Posts tagged Birobidzhan.




© Jonas Bendiksen

Birobidzhan, Jewish Autonomous Oblast, Russia, 1999

  May 23, 2013 at 03:57pm via tystna


The Jewish Autonomous Region by D. Bergelson (1939)

A pamphlet about the “Soviet Zion” in Birobidzhan apparently distributed at the 1939 New York World’s Fair.

You can read the whole pamphlet online.

Itsik Fefer and Shlomo Mikhoels meet with Albert Einstein. Princeton, 1943. (via YIVO Archives)

Itsik Fefer (1900–1952), Yiddish poet. Born in Shpola, Ukraine, Itsik Fefer was 12 years old when he began to work at a printing shop. In 1917 he joined the Bund and became a trade union activist. A Communist from 1919, he served in the Red Army. He began writing poems in 1918, and in 1922 joined Vidervuks (New Growth) in Kiev, a group of young Yiddish literati whose mentor was Dovid Hofshteyn.

Fefer was known for his literary credo of proste reyd (simple speech), a concept he formulated in 1922. In the early 1920s, poetry, particularly avant-garde poetry, swamped the literary pages of Soviet Yiddish periodicals. This phenomenon worried editors and critics, who were wary of the fact that Yiddish readers usually could not identify with this style of literature. All Yiddish readers, by contrast, could understand Fefer’s proste reyd.

Fefer published his poetic cycle Bliendike mistn (Manure in Bloom) in 1929, which he presented as a travelogue of a trip he took back to Shpola. He believed that the shtetl could be revitalized as a center of Jewish life and culture and could be the grounds for a new Soviet Jewish nation. Yet his poetic eye did not overlook general industrialization projects, and he was happy to see young Jewish men and women among the romantic builders of Communist society. In the 1930s, Fefer also concentrated on the Birobidzhan nation-building project; his book Birobidzhaner lider (Birobidzhan Poems) was published in 1939. At the same time, he wrote many lyrical poems, some of which were set to music.

During World War II, Fefer was an agent of the secret police on the Jewish Anti-Fascist Committee (JAC). In 1943, he and Solomon Mikhoels, the committee’s chair, visited the United States, Canada, Mexico, and England, successfully mobilizing pro-Soviet support. National pride runs through his poetry of that period. The poem “Ikh bin a Yid” (I Am a Jew) is the best-known sample of such Soviet Jewish patriotism. Fefer includes in his Soviet Jewish genealogy such figures as Bar Kokhba, King Solomon, Baruch Spinoza, Isaak LevitanIakov Sverdlov, and Lazar Kaganovich. In his 1948 poem “A vending tsu Peretsn” (An Address to Peretz), Fefer declares a pedigree of Soviet Yiddish literature. He crowns Y. L. Peretz as the genius of Yiddish literature, whereas Sholem Aleichem, the central figure in the Soviet Yiddish literary canon, appears only as part of Peretz’s entourage, which also includes Ḥayim Naḥman BialikDovid Bergelson, and Der Nister.

As did many Soviet Jews, Fefer enthusiastically welcomed the establishment of the State of Israel. He argued that the new state was the concern of the entire Jewish people and that the heroism of Soviet people contributed more to its creation than American Zionism. In the late 1940s, however, Stalin’s regime had no use for Communists who cherished Jewish national hopes. Fefer was arrested in 1948, together with other members of the JAC. He was executed on 12 August 1952.

In the 1990s, the publication of archival materials dealt a blow to the posthumous reputation of Fefer: during the persecution of the JAC, his testimony was central to the prosecution’s case.

(via YIVO)


Newspapers and leaflets about the Jewish Autonomous Region, 1929-1931.

  July 06, 2012 at 12:31pm via zolotoivek


Jewish Young Pioneers, 1930’s.

In the Jewish Autonomous Region.



For those interested, Birobidzhan (between the rivers of Bira and Bidzhan) is a territory in the far eastern reaches of the Former Soviet Union (right near the border with China) which was designated a Yidishe Avtonomne Gegnt (יידישע אווטאנאמנע געגנט) - Jewish Autonomous Region - by the Soviet Union in 1934 and in which Yiddish was spoken as the official language (wouldn’t it be awesome if the main street in your hometown were Sholem Aleichem Street?). While it never quite attained its goal of becoming the center of Jewish settlement in Russia (a kind of Soviet Zion), it grew impressively, both in population and in cultural output, in the years before and immediately following World War II.

Today, the Jewish community there is small, but organizations like the Far Eastern Research Center for Jewish Culture and Yiddish, in partnership with Bar-Ilan and other universities (including East Asian ones), have been trying to preserve and grow Yiddish culture there once more (see the special issue of Afn Shvel dedicated to Birobidzhan and the virtual tour available here). Among its several activities, the Center organized two successive summer programs for Yiddish studies in Birobidzhan in 2007 and 2008, publishes the journal Mizrekh: Jewish Studies in the Far East, hosts academic conferences dedicated to exploring Jewish culture in the region, and maintains a bibliography of sources relating to the history of Birobidzhan. Check it out!

The Jewish Autonomous Region by D. Bergelson (1939)

A pamphlet about the “Soviet Zion” in Birobidzhan apparently distributed at the 1939 New York World’s Fair.

You can read the whole pamphlet online.

(via Stephanie Comfort)

Jews on their way to Birobidzhan, Jewish Autonomous Region, Russia.


Flag of the Jewish Autonomous Oblast (Евре́йская автоно́мная о́бласть)

Soviet authorities established the autonomous oblast in 1934. It was the result of Joseph Stalin’s nationality policy, which allowed for the Jews of the Soviet Union to receive a territory in which to pursue Yiddish cultural heritage within a socialist framework.