George Sossenko, 1918-2013, !Presente!
(APN) ATLANTA — George Sossenko, a Russian-born peace activist, anarchist, lecturer, and veteran of the Spanish Civil War, who spent the latter part of his life in Atlanta, died on Thursday, March 14, 2013. He was 94 years old.
Sossenko and his wife, Bernice Bass, have been dedicated activists in the peace movement in Atlanta for several years.
Sossenko had a life story of international proportions.
He was born in Russia in 1918, but soon immigrated with his family to France in the aftermath of the 1917 Bolshevik Revolution. His father, who had fought with the social democrats, disagreed with the communist Bolsheviks.
At the age of sixteen, Sossenko left his parent’s home in Paris, France, in order to join an ad hoc coalition of international forces fighting against General Francisco Franco’s fascist forces in the Spanish Civil War.
Sossenko said he was at first not allowed to fight in the war due to his young age, neither by the French Communist Party, nor by the Socialists. However, Sossenko said he joined a group of anarchists, who sent him across the Spanish border in a caravan to fight.
Sossenko fought in the Sabastein Faure Century of the Durruti Colume and in the International Brigades.
Sossenko recounted some of his story in a presentation made at the 2007 NYC Anarchist Book Fair, held in New York.
“After World War One, the proletar [proletariat] was completely down, capitalism was taking over, and the people who participated in World War One were completely demoralized,” Sossenko said.
“Hitler, Mussolini was building up a force, the democracy was crumbling, the proletar was completely down, the capitalist was winning the war, the gap at home between the rich and poor was growing every day,” Sossenko said.
“When came the election in Spain in 1936 and the Popular Front won, it was like a star coming in the sky for us that the democracy and the ideal was there, and we were jubilant, I was happy. Because we were surrounded by fascism and complete indifference to democracy. United States, France, England, they didn’t want to get involved with Hitler and Mussolini, we were completely isolated,” he said.
“But suddenly on July 19, 1936, Franco, the Fascist, he came from Africa where he was in Morocco… And he invaded Spain to destroy the Republic. They were taking town after town because Spain was a backward country at the time,” he said.
“And so we, the people living in other countries who have seen this star of the freedom of democracy growing, is losing. We lost our dream, the fascists were taking over. And so we decided to go to fight the fascists. The most unique case in the world, that from 54 countries, 35,000 volunteers went… to Spain, to fight from the same idea, without any connection, without any appealing to each other, any propaganda. I was sixteen years old and I decided to fight also,” he said.
Sossenko described how the anarchist freedom fighters were able to essentially take over several Spanish towns, where they set up and ran factories and hospitals. Sossenko said he went to protect Madrid from being taken over by Franco.
The war ended in 1939 with the victory of Franco and the Nationalists [fascists] and the exile of thousands of left-leaning Spaniards, many of whom fled to refugee camps in Southern France; and the establishment of a Fascist dictatorship led by Franco.
Shortly before Franco declared victory, Sossenko, who had reconnected with his parents by then, fled with his family, first to France, then to Argentina. His family had saved him from certain near-death and got him out of military service temporarily by complaining that he was a minor.
Sossenko lamented that the US did not get involved in helping the Spanish people fight off Franco, who was receiving assistance from Adolf Hitler in Germany, as well as from Italy and Portugal.
Sossenko said he believed that World War Two, and the death of 46 million people, could have been avoided had the fascists been stopped in Spain.
Sossenko was one of the last living survivors of the Spanish Civil War.
He also later fought in World War II with the Free French.
“He went to North Africa on an Australian ship, which was very dangerous at that time, fought in North Africa and up through Italy, through very heavy battles,” Bass told APN.
After World War II, Sossenko returned to Argentina, which at that time was led by President Juan Peron. Sossenko was arrested and spent time in prison for having dinner with friends, instead of mourning, on the night that Evita Peron died, Bass said.
Then, Sossenko moved to Brazil, where he invested in the diamond mining business and went broke.
He continued working in the business world, eventually moving to the US in the 1960s and to Atlanta in 1978.
He went with a group of activists to Nicaragua to support the Sandanistas, the social democratic party there, with 36 ambulances. US President Ronald Reagan, who was funding efforts to undermine democracy in Nicaragua, warned at the time that Sossenko and others would lose their US citizenship, but they went anyway. Their citizenship was not revoked.
In 1996, he received honorary Spanish citizenship, however, to honor his service there.
In recent years, Sossenko authored two autobiographies about his life: one in English, the Idealistic Adventurer; and one in Spanish, Adventurero Idealista.
Atlantans helped raise funds to publish Sossenko’s books, including in 2008 at an annual event called the Homebrew Hootenanny, held at WonderRoot.
In January 2010, Sossenko and Bass stood in silence and turned their backs on then-US General David Petraeus before being removed from the 1,100-person Ferst Theater on the Georgia Tech campus. They, along with eleven other activists were escorted from the theater, Atlanta Progressive News reported at the time.
Sossenko maintained a website, http://www.sossenko.com/, which highlights some of his work and personal story. As of the publication of this article, the website is still active.
“I’ve known him for some time,” Ann Mauney, Co-coordinator of the Georgia Peace and Justice Coalition Atlanta chapter, told APN.
Mauney recalled that one time local peace activists were planning to produce a bumper sticker, possibly to say Bring Our Troops Home. “George said, ‘It should say Bring Our Troops Home Alive,’” Mauney recalled, adding that they adopted that slogan and distributed many bumper stickers displaying it.
“He and Bernice were there in our planning, our organizing, the outreach. Fahrenheit 9/11 played for several weeks at Midtown Arts [Cinema]. We did huge outreach there in 2004,” Mauney said.
“They were mainstays of the Colony Square [Peachtree and 14th Street] weekly vigil,” she added.
“They were a couple. Their partnership was their political commitment. The other thing is, they were extremely welcoming people. They connected a lot of people who did not know each other before. They have been amazing people in creating friendships with a very broad group of people,” Mauney said.
“This is a life to be celebrated, it’s not to mourn over,” Bass said.
“George was absolutely an incredible, incredible person. He couldn’t stand to see a homeless person on the street, his heart would just break. If someone would say they’re lazy, they’re not working, oh my goodness he would just go crazy,” Bass said.
“He never cared a minute on money, that was never his object on life, his object was making the world a better place. He could never understand why should there be so many people that have nothing and so many people that have 100,000 dollars to spend today. He couldn’t understand that, he just couldn’t,” Bass said.
While friends and family expect to hold a memorial service, the details have not yet been finalized.
Sossenko is survived by his wife, Bernice; three grandchildren in Argentina, including Yvonne Sossenko, Alexandro Sossenko, and Natalia Sossenko; three step-children, including Bradley Bass, Beverly Bass, and Joel Bass; and a sister, Madame Maya de Grand Pre`.