Abraham Osheroff

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Abraham Osheroff
Known for Abraham Lincoln Brigade

Abraham Osheroff (October 24, 1915 – April 6, 2008)[1][2] was an American social activist, carpenter, war veteran, documentary filmmaker, and lecturer.

Biography[edit]

Born into a family of Russian-Jewish immigrants, Sarah and Louis Osheroff, in Brooklyn, New York, he spoke Yiddish and "a good smattering of Russian"[3] before English.

In the early 1930s, he began political work. In 1931, during the Great Depression, the police arrested him for moving the furniture of evicted families back into their houses. A policeman, who was a member of the American Nazi Bund, beat up Osheroff while he was incarcerated and called him a "Goddamn Jew." Around this time, he joined the Communist Party. In 1935, aged 20, he was organizing miners' unions on behalf of the party and raising aid for striking workers.

When the Spanish Civil War came in 1936, Abe felt no real compulsion to go and fight, until he saw the bombing of Guernica by the Luftwaffe. This convinced him to fight, as he believed no one should be allowed to inflict such suffering on others and get away with it. He joined the Abraham Lincoln Brigade and was wounded at the Battle Of Belchite (1937).

Back home in 1938 after a severe injury to his knee, Osheroff ran for the New York Legislature as a Communist.[1] When World War II broke out, he enlisted in the US Army to fight the Nazis in Europe. Ironically, the Army did not allow him to go overseas because they were concerned about his political views. Instead, he served as an instructor, based primarily in the South.

At the beginning of World War II, he married his first wife, and had a son Carl. After the war, he taught at the Jefferson School of Social Science in New York, a Marxist adult school with ties to the Communist Party. After his first wife divorced him, he married Claire Rosenbaum in New York City and they went semi-underground in 1949, moving around the country, working as a carpenter under an assumed name after a tip-off that he was pursued by the FBI.[2] He left in 1951, under persecution from the House Committee on Un-American Activities.

He left the Communist Party in response to the revelation of Stalin's purges, and in 1956, moved to California with his wife and two year old son, Pete (b. 1954). He abandoned the family many times in order to pursue more lofty goals of saving the world and in 1959, when his daughter, Jo (b. 1958), was only six months old, his wife filed for divorce. In 1962, Abe married his third wife Noel Carrawan. They had three children, Nick (b. 1959), Sara (b. 1964), and Dov (b. 1962), and lived in Venice, California until they divorced in 1972. Abe was key in the struggle to save the Venice Canals from development and to stop authorities from driving out the poor families, like his, that dominated the area. Abe worked as a carpenter and taught his two sons, Nick and Dov, the trade.

After splitting from many of his best friends in the Communist Party, he threw his efforts into the Civil Rights Movement building a community center in 1965, in Holmes County, Mississippi, where he was threatened by the police because he was working with African Americans. (The police were allied with Ku Klux Klan elements.) Osheroff had initially thought to make a contribution to the civil rights movement in the American South by rebuilding the Highlander Folk School in Tennessee, however, after discussing the matter with Myles Horton, Highlander's founder, a plan was developed to build a community center in Mississippi instead.[4] While building the Mileston Community Center, Abe stayed with Hartman Turnbow, a leader of the movement in Holmes County.

In 1974 he completed the documentary Dreams and Nightmares, on the Spanish military bases sold to Franco's dictatorship by Nixon, which shocked many, as at the time Nixon was still a popular president. Dreams & Nightmares won the top award at a documentary film festival in Leipzig, then in East Germany. Permission to return to Spain in 1971 in order to create the documentary was obtained because Osheroff, despite his lack of experience, succeeded in duping the authorities of the still-ruling Franco regime.[2]

In 1985, he organized a village building brigade in America to travel to Nicaragua to aid the Sandinistas. Later, he was highly active in movements opposing the Gulf War and Iraq War, and he drove the Peace Mobile.

In March 2008, Osheroff traveled with his wife, Gunnel Clark, and friends from his Seattle home to San Francisco for the unveiling of the United States's first monument to the Abraham Lincoln Brigade. He was determined to go, and it took great effort to get him there. But Osheroff was the guest of honor, one of the 20 or so last survivors of the Brigade. Osheroff used to say, "I have one foot in the grave but the other keeps dancing."

After more than seven decades of deep involvement with what he called "radical humanism," Osheroff died on April 6, 2008, a few days after returning to Seattle.[1]

References[edit]

  1. ^ a b c Martin, Douglas. "Abe Osheroff, Veteran of Abraham Lincoln Brigade, Dies at 92". The New York Times. 11 Apr. 2008. Retrieved 11 March 2009. http://www.nytimes.com/2008/04/11/us/11osheroff.html?_r=1
  2. ^ a b c "Abraham Osheroff: Inveterate activist who fought in the Spanish Civil War and went on to espouse a series of left-wing causes in the US during the Cold War". The Times. 29 April 2008. Times Online. Retrieved 11 March 2009. http://www.timesonline.co.uk/tol/comment/obituaries/article3834632.ece
  3. ^ A Conversation with Abe Osheroff, Interview by Rita Fritz Amer, Raven Chronicles, Vol 11, No. 1-3
  4. ^ http://www.crmvet.org/lets/6405_boebel.pdf

External links[edit]