A New Russian Israel
Russia and the Soviet Union is of course a large state and within its borders falls many different ethnic groups. Following the mass culture push by the party, regional and ethnic cultures still remained. Among these groups there was a special case, that of the Jewish people. The Jews have historically been a prosecuted people however as a whole extremely persistent and resilient. Although Antisemitism is found almost everywhere in the world the Soviet Union was adamantly against any form of discrimination among its populace (officially). The Jewish people did present an issue however, due to there religious beliefs and elements of their culture the Jewish people of the USSR never fully assimilated into Russian culture. The party leaders were aware of this and had a plan. The government decided to create a new state for Soviet Jews, a land in the eastern territory along the boarder with China. This new collective Jewish homeland would be called: Birobidzhan.
Birobidzhan was marketed in mass to the Russian Jews and was offered as the new Jewish promise land. A place were Jews could live together free of persecution and discrimination in a communist, Jewish utopia. Many efforts were made to convince Jews to move their lives east. Propaganda was created in the forms of posters, advertisements, and film. Theses Propaganda pieces utilized not only Russian but the Yiddish language. Yiddish is a regional language used by European Jews. While Hebrew is the historical language of the Jewish people at that time it was a dead language while Yiddish was very much alive. Yiddish would ultimately become the official language of Birobidzhan and is seen on many of the propaganda posters. But out of all of these efforts the greatest in my opinion was that of a film. A story of one Jewish family who left the city’s they called home to move to the wilderness and new Jewish homeland out east.
“Seekers of Happiness” a film made to attract settlers to this new Russian Israel was not only a good propaganda piece but a very successful film in itself. The story follows a Russian family as the leave the city to build a new home in Birobidzhan. along the way we see standard Russian propaganda but along with it a love story. A man in the film named Pinia helps serve not only as comedy but also as a warning to capitalist coming to this new land. Pinia is obsessed with gold in the region and his greedy almost comical “Jewish money grubbing” act not only severs to show how bad capitalist are but also carries some antisemitic undertones. Which is surprising to see in a Jewish film. Ultimately Pinia is exiled from his family due to his greed and his sister marries a non Jewish man who ultimately serves as a propaganda peace as well. The film shows a utopia created by like minded Jews who follow the ideals of socialism and collectivization, but it was successful as a movie itself. The film was viewed in several nations and is still considered a prized film in the Jewish Film Society.
Although the film was successful, Birobidzhan ultimately was not. The project only had around 14,000 migrants and the life was hard. Many who left the city for the plow struggled and life in this new land was difficult. ultimately the great purges that swept through the USSR would greatly effect Birobidzhan.
If you would like to see the film you can find it in its entirety and original Russian here:
October 12, 2015 @ 3:33 pm
This was one of the most interesting blog posts I have read yet this year. I had no idea that the USSR tried to form a Jewish and communist Utopia. It’s ironic that Stalin was quick to persecute pretty much anyone who opposed him or he believed opposed him but he was open to forming a religious and communist community for the Jews. Great post; thank you for sharing!
October 12, 2015 @ 5:17 pm
This is incredibly interesting. I was always under the impression that the Soviet Union was against discrimination, but the Jews were always an exception to that rule. This shows that the Soviet Union was intent on keeping its promise of accepting all people even going as far as creating a state within the Union to accommodate them. In all of the history classes I have taken I am really surprised I had not heard of this effort before.
October 12, 2015 @ 8:54 pm
I was really surprised by your post since i had no idea that the USSR tried to form a place for the Jewish people in the East. I know that they often left the Jewish communities located on their western borders run their own affairs, but i didn’t realize that they tried to make a communist utopia for them.
October 12, 2015 @ 11:16 pm
This post brings up a fantastic, lesser-known fact about Russia. The Jewish Autonomous Oblast was definitely a failure to segregate the Russian Jews into a single area of the country. Its location was far from desirable, and the long journey across vast swaths of forest and dangerous land made the trip less than feasible for most people further than Vladivostok.
October 13, 2015 @ 12:43 am
I agree with Patrick’s point about discrimination. This is especially ironic since in the film, Circus, we saw the Russians shame American race ethics and attitudes toward miscegenation, while the Soviet Union segregated Jewish citizens in a similar manner.
October 13, 2015 @ 12:46 am
I remember reading about this new idea for the Russian Jews and how heavy the government pushed for this new idea. But I never knew they took to this level as to create an entire movie around the new idea. It comes to show how extreme and dedicated the new government was to getting their ideas to work. This is a great topic, a great find, and an even better post!
October 13, 2015 @ 12:58 am
It is a really interesting topic but how nice was Birobidzhan? Is it possible that the propaganda was useless due to knowledge of its poor location and resources. Or were the Jewish people superstitious due to the mistreatment they had received throughout the years? It would be interesting to know why it was so unsuccessful.