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Ort Conference in Berlin Discussed Jewish Colonization Work in Russia

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(Jewish Telegraphic Agency Mail Service)

The Jewish colonization work in Soviet Russia was widely discussed at the Third International Conference of the Ort held here.

Dr. Paul Nathan, president of the Hilfsverein der Deutschen Juden, declared in his address that he is in full agreement with the idea of solving the Russo-Jewish question in Russia itself. “Palestine, as a small country,” he said, “cannot, and this is beyond all dispute, solve the problem. We are thankful to the Russian Jews for making the attempt to solve the problem by their own efforts and to remain in their old homes.”

Mr. Zegelnicki, agronomist, who reported on the work in Russia, said that there were in Russia about 3,000,000 Jews. 300,000 families comprising 850,000 are members of the trade unions. 150,000 families comprising 380,000 are living by agriculture. 38% of the Jewish population is engaged in trading. There are still a million of Jews whose economic existence remains obscure. This is the population of the small towns whom the Great War, the Civil wars and the transformation of the economic system have thrown into an unaccustomed sphere and have declassed. It is not, however, a bad element for it is striving to adapt itself to productive activity. The position of the younger members of this class is especially sad. Russia’s industry although it is now at its full capacity can not absorb many of them, for the physically stronger peasant element is too strong a competitor. The way out is to have the Jewish youth given technical training, for there is always room for skilled workers, he said.

Mr. Zegelnicki described the rapidity with which the former Jewish shopkeepers had adapted themselves to agriculture. The farms in the new Jewish colonies served as models for the neighboring Russian peasants. The Jewish colonist is more open to new ideas and methods and is a willing learner. This applies also to those Jewish colonies which are organized on a collective basis.

Mr. Zegelnicki described in detail the methods of work of the Ort in the Odessa region. The Ort made the first effort after the Civil wars and the pogroms to rebuild the ruined Jewish colonies and to promote the establishment of small farms in the vicinity of the towns.

He reviewed the Jewish colonization work in Russia, dealing mainly with the plan for the settlement by the Comzet of a hundred thousand Jewish families on the land by 1936. The land provided at present for Jewish colonization, he said, is not sufficient for the purpose, but in any case the question of the settlement of Jews on the land has now become a burning question and the opportunity opened up should not be lost for later on the land will not be available. The settlement of 100,000 Jews requires an area of 1,500,000 desiatin. The areas already allocated have all been practically exhausted. The new colonists are happy in their work, he stated.

Kurt Blumenfeld, President of the Zionist Federation in Germany, said that the Zionists who see their main task in bringing about the productive activity of the Jewish elements in all countries appreciate the work of the Ort. The Zionists are seeking to build up the new era of Jewish history on the basis of productivity. Palestine is a small country, but at any rate as big as is Switzerland, and Palestine was once the country which had brought a solution not only of the Jewish question, but also of the question of Judaism.

Herr Alfred Berger of the Poale Zion said that the Jewish socialists know how to appreciate the value of the work of diverting the Jewish masses to productive activity. In Palestine there are workers and peasants who had been trained by the Ort. They hope that there will be a closer contact between the work of the Ort and the Chaluzim work. In both cases the aim is to serve the people through the people, he said.

Dr. Werner Senator, on behalf of the Joint Distribution Committee said that the Joint Distribution Committee which has done so much for the suffering Jews in Europe and is now carrying on a new campaign to raise $25,000,000 for reconstruction activity, places the question of constructive work very high. The countries of immigration have closed their doors; the only solution now is to build up productive activity in the former countries of emigration and also to train emigrants to fit in to the productive work in the countries to which they can still immigrate, such as Palestine.

Dr. Bramson, in the course of his report on the work of the Ort Federation, said that in the first three years the progress had not been favorable. In the last three years, however, they had made great strides ahead. The number of Ort organizations had increased since the Danzig Congress from 52 to 62. In the first three years they spent $390,000, while in the last three years they were able to allocate a sum of $860,000 for their work. There has been a large increase of membership. The technical students have carried off prizes at the exhibitions. The system of agricultural instruction had been improved. The housebuilding work of the Ort for the colonists in the Odessa region was recognized as a model of such work, so that even the official Colonization Association Comzet gave the Ort orders for building houses. Everything is progressing, but unfortunately they still had to contend with the difficulty of lack of money. At first they obtained their funds by contributions from the Joint, the Ica and other organizations, but later they successfully tried to raise their own funds. The problem of work will be solved however, only when they succeeded in obtaining a firm financial basis. They had succeeded in raising money in countries like Finland, Esthonia, Egypt and Morocco, but the hope still lies in the Jewry of America. A second hope lies in the repayment by the colonists and artisans of the amounts which had been advanced to them by the Ort. In the last three years the amount of such repayments increased from $11,000 to $33,000. If things go on in that way they can expect the repayments to form a large part of the basis for their future work.

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