Papers, 1937-1998 (bulk 1977-1998)

Weissman, Irving, 1913-1998


2.5. linear ft. (3 boxes).
Organized into two series: I. Spanish Civil War and World War II Era, 1937-1946; II. Subject Files, 1951-1996 (bulk 1977-1996) Arranged alphabetically within each series. In Series I, correspondence precedes other document files.
The bulk of Series I consists of correspondence written by Weissman to his sister Sara and his parents from Spain between May 1937 and October 1938. Two letters are written in Yiddish, using the Roman alphabet. He wrote long, detailed letters about his journey to Spain, the landscape, his training, life in the barracks, and his experiences on the fronts. The economic hardships that his family was facing at home in the United States are discussed as well as his parents' worries for their son's safety. Weissman's letters provide evidence of his political convictions as well as how his point of view evolved as a result of experiencing war first hand. Weissman also wrote to friends and political comrades and he maintained contact with an imprisoned Spanish comrade, Jose Ferando Ventura, after returning to the United States. There are also documents related to the Spanish Civil War and to Weissman's service in the United States Army during World War II, most notably, a diary he kept while serving in Europe, as well as union cards and documents that reveal some of Weissman's activities and areas of employment in the years between the two wars. Series II consists of correspondence, essays and articles, and other documents related to Weissman's activities with the Veterans of the Abraham Lincoln Brigade (VALB) and his position as editor of their newsletter, The Volunteer. Correspondence in this series is mostly incoming and third party correspondence sent or forwarded to Weissman by other VALB members, including Theodore (Ted) Cogswell, Carl Geiser, Ben Iceland, Edward Lending, Abe Osheroff, Abe Smorodin, Morris Stamm, and Robert Steck, as well as other veterans. There are also records relating to VALB activities, particularly those in New York but also regional and national efforts. Included in the VALB files are a copy of the VALB and American Medical Bureau Names List compiled by Ted Cogswell, records related to some of the organization's bureaus and commissions, and documents on VALB's campaign to send aid to the Sandinistas in Nicaragua. Weissman's work on behalf of Polish-Jewish Spanish Civil War veterans is well documented, and the essays, articles, and book reviews are written by Weissman.
Irving Weissman (1913-1998) grew up in a Polish-Jewish immigrant family in New York City. In the early 1930s Weissman attended City College of New York for one year studying English literature and history. He quit school to work in a factory and help support his family. Weissman was a member of the Young Communist League and was active in the Fur and Leather Workers and the United Electrical Workers Unions. He participated in actions of unemployed and laid-off workers during the Depression. Weissman eventually got a Works Progress Administration (WPA) job teaching English to recent immigrants. He left this job to go fight in the Spanish Civil War in 1937. Upon his return to the United States Weissman worked as a ship's fitter in Hoboken, New Jersey. He was a member of the Industrial Union of Marine and Shipbuilding Workers of America, Local 15 and was elected to the Union's grievance committee. Weissman served in the United States Army from 1942 to 1945. During World War II he fought in campaigns in North Africa, Italy, France, Belgium, and Germany. When he returned to the United States he accepted an assignment from the Communist Party, of which he was then a member, to be an organizer, first in western New York State, then in West Virginia -- In 1951 Weissman was arrested along with five other veterans of the Abraham Lincoln Brigade and Communist Party members and charged, under the Smith Act, with conspiring to advocate the overthrow of the United States government. Weissman was sentenced to five years in prison but the case was appealed. In 1956 the Supreme Court ruled that the case be retried and the new prosecutor's motion to dismiss the case was granted. In the intervening years Weissman had spent several months in jail while bail was raised and had served time for contempt of court for refusing to give names of Communist Party members on the witness stand. In the late 1950s Weissman left the Communist Party. Weissman worked in building construction in New York from 1953 until his retirement in 1978. Throughout this time and for the rest of his life he was active in neighborhood politics and with the Veterans of the Abraham Lincoln Brigade (VALB). Weissman headed a campaign to secure pension rights for Polish-Jewish veterans of the Botwin Company, some of whom were charging the Polish authorities with anti-Semitism. He was also editor of The Volunteer for several years during the 1980s. When his wife Freda died in the early 1990s Weissman moved from New York to San Francisco to be near his daughters and grandchildren. He remained active with VALB on the west coast, helping to raise funds for a monument in Seattle. Irving Weissman died of congestive heart failure on December 20, 1998.
Open for research without restrictions.
Identification of item, date (if known); Irving Weissman Papers; ALBA 165; box number; folder number; Tamiment Library/Robert F. Wagner Labor Archives, New York University.
Permission to publish materials must be obtained in writing from the Director of Tamiment Library/Robert F. Wagner Labor Archives, Elmer Holmes Bobst Library, New York University, 70 Washington Square South, New York, N.Y. 10012.
Photographs from the Irving Weissman Papers have been transferred to the non-print section of the ALBA collection in the Tamiment Library and Robert F. Wagner Labor Archives.
ALBA collections at the Tamiment Library.
Finding aid available in the repository and on the Internet; folder-level control.

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