Kenner, Valentin, 1911 - 1967. Papers, 1937 - [1967] (bulk 1937 - 1938).

Manuscript Collection 1011

Special Collections and University Archives

Rutgers University Libraries

QUANTITY: 1.2 cubic feet (2 manuscript boxes and 1 newspaper box)

ACCESS: No restrictions.

PROCESSED BY: Luis C. Franco

Biographical Sketch

Valentin Kenner was born on April 23, 1911, one of three children. His father Osip Kenner was a Russian jeweler who worked as a gold-leaf letterer after immigrating to New York City. Osip Kenner later became one of the founding members and trustees of the Modern School and Ferrer Colony at Stelton, New Jersey.

Valentin Kenner attended the Modern School which was inspired by the Spanish Anarchist Francisco Ferrer (1859-1909), who founded several schools which were to be free of influence from both the Church and the state. At Stelton, an attempt was made to allow children to develop without being coerced to attend classes; children were allowed to choose their subjects and were even free to spend their time playing. Kenner, like many other Modern School graduates, went on to do very well at New Brunswick High School.(1)

Motivated by strong antifascist sentiments, Kenner joined the 2,700 Americans (800 of whom were killed) who enlisted in the Abraham Lincoln Brigade between December 1936 and July 1938.(2) Kenner left for Europe, arriving in Paris on June 22, 1937, and clandestinely entered Spain. By June 29, 1937, he was at the Lincoln Battalion Training Camp. While he was in Spain, he fought in many battles including those of Belchite and Fuentes del Ebro, and was wounded several times. Kenner was made company clerk in August of 1937 and by the end of that month he, with some reservation, accepted an appointment as Political Commissar (a kind of catchall position-part morale officer and part liaison between officers and non-officers). The Spanish government announced its decision to withdraw the International Brigades in September of 1938. In December of 1938, Kenner returned to the United States.

The rest of Kenner's life seemed quiet in comparison to his war experiences, except for a few FBI visits during the McCarthy years.(3) Kenner never married and continued living in Stelton until two years before his death. During World War II, he worked as a welder, and later joined Local 834 of the Painters, Paperhangers and Decorators Union. He was also a founding member and trustee of the North Stelton Volunteer Fire Company. Valentin Kenner died in 1967 as the result of an accident.

(1) Interview with Robert Kenner, Valentin Kenner's nephew, Oct. 29, 1996. On the Modern School, see Stanley S. Liptzin, The Modern School of Stelton, NJ: A Liberation Experiment Examined. Unpublished dissertation, Graduate School of Education, Rutgers University, 1977.
(2) Carl Geiser, Prisoners of the Good Fight: The Spanish Civil War, 1936-1939 (Connecticut, 1986).
(3) Interview with Robert Kenner.

Collection Description

The Valentin Kenner papers span the period from June 22, 1937, to 1967, with the bulk dating from 1937 and 1938. The collection is approximately 1.2 cubic feet in size, including two manuscript boxes and a newspaper box.

The Kenner papers are chiefly composed of correspondence (seven folders) and of Loyalist publications (approximately 10 folders) collected by Kenner while serving in the International Brigades (1937-1938) during the Spanish Civil War. Both the correspondence and the publications are concerned with a variety of subjects that surround the war, such as current campaigns, troop movements and general information about Spain and Loyalist politics.

The bulk of the correspondence is comprised of letters and postcards written by Kenner to his father Osip Kenner in Stelton, New Jersey, while abroad. The letters describe Kenner's experiences from his arrival in Paris, France, on June 22, 1937, through his final departure from Spain on December 7, 1938. They include details of his training and trench warfare. Perhaps the most valuable aspect of these letters is the picture of war from a soldier's point of view. In a letter dated September 29, 1937, Kenner attempted to communicate a typical day at the front, full of tedious waiting and danger, as he enters a newly captured town. Earlier that same month Kenner wrote home that he found himself in a trench-afraid, dirty and tired. Above all, these letters reveal the relationship of individuals like Kenner to the communist and antifascist movements. Also included in the collection are two letters received by Kenner from fellow Lincoln Brigade members.

The publications contained in the collection, while all concerned with Spain and its Civil War, are varied in scope and subject. These materials are in English, Spanish or Catalan. Included are items that serve as examples of propaganda. Some were produced in efforts to raise contributions or to recruit for the Lincoln Brigade. One such pamphlet, Men in the Ranks: The Story of 12 Americans in Spain, has a foreword written by Ernest Hemingway. Los niños Españoles relates to the Loyalist attempts to help orphans of the war and is illustrated. Spain Today is a publication of the Communist Party. Volunteer for Liberty is the official organ of the International Brigades. Included in the collection are published sketches by Castelao and Estampas de la revolución, both of which portray a variety of scenes from the war. The Cancionario revolucionario internacional contains sheet music and lyrics to revolutionary songs. Also included is Anna Louise Strong's Spain in Arms (1937), and later works: Homage to Catalonia by George Orwell (1952) and The Volunteers by Steve Nelson (1953).

Finally, the collection includes notes taken by Valentin Kenner during the war which contain details of fighting, revolutionary song lyrics and other comments. Photographs of Kenner, his unit and an ambulance sent by Stelton residents to Spain can be found in the collection, along with a variety of personal miscellany that includes military pins and identification.

Container List

  1 Letters to Osip Kenner (father), June 22-September 24, 1937
  2 Letters to Osip Kenner (father), October 14, 1937-February 23, 1938
  3 Letters to Osip Kenner (father), March 7-June 14, 1938
  4 Letters to Osip Kenner (father), June 15-December 7, 1938
  5 Letters to Stelton Youth Group, 1937-1938
  6 Letters received by Valentin Kenner, 1938
  7 Postcards, 1937
  8 Notes taken while abroad, 1937-1938
  9 Newspaper clippings, including obituary, 1938, [1967] and undated
  10 Military documents and pins, 1937-1939
  11 Miscellaneous documents, 1937-1941
  12 "Volunteer for Liberty" by Mary Goldman Kotter, 1939 [Kenner quoted]
  13 Valentin Kenner, International Brigade unit, Ambulance sent to Spain, comrades [5 items, circa 1937]
  14-15 Lincoln Brigade and International Brigade Publications, 1937-1942
  16 Spain Today, no. 1-4, 6, 7; 1937

  1 Miscellaneous pamphlets, including Nuestra patria by Leonardo Martin Echeverria, 1937-1938
  2 Cancionario revolucionario internacional [Revolutionary Song Book] 1 & 2, 1937
  3 Galicia mártir (February 1937) and Atila en Galicia (July 1937) by Castelao [published sketches]
  4 Spain in Arms by Anna Louise Strong, 1937
  5 The Volunteers by Steve Nelson, 1953
  6 Homage to Catalonia by George Orwell, 1953
  7 The Book of the XV, published by Commissariat of War, XV Brigade, Madrid, 1938

3 (newspaper box)   LOYALIST PUBLICATIONS [continued]
    Volunteer for Liberty, August 9, 1937-November 7, 1938
    Estampas de la revolución, 19 Julio de 1936 [published sketches], undated
    "No U.S. recognition of Franco!" [broadside], 1939