On a soft winter evening in Manhattan, the fifteenth of December, 1937, it started to snow; big flakes spun lazily in the sky, danced in the lights of the office buildings, then melted as they hit the pavement. At Saks Fifth Avenue the window displays were lush and glittering -- tinsel, toy trains, sugary frost dusted on the glass -- and a crowd had gathered at the main entrance, drawn by a group of carolers dressed for the Dickens Christmas in long mufflers, top hats, and bonnets. Here then, for as long as it lasted, was a romantic New York, the New York in a song on the radio.
Cristian Ferrar, a Spanish émigré who lived in Paris, took a moment to enjoy the spectacle then hurried across the avenue as the traffic light turned red and began to work his way through the crowd. In a buckled briefcase carried under his arm he had that morning's New York Times. The international news was as usual: marches, riots, assassinations, street brawls, arson; political warfare was tearing Europe apart. Real war was coming, this was merely the overture. In Spain, political warfare had flared into civil war, and the Times reported, the Army of the Republic had attacked General Franco's fascist forces at the Aragonese town of Teruel. And you only had to turn the page, there was more: Hitler's Nazi Germany had issued new restrictions on the Jews, while here was a photograph of Benito Mussolini, shown by his personal railcar as he gave the stiff-armed fascist salute, and there a photograph of Marshal Stalin reviewing a parade of tank columns.
Cristian Ferrar would force himself to read it, would ask himself, Is there anything to be done? Is it hopeless? So it seemed. Elsewhere in the newspaper, the democratic opposition to the dictators tried not to show fear, but it was in their every word, the nervous dithering of the losing side. As Franco and his generals attacked the elected Republic, the others joined in, troops and warplanes provided by Germany and Italy, and with every victory, they boasted and bragged and strutted: It's our turn, get out of our way.