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For ‘Chairman Moe,’ One Last Salute By BROOKE HAUSER Published: November 18, 2007
For ‘Chairman Moe,’ One Last Salute
Published: November 18, 2007

EVEN into his 90s, Moe Fishman never missed a protest. So it was only fitting that the memorial service for Mr. Fishman, an Astoria-born radical who fought Fascism in Spain in the 1930s and in his later years demonstrated against the Iraq war from his folding chair in Greenwich Village, was equal parts a celebration of his life and a rousing antiwar rally.

Patrick Andrade for The New York Times

Moe Fishman, lifelong radical, still inspiring the troops.

A motley crowd of Grannies for Peace, young leftists, grizzled Vietnam veterans and union organizers gathered last weekend at Judson Memorial Church on Washington Square to say goodbye to Mr. Fishman, the voice of the Veterans of the Abraham Lincoln Brigade.

The unit included 3,000 Americans, roughly a third of them impassioned leftists from New York. During the Spanish Civil War, which began in 1936, they volunteered to defend the democratically elected Spanish Republic against Francisco Franco. Today, only about 40 of the American volunteers survive (among them my grandfather Saul Shapiro, who lives in Mexico).

As secretary-treasurer of the veterans for more than half a century, Mr. Fishman held the group together by keeping records of his comrades’ whereabouts and publishing a quarterly newsletter that chronicled brigade reunions and exhibitions. In recent years, he also announced the deaths of his fellow brigadistas, as the fighters called themselves.

Mr. Fishman died of pancreatic cancer at 91 on Aug. 6. “When he passed, it was like a big hole appeared,” Estelle Katz, the 91-year-old widow of a veteran, and a onetime member of the Young Communist League, said after the service. “Just a whole era — gone.”

But, if the memorial service was any indication, hardly forgotten. About 350 people, including two surviving volunteers, turned out to pay their respects and add photographs and other mementos to a wall-length timeline of Mr. Fishman’s life, which began on Sept. 28, 1915.

After the singing of the antiwar anthem “Bring ’Em Home” by Pete Seeger, who sent a postcard for the timeline attesting to Mr. Fishman’s commitment to social justice, speakers described Mr. Fishman as a beloved uncle, a champion of the blue-collar worker ( a graduate of Stuyvesant High School, he worked for a time in a laundry and as a truck driver) and a friend to the New York chapter of Veterans for Peace. Friends and colleagues called him “Chairman Moe.”

But, above all, Mr. Fishman was remembered as a rebel who always had a cause.

“Moe did not lead us for all these years to have us stop here,” said Georgia Wever, Mr. Fishman’s partner of six years. A widower, Mr. Fishman met her at a birthday party for George Harrison (“not the Beatle George Harrison,” she clarified, “the I.R.A. gunrunner”).

“He intended for us to remain activists,” said Ms. Wever, 67. “Forever.”


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