”

 That’s there ticket, hey baby?




 

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