Today, I had the great privilege to sit down with an extraordinary gentleman, a hero to his family and an inspiration to watchmakers around the world. Mr. Gershon Perecman, a master watchmaker from the age of seventeen, endured what we, in our lifetime, will never even come close to experiencing. As a boy, Mr. Perecman grew up in Poland, without the knowledge of the growing Nazi party and without any contact with true evil. His father was a master watchmaker and prompted Gershon’s early interest in watchmaking. Gershon first “sat at the bench” (the watchmaker’s bench) at the age of twelve, where he started with the basics and progressed through his training till he was at the point where repairing remarkably complicated watches was second nature.
At seventeen, his whole world collapsed as he, his mother, father, and two sisters were forced into cattle cars and transported to a labor camp. At the labor camp, Gershon and his father were separated from the rest of his family and sent away to the Dachau Concentration Camp, a horror almost unimaginable to Mr. Perecman. Upon arrival at Dachau, and beyond the infamous entrance gates that read, “Arbeit Macht Frei,” the Nazis instructed the mass of people that had exited the cattle cars to line up for “selection” to determine who was fit to work and live and who was too old, weak or sick to work and would be murdered. Gershon’s father was forty-eight years old at the time. He was the oldest prisoner in the camp on the hard labor crew, leading Gershon to expect nothing but the worst. But Gershon let it be known to the Nazis that he was a watchmaker and that his father, too, was a watchmaker. His skills and words, for now, saved their lives. They were watchmakers for the Nazis and in exchange: bread and life. Still Gershon and his father lived amid constant fear. As the Russians and the allied militaries closed in on Hitler’s camps, the Nazis forced the Jews on a death march. The five thousand prisoners, including Gershon and his father, marched for what seemed like eternity until the American soldiers rescued them on Friday, April 27, 1945. Gershon Perecman vividly remembers how American soldiers stood on a tank and at precisely three o’clock in the afternoon, exclaimed, “You’re free to go!” Gershon and his father were two of only fifty Jews that survived that march.
Miraculously, the Perecman family was reunited following the end of the war, though weeks after liberation, sadly, Gershon’s mother died of typhus. With what little money Gershon had saved from working at a displaced persons camp, in 1946 he purchased a second-hand Heuer Triple Date Chronograph for sixty (USD), a watch that has remained on his wrist till this day. After getting married in 1947, he came to America where he opened Perecman Jewelers on Legion Avenue in New Haven, Connecticut.The store later moved to Westville, a small village-like area within New Haven, where his father worked with him until his father’s death in 1965. Mr. Perecman has passed down his family’s watchmaking tradition to his daughter, Shirley, and to his son, Mark, who are both experienced watchmakers. Mr. Perecman still owns his shop at 896 1/2 Whalley Avenue in New Haven, where he’s always open to meeting fellow watch lovers who share his passion.
I am truly fortunate to know Mr. Perecman, who was a remarkable teenager and is a remarkable man.
Luke Rottman (Executive Editor: thewatchadviser.com)