Winnipeg Jews and the Spanish Civil War Part 2

April 29, 2022

Canadian Jews and the Spanish Civil War Part 2

Several Winnipeg Jews went to Spain. Marvin Penn, who did not identify himself as a leftist of any stripe or persuasion but was animated by an ardent belief in freedom and disdain for fascism and who would later befriend and wed Irma Penn, Jewish Heritage Centre archivist, arrived in Spain on March 17,1937 where he was assigned to the Canadian Field Ambulance Group. According to his obituary Penn fought with the Abraham Lincoln and Mackenzie-Papineau Battalions and survived four major battles: Jarama, Brunete, Quinto and Belchite. Though identified as MIA (missing in action) by Petrou, ….Sidney Cohen, a pharmacist, survived the war as he was one of the veterans honoured by the Jewish community upon their return (see below). Ray Harris (female), a nurse by occupation, and whose home is identified by Petrou as New York and Winnipeg, also survived the war. Allan Ross, a mechanic, was hospitalized and survived. Gerald (Jerry) Glow fought in various battalions including the Mackenzie-Papineau where he served in the medical unit. Israel Goldenberg, a furrier by trade, was wounded in action and survived. The Canadian Cultural History About the Spanish Civil War and Petrou list the renowned nuclear scientist Louis Slotin as a volunteer. This was disputed by Slotin’s brother who claimed that “he (Slotin) took a walking tour of Spain but never participated in the Spanish Civil War” (cited by Martin Zelig).

Aaron Magid and his spouse Ethel, worked as a doctor and nurse respectively and they both survived. According to William Beeching, Dr. Magid was a popular front-line surgeon “who won the admiration of the members of the Mackenzie-Papineau Battalion for his selfless devotion to the men and his courageous actions on behalf of the wounded…” Ethel Magid noted that for both her and her husband, the motivating factor that led them to go to Spain was the persecution of Jews in Germany and to stop the spread of Nazism and fascism. Upon his return to Winnipeg, Dr. Magid spoke about his experiences in Spain at the Talmud Torah. Five of the returned volunteers, Penn, Glow, Dr. Magid, Cohen and Goldenberg were honoured by the Jewish community at Liberty Temple.

Marvin Penn, who passed away in 2001, made it his lifelong mission to lobby the Canadian government to recognize the efforts of the veterans. After their return many had been prosecuted under the Foreign Enlistment Act for participating in a war towards which the government pronounced neutrality. Many were investigated by the RCMP for their ties to communist and other leftist organizations and others found difficulty in securing employment. Those who survived were not entitled to veterans’ benefits.

While some memorials have been erected, thanks in large part to the efforts of veterans such as Penn, to this day the Canadian government does not officially recognize the valour and legacy of those who opposed fascism in Spain. Their names are not included in the Books of Remembrance at the Peace Tower in Parliament Hill, nor are they commemorated at Remembrance Day ceremonies or on federal war memorials.


Beeching, William C. Canadian Volunteers: Spain 1936 – 1939. Regina: Canadian Plains Research Center, University of Regina, 1989.

Canadian Cultural History About the Spanish Civil War (

Hoar, Victor. The Mackenzie – Papineau Battalion. Toronto: The Copp Clark Company, 1969.

Hobsbawm, Eric. How to Change the World. New Haven: Yale University Press, 2011.

Ibarruri, Dolores. They Shall Not Pass: The Autobiography of La Pasionaria. New York: International Publishers, 1966.

Marvin Penn Collection, Jewish Heritage Centre of Western Canada

Orwell, George. Homage to Catalonia. Oxford: Oxford World Classics, 2021.

Petrou, Michael. Renegades: Canadians in the Spanish Civil War. Vancouver: UBC Press, 2008.

Reiter, Ester. A Future Without Hate or Need: The Promise of the Jewish Left in Canada. Toronto: Between the Lines, 2016.

Thomas, Hugh. The Spanish Civil War. Harmondsworth: Penguin Books, 1977.

Tulchinsky, Gerald. Canada’s Jews: A People’s Journey. Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 2008.

Zeilig, Martin collection, Jewish Heritage Centre Archives (includes articles on Louis Slotin).