Swedish and Scandinavian Volunteers in the International Brigades in the Spanish

TITLE  Swedish and Scandinavian Volunteers in the  International Brigades in the Spanish Civil War (1936-1939); Communication of  a  minority  group  based  on SwedishPrinted Sources  and  Spanish  Archives  and  Printed Sources.


Until recent days, the subject of the International Brigades during the Spanish Civil War has been treated as a social and political movement; thus an entity.  With the exception of the biographies, the available studies focus on the “what of the International Brigades”, instead of a more individual and human view of “who in the International Brigades”. The approach we take in this research is treating the volunteers as individuals or persons. For this purpose, we will analyze a minority contingent, the Swedish and Scandinavian Volunteers in the International Brigade during the Spanish Civil War.

This essay intend to be the first step for a thesis in the subject involving the department of history, the department of linguistics, and needless to say the department of Spanish.

1. Purpose 

The purpose of this study is to present the Swedish and Scandinavian Volunteers in the International Brigades in the Spanish Civil War (1936-1939) through their own literature; and classify them as written memories at oral level. This literature emerged due to the early literacy campaign in the mid XIX century in the Scandinavian Countries. Once this literature is presented, we will apply this source in the field of historiography, supported by sociolinguistics and sociology of language. We will demonstrate the crucial role that language played in the fate of our volunteers.  We will also back-up our study comparing our material with other sources more familiar to us.


Our intention is not to write a new version of history, we intent to include a new instrument in the historiography research. It is, summarizing, a linguistic approach of the written memories at oral level, within the sociology of the language and sociolinguistics. 

2. Corpus

Although it seems that there is a clear line in between what sources and literature is in historiography; it often depends on the interpretation and application of the material we are dealing with[1] [2].

Our corpus is mainly based on the written memories and notes produced by the Scandinavian and Swedish Volunteers in the Spanish Civil War. We will give special importance to the contemporary memories, when the “world view of their experiences” has not yet been contaminated; and there have not been enough time to think over and blend their own vision with new exterior ones.

The texts we will base our research, written by the Spanish Civil War veterans are: Andersson[3], Larsso[4], Lätt[5], Nilsson, G.[6], Nilsson, U.[7], Olsson[8], Staaf[9]; and the Norwegian war reporter and commissary Lisa Lindbaek[10]. Although some of the publication dates are not contemporary, though the text we can deduct they were written during and just after their participation in the war.

3. Hypothesis and approach

The following hypothesis will be presented:

The written memories on oral level, as introduction of the sources used, and its value

-description of the written memories as the most direct source of information

-comparison with other sources

The description of the volunteers as individuals and contingent. Though their memoirs.

Their search and finding of their “Scandinavian identity”, as conclusion 

3.1 Historiographic approach

For our analysis, we have carried out a historiographic approach through three monographs on the International Brigades. These are: Revista de Historia Contemporánea Ayer 2004 (4)[11], with special attention to the first chapter: “Las Brigadas Internacionales: a historiographic approach”. A second monograph published in commemoration of the 60th anniversary of the arrival of the International Brigades to Spain, La Guerra Civil Española y las Brigadas Internacionales[12], with special attention to the chapter “Albacete, Base de Las Brigadas Internacionales, 1936-1938”. The third, La Sanidad en las Brigadas Internacionales[13]. This last book studies the International Brigade from a very objective perspective.

3.2 Study of the Swedish view of the Spanish Civil War

I order to have a clear view of the significance of the Spanish Civil War and the International Brigade to the Scandinavian and Swedish population; as well as to obtain reliable information and data regarding the volunteers, we will rely on two thesis. The first, Solidaritet och partitaktik: Den svenska arbetarrörelsen och spanska inbördeskriget 1936-1939[14]. The second thesis with the title Sverige och spanska inbördeskriget[15]. A history book titled Svenskar i krig 1914-1945[16] will also be used as reference material.

4. Theoretical background

4.1 Our source: Written memories at oral level

Let us keep on mind that the utmost achievement of us human being is the language or the power of communicating at its own will. Through our existence, we have developed various types of language; which includes orality, written language, and sign language, amongst others.

The history, as we know it, is based on written material; therefore, all events which are documented in written form are to be considered history.  Until recent days, only the privileged minority had access to education, as result, being the only ones capable to communicate in written.  Consequently, we may deduct that all history is described by the upper class, viewed from up to down.

In our Western World this barrier has been broken with the right to the education for all. The Nordic countries: Denmark, Sweden, Finland, Norwayand Islandwere the pioneers of this right. In Sweden, for example, an educational law called Folkskolestadgan was passed in 1842, giving the right for a free education for youngsters; and in 1882, primary education became compulsory through the Skolplikten law[17]. Thus, it is understood that illiteracy was eradicated on the dates which concern to our research, in between 1936 and 1939. Another fact that proves this theory was the popularity of the contingency of Scandinavian immigrants to the New Continent bridging the 19th and 20th Century.

Eradicating illiteracy did not imply that the social canon and the cultural level experienced a drastic nor immediate change. Here, for the first time, history is described and recorded by the people who physically went through the experience; we may certainly say that it is the vox populi who takes the pen and the word.

This literature is a valuable addition to the traditional sources used for the contemporary historiography research, especially under the sociology of language, sociolinguistics, psycholinguistics, and ethnographic eyes.

Going back to the dates of our study, between 1936 and 1939; the audio-visual and media technologies were not fully developed or widely available.  These recording tools were reserved for special events and population, leaving the majority of the history protagonists “out of the picture” or “in the dark”, the same way as in the case of “written communication”.

Robertsand Streets study the interrelation between oral and written language; and denote that neither the linguists nor the historiographers have considered the relation between the oral and written language until the mid XX century. According to the authors, the study of orality and literacy deals with a specific type of discourse which includes: broader topics related to social structures, power relations, as well as identities.

Requena and Peláez[18] also denote the importance of oral memories as a contribution to the contemporary historiography on the presentation of the book:  Memorias de vida: Albacete y las BI en el recuerdo de los Voluntarios de la Libertad. This book introduces us to this new field which has been recognized after the WWII.

In the introduction of his book Blood of Spain, The experience of Civil War, 1936-1939[19] , the author states that “oral history should articulate the experiences of people who, historically speaking, would otherwise remain inarticulate”. His sources are from “ordinary people”; thus from those who have not written their memoirs, and who did not have any public nor political role.

In contrast, the sources used by Schiffrin[20] in Language, experience and history: ´What happened` in WWII” is public discourses such as newspapers, library cataloguing systems, books, titles. The written memories at oral level does not match any of these categories, leaving us as a bridge in between the more voluble and informal “oral history” and the more stereotyped “public discourse”.

4.2 Problem with our source

Communication and linguistic problems during the Spanish Civil War are mentioned only on few reports and documents as a secondary issue.  Latter documents as in Causas Generales (AHN) and CIAS, deals briefly with the problems arising due to linguistic diversities. Independent published literature, contemporary, as well as more recent ones do mention this issue but it does not dedicate much attention.

Consequently, the main obstacle this research faces, paradoxically, is the language. Our sources are written in various languages. The Vital Gayman report was written in French; the campaign reports of the different battalions where the Swedish and Scandinavian troops belonged were written in German, English, French, and Spanish; the history books are mainly written in Spanish, English and French; and our main source the written memories at oral level in their original language; thus Swedish, Danish, and Norwegian; with the variations of their time.

The documents produced by Kominter are mostly written in Russian or French.

There are also great disparities on dates and places when we try to collate various documents and literature.

4.3 Main characteristics of our source

Compared to the interviews and oral memoirs:

There is no artificial interviewer-interview situation, leaving the narrator full freedom of interpretation in speech and writing

No intermediary, only the writer and his writings

The narrator has neither pressure nor time limit to expose his views or fact

There is no compromise to “come off well

Spontaneous and real expressions which are thought over slightly longe

There are other materials from the same authors which we may compare, such as interviews, articles, and letters.

In contrast to other sources:

ü  In the letters, the remittent has in mind the recipient while writing.

Most of the books written, in the early stage, are authored by people with some kind of political involvement, such as military leaders, political commissars, and union leaders, amongst others.

The literary works written by well known authors have an evident social compromise with their editors, as well as readers; needless to say, the unavoidable economical compromise.

Most of the recent literary works, last 30 years, do not contribute us with new information, since they are based on the pre-existing literature; recycled material.

The testimonial material in the archives, such as military, police, witness statements, amongst others, although with precise data, do not have any value for our study in sociolinguistic and sociology of language.

Special features of the memoirs:

The early dates of the writings give us fresher real and reliable information.

The early alphabetization of the Scandinavian population gave the “right to the pen” to people   of   all   social   stratus;   giving  birth   to  the  so  called   “Proletarian school”[21] The intention of leaving “memories”, not literary works.

It is addressed to “all whom it may concern”

The vocabulary used is spontaneous and may be considered as “collage” of oral expression characteristic of the time lived through the protagonists.

In most of the cases, the lack of social compromise gives them right to change their points of view; disclosing a more direct and immediate feel of events.

The Swedish non-intervention policy gives these authors freedom of expression.

The simple and sincere style makes us easy to detect any deviation from reality.

The lacks of aesthetical literary value is compensated with its linguistic and historical value.

4.4 Linguistic feature of our source, “world view”

Since language provides us with a screen or filter to reality, according to Worf, it determines the perception and organization of the world around the speakers; whether in the natural individual world or the collective social world.  Thus, the language a person speaks will help build his own world-view. There is only one real world-view for a person; we may describe it as “stand point”. A person can only be in one place at a time, this is the “stand point”; and he can only be looking to a certain point, this will be his “world view”.

Language is not only a tool to report an “experience” or “incident”; it is an interpretation of a fact. In popular words we say that “it all depends on the color of the crystal we see through”, and “the mirror tells us what we want to see, our own reality”. We can make a glass half full or half empty only with our mind. A graphic way to mentally visualize the power of our mind transmission is the abysmal difference in between human speech and the computer generated speech. According to Romaine: “No particular language or way of speaking has a privilege view of the world as it ‘really is’”. The world is not simply the way it is, but what we make of it through language.”[22]

Through the memoirs of the Swedish Volunteers, we will present their own “world-view”. Following, we will include our own “world view” or interpretation of their “world-view”.

5. Historical Background

5.1 International Brigade during the Spanish Civil War

It is not possible to make a full description of our volunteers without previously presenting the global contingency of the International Brigades in the Spanish Civil War.  For this purpose, we will use the introduction by the veteran brigade Bayacde Delperrie[23].

 “Some fifty nations are represented in the International Brigades: Cubans, New Zealanders, Australians, blacks, Arabs, Chinese, Finnish, Luxembourg, Vietnamese… The largest contingent, evidently, comes from Europe. Two main categories: the volunteers from countries where the communist party is prohibited; exiled, fugitives, prescripts, these are the truly politicized, the hard liners; and the other ones:   Scandinavians,   Belgians,   British,   French   which   are   larger   in   number, about 25%”.

The Volunteers in the International Brigade was the major international concentration of peoples ever known in the history of the time.  It was well suited to receive the appellative of “Legion of Babel”; and Albacetewhere the recruiting centre was located, “La Mancha’s Babel”; or a “Babilonic Language combination”. In GeorgeOrwell’s Animal Farm, its protegonists communicated, although not understanding, in the same language.  We all know that reality is far beyond this fiction.

We should add that regardless the well know Non-Intervention Agreement to the Spanish Civil War (1936-1939) signed by 27 European counties, which included Sweden; unofficially there were more national diversities involved in this Civil War than in WWI and WWII.

5.2 The Swedish and the Scandinavian Contingency in the International Brigade

In between 1936 and 1938, while the graves of the fallen in the WWI were still warn, and on the doors of WWII, more than 500 Swedish Volunteers,  or a total of about 1450 Scandinavian Volunteers, headed to the European Antipodes of Sweden to participate in the Spanish Civil War.

In most of the Scandinavian and non-Scandinavian sources, there are no distinctions made between the Swedish, Norwegian, Danish, Islander, and Finnish contingents; simply calling them Scandinavians.  Many of the War Documents and available literature also classify them simply as Scandinavians.

According to Gyllenhaal and Westberg[24], besides the approximately 500 Swedish Volunteers, there were around 500 Danish, some 250 Finnish, nearly 200 Norwegian, and 2 Islanders. Whether we consider the Swedish Volunteers as object of our study, or the Scandinavians as a group, we still have a very low number, approximately 1 to 3 per cent of the total contingent of volunteers in the International Brigade. The total contingency on most recent calculations is estimated in between 40.000 and 50.000.

Lundvik[25] keeps track of a total of 501 Swedish in the Spanish Civil War and points out that the “Swedish Security Police” has 506 volunteers in their 1ist. From the Swedish volunteers, 95 % belonged to the working class and the rest were intellectuals and clerk or office workers. The working class contingent included 121 sailors, 42 metal workers, 35 miners, 18 drivers, and the remaining with minor jobs.   Politically,   more than 50 % were affiliated to the communist party, and the rest included a few belonging to the unions and the rest without any political affiliation.

By the end of January 1937, the Scandinavian contingent militancy was located mainly in the third company, “Thälmann” battalion. This battalion was formed almost totally by German speaking volunteers.  According to Lundberg, based on his interviews to the veterans:

Den första gruppen svenska frivilliga kom till Jarama-fronten från Madrid den 11 februari. I bataljon Thälmann fanns fentioen svenskar och i bataljon Edgar André tjugo. De sattes in på frontens södra del där krigsläget var mycket kritiskt för republikanerna. Efter tre veckors strider hade 28 svenskar stupat, 6 tillfångatagits, 32 sårats mer eller mindre svårt. 5 man var oskadade. Redan början av slaget stupade den omtyckte Krister Reuterswärd och några dagar därefter syndikalisten Ragnar Skotte, ledaren för skandinaverna. Till Skottes efterträdare utsågs Skoglar Tidström. Han var mycket språkkunnig och den ende bland svenskarna som talade spanska flytande. Han sårades svårt dagen efter utnämningen och avled en tid därefter på sjukhuset i Murcia.[26]

We may corroborate the sources consulted previously with this original document from the War Archives.

XI. Brigade. I. Bataillon (Edgar André) den 30.I.37 An das Bataillon Thaelmann zu Haenden des Genossen Richard. Ejemplo de Orden escrito en alemán y un extracto traducido al español: “Orden, fecha 30.1.37, al B. Thálmann. Que están preparados para marchar, en el cuartel del Palmar (Murcia) los 51 camaradas daneses y suecos.” [27] 

5.3 The language in the Scandinavian volunteers

Which was the language used by the Scandinavian Volunteers in the Spanish Civil War? The Swedish contingent of more than 500, around 500 Danes, 250 Finnish, a maximum of 200 Norwegians, and 2 Islanders; with a total of approximately 1450. The Swedish contingency, as well as the Swedish speaking Finnish contingency, Danes and Norwegian mingled in amongst each other and were catalogued just as “Scandinavians”, as previously stated.  The common language used by this contingency was the same as their identity, the “Scandinavian”. Each national spoke their own language. Their news bulletin and front communications were also written in “Scandinavian Language” and called “Scandinavian Edition”. The Finnish speaking contingency joined the English speaking battalion “AbrahamLincoln” and “GeorgeWashington” since there were many Finnish-Americans in their battalion with whom they could easily communicate.  According to Per Eriksson[28] the reason why most of the Swedish volunteers chose to militate in the German speaking battalion was that they believed their chances of surviving was better due to the strict discipline amongst the Germans.  This statement should be considered with reticence since we do not know the power of decision they had.

6. Description of the Volunteers through their written memoirs

Throughout history, the relation in betweenGermanyand the Scandinavian countries have been quite turbulent. If we take into account the political situation inEuropeand the world at the time of the Spanish Civil War, the interpretation of the text should be quite precise. The simple fact the nationality was German, overpowered the present reality that they were a contingent of German runaway Communists and Jews. Under the eyes of the Scandinavians and other German neighboring countries citizens, they were a community of German enemies. The historical “German image” overpowered the present reality that the Germans were their fellow antifascist fellow Volunteers inSpainfighting for the same ideals.

Bataljonens politkommissarie var med. Svenskarna började förklara sig: ”Vi gillar inte tyskar.”

Då svarade politikommissarien: ”Det gör inte jag heller. Jag är österrikare.”[29]

Skandinavernas kynne l[g inte f;r preussisk disciplin och drill, allra minst en sjömans, det harmoniserade mera amerikanernas, engelsmännens och i synnerhet skottarnas. En oknäppt knapp skulle där utöver en anmärkning inte ge upphov till något rabalder. [30]


Per Eriksson förklarar varför svenskarna mest valde att ingå tyskspråkiga bataljoner med att de trodde på en ”större chans att lyckas hos tyskarna eftersom deras disciplin var bäst, god disciplin var den enda och bästa livförsäkring som stod att få”.  [31]

 När Per Eriksson återsåg sitt kompani fann han det i upploppsstämning. Dagen efter den stora segerfesten hade de bryskt väckts av två tyska officierare. Kompaniet hade beordrats ställa upp för uniformsinspektion och de utskällningar som följde retade upp svenskarna rejält. De som öppet visade sitt ogillande arresterades. De kvarvarande var enligt Eriksson mycket tydliga i sin kritik: ”Alla kamraterna hade med en mun begärt att få bli förflyttade från Thälmannbataljonen till flottan. Vi passar inte som armésoldater, sa man, speciellt inte tyska.” De två tyska officierarna höll fast vid sin kritik och anklagade till och med de arresterade för myteri, vilket det var dödsstraff på.

Hela bataljonen var med om det följande krismöte. Eriksson har beskrivit hur han inför alla redogjorde för de arresterades förtjänster under striderna och ”krävde demokratisk disciplin istället för kadaverdisciplin”. Eriksson visste att det sedan länge fanns en stor, uppdämd, kritik bland svenskarna mot tyskarnas disciplinsyn. Men han valde att inte utveckla det mer, för att undvika en ännu större spricka.

Svenskarna ansåg att österrikarna var ”mera smidiga än preussarna och lära sig snabbare att sätta sig in i andra folks språk och mentalitet” Men det blev ändå spontana hurrarop när brigadstaben i februari gav order om upprättande av den första skandinaviska bataljonen: ”Hans Beimler””, tysk riksdagsman och kommunist. [32] 

Kära mamma! När du läser detta brev är jag i Spanien. Du skall inte sörja för klarar mig nog. Om inte fascismen blir stoppa i Spanien, så kommer den hem till oss och det vill jag inte. Jag har nu inte mer att skriva. [33]

Probably Levander died believing that his life was spared because his statement “Yes, believes in God!” It is evident that his life was not spared because of his belief in God.Spainis a religious country, whether Nationalists or Republicans, and even with all the crimes committed during its history against or in name of God.

More than likely his life was spared when he said, “Yes, I believe in God” in a foreign accent. Larsson describes the difficulties to recognize each other, even within their closer compatriots. If we go back to the dates Levander was incarcerated, it coincides with the dates the different Consulates were looking for their survivors.

Levander fördes efter tillfångatagandet till ett läger for krigsfångar i närheten av Zaragoza. Han blev nu summariskt och tillsammans med några andra medlemmar ur den 11: e brigaden, dömd till döden genom arkebusering.

… Då, medan soldaterna kommenderas att lägga an, kommer en munk uppfarande, jag begriper inte varifrån han kommer, han börjar fråga mig om jag ar kristen, om jag tror på Gud och Jesus och jag skriker: ”Si, sí creo en Dios!” Jo, jag tror på Gud och det otroliga inträffar, munken övertalar soldaterna På något outgrundligt sätt, att dom inte kunde avrätta en kristen På detta vis. Jag blev förd ner till cellen igen.[34]

Plötsligt en eftermiddag kom soldater tillbaka som legat ute vid fronten en längre tid. De var avlösta för vila och reorganisering. Jag gick ut till dem för att hora hur det gått för dem. Där var en stor karl med en så liten uniformsrock att den spruckit i ryggen och ärmarna nådde endast till armbågarna på honom. Hans byxor slutade en bit nedanför knäna och paragaterna var avskurna för arr få plats med tårna. Mannen samtalade med en norrman och svor på bred göteborgska så det luktade svavel lång väg.

De tittade upp då jag tilltalade dem, men fortsatte sitt samtal utan att svara mig. Jag försökte en gång till med samma resultat. Tredje gången rykte jag honom i ärmen. Han tittade upp och frågade: – Hur fan har du lärt dig svenska?

Mörk och skiten son jag var kände han inte igen mig, trodde jag var spanjor. Det var Tore Steen från Hisingen. Det var mist tre år sedan vi sist såg varandra på Kafé Verdandi. [35]

”Blåmanchester”, this is the typical countryside workers clothing inSouthern Europe. Under Lättt’s eyes, blåmanchesterare the fabrics manufactured in the Swedish textile industry established by the British industrials.

The Spaniards asks Lätt if he could read. How can anyone explain to an illiterate that different languages have different ways of reading. Through his expression, we can also deduct that the author identifies himself superior amongst the people around him.

Jag tog mig alla fall fram till Lérida på apostlavis och hade därför mynt nog för att besöka ett kafé. Några bondgubbar i sina karakteristisks kläder av blå manchester hade en stund granskat mig ingående. Slutligen reste mig en av gubbarna och kom fram till mig.

– Buenos días! Sabes leer? (Goddag! Kan du läsa?)

Jag förklarade så gott jag kunde, att jag visserligen kunde läsa, men att jag inte förstod spanska så bra. Men det viftade han bort med:

– No importa! (Det gör ingenting!)

Så läste jag för dessa lärdomstörstande analfabeter den ena spalten efter den andra ur Solidaridad Obrera under det att de andäktigt lyssnade och vid något alltför vidunderligt feluttal smålog överseende.[36]

We repeatedly encounter evidence of the communication hardship the volunteers endured.

Stig Berggren Ett stort problem inom de internationella brigaderna var språkförbistringen. Bristen på ett gemensamt språk skapade farliga situationer men också smått dråpliga händelser, som när Stig skjutsade

en tysk kapten hela vägen från Guadalajara till Madrid. Väl framme vid högkvarteret bad kaptenen Stig att vänta “eine Stunde”. Kom han inte tillbaka inom den utlovade tiden kunde Stig köra igen.

-Tja, tänkte jag. En stund är väl en kvart, tjugo minuter. Så jag väntade och när han inte kom körde jag tillbaka. Senare på kvällen dyker tysken upp arg som ett bi. Han hade fått lov att lifta med en lastbil åtta mil i ösregnet. “Eine Stunde” betyder en timme och inte en stund som jag hade trott.[37]

Naturligtvis finns det en nästan övervinnelig svårighet: språket. Antalet verkligt språkkunniga är mycket litet, av tyskarna är det synnerligen få, som kunna spanska eller ens franska. Det kan vara alldeles omöjligt att få en sak förklarad, både bakom fronten, något som kan vara irriterande nog, och vid fronten, vilket översättning av militära order till att vara brevskrivare åt älskande par. De flesta kompanierna ha endast sällan en verklig duktig tolk. Efterhand som brigaderna blivit mer och mer uppblandade med spanjorer kan detta bliva ett våldsamt handicap. Men när man måste förstå varandra går det också till slut, ofta en klapp på axeln och några ord om ”camaradas” skapa den nödvändiga förståelsen. [38]

Språklig sett var svenskarna skralt utrustade. Den före detta kompanichefen Per Eriksson kunde inte dra sig till minnes att något enda svensk talat spanska ens hjälpligt då de lämnade Sverige: ”Vi hade väl ett par intellektuella som kunde franska och de lärde sig ganska snabbt. Sedan fick vi ju lära oss själva i skyttegravarna och så.  Man blev tvungen att uttrycka sig. De enda som fick någon språkutbildning i Spanien var de som efter en tid togs ut till officersutbildning, däribland Eriksson.”[39]

Trots att jag inte är någon polyglott började det ordnar sig med språket. En lustighet vill jag berätta. Verbet ”att gå” heter på spanska “ir” och böjs i presens indikativ singularis: voy (jag går), vas (du går), va (han, hon, den går). Tredje person singularis används också som ett sådant utrop som grovarbetare och sjömän använder när all skall ta i på gång: “Va!” (Åhej!). Men i början rättade jag då på ryggen och svarade med ett fånigt “va”?…[40]

Lämnande åt honom att fundera färdigt i lugn och ro fick jag kontakt med de andra kamraterna och samma veva inträffade en divisionsgeneral, eller vad sjutton han var, och klagade över något som vi inte riktig förstod, men av vissa gester att döma måtte ha varit ett uttryck för hans förvåning över att finna skandinaver bakom linjen. Rekylen höll ett kort anförande på skånska, i vars slutkläm han rekommenderade gubben att åka till Getapulien och plocka potatis, varefter vi avlägsnade oss mot nya jaktmarker. [41]

Examples of a language within a language in the name of solidarity; this time amongst sailors.

Där stod några sjögrabbar …

“Du gör opposition. Marsch i arresten!”

Fast Per säger “kalabusen”, ett gammalt sjömansord för arresten.[42]

Efter en vecka inträffar bland andra åter en kontingent skandinaver och vi bli tillfälle att hälsa på ånga gamla skeppskamrater och bekanta. Henry Olsson förklarar, att hela sjömanscellen i Göteborg kommer att ta slut och samma är visst förhållandet i Stockholm. Alla möjliga pacifister och vapenvägrare springer och tjatar om att få komma ner och kriga.[43]

In this first passage, the Spaniards ask Lätt if he could read. How can anyone explain to an illiterate that different languages have different ways of pronunciation and reading. Through his expression, we can also deduct that the author identifies himself superior amongst the people around him.

Jag tog mig alla fall fram till Lérida på apostlavis och hade därför mynt nog för att besöka ett kafé. Några bondgubbar i sina karakteristisks kläder av blå manchester hade en stund granskat mig ingående. Slutligen reste mig en av gubbarna och kom fram till mig.

-¡Buenos días! ¿Sabes leer? (Goddag, Kan du läsa?)

Jag förklarade så gott jag kunde, att jag visserligen kunde läsa, men att jag inte förstod spanska så bra. Men det viftade han bort med:

– ¡No importa! (Det gör ingenting!)

Så läste jag för dessa lärdomstörstande analfabeter den ena spalten efter den andra ur Solidaridad Obrera under det att de andäktigt lyssnade och vid något alltför vidunderligt feluttal smålog överseende.[44]

The volunteers in the International Brigade participated actively in the literacy campaign for the Spanish soldiers.  Efforts were also made in order to learn some basic Spanish essential for their survivor.

Man satte igång med daglig undervisning i spanska för utlänningarna och dagliga analfabetkurser för spanjorerna. Undervisningsministeriet har utgivit en förträfflig liten ABC-bok, särskilt avsedd för soldater. Över allt, både i reserven och främsta skyttegraven, kan man se spanska soldater ivrigt studera det lilla häftet.[45]

Vi fick också förstärkning av spanjorer. Dom skulle lära sej av militärt förband och dom kunde varken läsa eller skriva. Men vi blev goda vänner. Jag minns de gången dom skulle lära oss spanska. Dom pekade på hår pelo, näsa nariz, läpp labio, mun boca, och det var till och med så att vi från staben fick griffeltavlor. Dom skulle lära sej läsa och skriva i skyttegravarna. En vecka efter det att dom hade kommit började vi med ABC.

… Där fanns en pojke från Asturien som var intellektuell. Han hjälpte till med undervisningen.[46]

Jarama-Morata Kompanichefen, Skotte, diskuterar med en tysk, Pelle jobbar som tolk, få av oss begriper tyska. Kompaniet är blandat, unga spanjorer, de flesta analfabeter, resten skandinaver. [47]

No state of mind could have been more sincere than on the line of fire where their lives were on stake. These memories are the best sketches:

I februari inleddes slaget vid Jarama, söder om huvudstaden. Gustav och hans kamrater sändes direkt till fronten och något utbildning hanns inte med.

– Man visste hur man skulle springa, söka skydd och kasta sig ner. Det var nervöst. Vi fick ett jävla elddop. Eldgivningen blev allt intensivare. Gustav hörde hur en sjukvårdare ropade något på tyska gång på gång. Gustav förstod inte vad han sade men kunde lätt räkna ut att han behövde hjälp. [48]

In the thick of the battle we organise ourselves with a certain amount of success into sections. The Spanish problem is quickly solved. “Manuel! What’s the Spanish for “Forward?” “Adelante!” yells Manuel, and waves the Spanish lads on. “Abajo!” And down they flop to give covering fire. A burly French lieutenant runs over to ask me for grenades. We have none. Waiving a ridiculous tiny automatic, he advances shouting “En Avant!” Ahead of us are little cones of blue-red flame.[49]

Jag satt bredvid Montero och ville av honom få besked om läge och positioner hos våra förband. Men hans portugisisk-spanska blandning gav mig ingen exakt orientering i den främmande terrängen.

 Och följde därför med största uppmärksamhet Monteros ögonvittnesskildring på hans portugisisk – spansk – franska språkblandning.[50]

Castellón de la Plana. Försöker ordna ett par kryckor. “No hay”, finns inte. Dagarna går, pluggar spanska med gester, inget lexikon, enkla fraser fastnar i hjärnan. Spanjorerna lägger ner fruktansvärd energi så det går runt i hjärnan.[51]

Let us keep in mind the time when the Volunteers travelled toSpain, 1936-1938. Culinary characteristics were quite particular in each land. Olive oil was unknown to the majority of the Swedes, probably they have never tried sunflower seeds or garbanzo beans, and more than likely the cook did not have enough time in the warfront to soak the salt dried codfish in water.

Olivoljan (i smaken lik fotogen) ovanför, underifrån fiskar man upp med skeden: fågelfrön, stora hårdkokta ärtor, klippfisk salt som fan. En seg köttbit, däggdjurets art är omöjlig att beskriva. Slejsen tuggar i förtvivlan, bristen på garnityr gav honom  ett gummiansikte. Men ner åker det med hjälp av iskallt vin serverat i bleckmuggar. Bläcksmaken var vedervärdig och det tog månader innan vi vande oss vid den spanska maten.[52]

Fraga, han kallades bara för Fraga, hade varit daglönare som far sin. Det betydde: Jobb högst sjutti dar om året. Men fanns inte. Han talade om gaspachon, vattensoppan. En gaspacho kan man göra hur näringsrik som helst. Det beror på vad man har att lägga i. Men där han var hemma hade dom haft några olivdroppar, lie gräs, någon lök. Den soppan, alla målen från morgon till kväll. Det fanns inget annat. Från höst till vår.[53]

Kompanichefen förbjöd oss äta av grisen, men ingen förstod tyska. Då kommenderade han ut oss på två timmars patrull, dels som en bestraffning för den omotiverade bristen på språkkunskaper i bestämda situationer och dels för att hindra oss.[54]

Tanken på en ordentlig måltid mat sysselsatte oss alltmer, men en dag bjöds det på en läckerhet. Vår korpral, Cabo Pedro, hade upptäckt en mängd grodor i en liten kvarndamm.… Tillredda i olivolja var det en läckerhet, som jag i Frankrike lärt uppskatta, där de liksom sniglar stod högt i pris.[55]

7. Conclusion and implication for further research

During the last two decades, we have been experiencing a new phenomenon, the largest human displacement in our history. This massive human displacement in such a short time span is changing the linguistic map.

Its consequences are felt on daily basis, not only through the media but also within our surroundings.  Sociolinguistics and sociology of language, together with background study of history is the best of the tools for the adaptation of this phenomenon.

In the case of the Swedish and Scandinavian Volunteers, they found their identities in a foreign land, feeling foreigners and gathering together with their fellow citizens. For example, before leaving their country, many of the Swedes world-view of a foreign land, language and customs did not go any further than those they learned from the Danish, Norwegian, or Germans.

Bringing history to the present; let us take Spainas an example. With the Spanish Reconquista, great part of the Iberian Peninsulawas united geographically, as well as linguistically. The Castilian language gained its primary position, becoming the Spanish language. This language was transferred beyond the IberiaPeninsulaand the European continent on its conquest of new territories; one of them being Ibero America or Hispano America. Language and the culture of both continent blended and the existing autochthonous culture in the American Continent reborn. Nevertheless this was a slow process with plenty of time for assimilation.

On the contrary, the present massive process of immigration and integration that is taking place in a very short period of time.  As example, we have Latin American population and culture not only inUSAandSpain, but thorough the European Continent, and even inJapan.  Its repercussion is shown clearly through our daily experiences; accentuated though the media. Let us keep in mind that the sole mean of communication, thus socialization, we human beings have is the language.

The research in the fields of sociology of language, sociolinguistics, hand in hand with modern historiography research methods are essential tools for a better and closer understanding of this new phenomenon. The actual tendency of looking back and describing the past with redundant phrases as historical past or historical memories are manifestations in order to sidestep his new phenomenon. Let us not use our past to resuscitate old flames of rancour and discord; but as a tool to build a more fruitful future, more homogeneous; without wasting away our particular identity.

Nowadays we have countless GO and NGO as: UNICEF, United Nations, Peace Corps, International Peace Brigades, Missions, amongst others; which within their multiple challenges they keep on experiencing the same social and linguistic obstacles. This fact is minimized, in the best of the cases, and in the most of the cases ignored.

[1] Stellan Dahlgren and Anders Florén, Fråga del förflutna, Lund 1966, p. 220-223.

[2] Knut. Kjeldstadli, Det förflutna är inte vad det en gång var. Lund 1992, p. 163-168.

[3] Gösta Andersson, Partisaner, Stockholm 1975.

[4] Arne Larsson,  Knuten näve. Göteborg 1995

[5] Nisse Lätt, En svensk anarkist berättar, Göteborg 1995.

[6] Göte Nilsson,  Svenskar   i  spanska  inbördeskriget,    Stockholm  1972

[7] Ulf Nilsson,  Dödens ögonblick. Stockholm 1976.

[8] Sixten Olsson, Spanska frontminnen,  Stockholm 1938

[9]  Karl Staaf,Den Röda Lågan, En dödsdömd antinazists memoarer, Stockholm 1997.

[10] Lise Lindbaek, Internationella Brigaden, Skriven på officiellt uppdrag av XI Brigaden Thälmannbaljon.  Stockholm 1939.

[11] Manuel Requena (ed.), Las Brigadas Internacionales,  Ayer 56/2004 (4) Madrid 2004.

[12] Manuel Requena (coord.), La Guerra Civil Española y las Brigadas Internacionales, Cuenca 1998.

[13] José Ramón Navarro Carballo,La Sanidad en las Brigadas Internacionales. Madrid 1989.

[14] Bertil Lundvik, 1980   Solidaritet och partitaktik: Den svenska arbetarrörelsen och spanska inbördeskriget 1936-1939,  Uppsala 1980.

[15] Marcos Cantera Carlomagno, Sverige och spanska inbördeskriget, Lund 1999.

[16] Lars Gyllenhaal and Lennart Westberg, Svenskar i krig 1914-1945. Lund 2004.

[17] Franklin D. Scott, Sweden, The  Nation’s  History.Minneapolis 1977, p. 553.

[18]Manuel Requena (coord.).“La Guerra Civil Española y las Brigadas Internacionales en Albacete” Al-Basit, Revista de Estudios Albacetenses. Albacete 1996, p.207.

[19] Ronald  Ronald, Blood of Spain, The experience of Civil War, 1936-1939, UK 1979, p. 31

[20] Debora Schiffrin “Language, experience and history: ‘What happened’ in World War II”. Journal of Sociolinguistics. Vol.5/3. UK 2001, p. 322-324

[21]Scott 1977, 553


[22]RonaldWardhaug, An Introduction to Sociolinguistics.Australia,  2006, p. 225

[23] Bayac de Delperrie,  The International Brigade, Madrid 1978, p. 76-77

[24] Gyllenhaal and Westberg 2004, p.110

[25] Lundvik 1980,  p.119-152

[26] Lundberg  2001, p.64

[27] Servicio Histórico Militar del Instituto de Historia y Cultura Militar, Archivo de la Guerra de Liberación, Documentación Roja, Armario 77

[28] Gyllenhaal  2004, p.110

[29] Nilsson. 1972, p.49

[30] Olsson 1938, p.57

[31] Gyllenhaal 2004, p.110

[32] ibid  p.133-137

[33] Lundberg 2001, p.52



[34] Lundberg 2001, p.81

[35] Larsson 1995, p.48

[36] Lätt 1993, 69

[37] Jändel 1996, p.40

[38] Lindbaek 1939, p.93

[39] Gyllenhaal 2004, p.123

[40] Lätt 1993, p.88

[41] Olsson 1938, p.39

[42] Nilsson 1972, p.49

[43] Olsson 1938, p.10

[44] Lätt 1993, p.69

[45] Lindbaek 1939, p.138

[46] Nilsson 1972, p.43

[47] Ibid. p.14

[48] Nilson 1972, p.67

[49] Rust 1939, p.53

[50] Weickert 1974, p. 83, 136

[51] Andersson 1975, p.39

[52]Andersson 1965,  p.10

[53] Nilsson 1972, p.229

[54] Olsson 1938, p.95

[55] Staaf 1997, p.63



About michikomurai

Female, born in Tokyo 7 September, 1954, lived in Perú, USA, Spain, Thailand and last 14 years in Sweden. Profession: Interpreter, Communication & human resources, language teacher and fitness instructor. BA in Spanish at Gothenburg University, Master in Linguistics and Museology.
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2 Responses to Swedish and Scandinavian Volunteers in the International Brigades in the Spanish

  1. Lars says:


    There is now also an English version of our book, “Swedes at War”, which also has some extra material: http://larsgyllenhaal.blogspot.com/



    • michikomurai says:


      Yes I know.
      wish to exchange comments personally, some day.
      The full version of the essay is in Spanish; quite much with Spanish sourced from CEDOBI and AHN; as well as BN in Spain

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