Sunday, January 6, 2008

Who's Who In Knickerbocker Village History: Wolf Kupinsky, aka Harry Milton

I think I was doing a search on the Rosenbergs and I stumbled on an incredible document, a list of the members of the Abraham Lincoln Brigade and their home addresses. Originally there were 2800, now they number in the tens. Those that are still alive are in their 90's. It set me off on the making another one of my google maps. What I do is plot their addresses and then go off to photograph the site, hoping that the original structure (in this case 70 years later) is still there. It's fascinating (at least to me) to look at two houses, maybe a block apart and then look at the names of two guys in their late teens and with no military experience, probably childhood friends, who came up with the idea in 1936 to go to Spain and fight Fascists. I think about a third of those 2800 never made it home. Survivors came home heroes, got no official recognition for their efforts, were lucky to escape recrimination (many went under alias' because of this) for breaking the law, but were later harassed and hounded because they fought on the side of the Communists. Anyway, when I checked the list there were two guys that came from Knickerbocker Village. One of them was Wolf Kupinsky, aka Harry Milton. He was lucky to survive the war and he is credited with saving George Orwell's life.
an excerpt THE MAN WHO SAVED ORWELL, David Jacobs
The American sentry I had been talking to had started forward. ‘Gosh! Are you hit?’ People gathered round. There was the usual fuss — ‘Lift him up! Where’s he hit? Get his shirt open!’ etc., etc. The American called for a knife to cut my shirt open. I knew that there was one in my pocket and tried to get it out, but discovered that my right arm was paralyzed. In the hazy photo (Orwell and Milton), a group of men and one woman pose for the camera behind a wall of sandbags, with their weapons at hand. They do not have the look of regular soldiers, and there are no uniforms. One individual stands literally head and shoulders above the rest. It is none other than George Orwell, or as he was known then, Eric Blair, his real name. The scene is the Spanish Civil War, and the photograph includes ‘the American’ who came to Orwell’s aid when he was shot: Harry David Milton. A small but interesting collection in the Hoover Institution Archives records Milton’s time in Spain, including his encounter with the future author of Nineteen Eighty-Four. The Milton collection sheds light on Orwell’s political development in the crucible of Spain and underlines the role played by American volunteers in Spain who were not members of pro-Moscow Communist Parties and who chose to serve in formations other than the largely Comintern-recruited International Brigades, which received much more attention. Orwell’s vivid description of being wounded on the front lines near Huesca occurs near the end of his memoir of the Spanish Civil War, Homage to Catalonia. Many years later, Harry Milton, describing the incident to a reporter in California, attributed Orwell’s misfortune both to his height and to his somewhat reckless habit of looking over the top of their unit’s fortified position: ‘I heard the crisp sound of a high velocity shot and Orwell [toppled] over. He landed on his back.’ Milton recounts giving first aid, as Orwell waited to be taken to the hospital. In another article about the shooting, Milton claims only a modest role for himself: ‘I simply stopped the bleeding.’ Milton does, however, claim some credit for influencing Orwell’s political consciousness as it developed during his time in Spain.

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