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R.I.P. Harry Fisher
By Ben Chitty
At the New York march against the war on Saturday, March 22, my wife and I had just left the veterans' contingent to check out what was happening in Washington Square when Harry Fisher, one of the veterans of the Abraham Lincoln Brigade, collapsed and died.
I attended his memorial at the 1199 Martin Luther King Labor Center in New York City. His daughter Wendy passed along this obituary statement to relay.
Born: March 12, 1911, New York City
Died: March 22, 2003, of a heart attack, while participating in a demonstration against the war on Iraq
Harry was raised in the Hebrew National Orphan Home where he made lifelong friends and learned lessons on the value of community and solidarity, but also suffered abuse at the hands of cruel caretakers, thus learning firsthand about bullies and hypocrites.
When released from the orphanage, he became first a socialist, then a union organizer and a member of the Young Communist League. As a young communist, he participated in countless strikes and picket lines, often receiving beatings by police and thugs; he was arrested so often that he came to refer to his jail cell as his "second home." While not in jail, he and his comrades found homes for the homeless, raised money for the unemployed, and relentlessly pursued justice for the poor.
He briefly attended Commonwealth College, a school for activists in Arkansas. In 1936, at the height of the Depression, he joined the Merchant Marines and sailed to ports in Greece, Turkey, Bulgaria, Romania and parts of Africa. It was on this trip that he witnessed poverty and misery the likes of which he'd never seen. This further instilled in him a disdain for injustice and hypocrisy. Shortly after this trip, Harry volunteered to fight fascism in Spain.
Spain was a turning point in his life. He arrived in France in February 1937 and was smuggled over the Pyrenees into Spain. He was one of 2,800 Americans who volunteered for the Abraham Lincoln Brigade, part of the 40,000-member International Brigades that formed the most diverse army that has ever existed. Harry was one of the few soldiers who went through practically every major battle with the Internationals. Nine hundred of his American comrades died there. His story is told in his book, "Comrades: Tales of a Brigadista in the Spanish Civil War," published by the University of Nebraska Press in 1998. That book was exceptionally well-received, and has since been published in both Germany and Spain.
Harry met his future wife, Ruth Goldstein, upon disembarking from the ship that brought him home from Spain in September of 1938. They were married on May 7, 1939, and worked together at TASS for the next 54 years, with the exception of the years Harry spent in the U.S. Army during World War II as a turret gunner on a B-26 bomber.
In his final years, Harry made four extraordinary trips to Europe to speak about his book. He developed countless friendships with peace-loving people all over the world. At home, he was in daily communication, via email, with comrades in Germany, Spain, Japan, Israel, Mexico, and England, as well as many in the United States. The manuscript for his second book, "Legacy," was completed just three weeks before his death.
Harry was a pacifist at heart. His hatred of war was profound, but his hatred of fascism was even deeper.