[Aaron Hilkevitch interview]

Aaron Hilkevitch (1912-2008) was a Chicago-area psychiatrist and the last surviving member of the Abraham Lincoln Brigade that fought in the Spanish Civil War. In this 45-minute clip, he discusses his experiences in Spain and elsewhere with in a lively talk with several women, including his second wife.

00:10Copy video clip URL The tape begins with Aaron Hilkevitch being asked why he joined the war; he answers that it was a question of duty. He notes that he was just finishing an internship in Cook County — an internship which he cut short because he “was afraid the war would be over” before he got there.

03:10Copy video clip URL Hilkevitch shows off his “Longevity Prize” — the Life Fellow award from the American Psychiatric Association.

04:05Copy video clip URL Hilkevitch cites fighting “against the fascists” as being a prominent reason for his joining the loyalist side of the Spanish Civil War. “That’s easy,” he says about the choice.

04:45Copy video clip URL Hilkevitch’s wife, Joyce Turner Hilkevitch, tells the story of how she bucked the reactionary leanings of her mother, instead choosing to focus on the importance to “work together for a better world;” she saw some union protestors picketing in the city, and was appalled by the treatment of those protestors by the policemen.

05:30Copy video clip URL Hilkevitch cites his upbringing in the liberal Humboldt Park neighborhood and his association with artists as two catalysts for his involvement with the anti-fascist side.

07:45Copy video clip URL Hilkevitch notes how he broke from his involvement with the activist groups to go to college, but never truly broke away. “I was alway active in something,” Hilkevitch says about his time in college.

10:20Copy video clip URL While in medical school, Hilkevitch describes how he helped organize a high-school teacher strike to protest the low wages that teachers were paid at that time.

12:00Copy video clip URL Hilkevitch describes how his actions in exposing an improper business practice within the University of Chicago meant he was “re-evaluated” to no longer qualify for the medical school.

13:55Copy video clip URL Hilkevitch notes that for several of his years in medical school he was not as radical as at other times in his life.

16:00Copy video clip URL When Hilkevitch heard the calls from Spain for doctors, he says he knew that he had no reason not to go.

16:20Copy video clip URL A surgeon from San Francisco, Hilkevitch notes, financed the entire medical team that went to Spanish.

17:30Copy video clip URL Turner tells of a time when she confronted police officers who were treating, she thought, a group of young people unfairly. “I’m very disturbed by the violence in our society,” she exclaims.

19:20Copy video clip URL Turner explains how she sees her husband as being more conservative overall than she is, despite his being to the left of her politically. Her want for immediate action against injustices she cites as an indicator of this.

20:20Copy video clip URL Turner tells the story of how she went to interview Orson Welles as he produced _Julius Caesar_ — a rendition done in contemporary clothing. She also spoke with Joseph Cotton.

22:00Copy video clip URL Hilkevitch tells a story from Spain, of how a drunken man was acting foolish outside of where his team was gathered, and he made him go away by throwing him off of a table. He then tells of later rumors that the man was Ernest Hemingway, in Spain to report on the war.

25:15Copy video clip URL Hilkevitch pegs the number of people who went to Spain from the U.S. at 3000, noting that the official numbers often left out the number of volunteers.

28:20Copy video clip URL Hilkevitch tells the unfortunate story of how his original film negatives from Spain — of which there were many — perished in a fire which consumed his photographer friend’s studio.

29:00Copy video clip URL Hilkevitch tells of how he landed in France, and notes how a famous French photojournalist taught him how to use his Leica Model-D camera.

32:00Copy video clip URL Hilkevitch notes that he was one of few people who entered Spain legally during that time, doing so using his passport and with a valid visa. He travelled by boat to Paris, then train to Barcelona.

33:30Copy video clip URL Hilkevitch speaks about how his guide in Spain was an American, and how he introduced him to their captain — the brother of a Wisconsin congressman.

35:20Copy video clip URL Hilkevitch notes again that the official total number of Americans that went to Spain was 3000, but that many went both to Spain and back home on their own — and therefore likely aren’t counted in that official number.

35:45Copy video clip URL Hilkevitch says that the people in Spain ranged from adventurers to intellectuals — all united against fascism. He tells of how chauvinism shone through with all these men gathered in one place, especially with so few women among them.

38:15Copy video clip URL Hilkevitch tells of a “nuts” young man in Spain, whom he says should have been sent home for psychiatric reasons. The young man arrived in Spain aged 17, and lost his arm while he was there.

39:20Copy video clip URL Hilkevitch recites a sort of mantra from the war, which centers on being “too young to die.” He notes that the mantra was sung in the film The Good Fight.

41:55Copy video clip URL Hilkevitch discusses some details of his time in Spain, such as how they were required to shoot deserters — but often didn’t. He notes that his brigade didn’t like to wear their hierarchical insignias either, as they saw themselves “all as equals.”

43:00Copy video clip URL Hilkevitch says that he and the other 200-or-so surviving members of the American brigade will likely be used for propaganda in the coming weeks as the 60th anniversary of the war comes around.

45:23Copy video clip URL The tape ends.

 

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