Memorial to the German Members of the International Brigades in the Spanish Civil War, Berlin-Friedrichshain

The International Brigades

On 22 October 1936, the International Brigades were established with the consent of the Spanish government. Within the framework of the People’s Army created at the beginning of October, five International Brigades arose - the 11th to the 15th brigade. The brigades were typically divided according to the languages of the volunteers. About 40,000 volunteers from more than 50 states were to fight in the brigades until 1939.


The 11th brigade was made up largely of Germans and Austrians. The most famous - made so if nothing else by the song from Ernst Busch - was the Thälmann-Bataillon.

the flag of the International Brigades
the flag of the International Brigades

Between 2,000 and 3,000 Germans fought in the International Brigades, among them the author Ludwig Renn and the locksmith Hans Beimler, both killed in action outside Madrid. A majority of the volunteers in the brigades were communists (around 80 per cent), though members also belonged to the socialists and social democrats.


Among the famous battles German volunteers participated in, the year-long defense of Madrid, Teruel in December 1936, the Battle of the Jarama River in February 1937, Guadalajara in March / April 1937, Huesca in June 1937, and the Battle of Brunete in July 1937 - a last great offensive from the Republicans, which ended in defeat - are most notable.


In Spain, the Germans also fought against Germans. As with the Italians, they found themselves in a special position among the other foreigners. The fight against the Legion Condor was a “German war” on foreign soil.


On 23 September 1938, in the face of inevitable defeat at the hands of the rebels after the lost battle at Ebro, the Spanish government ordered the withdrawal of the International Brigades from the Spanish People’s Army. On 28 October 1938 in Barcelona, the volunteers were solemnly disbanded. 


Source: excerpts from the conceptual text by Dr. Dietlinde Peters