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eBook The Birobidzhan Affair: A Yiddish Writer in Siberia
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Publisher:  Varda Books
Original Publisher:  The Jewish Publication Society
Published:  2002
Language:  English
Pages:   223


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ISBN: 1-59045-733-1




About the Book -- The Birobidzhan Affair: A Yiddish Writer in Siberia

Birobidzhan, in the Far East, was set aside by the Soviet government in 1928 for the colonization of Jews; it was named and autonomous region six years later. Encouraged by other writers and caught up in the fervor of its Jewish cultural development, Yiddish poet Israel Emiot (pseudonym of Israel Yanovsky-Goldwasser) settled in Birobidzhan in July 1944 as a newspaper correspondent from his native Poland.

Jewish activities in Birobidzhan ceased abruptly in 1948, however, when they were declared “nationalistic and counter-revolutionary.” Alond with other Yiddish writers, Emiot was arrested for “attempting to introduce Yiddish culture artificially” into Birobidzhan. Emiot protested the charges vehemently at his interrogation. “As the NKVD man heard me out, his mouth twisted into a sardonic little smile. ‘So you still maintain that what you did was right? Podumayte - think about it. Go back to your cell and think about it some more. In the meantime, just write your autobiography.’”

The Birobidzhan Affair is that 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.

Upon his release in 1953, Israel Emiot returned to Birobidzhan, but as he was not rehabilitated his life was tortuous. In 1956 he was repatriated to Poland. Two years later he joined his wife and two children (from whom he had been separated in 1940) in America and settled in Rochester, New York.



About the Book

Contents

 

An Excerpt from the Book -- The Birobidzhan Affair: A Yiddish Writer in Siberia

Anyone who has been subjected to interrogation knows that you can be charged with planning to set fire to the Kremlin, or intending to assassinate a Soviet leader, or being an agent of a foreign spy ring, and dokazhi chto ty ne verbl’ud – go ahead and prove you are not a camel! So when news of the Jewish Doctors` Plot reached the camp, all the anti-Semites crawled out of their holes. Jews are capable of any foul deed! These Jew-haters were practically ecstatic over the story. One Ukrainian nationalist was particularly incensed. “I knew that only the Jews could put an end to Communism – they started it in the first place!”

The hottest indignation, however, was displayed by those criminal offenders who inadvertently had been sentenced a s political under article 58. The shame of it! They had to serve their time in the same place with Fascists who were trying to wreck the Soviet system! At every opportunity they dragged out their loyalty to the Soviet motherland. They became bosom pals with the citizen chief and gladly carried out his open and secret orders. In return, the chief appointed them squad leaders, work assigners, warehouse managers. Often they were permitted to let their hair grow long and wear their own boots instead of the galoshes produced in the camp`s shoe factory out of old automobile tires.

For the criminal offenders, the Jewish Doctors` Plot was an unexpected piece of good fortune. “The zhids, the zhids,” they kept agitating, “no wonder there are so many of them here! All this time we failed to notice them because their brother Kaganovitch protected them. Now their turn has come! This time we`ve caught them red-handed!”

It should be noted here that not all thieves are alike. There are various categories, and they are at perpetual war with each other. The honest thieves – the chesnyokes - stick to their time-honored code, which forbids collaborating with the enemy – the prison authorities – against other prisoners. They refuse to become brigade leaders, and they don`t bother the politicals if the politicals don`t bother them. The urkis, on the other hand, are those who play the role of reformed criminals. They never do any of the work themselves; they become foreman – and God protect the political who falls into the hands of one of that breed.


An Excerpt from the Book

Reviews

Israel Emiot`s prison memoir, The Birobidzhan Affair, is a poignant, captivating chronicle of the persecution of Jews and Jewish culture in the last years of Stalin`s Russia. It stands out among the dozens of such accounts for the simple reason that its author was sensitive, talented writer who managed to convey his gruesome experiences in a controlled yet forceful manner, a style at once laconic and impassioned. The result is a gripping story of one man’s tortures and hopes and a valuable historical document, both in its own right and for the mass of important data it contains. In this respect, Emiot`s work resembles Solzhenitsyn`s monumental Gulag Archipelago.

- Michael Stanislawski, Professor of East European Jewish History

Columbia University


 


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