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Encyclopaedia Judaica

Jews in "Soviet Union" 02: NEP, Five-Year Plan, assimilation

Agricultural projects - Birobidzhan - collectivization destroying the agriculture settlements - industrialization - Jewish migration movements to central Russia and the cities (tables) - assimilation

Encyclopaedia Judaica (1971): Russia,
                            vol. 14, col. 469, [[racist Zionist]]
                            members of He-Halutz [[racist Zionist
                            "pioneers"]] on Tel Hai farm in
                            Crimea in 1925 [[in their preparation for
                            emigration to Palestine]]
Encyclopaedia Judaica (1971): Russia, vol. 14, col. 469, [[racist Zionist]] members of He-Halutz [[racist Zionist "pioneers"]]
on Tel Hai farm in Crimea in 1925 [[in their preparation for emigration to Palestine]]

from: Russia; In: Encyclopaedia Judaica, vol. 14

presented by Michael Palomino (2008)

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[Discrimination of the middle class Jews: NEP, lishentsy, Five-Year Plan - help from organizations - dollars campaign against the Jews - forced agricultural settlement, migration or town settlement]


The most decisive factor in the history of the Jews of the Soviet Union was the economic reshuffle which took place in their midst during the 1920s and 1930s.

NEP: The brief NEP period (1921-27) aroused vain hopes among the Jews, who occupied a place of considerable importance in the urban economic class of shopkeepers and independent craftsmen ("nepmen"). However, when the success of the NEP period was at its height, severe supervision was imposed on this class, and the burden of taxation brought its impoverishment and destruction. The situation was especially difficult in Jewish townlets whose former economic basis had been destroyed. A widespread class of destitute and unemployed was created; its members were also deprived of civic rights (lishentsy in Soviet terminology), such as the right to employment, public medical care, and the right of their children to study in secondary and higher schools.

[[Further detail see: Yehuda Bauer: Joint ]].

Five-Year Plan: With the liquidation of the NEP and the introduction of the first Five-Year Plan (1927-32), the situation of these masses deteriorated even further. Thousands of families subsisted on the meager assistance which they received from Western Jewry, through public organizations (the *American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee (JDC); ORT; ICA), through organizations of emigrants from towns or townlets (*Landsmannschaften), or individual relatives.

Notorious in this period was the "Extortion of Dollars" campaign of the Soviet secret police, with the use of coercion [[violence]] and torture against Jews suspected of "hoarding dollars".

During the late 1920s, according to official statistics, about one-third of (col. 467)

the Jews belonged to the economic classes which were destined to disappear and deprived of the above-mentioned rights. The authorities sought to solve this problem in three ways:

-- by agricultural settlement;
-- by migration to the interior regions of Russia, which had been closed to the Jews under czarist regime;
-- and by concentration in the large towns and industrial regions of the Ukraine and Belorussia [[Belarus]], where new classes of government officialdom and industrial enterprises had developed.

[[Further detail see: Yehuda Bauer: Joint ]].

<In Soviet Russia After 1917, in the [[criminal Gulag]] Soviet Union there continued, up to 1928 approximately, a long period of the break-up of the stetl economy and the penalization of many Jews as "bourgeois elemtnes", in the legal, economic, and social aspects of existence. This policy was followed, even if they had been petty shopkeepers of small scale artisans under the czarist regime, without taking into account the restrictions that had forced them into their petty bourgeois status. In this case also a "general line of policy" turned out to be destructive and unfair to Jewish socitey in particular. During the economic crisis the Soviet government was favorable to Jewish autonomy (there were many preponderantly Jewish municipalities and even several such regional administratibve units even after the end of the 1920s). The setting in of industrialization around 1928 gave new opportunities to Jews and began to compensate many of them for the former social havoc.

In the 1920 the [[criminal Gulag]] Soviet state encouraged a change in Jewish economy and society through agriculture and settlement in compact groups, first in the *Crimea and the south of the *Ukraine - which had been traditional areas for Jewish agricultural settlement with governmental encouragement from the first half of the 19th century - and later in what was proclaimed to be the autonomous Jewish region of *Birobidzhan. The projects proceeded rapidly with the help of Jews from abroad.>
(Encyclopaedia Judaica (1971): History, vol. 8, col. 741)

[[The agricultural "settlements" on Crimea were part of the racist Zionist Israel program. The Jewish farmers should emigrate to Palestine forming the base of the new "Jewish State". They settlements were the preparation to set up a racist Zionist "Jewish State" in Palestine...]]

AGRICULTURAL PROJECTS. [Jews should be converted into peasants - Komzet - Jewish settlements in Ukraine - Birobidzhan project]

During the 1920s many of the leaders of the Soviet government came to regard agricultural settlement [[village]] as the highroad to the solution of the Jewish problem. A steady movement toward agricultural settlement of Jews had already started near the Jewish townlets during the period of war Communism in the years of the civil war, when occupation in agriculture at least promised a piece of dry bread.

Komzet and Ukraine [and Crimea]: In 1924 the government created the Commission for Jewish Settlement (Komzet) and a year later a Society for the Promotion of Jewish Settlement (Ozet) was founded. Several Soviet leaders, led by M. Kalinin and M. *Larin, viewed this settlement [[arrangement]] not only as an economic solution for the Jews but also as a means of assuring their national [[religious]] existence. Some members of the Yevsektsiya accepted these projects with enthusiasm and devoted themselves to their realization. These circles aimed to establish Jewish settlement in successive blocs which would form autonomous national areas and would eventually find their place among the national units of which the Soviet Union was composed.

As a basis for such a concentration, the regions of prerevolutionary Jewish settlement in southern Russia were chosen, where 40,000 Jewish farmers already lived, as well as the Crimean peninsula, in the northern parts of which there were still areas available for settlement. Over a number of years five autonomous Jewish agricultural regions were established:
-- Kalinindorf (*Kalininskoye) in 1927,
-- Nay Zlatopol in 1929,
-- Stalindorf (Stalinskoye) in 1930, in the Ukraine;
-- Fraydorf in 1931,
-- and Larindorf in 1935, in the Crimea.

Encyclopaedia Judaica (1971): Russia,
                            vol. 14, col. 469, [[racist Zionist]]
                            members of He-Halutz [[racist Zionist
                            "pioneers"]] on Tel Hai farm in
                            Crimea in 1925 [[in their preparation for
                            emigration to Palestine]]
Encyclopaedia Judaica (1971): Russia, vol. 14, col. 469, [[racist Zionist]] members of He-Halutz [[racist Zionist "pioneers"]]
on Tel Hai farm in Crimea in 1925 [[in their preparation for emigration to Palestine]]

Jewish settlement organizations of the West, especially ICA and the JDC, were associated in these activities. Ozet became the legal focus for Jewish activities, and in its newspaper Tribuna (Russian, 1927-37) the problems of the "productivization" of the Jews and their agricultural settlement were discussed. Communists of Russia and abroad considered this activity to be, among others, the Soviet alternative to [[racist]] Zionism.

It soon became evident that there was not sufficient space in the Ukraine and Crimea for Jewish settlement on a large scale.

[[The existing Jewish agricultural settlements cut land from other settlements and this provoked a bad mood towards the Jews. See: *Crimea]].

<In 1926, 150,400 Jews gained their livelihood from agriculture, approximately 6% of the total. By 1928 they numbered 220,000 (8.5%). A peak was reached in 1930 with 10.1% of Russian Jews in agriculture. Subsequently a steady decline both in absolute (col. 741)

numbers, and even more proportionally, set in [[by industrialization]].> (col. 742)
(Encyclopaedia Judaica (1971): History, vol. 8, col. 742)

[[The high agricultural percentage is not normal for Jews. The Jewish farmers were part of the racist Zionist plan to emigrate to Palestine to be the base of a racist "Jewish State"]].

Birobidzhan: In 1928 the government decided to direct this settlement to a distant and sparsely populated region in the Far East - the region of *Birobidzhan, on the banks of the Amur River on the Chinese border. In order to encourage settlement in Birobidzhan, a political as well as an international Jewish character was given to this enterprise. Jews throughout the world were called upon to lend a hand in the establishment of a Jewish territorial unit within the framework of the Soviet Union. On May 7, 1934, the district of Birobidzhan was proclaimed a Jewish Autonomous Region which was to cover an area of 36,000 sq km, whose official language would be Yiddish. Settlement in Birobidzhan took place in difficult pioneering conditions.

Encyclopaedia Judaica (1971): Russia,
                              vol. 14, col. 470, title page of the
                              Komzet report about farming settling
                              possibilities in Birobidzhan published in
Encyclopaedia Judaica (1971): Russia, vol. 14, col. 470, title page of the Komzet report about farming settling possibilities in Birobidzhan published in 1930

[[There were hopes that also Polish Jews would go to Birobidzhan and the "Jewish problem" in Poland would be solved by this. See: Yehuda Bauer: Joint ]].

In August 1936 the government announced that "the Jewish Autonomous Region was from now on to become the cultural center of Soviet Jewry for all the working Jewish population". This proclamation aroused opposition within the circles of Jewish activists in the European part of the Soviet Union. It appears that misgivings were also felt in government circles toward the outspoken national character which the settlement of Birobidzhan received.

In August 1936 a drastic change occurred  in the attitude of the (col. 468)

government toward Birobidzhan. The leadership of the region, which was in the hands of former members of the Jewish socialist parties, was liquidated. From then, the Jewish aspect of the region began to wane. Officially Birobidzhan retained its name and status of a Jewish autonomous region, and the only newspaper still published in Yiddish in the Soviet Union is the Birobidzhaner Shtern. At present, however, Birobidzhan has only symbolic importance in the lives of the Jews of Russia. Its number of Jewish inhabitants, which in 1937 rose to 18,000 (about 24% of the total population of the region), declined to 14,169 in the census of 1959, forming 8.8% of the region's population and about 0.66% of the Jewish population of the Soviet Union. Less than 40% of them declared Yiddish to be their mother tongue.

[[Further details see also: *Birobidzhan]]

[[There was a general liquidation wave (purges) of Stalin in 1936-1937]].

[Late 1930s: collectivization destroying big parts of the agricultural settlements - end in 1941]

<During the collectivization of Soviet agriculture most Jewish settlement were practically de-Judaized by an "internationalization" process, i.e., the introduction of non-Jewish peasants. The Jewish settlements were finally obliterated during the Nazi occupation of World War II.>
(Encyclopaedia Judaica (1971): History, vol. 8, col. 742)

By the late 1930s the hopes which many Jews in Russia and abroad had pinned on agricultural settlement evaporated. The collectivization of farming during the early 1930s, which was frequently bound up with a policy of "internatinalization" (i.e., the inclusion of non-Jewish peasants in Jewish kolkhozes), resulted in the departure of many Jewish settlers. The industrialization and development of the towns attracted many members of the settlements to the large towns. With the German invasion all the Jewish settlements of the Ukraine and Crimea were destroyed and they did not recover after the war [[because the agricultural settlements also were considered as training for Palestine]].

[[The collectivization ended in a catastrophe and famine, see: Yehuda Bauer: Joint ]].


In practice, the problem of Jewish integration within the economic structure of the Soviet Union was solved by many Jews moving to the interior of Russia and their absorption in Soviet officialdom [[bureaucracy]] and industry. Migration toward the interior of Russia, which had already begun as a result of the expulsions from the war zones in 1915 and with the outbreak of the Revolution of 1917, continued uninterruptedly, as indicated by the general censuses which were held in the Soviet Union in 1926 and 1939.

[[Factors are:
-- opening of central Russia for the Jews
-- Birobidzhan
-- collectivization and Jews giving up the agricultural settlements
-- better working conditions in the Russian industries
-- school standards in the towns]].

Table 5a / 5b: Jewish migration toward the Interior of Russia 1926-1939
Number of Jews 1926
% of total population 1926
Number of Jews 1939
% of total population 1939
Russian S.F.S.R.
22.4%xxxxxx 948,000xxxxxx 31.4%xxxxxxx
1,574,500xxxxx 59.0%xxxxxx 1,533,000xxxxxx 50.8%xxxxxxx
407,000xxxxx 15.2%xxxxxx 375,000xxxxxx 12.4%xxxxxxx
51,500xxxxx 1.9%xxxxxx 84,000xxxxxx 2.8%xxxxxxx
Soviet Central Asia
40,000xxxxx 1.5%xxxxxx 80,000xxxxxx 2.6%xxxxxxx
from: Russia; In: Encyclopaedia Judaica, vol. 14, col. 471

Table 6: [Jewish migration to Moscow and Leningrad [[St. Petersburg]] 1897-1940 approx.]
Number of Jews

1940 (approx.)
Moscow 8,473xxxx
Leningrad [[St. Petersburg]]xxxxxxxxx
17,251xxxx 84,412xxxxxxx 175,000xxxxxxx
from: Russia; In: Encyclopaedia Judaica, vol. 14, col. 472

Hundreds of thousands of Jews took up employment as factory workers or were absorbed in administrative occupations (especially as clerks in consumers' cooperatives and in accountancy). According to official sources, the Jews were divided according to their social status in 1939 as follows:

Table 7: [Jewish professions in Russia  in 1939]
Cooperative craftsmenxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx
Individual craftsmen
Peasants in kolkhozes
from: Russia; In: Encyclopaedia Judaica, vol. 14, col. 472

[More assimilation factors]

Jews were largely represented in the Soviet intellectual class. At the close of the 1930s, 364,000 Jews (of whom 125,000 were accountants) belonged to this class. Thus, in Soviet society, the Jews also remained an exceptional element in their social composition. Commerce, which had held the central place in the lives of the Jews before the Revolution, was replaced by administrative occupations and professions in technology and sciences.

In Stalin's "purges" of the late 1930s, which were directed against the members of the old Communist guard, many members of the Yevsektsiya were liquidated and the main Jewish newspaper and the Ozet society were closed down. Apart from this, however, these "purges" did not bear an anti-Jewish character and were a part of the general policy of the party.

At the end of the 1930s Jews still played an important role in administration, science, and Soviet art. However, no Jewish national or communal organization existed whatsoever. Assimilation took giant strides. Mixed marriages became commonplace. Yiddish-Communist culture was gradually disappearing, but there was still a class of Jewish activists, authors, and teachers who held their ground in this atmosphere of extinction, and proclaimed, in accordance with the optimistic official line in the Soviet Union, the great "success" achieved by Marxist-Leninist policy in the solution of the Jewish problem and the "renovated Jewish people" (dos banayte folk) which had emerged in the Soviet Union.> (col. 472)

[Racist Zionists in the Soviet Union preparing emigration for Palestine for a racist "Jewish State"]

Encyclopaedia Judaica (1971): Russia,
                            vol. 14, col. 470, farmers of Emes in
                            Belarus in 1928 approx.
Encyclopaedia Judaica (1971): Russia, vol. 14, col. 470, farmers of Emes in Belarus in 1928 approx.
Encyclopaedia Judaica (1971): Russia,
                            vol. 14, col. 469, [[racist]] Zionist
                            political captives in Bobruisk in 1926
Encyclopaedia Judaica (1971): Russia, vol. 14, col. 469, [[racist]] Zionist political captives in Bobruisk in 1926

Encyclopaedia Judaica (1971): Russia,
                            vol. 14, col. 467-468
Encyclopaedia Judaica (1971): Russia, vol. 14, col. 467-468
Encyclopaedia Judaica (1971): Russia,
                            vol. 14, col. 471-472
Encyclopaedia Judaica (1971): Russia, vol. 14, col. 471-472

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