Decades after fighting fascism, historians help Americans confront its resurgence – Alan Yuhas Last modified on Sunday 14 May 2017 06.01 EDT

As Spanish civil war survivors age, Abraham Lincoln Brigade Archives helps teachers whose students have grown fascinated and frightened by the news

‘How can we speak responsibly about fascism today?’ … anti-Trump protesters in Berkeley, California. Photograph: The Guardian

Eighty years after the first Americans went to war against Nazi-backed fascists, a small group of historians trying to preserve the volunteers’ memory has found their services unexpectedly in demand.

“Why are people puzzled over the meaning of that word, fascism?” asked Peter Carroll, a historian of the Spanish civil war at Stanford University. “Do I think Donald Trump is Adolf Hitler? No. But there are patterns of contempt for opposition by political leaders that are as unacceptable and intolerable as National Socialism.”

For decades, Carroll has worked with a nonprofit, the Abraham Lincoln Brigade Archives (Alba), which hosted reunions for the volunteers. As the survivors aged, the nonprofit turned to awarding human rights work, and more recently started a workshop for high school teachers on how to teach history in an age when politics feels inescapable.

Tracy Blake, an Ohio high school teacher who has taken part in the workshop, said students have grown fascinated, and sometimes frightened, by the news. “They see the connections anytime we’re talking about oppression,” he said. “They ask questions about whether or not we could go down this or that road.”

Some 40,000 volunteers, men and women from around the world, fought alongside the forces of the democratically elected Spanish government against the fascist rebels commanded by Gen Francisco Franco during the 1936-39 civil war.

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