Samuel Raphael Friedman was an American dreamer. In 1932 he moved to the U.S.S.R. to build the nascent communist state, but during the Cold War, his journey ended in execution as a foreign spy.
Friedman is the first American memorialized with a plaque posted outside his former home by the Last Address volunteer project, set up by volunteers to commemorate the victims of Soviet repression.
Born in 1910 to a family of Jewish immigrants, Samuel grew up in working-class Philadelphia. A promising student, Friedman earned general teaching credentials in English, literature, and biology from the University of California at Berkeley in 1931. He learned some politics as well.
“According to his brothers, my father was ‘pink’,” Friedman’s son Timothy told The Moscow Times. “Not red like John Reed, but ‘reddish.’ My father was carrying left-leaning views. Probably from Berkeley.”
A young man on the move, Friedman lived in England for a year and a half before arriving in Russia in 1932.
“The Americans came to Russia during the Soviet Union in order to take part in the building of dreams, in the greatest sense,” said Last Address co-founder Sergei Parkhomenko. “Few people remember now that various factories and whole cities were built by American engineers.”
The Berkeley-educated Friedman worked underground in Moscow on the Elektrozavodskaya metro station for a year. Later in life, he would point out the jack-hammer carved into the station’s friezes and tell his son Timothy proudly, “I worked with that.”
In 1936, Friedman met Polina Rose, another adventurous American of eastern European Jewish descent and his senior by 12 years. Both Samuel and Polina worked as translator-writers for the Moscow News, an English language newspaper.
“She was a pretty independent-minded American woman at first,” according to her son Timothy. “She somehow converted into homo sovieticus. Believing that the people who are in power know better. What moved her to the left, I don’t really know.”