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23 former Dueber-Hampden employees went to Moscow under contract to Amtorg to instruct on the use of their old factory equipment. Contemporary reports said they all eventually returned.
If Herman London was, as reported, one of them he did not return, he died there 44 years later.
Just how valuable was this multilingual, precision engineer, watchmaker with Hampden experience? For example, in the early period at 1GCH the Soviets re-engineered the basic Hampden movement into Stopwatches and Chronographs. Similar work had been instigated in Canton and it’s inconceivable to think Herman wasn’t given a role in these developments in Moscow.
Did he remain in the USSR, as his family believe, because of Soviet skullduggery? Or perhaps the initial opportunities were more stimulating than he could have ever imagined or experienced in the US. Did this make him naïve?
What did the city of Canton or the US government do when he failed to return? Did they abandon him and his family, thinking he only had himself to blame?
Herman London wasn’t a man with a political, or ideological, bone in his body. Just like his contemporary Wolf Pruss he was a watchmaker first and last.
© Alan F. Garratt & Vladimir Graizer 2020
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Haim Lundin was born on October 18th 1892, in Neswizh Belarus, at that time it was part of the Imperial Russian Empire. Haim came from a religious Jewish family, his father was a Rabbi. The family was very poor and Haim had five siblings. In 1903 aged just 11 he was packed off to Minsk to work as an apprentice watchmaker eventually becoming a watchmaker in his own right.
He emigrated to the US in 1913 and settled in the Brooklyn area of New York. Upon his arrival he became known as Herman London. This may have been by choice, or more probably because of the practice of the port authorities to anglicise the names of immigrants with heavy accents and document them as such for expediency.
Once in the US he quickly learned English, having previously self-educated himself to be fluent in Russian, French and German. Herman’s yearning for learning was so intense that he attended night school and became a qualified precision instruments technician. Throughout he had continued his work as a watchmaker and in the end was capable not only of repairing all types of watches but also capable of making any part of the watches mechanism.
Herman and Lena Atkins, an American citizen, set up home in 1923. Lena was a widow when she met Herman and already had a daughter, born in Cleveland, OH., in 1919. Herman and Lena would have a child of their own in 1924 and marry in Canton in 1929, just before going to Moscow.
According to his contract with Amtorg (pictured below), he had been employed as the Job Boss of the Leaf Cutting Line of the Pinion Department at the Dueber-Hampden Watch Works in Canton OH. The watch works had gone bankrupt in 1927 but in 1929 the equipment was purchased by Amtorg on behalf of the Soviet Government and was shipped to Moscow. Herman, along with 22 other former managers and job bosses accepted 12 month contracts offered by Amtorg to work at the new First State Watch Factory (1GCHZ) in Moscow.
On March 8 they docked in Europe and headed on to Paris, then later to Berlin. In Berlin a Russian engineer, Percy Dreyer defected. He had travelled to Canton from Moscow with Alexander Breytburt and Samual Zubkoff to supervise packing the equipment. At that time, the American party were unable to understand why Dreyer should choose to remain in Germany and leave his family behind. Once in Moscow they were shocked to learn that his defection resulted in the arrest of his wife, his parents and condemned his 4-years old son to life in an orphanage.
Originally, Herman had a 12 month contract with Amtorg but returned home from work one day and announced that he had signed an extension, much to the consternation of Lena. His contract finally ended in November 1931 at which time the London family prepared to leave Moscow and return to the US. Out of the blue he was told that the Soviet authorities did not recognise him as a foreigner. They confiscated his US documents effectively denying him permission to leave the country. Then they issued him with an internal
Soviet passport, which precluded leaving the USSR. The Soviet authorities had taken advantage of the fact that Herman only had a Green Card and re-entry permit to the US. He had never applied for US citizenship, not thinking it was that important and therefore had no US Passport. At that time there was no US Embassy in Moscow, and no proper procedure in the Soviet Union for an appeal. Herman was naïve in assuming that the Soviet Union would respect the agreement with Amtorg, or honour his American travel document. Indeed, it was a common practice for the Soviets to only respect agreements which were beneficial for them. As a consequence London was trapped in Moscow. Lena was a US citizen and both children were born in the US and so were also American citizens. The Soviets realised no hold could be extended over them, so Lena and the children were free to leave. However, that scenario was inconceivable, although she did return to the US briefly. Lena never stopped trying to get his status overturned.
From the outset of his time at 1GCHZ his ability to speak Russian, German, French, English and Yiddish would have been very valuable, especially when combined with his watchmaking and precision engineering skills. Many foreign watchmakers were recruited to fill the skills shortage and good technical communication would be paramount. It is not clear how compliant he was in remaining behind. He had immense satisfaction from his work and was well treated in Soviet terms. Also back home in the US the depression was well underway and there was little chance of work.
Later his significance may have diminished. In 1936 he was inexplicably fired and all the initial enthusiasm turned to anxiety. Shortly after he had the good fortune to be offered a job at the Second State Watch Factory (2GCHZ) also based in Moscow. The factory director Solomon Neufeld was also Jewish and from Belarus. He and London first met in Paris in 1930, on route to Moscow. Neufeld also served as Director of 1GCHZ during London’s time there. But Hermans new employment did not last long. Neufeld was arrested in 1937, a victim of Stalins purges. He was executed and his wife spent 18 years in a Gulag. With Neufeld gone London left or was removed from 2GCHZ.
London and his family were likely candidates for the purges and lived in a constant state of fear throughout that period.
He found what work he could until the outbreak of the Great Patriotic War (WWII) in which he served the military as an auxillary. Herman returned to his family in 1945 to be told his son had been killed in action.
Herman applied for jobs at the First and Second Moscow Watch factories, but was refused. According to Soviet laws people who had served in the Army during the War were entitled to be reinstated at their former place of work. But no matter where he applied, he was refused. Finally, he agreed to work at an Artel, repairing watches. He disliked this, but had no choice and continued in that way until his retirement.
Haim Lundin, aka Herman London, passed away on July 4th, 1974 at the age of 81.
Dedicated to Eleonor Graizer and Esther London.
Without their memories this appendix could not exist.