Memories of Eddie Balchowsky and the Spanish Civil War.


If you missed last Friday’s Hitting Left with the Klonsky Brothers show on Lunpen Radio, 105.5fm, you can still listen to our talk with disability right’s activist and advocate Amber Smock here.

This coming Friday we are talking to 33rd Ward Democratic Party Committeeman Aaron Goldstein. Aaron is running for Illinois Attorney General against all odds. Aaron tends to do stuff like that. His last run was against Ward Boss Alderman Richard Mell. He beat the guy and sent Mell into retirement.

Against all odds.

Then on February 2nd we have invited back Rabbi Brant Rosen. This time with Jeff Balch and Isaac Brosilow to talk about the late Chicago veteran of the Abraham Lincoln Brigade and the Spanish Civil War.

One of the 3,000 American “pre-mature anti-fascists” who volunteered to fight fascism in Spain from 1936 to 1939.

Rabbi Rosen is the Midwest Regional Director of the American Friends Service Committee. In August 2015, he founded Tzedek, Chicago, a non-Zionist synagogue in Chicago.

Isaac Brosilow is a writer for Jewish Currents.

Jeff Balch wrote:

Ed was a first cousin to my paternal grandfather.  They shared a grandfather, Baruch, who emigrated from German-speaking Jewish Eastern Europe to German-speaking non-Jewish Frankfort, Illinois, in the 19th century.

Great-great-grandfather Baruch’s story was told to my siblings and me from an early age — the story of the scrappy immigrant ancestor who made good in retail despite big challenges.  Grandfather David’s story was also told — the story of another ancestor who continued making good in retail with lesser challenges.  I think the aim was to build my vision of making good and having my kids make good with ever-shrinking challenges.  The make-good life.

Ed’s story was not told:  the story of the radical activist and artist who maybe did good, but did not make so good.  My conservative parents did not favor such stories.

So when I moved to Chicago in mid-1989, I knew nothing of Ed, my first cousin twice removed.  He died later that year and I never met him.  Years later I stumbled on his story at the Frankfort Historical Society.  That’s where I first heard of this cousin, a one-armed piano-playing drug-addicted fascist fighter.  I had to dig deeper.

I discovered that this cousin, which whom I share only maybe 3% of my genes, bequeathed a political legacy closer to my heart than my father’s politics.  Subsequently I learned he was buried in an unmarked grave.  This made me lose sleep.

I met some of his activist friends, some of his music-making friends, some of his alleyway friends, and we held an event in late 2000 headlined by Utah Phillips.  It pulled in a few thousand bucks, and in 2001 we set Ed’s pink granite stone that helps tell his story to passersby.

The inscription reads:

In Memory Of



1916 – 1989

Artist, Poet, Raconteur, One-Armed Pianist,

Veteran of the Spanish Civil War as a

Volunteer in the Abraham Lincoln Brigade



You can listen live on Friday, February 2nd on 105.5fm in Chicago. Live on the internet at  Podcast at and iTunes and almost all other podcast sites.

10 thoughts on “Memories of Eddie Balchowsky and the Spanish Civil War.

  1. In the early days of the Heartland I remembering this “older guy”, who was a bit grumpy, playing the piano with one arm. Thought it was far out. Learned a bit later who he was.

  2. Well, as I told you on Facebook Fred, Eddie was very much part of our lives as he lived with us off and on for decades. He and Syd were like brothers having been in spain together. They always looked out for each other and died within 6 months of each other. Eddie was a fine artist, with his one arm,nobody could draw better than he, usually one continuous line. It always amazed me. His favorite subject was the alley, Of course we were all alley pickers then. Edward was an even better poet-he was just a huge force and the leader of a band of outsider artists. My kids were really lucky to have grown up with him and them, wild as it was. Later Edward lived at Richard’s Quiet Knight where he looked after the place and played his beloved chacons on the piano. Finally he had his own place in Wicker Park on Wood St where he lived with his young daughter Liz. You can see some pictures on Marc’s website or facebook. Actually I look at pictures of him every day that hang in my house. Edward was HUGE in our lives. I so look forward to hearing your program on him; I will be all ears!

    mimi harris

  3. Is he buried in the anarchists/socialists section at the Waldheim Cemetery in Forest Park, Fred?

    1. I Googled it–he is, indeed, buried there–in that section of what is part of Forest Home/Waldheim. I have visited that section (we have activist cousins who are buried there). I recommend a trip in nicer weather–there is fascinating history
      inscribed on many tombstones.

  4. A lot of things jumped out at you when you met Eddie Balchowsky. He was a short, funny, artist, who had a fine baritone voice, one hand, and possessed a boundless energy.

    I met Eddie in Spain, in 1986, when I traveled there with several Lincoln vets to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the 1936 arrival of the International Brigades in Spain. Eddie was the most gregarious person I have ever met, and I’ve met a lot of people.

    In Madrid, early in the trip, I asked Eddie where he was staying. He said he didn’t know. He didn’t have a hotel room. Later I learned he’d met some Madrilenos and was invited to stay at their home. He never had a room the whole week we were together. From Madrid to Barcelona, he always found new friends who would put him up.

    I have seen happy-go-lucky kids who didn’t know where they were staying night to night. I was once one. But Eddie was 70 years old.

    At a gala event at Madrid’s Palacio de Congresos, attended by ambassadors, politicians, and local dignitaries Eddie played (one-handed) piano and sang a rousing version of ‘The Peat Bog Soldiers’ to a crowd of a couple of thousand. He was a dynamic and charismatic guy, but the thing that I remember most about Eddie was the gregariousness.

  5. The look on his face says it all…I keep looking at his picture…and laughing with him…knowing no one ever laughed at him!

    What a face he’s pulling,eh!

  6. My Dad gave Eddie a ride home from the No Exit back in the 70s, maybe early 80s. He was in the back seat with me. I remember that smile. Those eyes. Like he saw all the hope in the world and wanted to pass it along. I remember him belting out ballads after the crowds dispersed, after the third act, banging on the keys with his stump. I remember the wild insanity of Chicago in those days. Terrified by its violence. But I remember those eyes. As tranquil as the eye of the fieriest storm. “If you want to write to me…you’ll find me on the front lines of the Battle of Gandesa.”

  7. I met Ed Balchowsky in Barcelona in October 1988, at the commemoration of the final march of the International Brigaders. There were hardly any of the British Battalion there, but one of them had walked over the Pyrenees with Ed in November 1937. I reunited them, after 51 years; only I could have done because only I knew their story. Ed was playing the piano in a bar off Las Ramblas. My friend Ted Smallbone was in a hotel a couple of miles away. I went to get him. I have photos of the two men, with three arms, hugging each other in that bar. They sat and talked until 4am. Howard Williamson

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