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John Gerassi Oral History Collection

Call Number





Gerassi, John


1.5 Linear Feet in audio cabinet and 2 cassette boxes
89 audiocassettes
104 sound discs (cd)

Language of Materials

Materials are in English.


Journalist and scholar John ("Tito") Gerassi received his MA at Columbia University and earned his doctorate at the London School of Economics. Among his publications are The Great Fear in Latin America (1965), The Boys of Boise (1966), and the biography Jean-Paul Sartre: Hated Conscience of His Century, (1989). The Premature Anti-Fascists: Oral History of American and Canadian Volunteers in the Spanish Civil War was published in 1986, and is a tribute to the men and women who volunteered to fight on behalf of the Spanish Republic. This collection contains 227 audiocassettes consisting of 89 separate interviews with individual veterans that were conducted for Gerassi's project.

Historical/Biographical Note

Journalist and scholar John ("Tito") Gerassi was born in France in July 1931, to Fernando Gerassi, a Turkish-born artist of Sephardic Jewish heritage, and Ukranian born Stepha Awdykowicz. Moving between Barcelona and Paris, the couple belonged to the cosmopolitan circle of artists and intellectuals who congregated in cafes to argue art and politics, and counted Jean-Paul Sartre and Simone de Beauvoir as close friends. When civil war broke out in Spain in 1936, Fernando Gerassi joined the Loyalist forces. He served as a general in the Spanish Army and became the inspiration for the figure of Gomez, the artist and revolutionary in Sartre's trilogy Roads to Freedom. Following the Fascist victory in Spain, the Gerassi family emigrated to the United States in 1940. John Gerassi was raised in New York City and attended Columbia University. He spent a decade in journalism, worked as an editor for Time and, later, Newsweek before serving as a foreign correspondent for the New York Times. He left journalism to pursue a career in academia and earned his doctorate at the London School of Economics. He was as an instructor at the John Kennedy Freedom School in Berlin and at the University of California at Irvine before joining the faculty of Queens College of the City University of New York in 1978. Among his publications are The Great Fear in Latin America (1965); The Boys of Boise (1966); the biography Jean-Paul Sartre: Hated Conscience of His Century, (1989); and "The Comintern, the Fronts and the CPUSA," in New Studies in the Politics and Culture of U.S. Communism, (1993).

His father's death in 1974 and his own subsequent journey to Barcelona the following year kindled his interest in the Spanish Civil War and the men and woman who volunteered to fight on behalf of the Republic. The Premature Anti-Fascists: Oral History of American and Canadian Volunteers in the Spanish Civil War, Gerassi's tribute to these volunteers, was published in 1986. In the preface to that work, he describes his methodology for selecting and recording the oral histories that became the foundation for his study. In the spring of 1979, Gerassi sent out one-page questionnaires to 300 U.S. and Canadian veterans of the Spanish Civil War: From the 210 answers, I selected 50 absolute 'musts' to be personally interviewed. By making another 100 phone calls, I chose another 30. And 50 more were picked along the way, either by Mr. Ray Villis, my principal interviewer, or by myself and Ms. Chantal Ferraro, my main researcher...Of the 130 interviewed, 65 were fully transcribed; the rest were used for background verification. The resulting 18,000 pages were then edited down by me...Rather than fill scores of pages with tridots, brackets, and explanatory footnotes, I took the liberty of editing the interviews so that each section could read smoothly as a narrative.

Although the study is a sympathetic and admiring portrait of the veterans as a group, and Gerassi took pains to remain true to the intent and voice of the individual accounts, some of the veterans were displeased with Gerassi's polished edits of their oral histories.


Each audiocassette has been assigned a unique item number (e.g. ALBA A 18-001), and the collection is arranged in item number order. The item number order follows the alphabetical order of the last name of the interviewee. A small number of tapes with Gerassi's research notes have been placed at the end of the collection.

The files are grouped into one series:

Missing Title

  1. I, Oral History Tapes

Scope and Content Note

This collection contains 227 audiocassettes consisting of 89 separate interviews with individual veterans. The average taping session was 7 hours and there are multiple tapes associated with most of the interviews. The interviews cover the following topics: family background and political affiliations, their motivations for joining the International Brigades, experiences and impressions of Spain, instances of discrimination and harassment during WWII and subsequently during the McCarthy era. Although most of the oral history interviews were conducted with combat veterans, there are also several interviews with women who, like Salaria Kee (aka Kea) O'Reilly, Nan Green, and Rose Wachsman Sorkin, served in the Medical Service or, in the case of Evelyn Hutchins, as a driver.

The collection also includes three tapes with spoken research notes that Gerassi recorded during his visits to libraries and archives at Brandeis University, Cleveland University, and the Toronto Public Library, as well as a tape of the Veterans of the Abraham Lincoln Brigade (VALB) 43rd Anniversary event honoring African-American volunteers. An additional tape documents Gerassi's contract with Ray Villis, his principal interviewer on the project.

Note to Researchers: Transcripts of many of the tapes in this ocllection can be found in the John Gerassi Papers (ALBA 018).



Access Restrictions

Materials are open to researchers.

Use Restrictions

Copyright (or related rights to publicity and privacy) for materials in this collection was not transferred to New York University. Permission to use materials must be secured from the copyright holder. For more information, please contact the Tamiment Library and Robert F. Wagner Labor Archives, or 212-998-2630.

Preferred Citation

Identification of item, date; John Gerassi Oral History Collection; ALBA.AUDIO.018; box number; folder number; Tamiment Library/Robert F. Wagner Labor Archives, New York University.


These oral history tapes were separated from the John Gerassi Collection, which was donated to Abraham Lincoln Brigade Archives in three separate accessions. The bulk of the material was donated by John Gerassi in 1983. Subsequent donations were made by Betsy Gimbel in 1988 and by Ray Villis in 1997. This collection came to New York University in January 2001 as part of the original acquisition of ALBA collections, formerly housed at Brandeis University.

Physical Characteristics and Technical Requirements

Researchers interested in using audiovisual materials in this collection (films, cassette tapes, VHS tapes, et cetera) must use a digitized copy, which we refer to as an access copy. Researchers may view an item's original container, but the media themselves are not available for playback because of preservation concerns. Materials that have already been digitized are noted in the collection's finding aid and can be requested in our reading room; materials not yet digitized will need to have access copies made before they can be used. These requests are free of charge and can be made in anticipation of your visit. The process typically takes four to six weeks. To request an access copy, or if you are unsure if an item has been digitized, please contact with the collection name, collection number, and a description of the item(s) requested. A librarian will respond to you with further information.

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

John Gerassi Papers, ALBA #18.

ALBA collections at the Tamiment Library.

Collection processed by

Craig Savino, Jennifer Waxman, and Jessica Weglein

About this Guide

This finding aid was produced using ArchivesSpace on 2023-08-20 16:39:17 -0400.
Language: Description is in English.

Processing Information

Decisions regarding arrangement, description, and physical interventions for this collection prior to 2022 are unknown. In 2022, a student worker edited the titles and top container numbers for seven boxes of audiocassettes.

Edition of this Guide

This version was derived from gerassi ALBA audio.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