The Film

The American Who Electrified Russia explores the relationship between history and family memory through the biography of an individual unrecorded in the history books whose life was nonetheless intertwined with history, but in a paradoxical fashion. Solomon Abramovich Trone (1872-1969) was my maternal grandmother’s first cousin. A participant in the Revolutions of 1905 and 1917, he was also a director at General Electric, first in Russia before the First World War and then after it in America. Behind the scenes, he was a key figure in the electrification of the Soviet Union. In 1928 he was signatory—for GE—of the first contract between an American corporation and the Soviet Union. A forgotten bit of history—because it was doubtless inconvenient for either country to remember it—which is here unfolded before our eyes through archive footage, including a marvelous but forgotten film by Esfir Shub, K.Sh.E. (КЩЭ, or Komsomol Patron of Electrification) from 1932.

After retiring from GE, Trone worked as an industrial adviser in China, India and Israel. In 1940, he helped to rescue Jewish refugees from Germany. Five years later, Roosevelt appointed him to the Allied Reparations Commission, which reported to the Postdam Conference. Nonetheless, in 1953, at the height of McCarthyism, the Americans withdrew his passport, and he settled in London.

The film is not merely a celebration of Trone’s extraordinary career, but pursuing what Walter Benjamin called ‘the enigmatic question of the biographical historicity of the individual as such’, it investigates the contrast between family memory and public knowledge of history, and thereby recovers a lost perspective on the history of the twentieth century.

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