After WW1, the search continued in remote territories. After the Russian Revolution of 1917, the situation of the Jewish people was considered as part of the overall question of ALL minorities within the Soviet Union. Soviet leaders invested significant resources toward the cultural and national development of the Soviet Union’s many ethnic minorities. Soviet policies defined nationality primarily on the basis of language and territory, an understanding with which many East European Jewish intellectuals agreed. Most Jews in Eastern Europe spoke Yiddish so the Jews had a native language, but they did not have a territory; this was a problem that socialist Jewish activists and the Soviet state worked to rectify.
The solution to the problem of landlessness had been to move Jewish families to farm lands in Southern Russia (now Ukraine). Alas there was almost no room left on the Crimea. So the new plan was to create an autonomous Jewish oblast/territory within the Soviet Union and to encourage Jews to move there.
from Moscow to Vladivostok via Birobidzhan
If most Russian Jews had worked primarily as traders and small-scale craftspeople, not as farmers, could they be moved from their socioeconomic position into agriculture? Since the heart of the distant settlement was the Trans-Siberian railway and Birobidzhan Station, the railways provided the only communication link AND tons of employment opportunities. And to make colonisation more enticing, the Soviet government allowed private land-ownership.
Then in March 1928, the General Executive Committee of the USSR passed the decree for the settlement of working Jews near the Amur River in the Far East, the Jewish administrative unit in Birobidzhan. This new oblast would be located on the Trans-Siberian Railway and would become a separate economic unit.
Birobidzhan's main railway station (above). Note the names in
Russian and Yiddish
Russian and Yiddish
Settlers statue in front of the main railway station (below)
The number of Jewish citizens peaked at 30,000 and since they made up more than a quarter of the oblast’s total population, primary schools, high schools, training centres, Yiddish theatres and the Shalom Aleichem regional library were founded. The synagogue was small and only made of timber, because the socialists were very interested in Judaism as a culture, not as a religion.
Thus the mid-1930s was a period of great achievements in Birobidzhan's development as a centre of Russian Jewish settlement. Even more excited were the 2000 Jewish pioneers from outside the Soviet Union who emigrated to Birobidzhan in the 1930s. The American Committee for the Settlement of Jews in Birobidjan/Ambidjan, established in 1934, was heroic in its financial and practical support (at least until Senator McCarthy and his allies destroyed the Committee’s leaders and supporters in the USA).
Jewish farmers in Valdgeym, a rural area in the Jewish Autonomous Oblast
They originially came from Southern Russia, now Ukraine
1] a military and civilian population along the vulnerable border with China,
2] an urgently needed communications, especially a sophisticated train system and
3] a Russian base for tertiary studies and science expeditions in the East. And
4] Birobidzhan had abundant mineral wealth, especially in its tin ores. These would be the basis of a large national metallurgical industry.
In the end Birobidzhan Jewish community was greatly reduced. Twice, in 1936–37 and in 1948–49, Stalinist purges damaged Jewish dreams. Most remaining settlers immigrated in 1950 and 1951, ending the era of autonomous Jewish life and culture in Birobidzhan. Nonetheless the Trans-Siberian Railway from Moscow to Vladivostok via Birobidzhan is still excellent; visitors can locate their grandparents’ houses, businesses and synagogues, and can still see the railway station named in Russian and Yiddish.