Warsaw (Mar. 11)
We have again been hearing a good deal lately both from Government quarters and from interested people about the Jewish colonisation project in Polysia, "Emanuel" (Joseph Heftman) writes in an editorial in the Yiddish daily "Moment" here. On the one side, it is said that the interest of the Government has been aroused, and on the other it is said that the same Government circles want to rouse interest in the matter among the Jews. We should have reason for gratification if that were shown to be correct. The present situation of the Jewish population of Poland is one that requires the utmost attention on the part of the authorities, and of the Jewish social workers.
We must to begin with clear up the question of the occupational shifting of the Jewish occupations, the transferring of Jews to productive work. The various attempts made at Jewish colonisation in various countries have given us an impetus. Why should the same thing not be possible here with us? Why should we not colonise Jewish families on the free land available in Polysia? The area under consideration as suitable for Jewish colonisation in Polysia requires extensive drainage works, if we are to make use of it for ordinary agriculture. It would not pay to invest the large sums required on amelioration solely for agricultural cultivation.
There is no means also of obtaining the large sums necessary for long-term credit-aids. But the land in question in its present condition is very suitable for large dairy farms, and for preparing dairy produce, and other similar articles, on the lines of Switzerland, for instance, which imports cocoa and manufactures chocolate. There is an opening also for fish-curing in those places which are rich in water. The initiative to colonise Polysia is therefore of great industrial value to the country, and requires, in addition to finance and credits, proper scientific organisation and technical knowledge. It would be a wise thing to appoint an expert commission to examine the plans very carefully and submit a detailed scheme to the Government. The ground-work of the whole enterprise should be industrial farming. There is no doubt but that large sums of capital could be obtained in the form of long-term credits for such sound enterprises, but the whole question must be lifted out of the sphere of publicist discussion. Writing about the Pinsk swamps now and again, circulating fresh reports about the likelihood of Jewish colonisation in Polysia, without having definite facts and figures and without attempting to get to grips with the actual problem of carrying the scheme into effect is so much beating the wind, and will in time kill what is really a good and practical idea. We believe that the younger men of the Government are really interested in the matter, and will endeavour to get it carried out, and Jewish public opinion, too, must make an urgent demand that this should be done.
HOW AMERICAN JEWRY LOOKED AT THE PLAN WHEN IT WAS BROUGHT UP BEFORE: MR. JAMES N. ROSENBERG’S STATEMENT TO JOINT DISTRIBUTION COMMITTEE CONFERENCE IN CHICAGO: WHAT DR. JOSEPH ROSEN HEAD OF AGROJOINT ESTIMATED AS COST OF SETTLEMENT IN POLYSIAN MARSHLANDS: JOINT DISTRIBUTION COMMITTEE’S INABILITY TO PROCEED WITH SCHEME BECAUSE OF LACK OF PUNDS.
When the Jewish Colonisation Society, Tor, in Poland, was formed in December 1926, it included in its programme the promotion of the efforts for the reclamation of these swamps for the purpose of creating a large Jewish agricultural settlement there. The question aroused a great deal of interest in Jewish and Government circles, and during 1927 and 1928, it was discussed at considerable length in the general and Jewish press in Poland, and in the Jewish Press in America and elsewhere. It was stated in the early part of 1928 that the Polish Government had adopted in principle a scheme submitted by M. Moraczewski, the Minister for Public Works, for establishing a special bureau to draw up a plan for draining the swamplands in the Pinsk area. It was stated in this connection that a preliminary estimate made by the Government showed that the cost of the amelicration work would be about 50 million dollars. The Jewish population of Poland hailed the announcement with much satisfaction, taking the view that when the Government went into the question of costs it could be assumed that they intended to do something towards its practical realisation.
Mr. James N. Rosenberg, Vice-Chairman of the Joint Distribution Committee, speaking shortly after at the Reconstruction Relief Conference of the Joint held in Chicago, said of the plan: Here is a matter brought with deep significance and I hope my words may fall like seed on fruitful ground in Poland. I raise a question the answer to which lies not in the deliberations of this Conference, nor in studies in America, but must come from Poland. It must come not merely from the Polish Jews, but from the Government of Poland. Poland has lately floated a loan of some 70 million dollars. This money is to be used largely for the economic rebuilding of the country. A handful of Polish Jews lately organised an agricultural society. Inspired by the success of the Russian work, they yearn for the soil. Such yearning is to be heeded, and should receive the fullest sympathy. I call attention to a tract of four or five million acres of marsh and swampy lands in the Pinsk district belonging in large part to the Polish Government. This land adjoins similar land in White Russia, drained, ditched and cultivated by Russian Jews. Such land cannot be used unless it is ditched and drained. Land in White Russia similarly located costs 30 dollars to 40 dollars an acre to drain. With modern machinery adapted for ditching and draining, the cost could be reduced considerably. This land, as I am reliably informed, now lies idle and unproductive. 25 to 30 acres will support a family. This would not be farming such as in the Ukraine and the Crimea, where large acreage per family is needed. One million of these acres, ditched, drained and equipped would support 40,000 families. Is it possible to hope that the Polish Government would make a grant of this land, that the Polish Government would, like Russia, make substantial loans to help in the development of these lands through the settlement of the Jews, and that a programme might be evolved whereby American aid could be enlisted? To none of these questions do I dare venture an answer, but I do draw attention to the existence of these lands and the existence of what at least furnishes a hope for a possibility of agricultural Jewish work in Poland. It is not unthinkable that the success of the Jewish agricultural work in Russia is known and realised by the Polish Government and that Poland, which will gain immeasurably in economic strength by increasing her crops, might give favourable consideration to such a plan.
The Federation of Polish Jews in America requested the Joint Distribution Committee to have Dr. Joseph Rosen, its agricultural expert, who is the head of the Agrojoint work in Russia, to investigate the land settlement possibilities for Polish Jews in the Pinsk region and to appoint a special committee to proceed to Poland to enquire into the conditions on the spot.
Dr. Rosen sent a statement to the Federation of Polish Jews in America, in which he said: From what I know there are three to four million acres of swamp land in the Pinsk district belonging partly to the Government and partly to private landowners which can be drained and turned into farms. We are actually draining the same kind of land in White Russia, which adjoins the Pinsk district and are settling people there. Under similar conditions the present cost of draining the land amounts to 40 or 50 dollars per acre. With improved methods, by using American machinery for ditching and clearing the land, the cost can be reduced to about 30 dollars per acre. To make a living, each family must have about 25 acres of this land. As you see, under these conditions, if the land does not have to be purchased, the actual cost to the farmer under the best conditions would be about 750 dollars. In addition to this, the buildings and livestock and machinery would cost at least another 750 dollars, making the cost of settling a family about 1,500 dollars, provided the land can be secured free of charge.
The Joint Distribution Committee, in another communication, sent through its Secretary, Mr. Joseph C. Hyman, informed the Federation of Polish Jews in America that there was very little likelihood of the Joint being in a position during 1928 to aid the project of settling Jews on the land in the Pinsk region if the swamps were drained. The present commitments, Mr. Hyman wrote, are such that practically without taking on any new programmes whatsoever, the Joint will still need to observe the most careful economies in order to meet its obligations. The Committee, in view of the circumstances, cannot, therefore, embark upon the project which you urge.
Although nothing further was done in regard to the scheme, protests were made in several quarters in Poland, and one Ukrainian paper wrote that if an attempt was made to carry the project into effect, the Ukrainians would resist it by force. The paper went on to express its conviction that the American Jews were behind the plan, and suggested that they were apparently using their services in connection with the floating of the Polish loan in the United States as a means of securing from the Polish Government an agreement on this matter. Certain Polish circles, it added, favoured the plan because they saw in it a possibility of driving another wedge between the Jews and the Ukrainians in the border districts of Poland, and it concluded by urging the Polish Jews not to allow themselves to become a tool in the hands of Polish Government policy.