Birobidzhan

Description Jewsih Autonomous Region (JAO/JAR/JAO)
Date 27 January 2008(2008-01-27)
Source Made from Image:Map of Russian subjects, 2008-03-01.svg
Author Marmelad
Permission
(Reusing this image)
Attribution ShareAlike 2.5 The rest of this page is attributed to research which includes Wikipedia and will be expanded in due course

Establishment and Development of the Jewish Autonomous Region

From times immemorial in territory of Priamurye not numerous independent tribes (the Daurs, Duchers, Tunguses) lived. They lived according to patrimonial and tribal laws, mainly on river valleys, especially on banks of the Amur River and its tributaries. Since the middle of the 17th century gradual penetration of the Russians in Priamurye began. "Military and industrial people, executing tsar's will, discovered new and new lands". Before them the aim of new places discovering with not tolled population, "the taking them under high and strong tsar's hand" was put.

History of settlement of the territory of the Jewish Autonomous Region is closely connected with history of settlement of grounds along the Amur River. It began with the campaign of Vassily Poyarkov, who in June, 1644 boated the Amur River from the Khingan River up to the Tunguska River, made a list to the rivers, and informed that "those lands are crowded, full of bread and sables, and there are a lot of other animals, and those rivers are full of fish". The campaigns of Yerofey Khabarov and his fellows strengthened Russian influence in Priamurye and began the joining of these lands and population to Russia. Soon these places were occupied by people of any estates - fugitive Cossacks, free industrialists, peasants, and Raskolniks ...

However in the 18th century and in the first half of the 19th century this rich country remained rough. Its further developing is connected with the name of the governor-general of East Siberia count Muravyov-Amurskiy. Understanding, that the Far East without the navigable Amur River, and Siberia - without an outlet to the ocean are doomed on vegetation, he concluded the Aigun (1858) and Beijing (1860) treaties with the Chinese party, having solved "the Amur problem". A considerable role in the joining of Priamurye to Russia Nevelskoy captain played, who had taken possession of the Amur firth and had opened outlet to the Pacific Ocean for Russia by that.

In December 1858 by highest command it was authorized to establish the Amur Cossacks army for protection of the southeast boundary of Siberia and communication on the rivers of Amur and Ussury. It included settlers from Transbaikalia. In 1858-1882, 63 settlements were founded, including in 1857 - Raddeh settlement; in 1858 - Pashkovo, Pompeyevka, Puzino, Yekaterino-Nikolskoye, Mikhailo-Semyonovskoye, Voskresenovka, Petrovskoye, and Ventzelevo settlements; in 1860 - Storozhevoye, Soyuznoye, and Golovino settlements; in the 60s of the 19th century - Babstovo, Bidzhan, and Bashurovo settlements. The development of new grounds was promoted by expeditions of scientists - geographs, ethnographers, naturalists, botanists: Venyukov, Shrenk, Maksimovich, Raddeh, Komarov. Their gains composed the first detailed "map of the Amur land".

In 1898 the structure of a railway path from Chita up to Vladivostok began. Builders were to meet halfway. These works caused large afflux of new settlers and foundation of new settlements. In 1908 on the map Volochayevka, Obluchye, and Bira stations appeared; in 1910 - Birakan, Londoko, In stations; in 1912 - Tikhonkaya station. The most serious event during the construction of the Eastern part of the Amur railway was the construction of the 2600-meter bridge across the Amur River at Khabarovsk city, which putting in October, 1916 meant actual completion of construction of the railway turnpike.

In pre-revolutionary period local inhabitants farmed in general. The only industrial enterprise was Tungusskiy timber mill, gold was mined in the Sutara River, and there were some small-sized railway workshops.

During the civil war the territory of the future region became arena of severe fights. The economy has come in decline. It's restoring proceeded up to 1926-1927.

How did the Jewish Autonomous Region appear on the map of our country?

Establishment of the Jewish Autonomous Region was necessity for more than two millions of the Jews, living in the Soviet Union. They were considered by tsarism to be foreigners, limited in choice of domicile, possibility of housing accommodation possession. They could farm and be occupied by limited kinds of activity only. They continued to remain one of the most suffering people of the country with low living standard, limited possibilities for realization of intellectual and creative potential.

In 1921 the Committee on land settlement of the working Jews (KOMZET), which was headed by P.G.Smidovich, was headed. It searched for places for compact moving of the Jews, adaptation of the Jewish population to agricultural labor.

The first attempts of KOMZET to create in 1924-26 Jewish settlements in the Crimea, in the Ukraine, Stavropol Territory, near Smolensk and Pskov didn't meet with success because of lack of free grounds in these regions and necessity of transfer of concrete owners' lands to Jewish settlers. The southern region of Priamurye, called then Birsko-Bidzhanskiy region, after an investigation by the expedition led by B.L.Bruk, the professor, under a management of V.R.Viliams in 1927, was recognized as a territory, favorable for compact moving of the working Jews.

History of the JAR establishment, as the first and only state territorial unit of the Jews not only in the USSR, but also in the world (Israel was established on a solution of UNO in 1948), begins from the fact that the Presidium of the General Executive Committee of the USSR passed the decree "On the attaching for KOMZET of free grounds near the Amur River in the Far East for settlement of the working Jews" on March 28, 1928. The decree meant that there was "a possibility of establishment of a Jewish administrative territorial unit on the territory of the called region".


In May, 1928 on Tikhonkaya station, where the Birobidzhan emigrant point was, the first group of settlers from cities and villages of the Ukraine and Byelorussia, central regions of Russia arrived. Simultaneously the state sent machines and necessary means there.

Jewish settlements were created in small villages. They connected the Trans-Siberian railway with the Amur River valley. The epicenter of the Jewish resettlement was Tikhonkaya station (later Birobidzhan city).

Large collective farms and communities were created in Birofeld, Amurzet, Valdgame, Danilovka and other villages. For the Russian Jews it was especially important that this ground was in Russia, in their Motherland, in the custom surroundings. It is necessary to mark, that perspective of revival of a Jewish state, even as an autonomy, found the response abroad - first of all among the American Diaspora. The IKOR organization became its empowered person and rendered free material help to settlers.

The fact of revival of a sovereign Jewish territory, though far away from the actual ancestral Motherland and as an autonomy, actuated afflux of immigrants abroad. They sincerely believed that the Soviet Union was a democratic people's state. With such ideas almost 700 people from Argentina, Lithuania, France, Latvia, Germany, Belgium, the USA, Poland and even from Palestine arrived there.

The majority of settlers was not familiar with agriculture. Russian population rendered them all possible support. Many villages and collective farms sent instructors, who trained settlers to agricultural labour. In total since 1928 up to 1933 22,3 thousand persons arrived in the territory of today's region.

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 authorized.

Taking into account fast economic development of the Birobidzhan national region, the Presidium of the General Executive Committee accepted the decree on its transformation in the Jewish Autonomous Region in structure of the Russian Federation. It happened on May 7, 1934. In 1938 with formation of the Khabarovsk Territory the Jewish Autonomous Region (JAR) was included in its structure.

On December 18, 1934 in Birobidzhan the 1st regional congress of Soviets was held. It finished registration of the new national region as a Soviet state unit, ratified the plan of economic and cultural development and elected the authorities. The first chairman of the JAR Regional Executive Committee was I.I.Liberberg.

Large significance for growth of economy and culture of the region had the decrees of Council of People's Commissars from October 1, 1934 "On measures on economic and cultural development of the Jewish Autonomous Region" and the Presidium of the General Executive committee from August 29, 1936 "On the Soviet, economic and cultural development of the JAR". They became the action program of all working people. Next years the Central Committee of the CPSU and the Soviet Government considered problems on the rendering of assistance to the JAR, in particular the sending of specialists. A lot of party and economic workers, qualified experts were directed under permit of the Central Committee and Far Eastern Territory Party Committee. Along with the Jews people of other nationalities moved to the region. The population of the region was multinational and in 1939 it made already 108,9 thousand people.

Economy of the region, its agricultural and industrial production developed by fast rates. In 1936 the first building of the Birobidzhan sewing factory was set in operation. On January 1, 1938 the carts construction plant (now "Dalselmash" plant) began to work. The factory of metalware in Birobidzhan city, the Londoko limestone plant began to produce, the mining and processing of Birakan marble was organized. The special attention was given to development of transport, construction of automobile and railroads, bridges. The city of Obluchye became the centre of the first branch of the Far Eastern railway. A large railway junction, power station, brick factory, some small-sized auxiliary enterprises were constructed here. In 1937 a large railway station and depot were constructed in Bira settlement. Large settlements of Volochayevka and Smidovich grew fast, the old Nikolayevka settlement was updated also. For period from 1928 up to 1937 on a place of Tikhonkaya, a small railway station, where there was no electricity, no industrial enterprises, only one elementary school, the city of Birobidzhan was erected. It became the administrative, economic and cultural centre of the Jewish Autonomous Region.

 

 


 


Multinational culture and art had broad development in the JAR. Several regional newspapers, Forpost, a literary, art and political magazine, were issued. The magazine published works of the largest Soviet Jewish writers and poets. The Jewish theatre was developed in Birobidzhan city.

All successes in development of economy and culture of the region are achievements of its first builders, those people, who gave a part of soul and heart to this land.

Since the first days of the Great Patriotic War the economy of the region started to produce goods for front. The carts construction plant produced tyres, grenades, auto trailers and special carts; automobile repair shops produced ammunition, the furniture factory - ski, sanitarian property, and the sewing factory - parachutes, packs etc. Enterprises of the region sent 1500 coaches of ammunition, 500 thousand packages of military uniform, 38 coaches of sanitarian property, plenty of foodstuff and gifts for soldiers. More than 12 thousand of region inhabitants were drafted, 7 thousand of them died or were missing, and more than 7 thousand were awarded with orders and medals of the USSR for courage and heroism. 14 persons became Heroes of the Soviet Union, and four persons became holders of a soldier's award of Glory. More than 7 thousand inhabitants of the region were awarded with a medal "For heroic labour during the Great Patriotic War".

First three post-war years, when the country was destroyed by the war, and the new great advance of production was carried out due to the forced commercial production in the East, were years of the best prosperity of local Jewish culture and industrial formation of the society. Another stream of Jews - immigrants flooded the region. The Birobidzhan shoe factory, the confectionery and walk-mill factories were set in operation, the Teploozyorsk cement plant and the Khingan tin industrial complex began to produce, acting enterprises extended productive capacities. In streets of Birobidzhan city, many villages and settlements Yiddish sounded as often, as Russian.

The 60-80s are characterized by stable rise of economy. New industrial enterprises were created, old ones were reconstructed. New kinds of production, such as self-propelled rice, grain and fodder harvesting combines on caterpillar tracks, power transformers and complex transformer stations, various engineering production, furniture, hosiery were mastered, volumes of production enlarged, range of overcoats, footwear, jersey, production of food and meat and milk enterprises were extended.

Special attention was given to development of agriculture. Conducted reclamation work allowed to run new agricultural lands, to create new state farms, and other agricultural enterprises. To the end of the 80s sown areas made 140 thousand hectares, livestock of cattle in public sector was more than 70 thousand heads.

The region began to play a noticeable role in satisfaction of needs of the country and the Far East in a number of raw products (tin, brucite, lime, timber), items of light industry, agricultural machines, power transformers, products of agriculture.

As it was already marked, the Jewish Autonomous Region was the constituent of the Khabarovsk Territory (according to the last Constitution of the RSFSR autonomous regions entered into the structure of territories) for many years.

In December 1990 the Congress of People's Deputies of the RSFSR proposed an amendment to the text of the Constitution of the RSFSR, on which the administrative division of the Russian Federation was changed. It was proclaimed, that henceforth autonomous regions were included directly into the structure of the Federation.

For the sake of justice it is necessary to tell, that a part of radical deputies of the regional Council in spring of 1991 persistently offered to proclaim the Jewish Autonomous Republic, but this offer did not come true. At the same time the amendment to the Constitution was taken into account. On October 29, 1991 the regional Council of People's Deputies accepts the Declaration on state-legal status of the JAR. The same year the Decree of the Presidium of the Supreme Soviet of the RSFSR resolved to divide the Jewish Autonomous Region and the Khabarovsk Territory. The Jewish Autonomous Region became an independent subject of the Russian Federation.

On March 31, 1992 the Federal agreement for separation of management and authorities between federal public authorities and government bodies of the Jewish Autonomous Region was signed.

Real independence of the autonomy caused necessity of prompt solution of many problems, creation of regional and federal bodies of executive authority. It required a lot of efforts from Governor Nikolay Volkov, appointed on December 19, 1991, and his nearest colleagues. In short time it was necessary to establish relations with the federal centre, and to teach heads of districts, directors of enterprises and companies to do the same.

Jewish Autonomous Region official government website http://www.eao.ru/eng/?p=361
Address of the JAR Government: 18, 60-letiya SSSR ave., Birobidzhan, 679016. Tel/fax: +7 (42622) 4-04-89, e-mail: gov@eao.ru

Birobidzhan (Russian: Биробиджа́н; Yiddish: ביראָבידזשאַן) is a town and the administrative center of the Jewish Autonomous Oblast, Russia. It is located on the Trans-Siberian railway, close to the border with the People's Republic of China, and is the home of two synagogues, including the Birobidzhan Synagogue, and the Jewish religious community of the Jewish Autonomous Oblast The 2002 Census recorded the town as having a population of 77,250 (down from the 83,667 registered in the census of 1989). Birobidzhan is named after the two largest rivers in the autonomous oblast: the Bira and the Bidzhan, although only the Bira flows through the town, which lies to the east of the Bidzhan valley. Both rivers are tributaries of the Amur River. Visitors find the town surprisingly green. The chief economic activity is light industry.

 


 Category:Coats of arms of :Jewish Autonomous Region Copyright to the Russian Federation
The Flag is shown on the top line
     
Jewish and Yiddish culture in Birobidzhan

According to Rabbi Mordechai Scheiner, the Chief Rabbi of Birobidzhan and Chabad Lubavitch representative to the region, "Today one can enjoy the benefits of the Yiddish culture and not be afraid to return to their Jewish traditions. It's safe without any anti-Semitism, and we plan to open the first Jewish day school here."[citation needed] Mordechai Scheiner, an Israeli father of six, has been the rabbi in Birobidzhan for the last five years. He is also the host of the Russian television show, Yiddishkeit. The town's synagogue opened in 2004.[5] Rabbi Scheiner says there are 4,000 Jews in Birobidzhan, just over 5 percent of the town's 75,000 population.[6] The Birobidzhan Jewish community was led by Lev Toitman, until his death in September, 2007.[7].

Jewish culture was revived in Birobidzhan much earlier than elsewhere in the Soviet Union. Yiddish theaters opened in the 1970s. Yiddish and Jewish traditions have been required components in all public schools for almost fifteen years, taught not as Jewish exotica but as part of the region's national heritage.[8] The Birobidzhan Synagogue, completed in 2004, is next to a complex housing Sunday School classrooms, a library, a museum, and administrative offices. The buildings were officially opened in 2004 to mark the 70th anniversary of the founding of the Jewish Autonomous Oblast.[9] Concerning the Jewish community of the oblast, Governor Nikolay Mikhaylovich Volkov has stated that he intends to "support every valuable initiative maintained by our local Jewish organizations." [10]. In 2007, The First Birobidzhan International Summer Program for Yiddish Language and Culture was launched by Yiddish studies professor Boris Kotlerman of Bar-Ilan University. [1] The city's main street is even named after the Yiddish language writer and comedian Sholom Aleichem[11].

For the Chanukah celebration of 2007, officials of Birobidzhan in the Jewish Autonomous Oblast claimed to have built the world's largest chanukia.[12]

 

Education

The Birobidzhan Jewish National University works in cooperation with the local religious community. The university is unique in the Russian Far East. The basis of the training course is study of the Hebrew language, history and classic Jewish texts.[13] The town now boasts several state-run schools that teach Yiddish, as well as an Anglo-Yiddish faculty at its higher education college, a Yiddish school for religious instruction and a kindergarten. The five to seven year-olds spend two lessons a week learning to speak Yiddish, as well as being taught Jewish songs, dance and traditions.[14] The school menorah was created in 1991. It is a public school that offers a half-day Yiddish and Jewish curriculum for those parents who choose it. About half the schoolís 120 pupils are enrolled in the Yiddish course. Many of them continue on to Public School No. 2, which offers the same half-day Yiddish/Jewish curriculum from first through 12th grade. Yiddish also is offered at Birobidzhanís Pedagogical Institute, one of the only university-level Yiddish courses in the country.[15] Today, the cityís 14 public schools must teach Yiddish and Jewish tradition

 

Mass Media:
  • "Birobidzhanscaya Nedelya" newspaper
  • "Birobidzhaner Shtern", newspaper (in Russian and Yiddish)
  • "Di Vokh" newspaper
  • "Birobidzhanscaya Zvezda" newspaper
  • Taiga-Vostok Radio
  • FM Биробиджан Radio
  • "Bira" TV (under Federal Broadcasting Corporation (GTRK))
  • ęBestVideoĽ TV

 

 L'Chayim Comrade Stalin

A documentary film, L'Chayim, Comrade Stalin![16] on Stalin's creation of the Jewish Autonomous Oblast and its partial settlement by thousands of Russian and Yiddish-speaking Jews was released in 2003. As well as relating the history of the creation of the proposed Jewish homeland, the film features scenes of life in contemporary Birobidzhan and interviews with Jewish residents.

According to The New York Times, Stalin promoted the city as a home for secular Jews

 

 

Wikipedia Links:

 

Twin towns ó Sister cities

Birobidzhan is twinned with:

 



The Climate

The climate in the territory is monsoonal/anti-cyclonic, with warm, wet, humid summers due to the influence of the East Asian monsoon; and cold, dry, windy conditions prevailing in the winter months courtesy of the Siberian high-pressure system.


The Amur Bridge Project

Valery Solomonovich Gurevich, government vice-chairman of Russiaís Jewish Autonomous Oblast said that China and Russia will start construction of the Amur Bridge Project at the end of 2007. The bridge will link Nizhneleninskoye in the Jewish Autonomous Oblast with Tongjiang in Heilongjiang Province.[31] The 2,197-meter-long bridge, with an estimated investment of nearly US$230 million, is expected to be finished by the end of 2010, Gurevich said.[32] Gurevich said that the proposal to construct a bridge across the river was actually made by Russia, in view of growing cargo transportation demands. "The bridge, in the bold estimate, will be finished in three years," Gurevich said

 

References

  1. ^ Charter of the Municipal Formation of the Town of Birobidzhan, adopted on July 24, 1997, with subsequent amendments
  2. ^ Федеральная служба государственной статистики (Federal State Statistics Service) (2004-05-21). "Численность населения России, субъектов Российской Федерации в составе федеральных округов, районов, городских поселений, сельских населённых пунктов Ė районных центров и сельских населённых пунктов с населением 3 тысячи и более человек (Population of Russia, its federal districts, federal subjects, districts, urban localities, rural localitiesóadministrative centers, and rural localities with population of over 3,000)" (in Russian). Всероссийская перепись населения 2002 года (All-Russia Population Census of 2002). Federal State Statistics Service. http://perepis2002.ru/ct/html/TOM_01_04_1.htm. Retrieved 2009-08-19. 
  3. ^ The value of density was calculated automatically by dividing the 2002 Census population by the area specified in the infobox. Please note that this value may not be accurate as the area specified in the infobox does not necessarily correspond to the area of the entity proper or is reported for the same year as the Census (2002).
  4. ^ http://www.eao.ru//Images/Gorod/gen_022.JPG
  5. ^ FJC | News | Far East Community Prepares for 70th Anniversary of Jewish Autonomous Republic
  6. ^ FJC | News | From Tractors to Torah in Russia's Jewish Land
  7. ^ Far East Jewish Community Chairman Passes Away Federation of Jewish Communities
  8. ^ NCSJ - Profiles: Birobidzhan Jewish Community
  9. ^ FJC | News | Birobidzhan - New Rabbi, New Synagogue
  10. ^ Governor Voices Support for Growing Far East Jewish Community Federation of Jewish Communities
  11. ^ Back to Birobidjan. By Rebecca Raskin. Jerusalem Post
  12. ^ Breaking News - JTA, Jewish & Israel News
  13. ^ Religion
  14. ^ Kulanu: Birobidzhan: Soviety-era Jewish homeland struggles on
  15. ^ NCSJ - Profiles: Birobidzhan Jewish Community
  16. ^ L'Chayim, Comrade Stalin!
  17. ^ William J. Broad, "A Spyís Path: Iowa to A-Bomb to Kremlin Honor", The New York Times (November 12, 2007), p. A19

 

Jewish Autonomous Oblast
(Russian: Евре́йская автоно́мная о́бласть, Yevreyskaya avtonomnaya oblast; Yiddish: ייִדישע אווטאָנאָמע געגנט, yidishe avtonome gegnt[11]) is a federal subject of Russia (an autonomous oblast) situated in the Russian Far East, bordering Khabarovsk Krai and Amur Oblast of Russia and Heilongjiang province of China. Its administrative center is Birobidzhan.

The autonomous oblast was established in 1934. It was the result of Joseph Stalin's nationality policy, which allowed for the Jewish population of the Soviet Union to receive a territory in which to pursue Yiddish cultural heritage within a socialist framework.[12] According to the 1939 population census, 17,695 Jews lived in the region (16% of the total population). The census of 1959, taken 6 years after Stalin's death, revealed that the Jewish population of the JAO declined to 14,269 persons.[13] As of 2002, 2,327 Jews were living in the JAO, while ethnic Russians made up 90% of the population.


Demographics

Some Statistics

The most recent Russian Census (2002) lists a total population of 190,915, of which the largest group are the 171,697 ethnic Russians (89.93%), followed by 8,483 ethnic Ukrainians (4.44%). As of the same date, the Jewish community numbered 2,327 persons (1.22%).[14])

The following additional groups were enumerated: 1,196 Tatars (0.63%), 1,182 Belarusians (0.62%), 672 Moldavians (0.35%), 594 Azeris (0.31%), 453 Germans (0.24%), 402 Koreans (0.21%), 401 Mordovians (0.21%), 320 Chuvash (0.17%), 282 Armenians (0.15%), 188 Bashkirs (0.10%), 156 Uzbeks (0.08%), 148 Poles (0.08%), 132 Roma (0.07%), 128 Tajiks (0.07%), 103 Mari (0.05%) and 102 Chinese (0.05%). A total of 95 different ethnic groups was reported.

Vital Statistics for 2007:

  • Births: 2,418 (13.02 per 1000, 12.29 in urban areas & 14.46 in rural areas)[15].
  • Deaths: 2,794 (15.05 per 1000, 16.08 in urban areas & 13.03 in rural areas).
  • Natural Growth Rate: -0.20% per year (-0.38% in urban areas & +0.14% in rural areas).

In 2007, deaths outnumbered births (-376) in urban areas, while rural areas reported a slight excess of births over deaths (+90).

Vital Statistics for 2008:

  • Births: 2,582 (13.9 per 1000)
  • Deaths: 2,851 (15.4 per 1000) [16]

 

English: Jewish Autonomous Oblast - Russia

Русский: Бирибиджан, Еврейская автономная область, Российская Федерация

 

The Town Square has an unusual monument. Unusual in that it is not to Lenin or Stalin

Military colonization and the advent of the Trans-Siberian Railway

In December 1858 the Russian government authorized formation of the Amur Cossacks for protection of the southeast boundary of Siberia and communication on the rivers of Amur and Ussuri. This military colonization included settlers from Transbaikalia. During the years 1858Ė82, sixty three settlements were founded, including, in 1857, Radde settlement; in 1858, Pashkovo, Pompeyevka, Puzino, Yekaterino-Nikolskoye, Mikhailo-Semyonovskoye, Voskresenovka, Petrovskoye, and Ventzelevo; in 1860, Storozhevoye, Soyuznoye, and Golovino; later in the decade, Babstovo, Bidzhan, and Bashurovo settlements. Expeditions of scientists ó including such geographers, ethnographers, naturalists, and botanists as Venyukov, Schrenck, Maksimovich, Radde, and Komarov - promoted the development of the new territories. Their achievements produced the first detailed "map of the Amur land".

The Jewish Autonomous Oblast with the administrative center of Birobidzhan marked

Construction began in 1898 on the Trans-Siberian Railway connecting Chita and Vladivostok, starting at each end and meeting halfway. The project produced a large influx of new settlers and the foundation of new settlements. In 1908 Volochayevka, Obluchye, and Bira, Russia stations appeared; in 1910, Birakan, Londoko, and In stations; in 1912, Tikhonkaya station. The railroad was completed in October 1916, with the opening of the 2590 m (8500 ft) Khabarovsk Bridge across the Amur at Khabarovsk. In the pre-revolutionary period most local inhabitants were farmers. The only industrial enterprise was the Tungusskiy timber mill, although gold was mined in the Sutara River, and there were some small railway workshops. During the civil war, the territory of the future Jewish Autonomous Oblast was the scene of terrible battles (not much information on this) The economy declined, though it was recovering in 1926 and 1927.

Jewish settlement and development in the region

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".[17]

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 authorized.[17]

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 structure.[17]

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, 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.

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. Stalin was motivated by anti-Semitism in selecting Birobidzhan: he wanted to keep the Jews as far away from the centers of power as possible.[citation needed]

By the 1930s, a massive propaganda campaign was under way 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 Great 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 (Cyrillic: Биробиджанер Штерн, Hebrew: 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.

Valdgeym is a Jewish settlement within the Jewish Autonomous Oblast.[18] The settlement was founded in 1928 and was the first collective farm established in the oblast.[19] In 1980 a Yiddish school was opened in the settlement.[20] Amurzet also has a history of Jewish settlement in the JAO.[21][22] For the period 1929 through 1939, this village was the center of Jewish settlement south of Birobidzhan.[23] 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.[24] The population of Amurzet, as estimated in late 2006, is 5,213.[25] Smidovich is another early Jewish settlement in the JAO.

Stalin and the Doctors' Plot

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 to an abrupt end concerted efforts to bring Jews east.

There was a slight revival in the Birobidzhan idea after the war as a potential home for Jewish refugees. 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 cultureóeven 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 forgotten.

Some scholars such as Louis Rapoport, Jonathan Brent and Vladimir Naumov assert that Stalin had devised a plan to deport all of the Jews of the Soviet Union to Birobidzhan much as he had internally deported other national minorities such as the Crimean Tatars and Volga Germans, forcing them to move thousands of miles from their homes. The Doctors' Plot may have been the first element of this plan. If so, the plan was aborted by Stalin's death on March 5, 1953.

In 1991, the Jewish Autonomous Oblast was transferred from under the jurisdiction of Khabarovsk Krai to the jurisdiction of the Federation, but by that time most of the Jews had gone and the remaining Jews now constituted less than two percent of the local population. Nevertheless, Yiddish is once again taught in the schools, a Yiddish radio station is in operation, and as noted above, the Birobidzhaner Shtern includes a section in Yiddish.

L'Chayim, Comrade Stalin!, a documentary on Stalin's creation of the Jewish Autonomous Region and its settlement, was released in 2003. In addition to being a history of the creation of the Jewish Autonomous Oblast, the film features scenes of contemporary Birobidzhan and interviews with Jewish residents.

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