video from world war II oral history archives
Part 3 of obituary by Peter Carroll
Wolff led the Lincolns back across the Ebro during the summer of 1938, held them in the lines of the violent Hill 666 in the Sierra Pandols, until ordered to turn over the battalion to Spanish officers as the government arranged for the withdrawal of foreign troops in 1938. In a ceremonial transfer of authority, Wolff was promoted to the rank of Major. It was then that the prominent American sculptor Jo Davidson was making clay busts of the Spanish leaders and proposed including an American face. When he saw Wolff's shaggy hair and gaunt features, Davidson asked him to model. Misunderstanding the image he projected, Wolff first had a haircut and shave, nearly causing the furious sculptor to cancel the session. The resulting clay composition inspired Hemingway's eulogy to Wolff, in which he compared him to Lincoln. "He is a retired major now at twenty-three and still alive," wrote Hemingway, "and pretty soon he will be coming home as other men in age and rank came home after the peace at Appomattox courthouse long ago. Except the peace was made at Munich now and no good men will be home for long." Wolff, of course, admired the elegant prose. But his heart and soul was always with the rank and file. Back in New York, some of the returned veterans of the Lincoln Brigade read the reports from Spain with amusement: "Hemingway and [Herbert] Matthews say he looks just like Lincoln. Wonder when they saw Lincoln."
Wolff's iconic stature kept him at the forefront of the struggle to save the Spanish Republic, even after General Francisco Franco claimed military victory in 1939. He participated in street protests in New York, urging Washington officials to lift the embargo on shipments to Spain and to provide assistance for the Spanish refugees trapped in French concentration camps. When the French government threatened to deport these victims of war back to Franco's Spain, where many would face summary execution, Wolff joined other Lincoln veterans in demonstrations outside the French consulate in New York. He was arrested in 1940 for this activity and served fifteen days in jail.