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Carl Geiser Papers

Call Number



1937-1990, inclusive
; 1977-1990, bulk


Geiser, Carl


8 Linear Feet (8 boxes)

Language of Materials

English .


Carl Frederick Geiser was born in Orrville, Ohio on December 10, 1910. He fought with the International Brigades in the Spanish Civil War and was taken prisoner and held in a fascist prisoner of war camp for a year before being released in April 1939. After a successful career as an aeronautical engineer, in his retirement he began to research and write a history of American volunteers captured during the Spanish Civil War. His labors resulted in the publication of Prisoners of the Good Fightin 1986. In addition to Geiser's Spanish Civil War correspondence, this collection consists chiefly of research materials gathered by Geiser in the course of writing his book. It includes correspondence with International Brigade veterans, biographical materials and subject files, along with typescript copies of Geiser's original 900-page manuscript.

Historical/Biographical Note

Carl Frederick Geiser was born in Orrville, Ohio on December 10, 1910. He was the oldest of six children; his father, a farmer, died in the influenza epidemic at the end of World War I, and his mother a year later of tuberculosis. His maternal grandparents, Swiss immigrants who spoke little English, raised Geiser and his siblings. The young Geiser received his primary education in a one-room schoolhouse while helping to tend the family's sixteen-acre farm. Upon his graduation from Orrville High School in 1928, he enrolled in the YMCA School of Technology (later Fenn College) in Cleveland, where he majored in electrical engineering.

In 1932, following the establishment of diplomatic relations between the United States and the Soviet Union, Geiser was part of the first National Student Federation mission to travel to the newly recognized country. This visit had a decisive influence on shaping Geiser's political thinking. Impressed by the Soviet system and the tenets of socialist ideology, Geiser joined the Young Communist League upon his return to Ohio. He became an active force in the American Student Union in Cleveland and served as a delegate to the First Student Congress Against War and Fascism held in Chicago. It was there that Geiser met his future wife Sylvia, a teacher and organizer who shared his political fervor. The couple moved to New York where they were absorbed into a dynamic culture of political activism and organizing. Geiser wrote press releases and edited International Labor Defense bulletins, organized for the League against War and Fascism, and in 1936 was elected to the National Committee of the Young Communist League.

On April 13, 1937 Geiser boarded the S.S. Georgicto join the International Brigades massing in defense of the Spanish Republic. He served as an ammunition carrier at the Battle of Brunete, saw action at Quinto, and advanced to the rank of Lieutenant. Following the Battle of Belchite in September 1937, Geiser was promoted to Political Commissar and charged with the organization of a training school for commissars at Tarazona. Wounded at the conflict at Fuentes de Ebro, Geiser was hospitalized for three months. Returned to the front as Commissar of the Mackenzie-Papineau Battalion in January 1938, he was captured by fascist forces on April 1, 1938. For the next year, he was interned at San Pedro de Cardeña, along with over 650 International Brigades prisoners. Through the efforts of the Friends of the Abraham Lincoln Brigade and the U.S. State Department, Geiser and a group of 71 Americans were released in April 1939.

Geiser returned to New York and secured an engineering position with Liquidometer, a manufacturer of aeronautic equipment. Working with the company in various capacities for the next 40 years, Geiser filed numerous patents and, as a research director, supervised the testing of a component used in the first lunar mission. He also served briefly as president of Local 1227 of the United Electrical Radio and Machine Workers of America. He and Sylvia had two boys, Jim and Pete, before divorcing in 1946. With his second wife Doris he had a son and a daughter, David and Linda. In 1956 Geiser enrolled at Columbia University's School of General Studies as a psychology major, and graduated with a B.S. degree cum laude in 1963.

By the early 1970s, Geiser turned his attention once more to Spain. At the promptings of his wife, Geiser enrolled in a memoir-writing class. The essay he wrote on a Christmas concert held in San Pedro de Cardeña found publication in The New York Times, and its positive reception provided the impetus for Geiser to produce a more extensive treatment of his concentration camp experience. Upon retirement at age 71, Geiser began to write a comprehensive history of American volunteers captured during the Spanish Civil War. With the assistance of fellow prisoner Robert Steck, Geiser amassed biographical information on the 120 Americans incarcerated in Spanish prisons. He also corresponded with over 150 veterans worldwide to solicit their reminiscences, and traveled to archives in the United States and Europe to conduct research. Ring Lardner, Jr., (whose brother James was killed in action while fighting with the International Brigades) and members of Veterans of the Abraham Lincoln Brigade, eager to see the project to fruition, provided financial support. Five years of research and writing culminated in the production of a 900-page manuscript. Prisoners of the Good Fight, a shortened version of his account, was published in 1986.


Series I and II are arranged alphabetically. In series III, six files of general biographical material have been place at the beginning of the series; thereafter, biographical files are arranged alphabetically by personal name. Series IV and V are arranged alphabetically.

The files are grouped into 5 series:

Missing Title

  1. I. Correspondence: Spanish Civil War.
  2. II. Correspondence: Prisoners of the Good Fight.
  3. III. Biographical Files.
  4. IV. Prisoners of the Good Fight: Drafts and Manuscripts.
  5. V. Subject Files.

Scope and Content Note

Series I: Correspondence: Spanish Civil War, 1937-1938.

This series consists chiefly of letters written by Geiser to his wife Sylvia (fondly referred to as Impy) and his brother Bennet, and cover the period from his voyage to Europe in April 1937 until shortly before his capture in April 1938. In his letters Geiser describes battalion structure and military training and provides information on his fellow volunteers -- many of them activist colleagues from New York. He also reports on preparations for combat and offers accounts of the battles of Brunete, Quinto, and Belchite, as well as the aftermath of these conflicts. Of note are Geiser's letters to Bennet, in which he defends his reasons for fighting in Spain (5/9/1937 and 6/27/1937), and a letter printed on a leaflet distributed by the International Brigades about the training of officers and political commissars (2/14/1938). This letter also contains a venereal disease prevention leaflet. Other correspondence in this series includes a letter to Sylvia from Paul Wendorf, who with Geiser organized a school for political commissars. Wendorf was killed late in August 1938.

Series II: Correspondence: Prisoners of the Good Fight, 1961; 1970-1990.

This series chiefly includes Geiser's incoming and outgoing correspondence to Abraham Lincoln Brigade and International Brigades veterans produced in the course of conducting research for Prisoners of the Good Fight. Many of these letters offer wartime recollections, research leads, and corrections or corroboration of Geiser's drafted chapters. Notable correspondents include: Ben Iceland, Martin Maki, Herman Lopez, Max Parker, Max Shufer, Mischa Skorupinski, and Hy Wallach. Robert Steck's frequent letters and reports evidence his enormous commitment and extensive contribution to the project. Useful information on Geiser's research can be found in his correspondence with Abraham Lincoln Brigade Archives archivist Victor Berch. This series also includes Geiser's exchanges with representatives from his publisher Lawrence Hill & Company and some general correspondence.

Series III: Biographical Files, 1936-1939; 1978-1988.

This series includes biographical sketches of the captured Americans. Carefully researched and written by Geiser and Steck, these biographies are a useful source of information on the wartime experiences of the prisoners and their lives before and after Spain. This series also includes notes, clippings and other materials used in the drafting of these profiles. Consisting chiefly of material on American volunteers, these files also include notes on British, Canandian and other International Brigades volunteers. Although Geiser intended to include these profiles as an appendix to the book, they were omitted from the final published work.

Series IV: Prisoners of the Good Fight: Drafts and Manuscripts, Undated; 1979-1980.

This series contains two typescript versions of Geiser's original 900-page manuscript, an incomplete draft, and chapter notes with corrections and comments by fellow prisoners.

Series V: Subject Files, Undated; 1936-1950; 1973-1990.

This series consists of background files of primary and secondary materials collected and used by Geiser in the course of his research. Included are over two dozen files on prisoners of different nationalities, information on prison conditions and the treatment of inmates, notes and documents related to Red Cross assistance, and materials pertaining to release and repatriation of prisoners. Two articles written by Geiser for the Young Communist, one of them titled "I Was In a Fascist Concentration Camp," can also be found here. Notes taken at various repositories, as well as research photocopies are also located in this series, as are promotional materials related to the publication of Prisoners of the Good Fight.

Access Restrictions

Materials are open to researchers. Please contact the Tamiment Library & Robert F. Wagner Labor Archives for more information and to schedule an appointment, or 212-998-2630.

Use Restrictions

Any rights (including copyright and related rights to publicity and privacy) held by the Abraham Lincoln Brigade Archives (ALBA), were transferred to New York University in November 2000 by the ALBA Board of Governors. Permission to publish or reproduce materials in this collection must be secured from the Tamiment Library & Robert F. Wagner Labor Archives. For more information, contact or 212-998-2630.

Preferred Citation

Published citations should take the following form:

Identification of item, date; Collection name; Collection number; box number; folder number;
Tamiment Library/Robert F. Wagner Labor Archives
Elmer Holmes Bobst Library
70 Washington Square South
New York, NY 10012, New York University Libraries.


The Carl Geiser Papers were donated to Abraham Lincoln Brigade Archives by Geiser in 1986. Additional materials were given in 1990. This collection came to New York University in January 2001 as part of the original acquisition of ALBA collections, formerly housed at Brandeis University.

Separated Material

Photographs from the Carl Geiser Collection have been transferred to the non-print section of the ALBA collection in the Tamiment Library and Robert F. Wagner Labor Archives.

Related Material at the Tamiment Library/Robert F. Wagner Labor Archives

ALBA collections at the Tamiment Library.

Paul Wendorf Papers, ALBA #120

Robert Steck Papers, ALBA #104

Collection processed by

Elizabeth Compa, Jennifer Waxman, and Jessica Weglein

About this Guide

This finding aid was produced using ArchivesSpace on 2023-08-20 16:33:04 -0400.
Language: Description is in English.

Edition of this Guide

This version was derived from Geiser ALBA 4.doc


Tamiment Library and Robert F. Wagner Labor Archives
Tamiment Library and Robert F. Wagner Labor Archives
Elmer Holmes Bobst Library
70 Washington Square South
2nd Floor
New York, NY 10012