The Birobidzhan Affair: A Yiddish Writer...

The Birobidzhan Affair is the autobiography, “a chronicle of heart-rending events” recounting Emiot's eight years at hard labor in various work camps in Siberia. Poignant, remarkably understated in tone, it provides evidence of his travails as a Jewish victim of the bitter bureaucracy that was Stalinist Russia.

xii Introduction Manchuria. With an area of 34,000 square kilometers, Biro-bidzhan is roughly the size of Holland and Belgium combined, or in Jewish terms, one- third larger than Palestine after the amputation of Transjordan and three times larger than the area offered to the Jews in the Uganda proposal. The climate is continental, with cold, dry winters and hot, rainy summers. Rich in natural resources, Birobidzhan contains coal, iron, tin, copper, asbestos, and gold. In 1926, 53 percent of the area was covered with thick virgin forests, 16 percent with swamps, and 14 percent with meadowland. The population consisted of Russians, Trans- Baikal Cossacks, Koreans, Byelorussians, Chinese, and native tribes such as the Tungi and Goldi. 6 The idea of colonizing this territory with Jews first arose in the 1920s, when the Soviet leadership and its Jewish agents were seeking some solution to the grave new economic prob-lems of the Jewish population of the USSR. During the first years of Bolshevik rule, various attempts were made to settle Jews on the land in the areas in which they already lived. Thus, by 1923 there were 76,000 Jews living as farmers in the Sovi-et Union. But the problem of déclassé Jews was reaching such heights that it became clear a new solution would have to be found. In 1924 the government created various committees and organizations to help settle Jews as agriculturalists. The original plan was to settle a half million Jews in the Ukraine and the Crimea, but for various reasons— the most impor-tant being the vociferous opposition of the Crimean Tartars and the Ukrainians— other areas were sought for Jewish mass settlement. In 1927 a commission was sent to explore other regions, including the Azov area and the steppes of Kaza-khstan. Finally, the region of Birobidzhan was chosen as the most appropriate site for Jewish settlement. 7 6. A Kirzhnits, “ Vegn der yidisher avtonomer gegnt,” in Yidn in FSSR, ed. S. Dimanshtein ( Moscow, 1935), pp. 63– 72. 7. Chimen Abramsky, “ The Birobidzhan Project, 1927– 1959,” in The Jews in the Soviet Union Since 1917, ed. L. Kochan ( Oxford, 1970), p. 66.   C h a p t e r Home

The Birobidzhan Affair: A Yiddish Writer in Siberia


About Book The Birobidzhan Affair: A Yiddish Writer in Siberia

Front matterCopyright PageAuthor's prefaceIntroductionI go to BirobidzhanThe short-lived revivalIn jailFirst interrogationMy first inquisitorOzirsky of the NKVDMy first cellmateOne Yiddish poet, three Japanese generals, and a Russian thiefThe miracleAwaiting trialMy sentenceOn the road to penal servitudeBarbershop attendantBen SlutskyPenal servitudeProfessor S.How to handle a Jew-baiterI become one of the gangMoishe BrodersonWhen Pinke played Kol NidreiThe investigating commissionAvraham Khayim and the Sephardic JewsThe Jewish daughter from RigaWith the Chinese prisonersRepercussions of the Jewish Doctors' Plot300 women prisoners from MongoliaStalin is deadWe are moved to another campThe secret agent and the banditCelebrating the October RevolutionShot while attempting to escapeA Russian heart with a Jewish sighA Latvian of Jewish originTikhiRebellionMay it get no worseMoishe Broderson and Sholom AleichemOn the eve of liberationFarewell to Moishe BrodersonIn the village of StepanovkaBack to BirobidzhanAmong Jews in BirobidzhanMoscow–Warsaw–New York
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