A Chance to Fight Hitler

A Canadian Volunteer in the Spanish Civil War

Written by Nelle Oosterom

August 1, 2019

David Goutor’s book A Chance to Fight Hitler explores the Spanish Civil War through the experience of Hans Ibing, a German-Canadian who immigrated to Canada in 1930 in search of a better life. He scraped by, working twelve-hour days, six days a week, as a delivery driver in Winnipeg during the Great Depression.

While at first apolitical, Ibing gradually drifted leftward and by 1935 was a member of the Communist Party of Canada. A year later, the Spanish Civil War broke out, and Ibing joined the nearly 1,700 volunteers from Canada who signed up with the International Brigades (affiliated with the Communist International) to fight against the Francisco Franco’s Nationalists. As the title implies, Ibing’s motivation was less about toeing the communist line and more about fighting fascism. (Fascist Italy and Nazi Germany supported the Nationalists.)

Goutor portrays Ibing, his wife’s grandfather, as an ordinary, sensible, and good-hearted man. “Millions of people such as Ibing joined Communist organizations that took direction from outside their countries in order to resist the threat of fascism to civilized society everywhere,” writes Goutor, who is a labour studies assistant professor at McMaster University.

Unfortunately, Ibing did not speak or write in much detail about his war experiences during his lifetime — he died in 2009 at age 101 — and Goutor often turns to other sources to flesh out what Ibing’s experience in Spain may have been like. His book is nonetheless a readable, well-rounded account with good illustrations, and I found myself engaged in the story from beginning to end.

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Nelle Oosterom is the former senior editor of Canada’s History magazine.

This article originally appeared in the August-September 2019 issue of Canada’s History.

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