Dreams of Nationhood: American Jewish Communists and the Soviet Birobidzhan Project, 1924-1951

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Academic Studies Press, 2010 - History - 289 pages
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The American Jewish Communist movement played a major role in the politics of Jewish communities in cities such as Boston, Chicago, Los Angeles, New York, and Philadelphia, as well as many other centers, between the 1920's and the 1950's. making extensive use of Yiddish-language books, newspapers, periodicals, pamphlets, and other materials, Dreams of Nationhood traces the ideological and material support provided to the Jewish Autonomous Region of Birobidzhan in the far east of the Soviet Union by two American Jewish Communist-led organizations, the ICOR and the American Birobidjan Committee. By providing a detailed historical examination of the political work of these two groups, the book makes a substantial contribution to our understanding of 20th century Jewish life in the United States.

Henry Srebrnik began his research of the place of Birobidzhan in the ideological space of American Jews over a decade ago. I believe I have read the majority of his publications on this fascinating and little-known topic, and this new book, Dreams of Nationhood, is the best among them.-Gennady Estraikh, New York University Author of In Harness: Yiddish Writers' Romance with Communism

Dreaming of a better world during the Depression and World War II, American Jews and some non-Jewish activists supported the building of a Jewish refuge in the Soviet Union called Birobidzhan. Henry Srebrnik's well-researched book, Dreams of Nationhood, shows readers that although short lived, the American campaign for Birobidzhan was more widespread and important than anyone today might believe. Its most important supporters were leftist, Communist activists in such groups as ICOR and Ambidjan. However, Srebrnik painstakingly shows that in the 1930's and 1940's, Birobidzhan was discussed in polite company as a real alternative to Palestine. The book features Communist activists like Moishe Olgin and B.Z. Goldberg, as well as some unusual suspects including senators, pastors, well-known rabbis, and Albert Einstein. Srebrnik forces the reader to ask whether this is a story of willful ignorance on the part of the Americans, who did not understand the violence of Stalin's Soviet Union, or whether the idea of utopia simply captivated a group of people far away from the turmoil of 1930's and 1940's Europe.-David Shneer, University of Colorado at Boulder Author of Yiddish and the Creation of Soviet Jewish Culture

Ambijan and the ICOR were for some three decades central to the concerns of a large portion of the American Jewish community. They attracted thousands of members, and created branches and divisions in tens of cities across America. Millions of dollars were raised by them, especially in the 1941-1949 period. They addressed all of the major issues facing American Jews at the time: domestic anti-Semitism; the debates over socialism and attitudes towards the Soviet Union, with its own large Jewish community; and the creation of Israel. In that brief conjuncture between 1941 and 1949 when the Soviet Jewish emissaries Shloime Mikhoels and Itsik Fefer visited the United States; when the Soviets defeated Hitler; and when Israel was founded these movements were "front row center" and, I submit, very important opinion shapers within the American Jewish community. Many important figures were supporters of Ambijan and the ICOR, including the scientist Albert Einstein; explorer Vilhjalmur Stefansson; the artists Marc Chagall and Molly Picon; U.S. vice-president Henry Wallace; a number of U.S. senators, including Alben Barkley, Warren Magnusson and Claude Pepper, as well as many governors, mayors and other officials; and Soviet diplomat Andrei Gromyko.

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About the author (2010)

Henry Srebrnik (PhD, University of Birmingham, England) is a Professor in the Department of Political Studies, University of Prince Edward Island, Canada. His most recent books include Jerusalem on the Amur: Birobidzhan and the Canadian Jewish Communist Movement, 1924-1951 (McGill-Queen's University Press, 2008) and London Jews and British Communism, 1935-1945 (London: Vallentine Mitchell, 1995) He also served on the editorial team for De Facto States: The Quest For Sovereignty (London: Routledge, 2004) with Tozun Bahcheli and Barry Bartmann.

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