Thälmann Battalion
The Thälmann Battalion was a battalion
A battalion is a military unit of around 300–1,200 soldiers usually consisting of between two and seven companies and typically commanded by either a Lieutenant Colonel or a Colonel...

 of the International Brigades
International Brigades
The International Brigades were military units made up of volunteers from different countries, who traveled to Spain to defend the Second Spanish Republic in the Spanish Civil War between 1936 and 1939....

 in the Spanish Civil War
Spanish Civil War
The Spanish Civil WarAlso known as The Crusade among Nationalists, the Fourth Carlist War among Carlists, and The Rebellion or Uprising among Republicans. was a major conflict fought in Spain from 17 July 1936 to 1 April 1939...

. It was named after the imprisoned German communist
Communist Party of Germany
The Communist Party of Germany was a major political party in Germany between 1918 and 1933, and a minor party in West Germany in the postwar period until it was banned in 1956...

 leader Ernst Thälmann
Ernst Thälmann
Ernst Thälmann was the leader of the Communist Party of Germany during much of the Weimar Republic. He was arrested by the Gestapo in 1933 and held in solitary confinement for eleven years, before being shot in Buchenwald on Adolf Hitler's orders in 1944...

 (born 16 April 1886, executed 18 August 1944) and included approximately 1,500 people, mainly Germans
The Germans are a Germanic ethnic group native to Central Europe. The English term Germans has referred to the German-speaking population of the Holy Roman Empire since the Late Middle Ages....

, Austrians
Austrians are a nation and ethnic group, consisting of the population of the Republic of Austria and its historical predecessor states who share a common Austrian culture and Austrian descent....

, Swiss and Scandinavians
Scandinavians are a group of Germanic peoples, inhabiting Scandinavia and to a lesser extent countries associated with Scandinavia, and speaking Scandinavian languages. The group includes Danes, Norwegians and Swedes, and additionally the descendants of Scandinavian settlers such as the Icelandic...

. The battalion fought in the defence of Madrid. Amongst the commanders of the battalion were the German writer, historian and World War I
World War I
World War I , which was predominantly called the World War or the Great War from its occurrence until 1939, and the First World War or World War I thereafter, was a major war centred in Europe that began on 28 July 1914 and lasted until 11 November 1918...

 officer Ludwig Renn
Ludwig Renn
Ludwig Renn was a German writer. His real name was Arnold Friedrich Vieth von Golßenau.Born in Dresden into a Saxon noble family, he fought in World War I on the Western Front. He wrote the book Krieg on his experiences...

 (later Chief of Staff of the XI International Brigade
International Brigades order of battle
The International Brigades were volunteer military units of foreigners who fought on the side of the Second Spanish Republic during the Spanish Civil War. The number of combattant volunteers has been estimated at between 32,000–35,000, though with no more than about 20,000 active at any one time...

) and Prussian World War I officer Hans Kahle, later promoted to lead the Republican 45th division for a time. The battalion, like the International Brigades in general, also attracted its share of intellectuals, such as the well-known writer Willi Bredel
Willi Bredel
Willi Bredel was a German writer and president of the Akademie der Künste. Born in Hamburg, he was a pioneer of socialist realist literature....

 who became its commissar
Commissar is the English transliteration of an official title used in Russia from the time of Peter the Great.The title was used during the Provisional Government for regional heads of administration, but it is mostly associated with a number of Cheka and military functions in Bolshevik and Soviet...



The German-speaking battalions were one of the first and eventually largest groups that formed in the International Brigades, coalescing out of the 'Thälmann Centuria' of the early war days. Most of the Germans volunteering were working-class people, "members of the Weimar Republic
Weimar Republic
The Weimar Republic is the name given by historians to the parliamentary republic established in 1919 in Germany to replace the imperial form of government...

's 'lost generation', who had never known stability or regular employment", and to many, the simple arrival in Spain (through the French blockade) to join the fight on the Republic's side was their first victory after years of losing their political struggle at home. In their home countries of Germany and Austria, fascism
Fascism is a radical authoritarian nationalist political ideology. Fascists seek to rejuvenate their nation based on commitment to the national community as an organic entity, in which individuals are bound together in national identity by suprapersonal connections of ancestry, culture, and blood...

 had already conquered, giving their foreign struggle a special grim context. As Robert G. Colodny writes in The International Brigades:
"The history of the Germans in the history of strong men who proved and overproved their courage and endurance, their resistance to pessimism and despair. It is the story of men who died or were broken physically in doing this. They brought to the International Brigades an offensive spirit, a bitter desperate courage at rare intervals in war priceless, essential, but always costly. They set an early example of what shock troops could be like. They tried to do the impossible, and paid for it. And during the early days in Aragon, in the futile fighting around Huesca, at Tardienta, the Germans, in countless bayonet charges against fortified positions, took their objectives, buried their dead, and waited with a caged restlessness for the next day's orders."

John Cornford
John Cornford
Rupert John Cornford was an English poet and communist. He was the son of F. M. Cornford and Frances Cornford.- Biography :...

, an English communist and poet, echoed these thoughts, describing the Germans as:
"...the finest people in some ways I have ever met. In a way they have lost everything, have been through enough to break most people, and remain strong and cheerful and humorous. If anything is revolutionary it is these comrades."

Ernest Hemingway
Ernest Hemingway
Ernest Miller Hemingway was an American author and journalist. His economic and understated style had a strong influence on 20th-century fiction, while his life of adventure and his public image influenced later generations. Hemingway produced most of his work between the mid-1920s and the...

 went even further in his admiration, calling them representative of the "true Germany" and contrasting them unfavourably with the Germans fighting on the other side in the Legion Condor. The respect with which the Germans were accorded - by the others in the International Brigades, as well as by the Republican populace - lifted their spirits as well. Many of them had been stripped of their nationality by the Nazis, and had spent years underground or in exile, and the war gave them the opportunity to reclaim an anti-fascist identity, their vision of a better Germany. For many it was also a time of either communist re-affirmation or political enlightenment (the largest block of all volunteers in the International Brigades was communist or had been recruited by communists).

However, the German volunteers were not above human faults and despair - especially as the war dragged on, and got increasingly difficult for the Republican side, which lacked the plentiful supplies and superior organisation of their Nationalist opponents. Records show that about one tenth of the volunteers eventually found themselves imprisoned at least for a certain duration for crimes like desertion, breaking discipline, or for political reasons as the Stalinist tendency in the Brigades increased (usually being accused of Trotskyism
Trotskyism is the theory of Marxism as advocated by Leon Trotsky. Trotsky considered himself an orthodox Marxist and Bolshevik-Leninist, arguing for the establishment of a vanguard party of the working-class...

). Infighting between anarchists and communists, eventually resulting in outright battles with several hundred dead and the purging of rival communist groups like the Workers' Party of Marxist Unification
Workers' Party of Marxist Unification
The Workers' Party of Marxist Unification was a Spanish communist political party formed during the Second Republic and mainly active around the Spanish Civil War...

 (POUM), also further poisoned the atmosphere as Francisco Franco
Francisco Franco
Francisco Franco y Bahamonde was a Spanish general, dictator and head of state of Spain from October 1936 , and de facto regent of the nominally restored Kingdom of Spain from 1947 until his death in November, 1975...

's victory came closer.
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