The impression of James N. Rosen berg, vice-president of the joint Distribution Committee, during his trip to Soviet Russia last year, during which he visited the Jewish colonies in the company of Dr. Joseph A. Rosen, director of the Agrojoint, and Dr. Bernard Kahn, are given in a book by him entitled “On the Steppes,” published by Alfred A. Knopf, New York.
The book gives the day-to-day impressions of Mr. Rosenberg as written in his diary. It is prefaced by a foreword by Louis Marshall, who characterizes it as a “colorful record of the first hand impressions gained by Mr. Rosenberg in these unique surroundings. As such, it merits careful perusal. The reader will be rewarded by beholding an inspiring panoramaa and by visualizing the miracle of an indomitable people lifted out of the depths of despair by a gleam of hope and the healing breath of Nature.”
In his diary under the date of May — we read of his impressions of the first colony he visited:
Here we are. Our first colony. So at last I see for myseli. The Zemledeletz colony is composed of two groups. One calls itself the Zemledeletz Colony the other calls itself the Rosenwald Group, as a tribute to that modest, good, generous, big man, Julius Rosenwald.
We enter the first house we see. This is my introduction to the home of the Russian Jewish colonist. The home of Chatzkel Tohne is spotless. Our host’s welcome is open armed. Three rooms. Father, mother, two children– one a daughter of eighteen, the other a widow with here child-live here. Two sons live in their own homes nearby.
The room in which we sit is white-washed. In a corner is a wooden case with a Hebrew inscription reading “Agro-Joint Drug Store.” Most of the houses. I learn. have an Agro-Joint Drug Store with iodine, castor oil. aspirin and other first aid medicines.
Chatzkel Tohne came with his family from the Kherson district. and was the organizer of this colony. He is a leader. We talk German. He beams upon us. He peurs out his enthusiasm from a full heart. I ask him an unnecessary question: “Are you happy here?” He is surprised at my inquiry. His keen old eyes shine. “Why not?” he answers. “Of course, I am happy.”
“But have you no fear of pogroms?”
“At first we were afraid. It was a new country. But now we are old settlers. We are at home. We have been here nearly three years. We get along well with the fartars. Why should we be afraid?”
Chatzkel toook us to the new cellar he is punuing in which to keep meats, vegetables, potatoes. I climned down. It was six feet deep and the rich black soil was and to be seen down at that depth. When I say “rich black soil,” I don’t pose as an agronomist, but I’ve run a garden for over fifteen years. Anyway, it doesn’t take an expert to tell the dinerence between a ## sterne, sandy solland a brack loam.
## join us. They point out a stone quarry three hundred yards away. That’s a greal asset. They’re mighty proud of it. It means more to them than a lot of securities in a vault mean to you and me. It means solid homes, substantial durable stone houses.
Chatzkel was a peasant all his life. He comes from the old colony in Kherson, Novy Berislav. His son, dressed neatly, American fashion, appears. His handclasp is the firm, hard grip of the man of the soil. He crunched my fingers.
In the blue distance the mountains that rim the Black Sea lift their heads. The colony has houses on two sides of the sreet. The street is almost as wide as the Champs Elysees. On each side are seven houses. Six more are being built. Last year there were none. These settlers then lived in the old estate buildings. Fruit trees have been planted along each side of the road, as well as young evergreens, cherry and apple trees, lilacs, etc., They are interested in the aesthetics of life. That’s a mighty good sign.
“We are building a school now,” Tohne Junior tells me. “Up to now we have had no time to do so. But the children — they must learn.”
Along comes a young colonist, fifteen years old, from Kiev, brown and strong.
Signs of all kinds of active work. Tree planting, plowing, tractors. No work, however, going on today. Why not? Because it is the Sabbath, is the answer. But at the loan kassa in the city, which we left an hour ago, the Jews were busy at work. There’s something to think about. Will the ancient religion of our forefathers gather renewed strength in the fields?
The only help these settlers still need is for building purposes. The typical house here is about thirty-one feet long.
We go into another house. Two families live here. There is a piano. A blond baby is lying in a bed, aslep. This house belongs to one family, but they are accommodating another until its house is completed. Rosen explains that his house building program requires two families to live in one house during the early years of farm life. “Housing is our biggest item of cost,” he explains, “so we must crowd the settlers at first. At that they live much better, two families to the house, than they did in the cities and towas.”
I asked several other settlers about pogroms.
“Crimea is a good place.” they said, “and we are not at all afraid. We get along with the Tartars.”
There are thirty-four families in the Zemiedeletz colony. Of these, fifteen families belong to the Rosenwald Group. The colony has over twenty-four hundred acres of land. Everybody knows which portion of these acres he owns It’s not a collective or communistic plan. They started it so. It didn’t work. This colony is only three-quarters of a mile from the railroad — the main line — Moscow-Simieropol.
When Dr. Kahn was here a year ago they were all huddled in the ruins of the old estate buildings. Since then these new houses, now eighty percent completed, have been built. Progress. . . .
We pass by a tractor. Not one of ours, but one bought by a group of these colonists out of their own savings. Their own plowing finished, they are earning money by plowing the land for neighbors.
From Zemledeletz to the next colony, Avoda (Hebrew for “Labor”). is thirty miles. On our way to Avoda we pass countless acres in which the winter wheat is a foot high; also, we pass by a herd of fifty head of cattle, mostly German reds.
There are forty families in Avoda (it is a 1924 settlement) and they have three thousand acres. They formerly lived in an old barracks. Now they, too, are putting up their own houses.
Here are quantities of building blocks, tiles, a new well just finished, a pump not yet installed, vineyards. This business of wells has been well handled. Each colony gets one well. We sink these wells with an American Keystone drill. And we save a lot of time and money.