Japanese in the Spanish Civil War
Jack Shirai was possibly the only Japanese person to volunteer to fight for the Republic in the Spanish Civil War. After leaving for the US in the 1930s, he joined the Lincoln Brigade and arrived in Spain early in 1937.
Because he was a cook in the United States, he used to cook for the Lincoln Brigade. His speciality was garbanzos (chick-peas), which he apparently made so delicious they were regarded as a delicacy. Shirai’s best friends in Spain were Mel Offsink and Max Krauthamer. Fisher sat in on many of their bull sessions. His favourite stories were when they talked about their plans for the future. After the war, they agreed to open a restaurant together in New York, in which anyone who had fought in Spain in the International Brigades would never have to pay for a meal. Shirai took pleasure in describing the food they would serve and the delicacies he would make. Following the large number of causalities the brigades suffered in the battle of Jarama, Shirai left his stove and threw himself physically into battle with his comrades. His friend Krauthamer died on July 6, 1937 when he was hit in the head by a bullet. Shirai died about five or six days later.
Born in the early part of the century, probably the early 1920s, Shirai grew up an orphan in the Tobetsu Trappist Monastery near the Japanese port city of Hakodate. Details of his early life are hazy, but he appears to have joined the Japanese navy after leaving the monastery, and he entered the United States some time around 1930. Having arrived in the midst of the Great Depression, Shirai lived for a time in New York cooking for Japanese restaurants, but soon became involved in small communist workers’ groups, despite the ongoing persecution of communists at the time.
International involvement in the Spanish Civil War