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Yehuda Bauer: My Brother's Keeper

A History of the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee 1929-1939

[Holocaust preparations in Europe and resistance without solution of the situation]

The Jewish Publication Society of America, Philadelphia 1974

Transcription with subtitles by Michael Palomino (2007)



Chapter 2. Agro-Joint [work in Russia 1919-1938]

[2.4. The importation of yarn to Russia by the Agro-Joint in 1929]

[1929: Importation of 20 tons of yarn for Jewish small businesses]

One of the more interesting ventures in this connection, one with as wry aspect to it, was the importation of yarn. Yarn - cotton yarn mainly - was in very short supply, and this fact caused great suffering to the large number of Jewish artisans who were engaged in knitting and other allied occupations. It was simply impossible to obtain Russian yarn. Rosen together with ORT, the vocational training organization partly subsidized by JDC, imported 20 tons of yarn in 1929.

The 69 cooperatives that bought the yarn had to pay high government prices for it. As a result, each of the two organizations reluctantly had to make 83,000 rubles' profit on the transaction, quite apart from providing 3,000 Jewish kustars with raw material. This venture was repeated in 1930. In 1930 and 1931 Agro-Joint realized a profit of 309,000 and 325,000 rubles respectively on these imports; they invested part of the money in loans and advances to the societies and used the other part of the profit to cover administrative expenses.

[1929: Five-year plan: Rosen is skeptical]

In 1929, with the start of the five-year plan, the whole situation changed. At first Rosen did not believe that the government would succeed in its program of investment. He talked of "a tremendously overstrained investment in development of industries", and said that "the government is doing it on a much larger scale than actual conditions permit."

(End note 23: AJ 2, 2/13/30 [13th February 1930], p.3)

[Nov 1931: Five-year plan: Rosen foresees delayed plan - Rosen plans help for Jewish artisans]

In November 1931 Rosen actually believed that Soviet economic development would be at least temporarily retarded. "With industrial development retarded", he said, "a great many of the working people will have to get out and the Jews will be the first to go, as they were the last to join the ranks." He added, "Naturally they will have to return to the farm for a while."

(End note 24: AJ 2, 11/12/31 [11th February 1931] (press conference)]

He and his associates believed in the continued necessity to provide for the Jewish artisan and to expand his possibilities. Even (p.78)

if the industrialization drive succeeded in part, the artisan would still be needed, and any industrialization plan to parallel the government effort would have to organize small-scale production. This did not mean that some Jewish artisans should not be retrained and absorbed into government industries. Such training would certainly be desirable, but the mass of Jewish artisans would have to be helped to establish themselves in their present occupation.

It is of interest to note that some Soviet officials apparently encouraged Rosen in this view.

[13th Nov 1929: Rosen suggests industrialization project for Jewish artisans - no yarn import any more - plan for a yarn production with spinneries in Russia itself]

On November 13, 1929, he suggested an industrialization project that was to establish the Jewish artisan in Russia on a solid, self-supporting basis, whatever the outcome of the five-year plan. The two major aims of the program were:

1. Placement of several thousand young Jewish workingmen in government factories in cooperation with the Supreme Economic Council, along the lines of their five-year plan.

2. Provision of bases for the production of raw materials for Jewish artisans - members of the Jewish Cooperative Credit societies - independent of imports and independent of government supplies.

As to point 2, which was the major issue, three trades were "Jewish" at that time: knitting, weaving, and woodworking. The idea of repeating the yarn import attempt was abandoned.

Dollars would have to be spent on the import of raw materials and then changed into rubles, which could not be reconverted into dollars to provide a revolving fund.It was suggested therefore that three factories for the production of raw materials be established:

-- an artificial silk yarn spinnery in Kiev, for which the raw material (cellulose) was available;
-- a wool yarn spinnery at Simferopol,
-- and a cotton yarn spinnery at Kharkov.

Together these three factories would supply raw materials for an estimated 10,500 artisans out of 260,000 Jewish artisans then in Russia. The financing was to be done by JDC like the financing for AMSOJEFS: by private subscription. The first phase would have as its goal $ 1.5 million, spread over three years, and the subscribers would be given government (p.79)

bonds bearing 5 % interest. Part of the money would still be invested in imports, such as needles and some machinery, and the ruble proceeds of these would finance the training of skilled workmen and artisans.

(End note 25: AJ 58)

The plan created enthusiasm among many AMSOJEFS subscribers. It was, after all, logical to supplement the agricultural settlement by a parallel industrialization plan that would help solve the Jewish problem - so they thought - by turning the Jews into an equal and integrated part of the Soviet society. Subscriptions were solicited, and Rosenwald again agreed that any sum collected would be considered to be three-eighths of the collection; he himself would supply the other five-eighths.

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