26 September, 2007

Jewish Autonomous Oblast

Jewish Autonomous Oblast (yidishe avtonome gegnt) is a federal subject of
Russia (autonomous oblast) situated in the Far Eastern federal district,
bordering Khabarovsk Krai and Amur Oblast of Russia and Heilongjiang
province of China. The region was created in 1934 as the Jewish National
District. It was the result of Joseph Stalin's nationality policy, which
allowed for the Jewish population of Russia to receive a territory in
which to pursue Yiddish cultural heritage within a socialist framework.

On March 28, 1928, the Presidium of the General Executive Committee of the
USSR passed the decree "On the attaching for Komzet of free territory near
the Amur River in the Far East for settlement of the working Jews." The
decree meant that there was "a possibility of establishment of a Jewish
administrative territorial unit on the territory of the called region".[3]

On August 20, 1930 the General Executive Committee of RSFSR accepted the
decree "On formation of the Birobidzhan national region in the structure
of the Far Eastern Territory". The State Planning Committee considered the
Birobidzhan national region as a separate economic unit. In 1932 the first
scheduled figures of the region development were considered and

On May 7, 1934, the Presidium of the General Executive Committee accepted
the decree on its transformation in the Jewish Autonomous Region within
the Russian Federation. In 1938, with formation of the Khabarovsk
Territory, the Jewish Autonomous Region (JAR) was included in its

According to Joseph Stalin's national policy, each of the national groups
that formed the Soviet Union would receive a territory in which to pursue
cultural autonomy in a socialist framework. In that sense, it was also a
response to two supposed threats to the Soviet state: Judaism, which ran
counter to official state policy of atheism; and Zionism, and the creation
of the modern State of Israel, which countered Soviet views of
nationalism. The idea was to create a new "Soviet Zion", where a
proletarian Jewish culture could be developed. Yiddish, rather than
Hebrew, would be the national language, and a new socialist literature and
arts would replace religion as the primary expression of culture.

Stalin's theory on the National Question held that a group could only be a
nation if they had a territory, and since there was no Jewish territory,
per se, the Jews were not a nation and did not have national rights.
Jewish Communists argued that the way to solve this ideological dilemma
was by creating a Jewish territory, hence the ideological motivation for
the Jewish Autonomous Oblast. Politically, it was also considered
desirable to create a Soviet Jewish homeland as an ideological alternative
to Zionism and the theory put forward by Socialist Zionists such as Ber
Borochov that the Jewish Question could be resolved by creating a Jewish
territory in Palestine. Thus Birobidzhan was important for propaganda
purposes as an argument against Zionism which was a rival ideology to
Marxism among left-wing Jews. The propaganda impact was so effective that
several thousand Jews immigrated to Birobidzhan from outside of the Soviet
Union, including several hundred from Palestine who had become
disillusioned with the Zionist experience.[verification needed]

Another important goal of the Birobidzhan project was to increase
settlement in the remote Soviet Far East, especially along the vulnerable
border with China. In 1928, there was virtually no settlement in the area,
while Jews had deep roots in the western half of the Soviet Union, in
Ukraine, Belarus and Russia proper. In fact, there had initially been
proposals to create a Jewish Soviet Republic in the Crimea or in part of
Ukraine but these were rejected because of fears of antagonizing non-Jews
in those regions.

The geography and climate of Birobidzhan were harsh, the landscape largely
swampland, and any new settlers would have to build their lives from
scratch. Some have even claimed that Stalin was also motivated by
anti-Semitism in selecting Birobidzhan: he wanted to keep the Jews as far
away from the centers of power as possible. On the other hand, it must be
said that the Ukrainians and Crimeans were reluctant to have a Jewish
national home carved out of their territory, even though most Soviet Jews
lived there, and there were very few alternative territories without rival
national claims to them.

By the 1930s, a massive propaganda campaign was underway to induce more
Jewish settlers to move there. Some of these incorporated the standard
Soviet propaganda tools of the era, and included posters and
Yiddish-language novels describing a socialist utopia there. Other methods
bordered on the bizarre. In one instance, leaflets promoting Birobidzhan
were dropped from an airplane over a Jewish neighborhood in Belarus. In
another instance, a government-produced Yiddish film called Seekers of
Happiness told the story of a Jewish family that fled the Depression in
the United States to make a new life for itself in Birobidzhan.

As the Jewish population grew, so did the impact of Yiddish culture on the
region. A Yiddish newspaper, the Birobidzhaner Shtern (Russian:
Биробиджанер Штерн, Yiddish: ביראָבידזשאַנער שטערן, "Star of
Birobidzhan"), was established; a theater troupe was created; and streets
being built in the new city were named after prominent Yiddish authors
such as Sholom Aleichem and Y. L. Peretz. The Yiddish language was
deliberately bolstered as a basis for efforts to secularize the Jewish
population and, despite the general curtailment of this action as
described immediately below, the Birobidzhaner Shtern continues to publish
a section in Yiddish.

Waldheim is a Jewish settlement within the Jewish Autonomous Oblast. [2]
The settlement was founded in 1928 and was the first collective farm
established in the oblast. [3] In 1980 a Yiddish school was opened in the
settlement. [4] Amurzet also has a history of Jewish settlement in the
JAO.[5] [6] [7] For the period 1929 through 1939, this village was the
center of Jewish settlement south of Birobidzhan. [8] The present day
Jewish Community members hold Kabalat Shabbat ceremonies and gatherings
that feature songs in Yiddish, Jewish cuisine, and broad information
presenting historical facts on Jewish culture. Many descendants of the
founders of this settlement, which was established just after the turn of
the 20th century, have left their native village. Those who remained here
in Amurzet, especially those having relatives in Israel, are learning
about the traditions and roots of the Jewish people. [9] The population of
Amurzet, as estimated in late 2006, is 5,213

The Birobidzhan experiment ground to a halt in the mid-1930s, during
Stalin's first campaign of purges. Jewish leaders were arrested and
executed, and Yiddish schools were shut down. Shortly after this, World
War II brought concerted efforts to bring Jews east to an abrupt end.
Curiously, around these decades, some Japanese officials were pushing the
Fugu Plan to attract Jews to the Japanese vassal state of Manchukuo in the
former Chinese part of Manchuria.

There was a slight revival in the Birobidzhan idea after the war as a
potential home for Jewish refugees. During that time, the Jewish
population of the region peaked at almost one-third of the total. Efforts
in this direction ended, however, with the Doctors' plot, the
establishment of Israel as a Jewish state, and Stalin's second wave of
purges shortly before his death. Once again, the Jewish leadership was
arrested and efforts were made to stamp out Yiddish culture—even the
Judaica collection in the local library was burned. In the ensuing years
the idea of an autonomous Jewish region in the Soviet Union was all but

.. more ... http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jewish_Autonomous_Oblast

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posted by u2r2h at Wednesday, September 26, 2007


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