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Soviet Government Plans Jewish Republic in Siberia, Kalenin Says

August 16, 1926
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The establishment of a Jewish republic in Siberia, under the auspices of the Union of Socialist Soviet Republics, is the latest plan of the Soviet Government, according to an article published in the New York “Herald-Tribune” by Elias Tobenkin, American Jewish writer and author of the novel “The God of Might”, who spent five months in Soviet Russia as correspondent for the “Herald-Tribune.”

Mr. Tobenkin reproduces in his article an interview with Michael Kalenin, President of the Soviet Republic, on this matter.

“‘I would like to see a Jewish republic established in Russia, in Siberia. It need not be a very big republic–half a million people would do. Nor need the whole of this half million population be exclusively landworkers. Such a Jewish republic could very well consist of a combination of peasants, with home artisans and skilled mechanics,’ Kalenin stated.

SAYS STEP IS INTENDED TO ENCOURAGE PERPETUATION OF JEWS

“‘Mind you,’ the peasant President hastened to say, as if he feared being misunderstood, ‘we have no intention to force a separate republic upon the Jews; it is solely out of friendship for them that I propose this. The Soviet government is encouraging every one of the 120 nationalities living under its emblem to maintain its national character–language, culture if it wishes. I personally am enthusiastic for the qualities of the Hebrew race. I would like to see the race saved from disintegration. Unless, however, such a Jewish center as I propose is established there will be scarcely any Jews left in the Soviet Union at the end of fifty years. They are fast assimilating.’

“The President of the Soviet Union was at the moment, elbow deep in papers and documents dealing with the movements by Russia’s Jews from their ghettos, in the territory formerly known as the “Pale,” to the soil in the Ukraine, in northern Caucasus, and in the Crimea. M. Kalinin strayed continually from the complaints and wishes of Russia’s old peasantry to the needs and prospects of the new peasantry growing up among Jews.

“‘I feel the tragedy of the Jewish people keenly,’ M. Kalenin said. ‘All of us in the government do. The Jews are among our oldest inhabitants, yet each successive Czarist government prevented them from taking root in the soil. They were forbidden to own land, rent land, work land. We do not like to be charged with fostering a policy that is partial to the Jewish people, but we are determined to make it possible for the Jews to grow together with the soil of Russia the same as all other nationalities.’

“The President of the Soviet Republic at this point found himself discussing Zionism. M. Kalenin did not seem familiar with the word ‘Palestine’ and regularly substituted the word ‘Mesopotamia’ for it.

“‘I understand,’ he said, ‘that there is a movement on foot in certain countries of Europe and in America to settle Jews on land in Mesopotamia. Of course, we are not going to hinder any one who wishes to leave the country to expatriate himself. But it is an insult to us to say that Jews need to go away from Russia to engage in agriculture or in any other pursuit. There is not the slightest juridical discrimination among nationalities in our country. There is not a trace of a Jewish question in law or in fact anywhere in the Soviet Union.’

TOBENKIN DESCRIBES COLONIZATION

“The work of bringing Russian Jews to the land is carried on by a Committee for the Settling of Jewish Toilers on the Land, which is working under the auspices of the Council of Nationalities in the Kremlin. The cost of transplanting a Jewish family from the ghetto to the soil is in the neighborhood of 1,000 rubles. There were 130,000 Jewish peasants in Russia this midsummer. Every month sees the number of peasants increased by a minimum of 1,500 new colonists. The Jewish farmers in Russia now have under cultivation 260,00 desiatins of land.

“It was stated at Moscow that American Jews have in the last twelve months contributed through the Joint Distribution Committee $2,300,000 to the colonization work in Russia. The Soviet government, besides granting the colonies a number of exemptions and privileges, besides giving them land, has poured into the Jewish colonization movement close to 1,500,000 rubles in cash and has extended credits in machinery, seeds and other articles to the amount of 750,000 rubles. In view of the Soviet’s straitened finances, this liberal attitude toward Jews has provoked critical murmurings among certain classes of the peasantry.

“The Soviet government met these criticisms with the statement that, of all nationalities in Russia the Jews had been hardest hit economically by the revolution.

“The Russian peasant has, through the revolution, increased his land by one-third. More than 50,000,000 desiatins of land that had belonged to the titled classes of Russia had been taken by the Soviet government and thrown open to the peasantry for their use. In addition, the peasants received 1,500,000 horses, 2,000,000 head of cows and an even larger quantity of small stock such as pigs and sheep, the nationalized property of the nobility. The peasantry, too, received all the farm machinery and other equipment which had belonged to the large estates and which amounted to a sum of 100,000,000 gold rubles. Its indebtedness to the government land banks which ran up to a total of one and a half billion rubles had been cancelled.

EXPLAINS THE JEWISH SITUATION

“The Jews, by reason of their not being permitted to take root in the soil, had, before the revolution, a merchant class running up to 42 per cent of the total Jewish inhabitants in Russia. The revolution, with its ban on private trade, left this class economically helpless. Even with the introduction of the new economic policy this Jewish merchant class have not been able to make much headway. The total number of private merchants among Jews at the present time runs up to 11 per cent, still leaving 31 per cent of the former merchants without any occupation. During the period of war communism not only merchants, but even the so-called “kustari,” or small mechanics and artisans working at their trades in their homes, also were prohibited from engaging in their occupations. The Jews thus had been left by the revolution least anchored, and of this the Soviet government now takes account.

“The most intensive Jewish colonization at the present time is carried on in the Crimea. The American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee is pouring millions in cash, machinery and seed into that territory. American agricultural experts have been sent over to direct the work of the Jewish colonies scientifically. Jewish farming there as well as in other parts of Russia takes an industrial turn. Milk is put on the market not in its natural form, as the peasants put it out, but as cheese. The same is true of other products. The methods of the city, of mechanical production and wholesale distribution, are applied to the plow and the products of the field. The primitive methods of the Russian peasantry are something that the new Jewish peasantry are not permitted to acquire.

“There had been considerable talk in connection with this Jewish colonization in the Crimea that it would ultimately result in the establishment of a Jewish autonomous republic there. I asked President Kalenin why the Soviet government now looks to Siberia–to Asia–and not to the Crimea as the more likely place for the establishment of a Jewish independent or autonomous republic.

“‘It is a question of geography,’ M. Kalenin replied. ‘The most we can settle on land in the Crimea is another 100,000 people. The smallest territory a republic should cover is 150,000 square versts (a verst is two-thirds of a mile). The only place where so much land is still available in whole parcels is Siberia. In the Province of Altai in Semipalatinsk, or in the Kirgheez region, a republic of such dimensions could be established without interfering with existing territorial entities and populations.’

“I asked him with regard to the financing of such a Jewish state. M. Kalenin replied:

PLAN JEWISH PEASANTRY OF 500,000

“‘It is the plan of the Jewish spokesmen in Soviet Russia to give their people a natural footing in the country by converting 20 per cent of the Jewish population into farmers. In other words, it is planned to have in Russia a Jewish peasantry of about half a million. Now, the cost of settling these men on land is the same, whether they are settled in scattered colonies, where they are bound to be lost among the Slav population, or in one compact mass, where they may maintain their national language, culture and literature. The same sources which extend aid to the Jewish colonization projects now will extend aid to a more centralized form of colonization.’

“The bad blood created by the Bolshevist revolution has rested heavily on Jews in all countries. It has given rise to a so-called Jewish question in places where such a question had previously not existed. A whole literature, from ponderous “protocols” to waggish limericks, had sprung up, charging that the Bolshevist regime at the helm in Russia was in no way part of the Russian genius, but was forced upon that country by a band of political adventurers whose ringleaders were Hebrews. I asked M. Kalenin about it.

“‘Echoes of the old regime,’ he said with a deprecating wave of the arm. ‘Von Plehve conceived the idea of diverting popular fury from an anti-government into an anti-Jewish direction, and our white emigres abroad are repeating and scattering the Plehve formula. They simply cannot learn anything.

“‘The whole principle of czarism is dead in Russia,’ M. Kalenin resumed. ‘In the course of the past year I talked to 30,000 peasants from every part of the empire. Not a one has found fault with the idea of Sovietism; not a one has complained because we have discarded the democratic formula for government. The Bolshevist order has entered the blood and soul of the Russian people. Lenine knew the genius of Russia far better than the former functionaries of czarism who now malign and denounce him abroad.’

“The Jews,’ M. Kalenin paused; ‘what is a Jew? Perhaps abroad they may have a way of figuring Trotzky as a Jew. We have not. To us Trotzky is a ‘Velikoross,’ a son of Great Russia. To us a Jew is one whose language, culture and interests are those of the Jews. Trotzky has given of his blood, of his life to the Russian people, to Russian freedom, to Russia’s future. Our language is his language; his culture is our culture. He is a Russian Kamenev is another such Russian. The Soviet regime has absorbed about 400,000 people from the Jewish race. They are employed in our various government-run industries, shops, offices. They are workmen, they are officeholders. All of these men live as Russians, not as Jews. They are working for Russia, for the Soviet state, and not for any other state,’ he concluded.”

Rabbi Jacob I. Mendelsohn of New York, has been appointed spiritual leader of Congregation Rabbi Meyer Isserman of Newark, N. J. Rabbi Mendelsohn is a graduate of New York University and the Jewish Theological Seminary.

The Young Men’s and Young Women’s Hebrew Association of Newark, N. J. is establishing an Institute of Jewish Studies to open in October. Study will be offered in Jewish history, religion, the Bible, Jewish thought and literature.

It is expected that a campaign for Palestine funds will be inaugurated in the local synagogue of Hagerstown, Md., the second week in September.

BREVITIES

A “pilgrimage” to St. Hubert’s, in the Adirondack Mountains, was made yesterday by friends of Dr. Felix Adler and members of the New York Ethical Culture Society to felicitate Dr. Adler on his seventy-fifth birthday. Visitors went from near-by mountain resorts as well as from this city to Dr. Adler’s Summer home, where informal exercises were held.

A report received by Moody’s Foreign Department from its Zagreb, Jugo-Slavia, correspondent, states that the Ford Motor Company has offered to make Bulgaria a loan of $5,000,000.

According to the report, the loan would be used for road building. It is also reported that Ford had been granted a valuable concession to establish an automobile factory in Sofia.

Max Horne, one of the leaders of the Jewish Community in Southern Maine, died yesterday at his home in Biddeford, Maine, at the age of 55.

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