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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]

[2.8. First Stalinist terror wave - all plans for Biro-Bidjan / Birobidzhan end in smoke 1936]

[1935-1936: First Stalinist terror wave - Biro-Bidjan / Birobidzhan is not an aim any more]

However, fate intervened. The documents themselves are meager, and we can only rely on Rosen's cables advising JDC that difficulties had arisen, that postponements were essential, and that negotiations were proceeding. This, one must remember, was the period of the first great wave of Stalinist terror, after the assassination of Kirov in December 1934.

It would seem that those who had proposed the scheme to Rosen were the very persons who belonged to the forces that were destined to be purged; the Stalinist bureaucracy and ideology were hardly susceptible to the kind of argument advanced in favor of mass Jewish immigration into the Soviet Union.

On October 21, 1935, Rosen cabled that under the pressure of certain government departments, COMZET insisted that foreign organizations should not carry on direct operative work in Biro-Bidjan but should confine themselves to merely helping immigrants come to Russia; the actual development and settlement work there should be carried on by government agencies. "We prefer keeping out of Biro-Bidjan altogether until attitudes are changed or substantially modified."

(End note 49: AJ 99)

[23th July 1936: Rosen reports that Stalin instigates a process wave against Jewish immigrants]

With Biro-Bidjan no longer on the agenda, various palliatives were considered. The negotiations dragged on throughout the spring and summer of 1936, until they finally exploded in July. In a final letter, dated July 23, 1936, Rosen attributes the failure to the changed situation, internationally and internally.

One of the German Jewish doctors whom we brought in is being accused of having been in the service of the Gestapo, and two of (p.96)

the Polish Jewish immigrants have been exposed as informers of the Polish Intelligence Service. These Polish Jews came in not through us, but the effect as far as the government is concerned is the same. In the case of the Jewish doctor, it is possible that he had been denounced by his father-in-law, who is an Aryan and a Nazi official. ... It is true that one out of over 100 doctors is a small percentage but, as the Russians say, "One drop of tar spoils a barrel of honey."

[Rosen's critics against JDC that they never said "Thank you" to Stalin]

Rosen still had hopes that Litvinov's influence might change the negative attitude of officialdom, but he also accused JDC of never giving favorable publicity to the Soviet help for Russian Jewry. "We have never really helped the Russians to make political capital on their Jewish policy." He proposed to remedy this by having Herbert Samuel express to the Soviet ambassador in London the thanks of Jews all over the world for the immigration opportunities already afforded to Jewish refugees;

(End note 50: Ibid. [AJ 99])

this suggestion was not acted upon. Nor did Litvinov seem to be able to help very much.

[Stalin's persecution mania against foreigners]

Russian suspicion of the foreigner and his works was transformed into a collective persecution mania under Stalin, and the immigration project was allowed to die quietly.

[10 Sep 1937: Rosen reports the immigration plan to Biro-Bidjan / Birobidzhan is dropped]

On September 10, 1937, Rosen declared that the Russians had dropped the idea, and he added that he himself would not have the courage to suggest an immigration project at that point.

(End note 51: AJ 35a)

The whole affair was never made public, then or later, but it shows clearly which way the collective mind of JDC was turning. The solution of the Polish problem was its major preoccupation. Only the 1936/7 wave of terror in Russia made Rosen declare that even he would not have the courage to bring additional Jews into the Soviet Union under the circumstances then prevailing.