Cynthia Gabbay

Dr. Cynthia Gabbay

Associate Fellow
Cynthia Gabbay

Research Abstract

"Argentinean Jewish Women Writing Utopia Following Spanish Civil War: Representation and Narratives of Gender and Place in Autobiographies"

The Spanish Civil War (1936-1939) occurred in the context of the II Spanish Republic and the rise of Communism and Fascism in Europe. After a huge progressive socialist movement reached government and the State administration, the II Republic passed a new Constitution and several national reforms, among them regarding women rights and suffrage.

During the following years, citizens from all over the world traveled to Spain. Some enrolled in the communist-organized International Brigades to support the democratic government and others enrolled in anarchist and trostkyist militia groups to support the revolution, all of them acknowledging that the Spanish war was decisive in the fight against Fascism and the strengthening of Nazism.

The International Brigades were composed of more than 35 thousand volunteers from 53 different nations: militia women and men, doctors, nurses, journalists, photographers, etc. During 1937 a socialist Jewish unit named "Naftali Botwin", the second company of the Palafox Battalion, was formed within the International Brigades. The Naftali Botwin company was composed of 150 Jews from Europe and Palestine. But besides the Jewish unit some other 9.000 Jewish people volunteered to fight for the Republic and the revolution. Between those, were a number of women that tried to change history but were mostly erased from its memory. The goal of this research will be to recover the identities and stories of Argentinean Jewish women that fought against Fascism during the Spanish Civil War, especially those that left a written testimony of their struggle, focusing, on those freethinkers that were not subjected to the ideological directives of a political party.

The focus of this study observes the partisans (miliciana) or the volunteer as performing a triple deconstructing struggle: 1. The Latin Americanization of the revolution – the margins coming up to provoke a change on the center – with hundreds of volunteers arriving from the New World. 2. A feminist battle and 3. A strengthening of the Jewish humanist identity. The locus of the civil war permitted a deconstruction of generic dichotomous identity (men versus women; non-Jews versus Jews; periphery versus center): the narrations entailed by the Argentinean Jewish volunteers served as media to deconstruct and reconstruct a (or several) humanist narrative(s).

The Argentinean Jewish volunteer women can be divided in two groups: those who revealed their Jewish origins by conserving their names and those that took secular heteronyms, as was the case of Mika Echebéhère. This study aims to recover those voices and to take a new look on the aesthetic representations of the Spanish Civil War through their testimonies. I would like to study also other cases like those of: Fanny Edelman and Adelina Abramson and Paula Abramson. This research will focus on the intimate space of their narrations – letters, autobiographies, memories, images and artistic creations – in order to find the crossroads between their revolutionary discourse and the quotidian feminist personal narratives.