Moscow (Nov. 8)
Announcement by the Soviet government of organization of an autonomous Jewish region in the Far East (Biro-Bidjan) has attracted a great deal of interest in Jewish circles. As our organization has been carrying on Jewish land settlement work in the U. S. R. R. for a number of years, we were naturally interested in securing first-hand information on the nature and possibilities of the new region. Together with my colleagues, Lubarsky, Grower and Zeitchick, who have been connected with the Agro-Joint from the beginning of our work in Russia, we have recently completed a trip to Biro-Bidjan. We left Moscow on September 12 and returned on October 21, having spent three weeks in Biro-Bidjan proper, as it takes eight to nine days to travel by rail from Moscow to the town of Biro-Bidjan, now an important station on the main trunk of the Trans-Siberian Railroad.
We did not limit ourselves to visiting a few points on or near the railroad but have crossed the country in several directions, traveling by car, truck, horse cart, boat and on foot, stopping at practically every inhabited place in the sparsely populated region.
As it happened, we came to Biro-Bidjan during the local Indian Summer season. The weather was exceptionally favorable and the landscape beautiful. The rainy period, which usually lasts through July and August, when the country is frequently flooded, was over, and the mosquito and gnat pest season had almost ended. But even then, moving from one place to another at a little distance from the railroad presented considerable difficulties, as there are as yet practically no roads in the country with the exception of about 200 kilometers of improved dirt roads, now being completed, running from the town of Biro-Bidjan south to the Amur River and then at short distances east and west.
The Jewish region now comprises five districts, Birsky, Stalinsky, Bluchersky, Bijansky and Smidovichesky, an area of about 10,000 acres, limited on the west and south by the Amur River and running to the north in an irregular line for several kilometers northward of the Trans-Siberian Railroad. Along the railroad the region begins at the station Oblutchie and extends to, but does not include, the city of Chabarowsk at a distance of about 320 kilometers.
Almost one-third of the territory is occupied by the Little Hingan and other chains and ridges of low hills and is therefore unsuitable for agricultural settlement. These hills, however, as indicated by preliminary investigations carried on in recent years, presumably abound in mineral resources, the more or less exact value of which, quantitatively and qualitatively, still remains to be determined. The hills are mostly covered by forests containing considerable quantities of valuable varieties of timber.
The other two-thirds of the territory are mainly more or less marshy lowlands that could be made tillable only after extensive and rather expensive drainage development.
While the humus content of the soil is rather high, the layer of the soil is thin, seldom over twelve centimetres. The subsoil is mostly heavy, impenetrable clay, and the natural slope of the land almost negligible. This makes the drainage problem very difficult. Several considerable drainage projects are presently being completed by the government land department, with the use of modern machinery, excavators, graders and powerful caterpillar tractors.
Judging by the results and condition of the crops on smaller tracts of similar but slightly more favorably situated land, now under cultivation, it may reasonably be expected that these projects provided the land is properly handled after the initial drainage, should develop successfully.
Here and there, amid the lowlands, are scattered, comparatively small spots of slightly elevated flats of drier and lighter soils overgrown with brush and scrubby oak Some carry a number of big trees and old stumps. A number of these flatlands have been cleared and turned into fairly fertile fields. All kinds of crops have been successfully grown on these improved lands, including spring wheat, oats, soya beans, early varieties of maize, potatoes and all common vegetables.
The lowlands are covered with a heavy growth of coarse grass mostly of the calamogrostis type. The growth is heavy but the feeding value of this grass is rather low. When the land is drained more valuable varieties of grasses and even legumes take a foothold and the natural pastures and meadows gradually improve, making it possible to develop all kinds of livestock farming, including the improvement of the local breeds.
The industrial development of the country presents perhaps greater opportunities and fewer difficulties. The natural resources of raw materials, while not fully determined, are extensive. The government is planning to develop, in the near future, some heavy industries based on local ore and nearby coal deposits. The wood-working industries have a practically unlimited supply of raw material that can be moved along the numerous streams, rivulets and rivers. The supply of all kinds of building materials, including lumber, a great variety of stone, clay and limes, is found within the limits of this territory. Industrial enterprises, small and large, can be started in the settlements along the main trunk of the Trans-Siberian Railroad. There is a great demand for all kinds of manufactured articles produced from local as well as some imported raw materials in the far eastern territory of the U.S.S.R.
However, in spite of its com-