“When the war in Spain started, it was no great shock,” Osheroff says now. “From the moment Hitler came to power, I hated him, but I couldn’t do a fuckin’ thing about it. But when I saw the war in Spain change from a civil war into an international war, that’s when I knew I had to go. I was 21, I was young and I had a gorgeous-lookin’ girlfriend, so it wasn’t the easiest decision, but I decided that if I didn’t go, I’d feel guilty about it for the rest of my life. So I went.”
Abe Osheroff was born in Brooklyn in 1915 to impoverished Jewish immigrants. His lifelong love affair with social activism, what he calls “radical humanism”, began early in his teens when he formed the Brownville Athletic and Cultural Club which promoted, eccentrically, lifing weights and listening to classical music. His first political activity was helping to carry the furniture of tenants evicted by their landlords back into their apartments. The police frowned on his activities and he was caught and beaten by New York’s finest. “They called me a dirty Communist Jew bastard” Abe recollects, “all of which was true, except the bastard part.”
In 1937 Osherhoff heard, along with some 50,000 men from around the world, the call to the International brigades. Newsreel footage of the bombing of Guernica tipped the balance. Leaving behind his beautiful girlfriend, he defied the prohibition of the State Department and managed to make it to Spain via France. But not without incident – the ship he took from France to Barcelona was torpedoed two miles off the Spanish coast. Osherhoff swam to shore. “I was baptized.” he says. In 1937, at the battle for Zaragoza he was wounded in the leg by machinegun fire. The next year, the battle against facsim lost, he returned to the U.S.
In 1940 he ran for office on the Communist party ticket. Despite his injuries from the Spanish war he seved in the American Army in World War Two. After the war he worked as a carpenter with his father back in Brooklyn. In 1949, at the beginnings of McCarthyism, an acquaintance in the justice department informed him that he was about to be jailed for his former political activities. Osheroff had little choice but go on the lamb, living the next eight years underground, a fugitive from the FBI. When the Supreme Court halted the persecution of Communists in 1957 he re-emerged.
And how. In Mississippi in 1964, he employed his skills as a carpenter to build houses for black Americans living in poverty. And though he personally rejected communism in the 1950’s when the proof of Stalin’s atrocities came out, he headed to Nicaragua to do the same in the 1980’s.In between he protested repression and militarism in Vietnam, Guatemala, Indonesia, Chile and Panama. Although he never stopped working with wood, his main income for the past three decades has been derived from lecturing at colleges all over the U.S. In 1974 he produced the documentary “Dreams and Nightmares” about the Spanish war. And he did it in typical Osheroff fashion. With “a hunk of money and a bottle of booze” he bribed contacts at the American TV networks to obtain archival footage of the world. After setting up a dummy film company professing to be producing a film called “The Shield Against Communism, The North Atlantic Treaty Organization” he conned more footage from The Pentagon and the CIA.
Now in his nineties and living in Seattle Mr. Osheroff has never retired from “Radical Humanism”. To the Seattle Post Intellegencer he reports, “I’m having a wonderful old age, I’m richer than Bill Gates.” We salute you, sir.