Jewish Colony Soviet’s Wedge into Manchuria
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Jewish Colony Soviet’s Wedge into Manchuria

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Famous correspondent and authority on Eastern problems

In German, “Wladi Wostok” signifies “Command the East!” Czarist generals gave the name to the arsenal, on the shore of the Sea of Japan, which lies directly opposite the yellow island kingdom.

This Russian bulwark is being slowly but with irrevocable certainty encircled by the Japanese divisions, which for 18 months have, week after week, been spreading further and further over the neighboring territory of the Russian Province of Amur. Today Vladivostok is already partly cut off from the Russian hinterland. The Austrian railroad, which leads from Chita in Siberia to Vladivostok through Manchu territory (over the at present much-mentioned border station Mandjuli and over the important Manchurian cities of Harbin and Tsitishar, which were conquered last year) has about 2,000 kilometers of air lines, while the railway line which runs over Soviet territory to the left of the Amur, measures no less than 3,000 kilometers.

The occupation of the East-China railroad by the Japanese has thus already prolonged the transportation time from Chita to Vladivostok by two or three days (!), quite aside from the fact that only a single railway line is at the disposal of the Russians. And this single line is within range of the Japanese field-guns, hard by the boundary.

The name “Wladi Wostok” therefore sounds today more like a pious ejaculation than like a call to battle. Soviet Russia is on the defensive in the East, and the Amur province is in greater danger today than it was ever since 1922, when the Japanese army withdrew from Vladivostok. Nevertheless the well-known Communist Otto Heller, who already has published his third propaganda book about Soviet-Siberia, gives this last book the proud title, “Wladi Wostok!—Rule the East!”


Otto Heller describes this process of building up. Going from Irkutsk to Sachalin and Vladivostok he describes not what is happening, but rather that which could happen. He pictures extravagantly what will some day be: the Angara dam will be the greatest waterpower works in all Russia. A region as large as Germany will live by its energy; Tscherechemwo and other places in the Angara basin have altogether about 200 million tons of first class coal out of which more benzine can be distilled than out of all the rest of the world’s petroleum stores. There are also hundreds of millions of tons of magnetite, iron, manganese, mica, tin, and, above all, aluminum, from which the whole Soviet Union could be supplied in the very cheapest way with light metals. In addition, the tremendous woods of Eastern Siberia will by the aid of electricity be transformed into paper, the railroads will be electrified. . . will be, will be, will be. Today all that exists of power works is the plan bureau at Irkutsk.

And as for the pontoon bridge over the Angara, which is to be replaced by an iron bridge, the design has already been decided upon, as have the paving of the main street of Irkutsk and the design of the municipal hotel.

Second station: Verknii Udinsk, capital of the Burjato-Mongolian Soviet Republic. The republic is as large as Poland; half its total of 550,000 inhabitants are Burjats (racially-pure Mongols); the other half are Tunguse, half-breeds, etc. This region, in spite of its desolateness, is nevertheless politically important, because it reaches to Irkutsk and to Lake Baikal—and because Japan once made an attempt, in February 1919, to make of Burjat a Mongolian union of states, which would reach from Manchuria to Lake Baikal.


East of the republic of Burjat lies Chita, principal point on the trans-Baikal railway; behind Chita the East Chinese railway branches off from the Amur railway and runs about 474 kilometers from Chita to the Manchurian border. This situation dictates the future of the city, which will be the leading point of the future stage and center of the railway works. “Among 75,000 inhabitants, there were in June 1932 in Chita 10,000 construction workers,” writes Heller. At the end of 1933, giant railway works and a new workers’ city for 40,000 people should be ready—all to take care of the repairs on no less than 1,000 locomotives, 12,000 freight cars and 2,000 passenger cars every year in Chita. Now who could ruin so much rolling-stock in a year under what are today normal conditions?

The railroad leads over the Cossack land to Blagowjeschtschensk, which today has 70,000 inhabitants, but tomorrow it “will be” one of the great cities of the East, and “when the streets have been paved and the unfinished buildings finished, it will be beautiful.” This Cossack country consists of enormous stretches of land where the Cossacks were settled. Half of this region was populated by large-scale farmers and a third by medium-scale farmers; only 15-25 percent of the inhabitants were small-scale farmers. All these farmers, who took up arms in 1918-19, constituted the core of the “partisan armies”, their 40,000 men fighting with the Reds against the White Army.


About 400 kilometers behind Blagowjeschtchensk begins the “autonomous Jewish region” of Biro-Bidjan. The Amur flows past it to Gau territory, of which Biro-Bidjan is the most westerly province. This Siberian territory is six times as large as Germany, reaches from Vladivostok to the Siberian sea of ice and—has only 1,000,000 inhabitants, of whom 180,000 are Koreans and 12,000 Jews. Most of these Koreans have immigrated during the last few years.

“That gives Japan cause. . . to say that the Amur province and Biro-Bidian are Korean lands,” writes Heller bitterly.

At the same time he enumerates the reasons why this Gau of the Far East is so desirable for Japan. The principal city of Chabarovsk is the seat of the Far Eastern army commanded by Bluecher, which is considerable in strength—Heller mentions that the soldiers’ newspaper of the Far East has 17,000 correspondents alone, from which one is to draw conclusions of mobilization numbers—watches over one of the richest lands of the world: thirty percent of the total Russian gain in gold comes out of the Far East; forty million rubles were invested in its gold mines in 1932. Zinc, silver, manganese, lead are found in the coastal regions along the Sea of Japan, within reach of Japan, which draws “eighty-four percent of its tin, ninety-five percent of its demand for lead from abroad.” Tremendous iron resources (ten times as much as Japan has), coal, wood furs, seals, and above all, petroleum, make eastern Siberia desirable booty.


Less than two and a half million people, of whom a third are yellow, live on three million square kilometers’ between Lake Baikal and Vladivostok. And a hundred million subjects of the Mikado stand near this territory, wait to haul coal, ore, wood, iron and petroleum, which nature has denied the island kingdom, from there. It is clear, what politics Russia must adopt in the face of these facts.

Will Russia be able to keep that district of the Far East—Vladivostok, Chabarowsk, Sakhalin, the gold and petroleum treasures of the coast of the Sea of Japan—when there are only a little more than two million people settled on a front about five thousand kilometers wide opposite covetous Japan? The answer is simple.

Russia’s urgent need is to pump Europeans into this immense territory as quickly as possible, to colonize it, to create workers’ centers there in which every one is at the same time a soldier who protects his own interests while defending the land in which he finds his bread.

Therefore one can understand the great undertakings which Otto Heller enumerates: the enormous works of the Angara Dam near Irkutsk, the enormous railroad works near Chabarowsk, the dockyard plans near Permskoje on the Amur, where 4,000 workers are preparing a dock for ocean liners, the glass factories and other things which do not seem to be absolutely essential. The problem is to create work so that these workers by their mere presence will insure the country for Russia.


From this point of view much of what is happening in Eastern Siberia is plausible, even though at first glance it appears unreasonable. The project of Biro-Bidjan, that strip of land which reaches farthest into the Manchurian district and is bounded by the curve of the Amur, in 1928 was fixed upon by Soviet Russia as the colonization region for the foundation of an “autonomous Jewish republic.”

Of course, this plan also has many propagandistic aspects. It intended to discredit the movement for colonization in Zionist Palestine. It is intended to attract Jewish youth away from Zionist organizations in the East European states and into the Soviet camp and should, finally, bring new Jewish relief-friends into the Russian state treasury. But the most essential thing was the probably honest intention of Soviet Russia to have on the Amur a strong, inspired community, capable of defending itself and whose interests would be intimately bound up with the Soviet government. Thus about 40,000 square kilometers, half wooded hills, the other half swampland and forest, were joined into an administrative region opposite the strategically important junction of the chief river of Manchuria, which was to become, on the basis of a five year plan ending in 1933, “a national-Jewish region.”

This decision was put into effect September 30, 1931. It was originally part of the five-year-plan.

While perhaps the most valuable in the book, the Biro-Bidjan chapter is disappointing especially when one reads the earlier travel book by Heller which appeared in the fall of 1931. With what scorn he contrasts the Zionist colonization in Palestine with the tremendous project of a national-Jewish territory in Biro-Bidjan. At that time he wrote—a few days before the Japanese armies began their march on the Russian border—about the “final and irrevocable bankruptcy of Zionism, made definite by the Arab uprising of 1929. The bankruptcy of Zionism, the end of the end, is seen most clearly from the results of Zionist colonization in Palestine,” Heller wrote.


Inspired, Heller asks: What is Jerusalem to the Jewish proletarian? Is not the tractor in Biro-Bidjan more important to the industrious Jews and non-Jews than Tel Aviv? And he describes Biro-Bidjan in its most placent aspects. The greatest advantage is that in Biro-Bidjan “there is no Arab problem! The land is empty; Cossacks and Koreans live in sparsely settled strips of land. There is no imperialistic rivalry in Biro-Bidjan, no oil-wells {SPAN}###{/SPAN} the English and the French to fight over. . . .”

Thus Heller saw the problem in the summer of 1932. And scarcely a year later he writes a thick volume to prove that “the Japanese are distributing leaflets among the Koreans,” in which it is indicated that the Jews are wresting Biro-Bidjan from the Koreans. He describes the deployment of Japan against a land of which he wrote on page 372, line 20:

“There is no imperialistic rivalry, no oil-wells, etc.” and about which he writes on the same page, line 28: “The resources of the land are immeasurable.” In 1931 he writes: “The first difficulties have been overcome, and neither gnats nor pestilence nor floods can disturb the work which has been begun. Soon a powerful net of small factories will develop ore-prospecting, soon one of the greatest canneries in the world will open its doors there. . . .The dream of Palestine will long have become a part of history, while in Biro-Bidjan a Jewish and socialist state will have been established.

But it was remarkable that in this book not a numeral indicating the number of Jewish inhabitants of Biro-Bidjan is to be found, and still more remarkable is it that also in the second book of Otto Heller’s, dated November 1932, no figures are given about the number of Jews there actually were living in Biro-Bidjan at the end of the five years of Jewish colonization. Among the inhabitants of the “territory of the Far East”, Heller does indeed count up 12,000 Jews, but since Chabarowsk, Vladivostok, Sakhalin, etc., also belong to the territory of the Far East, one does not know how many Jews there are in this remarkable territory. By no means no more than are to be found in one of the small Jewish states such as Petach-Tikva, which has more than 11,000 inhabitants. It would seem, that it is not Zionism that has gone bankrupt, but the colonization of Jews in Siberia.


Despite Heller’s dark prophecies, Jewish immigration into Palestine grew by leaps and bounds: 3,000 in 1930; 4,300 in 1931; 9,000 in 1932, and in the first five months of 1933 15,000 Jews came to Palestine. Otto Heller gloomily writes: “6,200 persons immigrated into Biro-Bidjan in the first half year of 1932, but there were many who went back.”

The author thus sparingly writes around the question, that official Soviet statisticians have noted sixty percent returning from Biro-Bidjan. In the same half-year Palestine had something less than seven percent returning.

But in spite of all this he is optimistic: “Much has changed since 1930—in the summer of 1932 there were already in the chief city of Biro-Bidjan a half-finished post-office building, a half-finished government building and a hospital with three physicians. There are 3,000 inhabitants in the chief city.” How many Jews there are among them is not mentioned. But in the future it will be still better: “The Standard Buildings Combination will finally begin production next winter and then it will be possible to go ahead with a systematic building-up of the city.”

For the present there is no hammering, and not infrequently there have been barracks for the newcomers. Manifestly someone has miscalculated, Otto Heller consoles us.

But, “the heretofore neglected street-paving has been taken in hand.” Now it will also be possible to wander through Biro-Bidjan in rainy weather. The plans for a gold mine plant, the plans for cultivating the land are all ready, the Communist notes, and writes literally:


“When they no longer make mistakes in the planning offices, when they hold less meetings, make more reflections, what will then stand in the way of Biro-Bidjan’s progress?”

Obviously nothing. For the colonization plan for 1933 was cut by the Soviet government from 15,000 immigrants to 5,000, which is the immigration figure for Palestine while in the last two months Biro-Bidjan has become less interesting than Otto Heller had hoped. This is the mistake in the otherwise extraordinarily readable book of Heller’s, which brings together a great deal of valuable material suggestive of the coming conflict glowing underground between Japan and Soviet Russia.

It seems that Otto Heller was in Russia too long and there failed to distinguish between the accomplished and the planned. “Vladivostok” offers a splendid panorama of the wishes and the anguish of Russia, and a portrayal of post-war Siberia which deserves to be read. But about the present he writes too little.

As I am about to mail this article a copy of “Gesard”, a Yiddish-Communist propaganda sheet that is published every two months and which serves principally to fight Zionism, comes into my hands. There I find the latest official figures:

“The immigration into Biro-Bidjan is progressively less satisfactory. In the course of the first half year 205 families (instead of the 265 planned for) came to the collectives of Biro-Bidjan….” Altogether there are up to July 1, 378 families and 1,448 persons.


These figures are really sad. The plan of the many thousands of whom Otto Heller raved has melted down to 265 families for the collective establishments. Instead of 6,000 immigrants of the first half year of 1932 there were only 1,448 in the first half year of 1933, while in the same period over 11,000 Jews went to Palestine legally and several thousands went there illegally. In 1930 and 1932 Otto Heller expressed the hope that the mismanagement of Biro-Bidjan would be ended. This hope went unchanged into the year 1933. I quote verbatim from the Communist paper:

“It will be seen that the outstanding lack in the work of Biro-Bidjan is still a certain lack of planning. The Emes of July 8 therefore establishes in a leading editorial:

“The latest reports about the measures taken by the proper departments lead to the conclusion that a decisive uncompromising struggle against the irresponsibility, carelessness and flightiness which have thus far ruled in Biro-Bidjan begins now. . . .”

Comment is superfluous; these quotations are in themselves the shocking commentary to the Communistic propaganda writings of Otto Heller.

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