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A Stone for Willy Fisher

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aka Rudolf Ivanovich Abel

A STONE FOR WILLY FISHER

Richard S. Friedman

On 11 July 1903 in Newcastle-upon-Tyne, England, a son was born to Henry M. Fischer and his wife, Lyubov. The child was named William August; the family name was anglicized to Fisher.
Genrikh Matveyevich Fischer and his bride, Lyubov Vasilevna Karneyeva, a midwife, had emigrated to England from Baltic Russia in 1900, joining the more than 30,000 Russian emigres already in London. Henry (as he called himself) settled in Newcastle and began to work intensely on behalf of Lenin and the Bolsheviks by smuggling copies of the revolutionary newspaper Iskra into Russia aboard Russian ships that called at Newcastle as well as nearby Blyth and Sunderland. The Fishers quickly integrated into local life and their son Willy grew up in Newcastle as a typical local schoolboy except for his involvement with the senior Fisher's underground party work. At school, Willy excelled in mathematics and was enthusiastic about sports, but his greatest delight was helping his father in the distribution of anti-war leaflets to factory and dockworkers. The leaflets carried a message urging workers to refuse to bear arms and turn against the imperialist, colonialist powers fighting for foreign territory. Willy was 12 years old when World War I broke out. The Fisher family was perceived by the British government and neighbors to be Germans and they suffered a good deal of the animosity directed against Germans and other "enemy aliens" during the war years. (Both of Henry Fisher's parents were descended from German settlers in the Baltic as were some of Lyubov's family; however, the family considered itself to be Russian). After the Bolsheviks seized power in November 1917 and were faced with Allied disapproval and a threat of military intervention, a "Hands Off Russia" movement was established. Willy was soon helping his father distribute leaflets and organize street corner meetings for this new movement.
In 1921, Henry Fisher yielded to persuasion from Moscow and decided to return to Russia. In Moscow, the Fishers were given temporary quarters in the Kremlin until permanent arrangements could be made. The important position Henry Fisher hoped for in the new government failed to materialize. Henry Fisher reluctantly accepted the fact that he was destined to remain on the fringe of the new Soviet government, but his idealistic enthusiasm for communism never flagged.
Young Willy was sent to a special school for English-speakers which followed a regular Soviet curriculum but included a daily period of Russian language instruction. He experienced great difficulty with Russian and never attained native fluency and, although he ultimately learned to speak, read, and write Russian quite well, he always retained his noticeable foreign accent.

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Posted: May 08, 2007 08:59 AM
Last Updated: Aug 03, 2011 02:59 PM