Search JTA's historical archive dating back to 1923

American Ort Committee Hears of the Condition Among Russian Jews

December 21, 1928
See Original Daily Bulletin From This Date

Steps Being Taken to Alleviate Plight of Declassed

Nathan Chanin, the secretary of the Jewish Socialist Verband, who has returned from an extended stay in Eastern Europe, spending some time in Poland and Russia, told of his impressions at a meeting of the American Ort at the Hotel Pennsylvania, New York. Judge Jacob Panken, Chairman of the American Ort, presented Mr. Chanin, who said all that he had heard about the acute situation of the “declassed” Jews in Russia had not been enough.

“To say that their condition is bad, does not describe it,” said Mr. Chanin. “They and their children are actually fated to perish, unless some extraordinary help comes to them. The children can not enter schools, they can not learn trades. For this reason, the Ort has opened special schools for the “declassed” population, for adults as well as children. About 70% of the population is subsisting on American money. One man said to me that his prayer every morning was that his American relative should live for 120 years. But in many cases they can not try anything even when they have such money, because the stores are all cooperative, and the “declassed” Jew, who is considered bourgeois, does not belong. To become an artisan is not only economically a vital need for the “declassed” Jews, but socially and politically also. Often a family moves from one town to another, only to hide their bourgeois origin, and to begin a new life of labor. The machine has become the greatest desire of the Jewish town population. To become a recognized worker he must first be a member of the cooperative, but to be a member of the cooperative, he must first prove that he is a worker, and this he can do only if he has a machine. The Ort offices through Russia are overcrowded with demands for machines.

“I spent two days in the Ort office in Kiev, and at the end of the two days I knew the situation in the surrounding towns, because the population of these towns streamed in, one after the other, with their identical stories and their identical requests. Of course there are difficulties involved–the question of raw materials, the possibility of too many machines of the same type, etc. The Ort has taken all these problems into consideration. There are committees of experts at work on the problem in Moscow, in Berlin, and, I am told, in New York.

“The colonies have suffered a great deal this year because of bad crops. In White Russia the situation is better, in the Odessa region it is worse. My personal opinion,” said Mr. Chanin, “is that before new colonies are established, the old ones should be stabilized. The Odessa colonies would not be able to tide over this year alone if they were not to come to them. The Ort is exerting every effort to keep them, but the organization has not enough means.

“A. Weinstein, the Ort representative in Odessa, said to me: ‘Tell them in America that if no help is forthcoming, the colonists will be compelled to sell their horses and cows so that the children will be left without milk in the winter, and in the spring there will be no horses to help do the work in which lies their only hope’.”

Dr. Henry Moskowitz, Chairman of the Executive Committee of the American Ort, told of what the American Ort is doing towards alleviating the conditions described by Mr. Chanin.

“In addition to supplying machines and raw material to artisans, the Ort is now centering its efforts on constructive relative aid, inducing relatives in the United States to send tools and machines to their kin in Russia. Over 1200 applications for machines, at an aggregate cost of $350,000, were received within the past three months at the offices of the American Ort. Efforts are also being made to provide opportunities for productive work to those who have no relatives in the United States. The Landsmanschaften and the labor organization have promised their cooperation for this purpose.

“The Ort is not unmindful of the critical situation in the colonies. Mr. Weinstein, Ort representative in Odessa, reports that the Russian Ort had to borrow 40,000 rubles for food and forage which is being distributed among Ort colonies in the Odessa region. This, it is hoped, will help them tide over the most critical period. The Ort, in other words, is recognizing that the problem of reconstruction in Eastern Europe must be attacked on all fronts–that it is a complicated condition requiring a complicated solution.”

Recommended from JTA