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Stalin's Forgotten Zion: Birobidzhan and the Making of a Soviet Jewish Homeland: An Illustrated History, 1928-1996 Ill Edition

3.8 out of 5 stars 6 customer reviews
ISBN-13: 978-0520209909
ISBN-10: 0520209907
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Editorial Reviews

From Library Journal

The creation of a Jewish homeland in the Soviet Far East remains one of the more bizarre episodes of Stalin's nationality policy. Weinberg's (The Revolution of 1905 in Odessa, Indiana Univ., 1995) short history of the Jewish Autonomous Region (JAR) includes an excellent collection of photographs and documents and conveys a sense of the impossible odds of heroic settlers "unprepared psychologically and physically" for the ordeal they underwent in the JAR. In its first decade, nearly 40,000 Jews arrived in the JAR, of which perhaps half would remain. After the war, some 10,000 more followed, only to experience the "mortal blow" of "anti-Zionist" policies in late Stalinism. By the mid-1980s, not quite five percent of the JAR's 214,000 residents were Jewish. They could witness the official revival of Yiddish culture under Gorbachev. While the JAR still exists, so does the unsolved "mystery" surrounding its creation. Despite excellent writing, the scholarship here is not as exceptional as the pictures, never before published. Recommended for larger libraries and those with strong Slavic or Jewish collections.?Zachary T. Irwin, Pennsylvania State Univ., Erie
Copyright 1998 Reed Business Information, Inc.

About the Author

Robert Weinberg is Associate Professor of History at Swarthmore College. He is author of The Revolution of 1905 in Odessa: Blood on the Steppes (1993) and coeditor of a book-length edition of the journal Russian History (1996). Bradley Berman is the Associate Curator/Project Director for "Stalin's Forgotten Zion" at the Judah L. Magnes Museum in Berkeley, California. Zvi Gitelman is Professor of Political Science at the University of Michigan and author of numerous books on Jews in the Soviet Union.
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Product Details

  • Paperback: 128 pages
  • Publisher: University of California Press; Ill edition (May 25, 1998)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0520209907
  • ISBN-13: 978-0520209909
  • Product Dimensions: 7 x 0.2 x 10 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 8.8 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (6 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,829,936 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Format: Paperback
Those readers who enjoy old photos, old posters, and old clippings from newspapers will find this work enjoyable, as it is full of them. This book also has a profuse bibliography for further study.

Birobidzhan is a territory, in the Soviet Far East, near the Sino-Soviet border, which became a location of Soviet-sponsored colonization by Jews. (For map, see p. 15). The JAR (or J.A.R.), for Jewish Autonomous Region, was established in 1934. Although arrivals were mostly Soviet Jews, there were also some arriving Jews from places as diverse as the USA and Argentina. The JAR became a showcase of Soviet propaganda over much of the west. The JAR had its vicissitudes throughout Soviet rule, but soon began a steady decline. A remnant of the Jewish population has survived to this day.

This work provides statistics on the Jewish population at different times. (p. 21, 43, 69, 85, 87). In no sense was the JAR a literal Jewish state-within-state. The Jewish share of the population never exceeded about 16.5%. (p. 43, 69). [For purposes of comparison, Congress Poland under tsarist Russian rule had reached a proportion of nearly 15% Jews just before WWI.] Most of the peoples living in JAR were Great Russians, Cossacks, Koreans, and Ukrainians. (p. 21).

Although Jews always were a decided minority in the JAR, the Soviet authorities privileged them with such things as the pre-eminence of Yiddish in public life. (pp. 59-61). The Soviets also clearly appointed the Jews as the ruling class. Weinberg writes: "Jews also served prominently in government and party posts..." (p. 60). [The informed reader may realize that many Poles had feared a Judeopolonia. This Judeopolonia could be de jure--a JAR-like Jewish state, carved out of subjugated Poland, under Russian (or German) rule.
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Format: Paperback
This book is very informative, especially on the history of the Jewish Autonomous Oblast in far east Russia. It tells the specifics of how the region was started under the auspices of sending Jews to a "homeland" within the Soviet Union, instead of letting them go to Palestine. There is a lot of history about the Jews in the former Soviet Union as a whole, but this book focuses on those who went by free will in the hope of having a place to themselves. It tells about the government's reasons for setting the region up and how they advertised to get people to go out there and the help they provided. It also tells about Jews around the world being involved in the Birobidzhan Project in various ways, and how some Jews from other countries believed in the Project so much that they moved there. The book is small,but it is packed with information and with black and white pictures from the past.
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This book tells the tale of the Communist Party's attempt to take the Jewish population of the USSR and turn them into an agrarian and secular state in the Soviet far east. Since this was a form of social experimentation, and experimentation based on faulty information and logic, it was a doomed effort.

The Jewish Autonomous Region (JAR) sought to take Jews from the western frontier and resettle them in collective farms in Birobidzhan. It was hoped that by establishing a Jewish colony there would be an alternative for the urban Jews who had been made destitute by the policies of Czarist Russia. It would also allow the USSR to collect most of the Jewish population (which despite their "tolerance" the Russians saw as an alien presence) into one area, in theory promoting their language (in this case Yiddish) and their culture. In practice of course few of these people had any experience in agriculture and the JAR became a classic example of Communist incompetence and mismanagement.

Birobidzhan was never a serious competitor to Palestine as a potential Jewish homeland. In fact, since the collapse of Communism many of the Jews in the region have opted to emigrate to Israel, putting an end to this chapter in Soviet history.

Well illustrated and for the most part well-written.
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