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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]

[2.5. Five-year plan - Jews in the industrialization in industrial combines 1929-1933]

[Jewish artisans are integrated in industrial combines]

The five-year plan, however, surged ahead. In fact it surged ahead faster than many Russian officials had anticipated. It created a tremendous revolution in Soviet society. At the price of a great deal of suffering during the four years of the actual operation of the plan, especially on the part of the peasantry, the Soviet Union began its transition to an industrial country. This vitally affected the Jews as well. Suddenly the notion that a large class of artisans would still be needed seemed outmoded. At an increasing rate Jewish artisans were being absorbed into industrial combines.

On February 7, 1930, Rosen said that "under the present conditions in Russia, it would be undesirable to undertake to enter into a new agreement with the government for the proposed industrial project, for which subscriptions had been received from a number of subscribers to the AMSOJEFS."

(End note 26: AJ 2)

In fact, Baerwald seemed to sense that Rosen was not as sure of himself on the industrialization project as he had been on the agricultural one.

[Since March 1930: Stalin's regime allows Rosen's program]

But then there was another change. In the spring of 1930, with a setback in the collectivization drive after Stalin's Pravda article, the Soviets were amenable to taking another look at Rosen's program.

In May and again in June Rosen pressed the New York office to give him the green light for an ambitious extension of his original program: up to $ 1 million was to be spent each year for three years for the projects originally proposed and a few more of the same kind. (p.80)

In Jude, with about 50 % of the lishentsy reinstated, the possibilities of such an expansion seemed to rise.

[Nov 1929: Stock exchange crash in New York - sinking funds in the Joint for Russian Jews]

But then two factors intervened that buried the project altogether. One was the economic crisis that in late 1929 began to grip the United States. Profits were sinking; businesses went under at an alarming rate; and with breadlines in the United States lengthening daily, money was not available for the reorganization of Jewish economy in Russia.

Nevertheless, Hyman and Baerwald make heroic efforts to collect subscriptions. Rosen was told to scale down his demands. By August 1930 he was suggesting a subscription of a quarter of a million dollars yearly for three years. But even that was too much, and plans for JDC-Soviet cooperation on a large scale had to be abandoned.

In January 1931 Rosen suggested a budget of $ 100,000 for that year, but even that was unattainable. In fact, a total of $ 44,355 was collected of which five-eighths came from Rosenwald. This was spent in 1931, maintaining at least partly those activities that the Agro-Joint was already engaged in. On December 23, 1931, the JDC office informed Rosenwald that they considered the matter "entirely closed".

[1930-1932: Collectivization by taxation and discrimination of private farmers]

While the economic crisis was in itself sufficient to kill any JDC participation in the industrialization program, one other major factor must be mentioned. The years 1930-32 saw the final success of the collectivization drive, with peasants entering the collectives whether they liked it or not because of government taxation pressure and discrimination against private farming, coupled with the results of the mass slaughter of livestock.

[Surplus farm population gets into the heavy industry]

At the same time, unemployment was entirely eradicated, and the surplus farm population of the Soviet Union began to be siphoned off into the new heavy industry. Jews were drawn into this maelstrom of transformation.

[1932: No Jewish economic problem any more by integration as workers in the industry]

By 1932 there were 787,000 Jewish wage earners, 350,000 of whom were employed in factories. In other words, about 1.5 million of the 2.7 million Jews in Soviet Russia were now connected with factory life.

(End note 27: Emes of 3/25/32 [25 March 1932], cited by the Chicago Chronicle of 7/22/32 [22 July 1932])

This tended to eliminate not only the problem of the Jewish artisan, ex-trader, and lishenets, but the whole Jewish economic problem in the Soviet Union. Soviet society, by changing its basic (p.81)

structure, seemed to have absorbed the Jews on equal terms. In the Ukraine, 20.7 % of the industrial workers in 1932 were Jews, although the Jewish population was only 5.4 %. The Jews had become proletarians, which in Soviet Russia meant equality of opportunity and advancement.

Rosen, too, had changed his views. By October 1931 he was stating clearly that the development of industries in Russia was actually proceeding apace. When Russia started out with its first five-year plan, most people were rather skeptical about it and had talked to him about it in a cynical way. By 1931 nobody could deny that Russia had made tremendous progress with its industrial development, as well as with the industrialization of farming methods.

(End note 28: AJ 66, 10/8/31 [8 October 1931])

[Crimea: Many Jewish farmers on collectives return back to their shtetlach - and take further education for industrialization]

The same process deeply affected the colonization program. During collectivization, some Jewish farmers in the Crimea tended to run away because of the collectivization drive. Rosen himself stated that "400 families had run away from the colonies during the drive."

(End note 29: AJ 2, 2/13/30 [13th February 1930], p.3)

Zionist colonies had their Hebrew names changed, and the Communists instituted strict political control. "Great numbers of Jewish settlers who were brought during last month from shtetlach into colonies to join collectives are returning home", cabled Smolar from Moscow in April [1930]. They were saying that recent Soviet decrees opened wider possibilities for them in shtetlach than in collective colonies. This resulted in a lack of laborers on the farms and endangered the existence of many Jewish collectives, which had to go to the expense of hiring labor. Even when they arrived, new Jewish settlers didn't remain on the collectives.

(End note 30: AJ 5, 4/14/30 [14 April 1930])

People began to leave the colonies not because of pressure, but because of the greater opportunities outside them. At an industrial training school in Odessa subsidized by JDC, 20 % of the students came from Jewish colonies. The younger generation could go to the factory, back to the city life to which they had been accustomed. In time, educational opportunities opened up, and colleges and universities beckoned; Soviet Russia needed technicians and scientists. The need for ex-lishentsy to escape their status by settling the land diminished to an ever-increasing extent, and OZET found it more and more difficult to get candidates for the colonies.

[Technical conditions on the Jewish farmer colonies improve by electricity etc.]

On the other hand, the existing colonies became better established and more prosperous. Electricity was introduced into most of them. Dispensaries, schools, and even cultural institutions were opened. By 1931 Rosen and JDC sponsors in the United States were saying that the colonization experiment had proved to be a resounding success. In 1931 they still believed in "the necessity (that) still exists and will for many years" to settle Jews on land, but after 1931 this kind of sentiment was no longer voiced. However, growth of the colonies did not stop altogether or all at once.

By a well-calculated stroke, Rosen obtained more land and greater compactness of settlement in return for the importation of 300 tractors at the height of the agricultural difficulties in the latter part of the first five-year plan period.

[Crimea: 1,800 Jewish families]

In 1931 1,800 families were settled, about 50 % of the number originally planned; the Jews had become the third largest group in the Crimea.

(End note 31: Norman Bentwich in B'nai B'rith Magazine, February 1932)

[1932-1933: New famine in Russia - the reasons]

Then in 1932/3 another famine struck the Soviet Union. The reasons for this famine were many. There was the increased expenditure for military purposes, which meant that valuable fuel resources were used by the armed forces rather than by civilians, including those engaged in agriculture. Many farmers were, of course, disaffected; the most efficient people, the kulaks, had been deported; and agriculture was, organizationally speaking, in a state of confusion. On top of all that, there was a drought. With no reserves, no resources to draw on, the result was famine.

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