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:




Vladimir Korsh-Sablin: Seekers of Happiness (1936)