Polish volunteers in the Spanish Civil War
This article is about volunteers of Polish nationality or extraction who fought for the Spanish Second Republic in the Spanish Civil War. According to André Marty, the Comintern "chief organiser", about 3,000  Poles volunteered for the International Brigades. Elsewhere, it has been calculated that 5,400 Poles fought in Spain. The majority (3,800) were miners working in France, 300 were Polish-Americans, and several hundred were Poles living in various European countries. Only 800 came from Poland itself.
The International Brigades often named its battalions and brigades using stirring historical symbolism. Such symbols included the Italian leader, Giuseppe Garibaldi, the French anthem, La Marseillaise, and contemporary political figures, such as Ernst Thaelmann. The 19th century Polish general, Jarosław Dąbrowski was an obvious choice, too. General Dąbrowski was involved in the January Uprising, in a plot against Tsar Alexander II and imprisoned. In 1865, he fled and escaped to France. In 1871, he was elected to the Paris Commune and took over the defence of the city. He was killed on the barricades, "fighting gallantly" for a foreign cause.
Throughout the Spanish Civil War, the name Dabrowski was used in addition to the unit designation for units with a Polish connection or component. These include the Dabrowski Battalion, the XIII International Brigade (also known as the 13th Dabrowski Brigade) and the 150th International Brigade. See below.
The International Brigades
The International Brigades were international in character. Initially, for ease of communication, units were grouped by language or ethnicity. As the war progressed, and the casualty rates increased, this policy eased and reinforcements of Spanish conscripts were sent wherever they were required. The following battalions all had strong Polish connections.
Raised in October 1936, the Dabrowski Battalion was one of the very first international battalions raised. The first Poles to arrive were miners from the Polish mining communities in Northern France and Southern Belgium. Its first commander was Stanislaw Ulanowski (a former corporal in the Polish army); later Major Tadeusz Oppman took command.
The Palafox Battalion was formed on 28 June 1937 as a unit of the 150th International Brigade. It was formed from Poles, and Soviet citizens, with a nucleus of Spanish volunteers from the La Pasionara Battalion. "Most of the four companies were commanded by Red Army lieutenants". On 4 August 1937, two of its companies were sent to reinforce XIII International Brigade, with the remaining companies following in early October. On 12 October 1936, the Palafox Battalion was merged with Mickiewicz Battalion to form the 4th battalion of XIII International Brigade. It remained with the 13th Brigade until the International Brigades were dissolved on 23 September 1938.
1 Coy: 2 Coy: Naftalí Botwin 3 Coy: Adam Mickiewicz (el 4.Oct.1937 forma batalló) 4 Coy: Taras Szewczenki (6.Jul.1937- 2.Aug.1938) 5 Coy: Ludwig Warynski
The "Dabrowski" Brigades
The XIII International Brigade was first formed in December 1936 and named after Jarosław Dąbrowski. Strangely, it did not contain many Poles in its component battalions. The following July (1937), it was disbanded, together with its battalions, and the men and equipment were dispersed amongst the other International Brigades. On 4 August 1937, it re-formed as a predominantly Polish Brigade.
A reformed Dabrowski Brigade, led by Henryk Torunczyk was formed in January 1939 from stragglers and veterans who remained in Spain after demobilsation. It took part in the Battle of Barcelona. Survivors crossed the Pyrenees with the remnants of the Republican general staff after the fall of Barcelona. On 9 January it crossed French border and was finally dissolved, most if its soldiers were interned.
Most of Dąbrowszczacy were pro-Stalinist Polish communists. For their pro-Stalinist orientation they were condemned by the Second Polish Republic, which cancelled citizenship of many of them (in spite of the fact that Poland was the third biggest arms supplier to the Republic, after the USSR and Mexico). On the other hand, they were portrayed as heroes in the People's Republic of Poland; many of them served in the Berling Army, Armia Ludowa and Gwardia Ludowa during the Second World War.
The official rehabilitation came when Polish government issued medals to Polish Spanish Civil war veterans. The first was a white-metal badge - the Odznaka Pamiątkowa Dąbrowszczaków (the "Jarosław Dąbrowski Brigade Commemorative Decoration") - issued in 1945 to soldiers of the XIII International Brigade. The second was a white-metal medal - the Medal Za Waszą Wolność i Naszą ("Medal for our freedom and yours") - issued by decree of the State Council of Poland of 18 October 1956. It was awarded to all Polish volunteers who participated on side of the Republic. The ribbon is red with a central white band, reflecting the Spanish Military Order of Merit.
- General "Walter" (Karol Świerczewski) - Commanded XIV International Brigade and 35th International Division
- Major "Edward" Bolesław Mołojec - Commanded XIII International Brigade
- Henryk Torunczyk (1909-1966) - Led the "revived" brigade in 1939
- Jozef Strzelczyk - International Brigade commander
- Waclaw Komar - Commanded 129th International Brigade
- Stanislaw Ulanowski - Commanded Dabrowski Battalion
- Tadeusz Oppman - Commanded Dabrowski Battalion
- Stanisław Bułak-Bałachowicz - served as an advisor to Franco
The motto of the Educational Unit of VALB (Veterans of the Abraham Lincoln Brigade) is "For our freedom and yours", the Dabrowski motto.
- Hugh Thomas, The Spanish Civil War
- Antony Beevor. Battle for Spain
- (Polish) Ksawery Pruszynski, Rozaniec z granatow - Short story about the Dąbrowszczacy
- A Telling Omission: Polish participation in the 1936-1939 Spanish Civil War
- (Polish) Udział Polaków w hiszpańskiej wojnie domowej 1936-1938