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Originally published Wednesday, April 9, 2008 at 12:00 AM

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Abe Osheroff had a life right out of a movie

Abe Osheroff had the kind of life that movies are made of. Here's the opening scene: It's 1937, and 21-year-old Osheroff is sailing to Spain...

Seattle Times staff reporter

Abe Osheroff had the kind of life that movies are made of.

Here's the opening scene: It's 1937, and 21-year-old Osheroff is sailing to Spain to fight with the Abraham Lincoln Brigade in the Spanish Civil War. Near the Spanish coast, Osheroff's ship is torpedoed by an Italian submarine, but he leaps from the wreckage and swims two miles to shore, where he is shot in the leg by Spanish fascists a few months later.

And all that's just the first five minutes of what surely would be an award-winning action film.

Osheroff, who died Sunday (April 6) in his North Seattle home at the age of 92, had an "adventurous life," said his wife, Gunnel Clark.

He fought for the U.S. Army during World War II; stood up to white supremacists in Mississippi during the 1960s; traveled to Nicaragua to support the Sandinista regime in the 1980s; and, up until last week, actively protested the war in Iraq.

"He was incredibly passionate," Clark said. "All his life, he was standing up for something. Fighting for what he believed in."

Osheroff began his political activism as a teenager in Brooklyn, when he was arrested for helping his neighbors disobey eviction orders during the Depression, Clark said.

In 1964, he drove to Mississippi to help build a community center in a black neighborhood. His first night there, white supremacists lit his car on fire, Clark said. But Osheroff, who worked as a carpenter most of his life, wasn't intimidated. He raised $20,000 and stayed until the construction job was done.

"The man's car is bombed, and he still stood strong," said Joe Martin, who founded the Pike Place Medical Clinic and was Osheroff's close friend. "I mean, we're talking about someone who was a gruff, rough, tough construction worker. But at the same time, he was a working-class intellectual. He loved poetry and history, too."

Osheroff may have been best known for fighting in Spain with the Abraham Lincoln Brigade, which included about 2,800 other Americans. The brigade has been mythologized in movies and literature over the years, and it's the backdrop for Ernest Hemingway's novel "For Whom the Bell Tolls." Osheroff was the last surviving veteran of the conflict living in Washington state.

In 1974, he made a documentary, "Dreams and Nightmares," about his experience with the brigade. The film begins with Osheroff walking around a Spanish town in 1973, which at the time of filming was still under the rule of Spanish fascists. Osheroff mulls the question, "Since nothing has changed, was our fighting here even worth it?"

But the question was just rhetorical, said Osheroff's friend, Howard Gale, a research psychologist in Seattle.

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"Abe always believed that you fight for what you believe to be right. Always," said Gale. "If you did that, you were expressing something that's deepest and best in human nature."

In 1984, Osheroff was one of the key protagonists in a documentary, "The Good Fight," about Americans in Spain during the 1930s. In 2000, he made another film, "Art in the Struggle for Freedom," about the poetry and poster art of the Spanish Civil War.

Since the early 1990s, Osheroff dedicated most of his time to helping foster kids.

In addition to his wife, Osheroff is survived by his three children, two stepchildren and eight grandchildren. For information on Osheroff's service, please visit www.abeosheroff.org.

Haley Edwards: 206-464-2745 or hedwards@seattletimes.com

Copyright © 2008 The Seattle Times Company

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