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Farming the Red Land

Farming the Red Land: Jewish Agricultural Colonization and Local Soviet Power, 1924–1941

Jonathan L. Dekel-Chen
Copyright Date: 2005
Published by: Yale University Press
Pages: 384
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  • Book Info
    Farming the Red Land
    Book Description:

    This is the first history of the Jewish agricultural colonies that were established in Crimea and Southern Ukraine in 1924 and that, fewer than 20 years later, ended in tragedy. Jonathan Dekel-Chen opens an extraordinary window on Soviet rural life during these turbulent years, and he documents the remarkable relations that developed among the American-Jewish sponsors of the ambitious project, the Soviet authorities, and the colonists themselves.

    Drawing on extensive and largely untouched archives and a wealth of previously unpublished oral histories, the book revises what has been understood about these agricultural settlements. Dekel-Chen offers new conclusions about integration and separation among Soviet Jews, the contours of international relations, and the balance of political forces within the Jewish world during this volatile period.

    eISBN: 978-0-300-13392-9
    Subjects: History

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Acknowledgments
    (pp. ix-xii)
  4. List of Abbreviations, Transliterated Terms, and Translation Equivalents
    (pp. xiii-xvi)
  5. Note on Transliteration
    (pp. xvii-xviii)
  6. Introduction
    (pp. 1-10)

    Sometime in 1947 or 1948, Dr. Joseph Rosen of Croton-on-Hudson, New York, consigned to the fire the sole copy of a manuscript he had written on the Jewish colonization project in Soviet Crimea and southern Ukraine between the world wars. Shortly afterward, the noted agronomist died from the lingering effects of the malaria he had contracted years earlier while seeking a haven in British Guiana for German-Jewish refugees. Thus were left obscure many pivotal details of Jewish and Soviet history, for until now, this story has been shrouded by the disappearance of the settlements themselves during the Holocaust, the inaccessibility...

  7. Chapter 1 From Shtetl to Colony, 1917–1924
    (pp. 11-33)

    Destitute and desperate, Russia’s Jews (and the Soviet regime itself) needed help in 1921. For most Jews, however, experience with the Russian state and the previous seven years of turmoil had taught caution toward political change and deep suspicion toward the central authority. In any case, the unstable, penniless Soviet state was in no position to revitalize Russian Jewry. To achieve significant improvement for themselves, the Jews of the shtetls needed some other patron. The entry of the JDC into the Black Sea littoral—with no mandate for operations in Russia—was motivated by a philanthropic urge to assist fellow...

  8. Chapter 2 Building a Colonization Movement: Theory to Practice
    (pp. 34-68)

    Armed with experience, industriousness, and inspiration, Joseph Rosen and his colleagues still had no “road map” to guide them. As for America’s Jews, persuading them to fund famine relief was one thing; support for massive agricultural resettlement in a land other than Palestine was another. On top of that, the Joint somehow had to convert the spontaneous migration of Jews from the shtetls into a full-scale colonization movement. The logistical barriers were truly colossal. Equally urgent, Rosen had to foster a long-term partnership between mutually suspicious officials in the Joint and in the Soviet government. The sponsors of colonization then...

  9. Chapter 3 Colonization and Diaspora Politics
    (pp. 69-95)

    By the mid-1920s, Joseph Rosen had pulled the JDC into the cause of Jewish colonization in Soviet Russia and established the core of the project. But the New York–based benefactors of the project soon discovered that their newfound enthusiasm was not shared by the entire Jewish community. A bitter conflict over Agro-Joint came to overshadow institutional politics in the Jewish Diaspora from 1924 until the early 1930s. Whatever its potential benefit for the settlers, colonization aggravated preexisting discords and ignited new hostility in America. Although the contemporary critics of Agro-Joint understood— even as late as 1934—that the resettlement...

  10. Chapter 4 Soviet Power and Life in the Colonies, 1925–1929
    (pp. 96-130)

    Thousands of Jews set off southward from the shtetls to the new colonies every winter throughout the second half of the 1920s thanks to the combined, if uneven, labors of the foreign philanthropies and the Soviet authorities. The bulk of settlers had uprooted themselves from impoverished, albeit familiar, homes but knew next to nothing about the adventure they had undertaken. Only the most politically acute among them understood that they were en route to regions at the edge of state control, where the local leaders were at loggerheads with the center. The colonists arrived in Crimea and southern Ukraine armed...

  11. Chapter 5 Collectivization and Its Limits, 1929–1934
    (pp. 131-167)

    Throughout the countryside, the shadow of the Soviet steamroller grew larger during the winter of 1929–1930. According to conventional scholarship, the Jewish colonies, together with the rest of rural Russia, bent under the oppressive collectivist policies now issuing forth from Moscow. Common sense dictates that Joseph Rosen’s organization— composed of agronomists, accountants, and other communal activists—could do little to deflect the intrusion of the state into the Jewish colonies. Looking at the effect on everyday life between 1929 and 1934 as the social and economic revolution was imposed from above, we can assess how the increasingly aggressive state...

  12. Chapter 6 Soviet-Jewish Farmers, 1935–1941
    (pp. 168-198)

    The six years that preceded the German invasion were filled with horror for millions of Soviet citizens, both the mighty and the meek, under siege by their own government. For most, even the evils of Nazi occupation could not entirely overshadow the painful memories of the late 1930s in Stalin’s Russia. How did the Jewish colonists endure these turbulent times, with and without Joseph Rosen’s organization? If the existing historiography is accurate, the colonists suffered no less than the rest of the Soviet population in the half decade before the German army marched into the settlement regions in the autumn...

  13. Conclusion
    (pp. 199-208)

    Max Belenky, one of the original American members of Joseph Rosen’s tractor teams, sensed in 1924 that Jewish colonization was on the verge of something grand. He had seen much enthusiasm among the young settlers—they did not want to “sell air” as their parents had done. “Going to the land” had given them a new lease on life; even neighboring non-Jewish villagers in southern Ukraine had begun to see the newcomers in a positive light.¹ At least through Belenky’s eyes, anything was then possible.

    Whatever its accomplishments, though, we now know that agricultural colonization did not redirect Jewish history...

    (pp. 209-209)
    (pp. 210-210)
    (pp. 211-214)
  17. Notes
    (pp. 215-324)
  18. Bibliography
    (pp. 325-352)
  19. Index
    (pp. 353-366)