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

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In 1934 the Soviet government established the Jewish Autonomous Region in a sparsely populated area some five thousand miles east of Moscow. Located along the Sino-Soviet border, the Jewish Autonomous Region, popularly known as Birobidzhan, was designated as the national homeland of Soviet Jewry. The creation of Birobidzhan was part of the Kremlin's effort to establish an enclave where secular Jewish culture rooted in the Yiddish language and socialist beliefs could serve as an alternative to Palestine and ...
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Overview

In 1934 the Soviet government established the Jewish Autonomous Region in a sparsely populated area some five thousand miles east of Moscow. Located along the Sino-Soviet border, the Jewish Autonomous Region, popularly known as Birobidzhan, was designated as the national homeland of Soviet Jewry. The creation of Birobidzhan was part of the Kremlin's effort to establish an enclave where secular Jewish culture rooted in the Yiddish language and socialist beliefs could serve as an alternative to Palestine and resolve a variety of perceived problems besetting Soviet Jews. Birobidzhan still exists today, but despite its continued official status Jews represent only a small minority of the inhabitants of the region. Drawing on documents from archives in Moscow and Birobidzhan, as well as photograph collections never seen outside Birobidzhan, this book explores both the Kremlin's efforts to create a socialist Jewish homeland and the reasons for the failure of the Birobidzhan experiment. The story of the Soviet Zion sheds light on a host of important historical and contemporary issues regarding Jewish identity, community, and culture. The history of Birobidzhan provides an unusual point of entry both to the "Jewish question" in Russia and to an exploration of the fate of Soviet Jewry under Communist rule.
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Editorial Reviews

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
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780520209893
  • Publisher: University of California Press
  • Publication date: 5/25/1998
  • Edition number: 1
  • Pages: 128
  • Product dimensions: 7.13 (w) x 10.38 (h) x 0.63 (d)

Meet 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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