Ermak Travel Guide

 

Birobidzhan

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Description of Birobidzhan

Birobidzhan (Yiddish ביראָבידזשאַן, Evenk. Bira Bid (g) Ene) is a city in the Russian Far East, the administrative center of the Jewish Autonomous Region (since 1934). The city of regional importance, forming the urban district of the same name (municipality "City of Birobidzhan"). It is one of the smallest regional centers and the only city in Russia where the names are duplicated in Yiddish, although there are almost no Jews left, and even in previous years there were few of them. It is interesting from the ethnographic point of view on the principle of "what only does not happen in the world." There are practically no significant sights in Birobidzhan.

 

 

 

History of Birobidzhan

Birobidzhan is named after the two largest rivers in the autonomous oblast: the Bira and the Bidzhan, although only the Bira, which lies to the east of the Bidzhan Valley, flows through the town. Both rivers are tributaries of the Amur. The city was planned by the Swiss architect Hannes Meyer, and established in 1931. It became the administrative center of the Jewish Autonomous Oblast in 1934 and town status was granted to it in 1937.

Yiddish writer David Bergelson played a large part in promoting Birobidzhan, although he himself did not really live there. Bergelson wrote articles in the Yiddish language newspapers in other countries extolling the region as an ideal escape from anti-Semitism elsewhere. At least 1,000 families from the United States and Latin America came to Birobidzhan because of Bergelson.

Life could be quite hard in the mountainous region. In her book on the region, Where the Jews Aren't: The Sad and Absurd Story of Birobidzhan, Russia's Jewish Autonomous Region, Masha Gessen writes that

in the summer of 1928 there were torrential rains, causing flooding that washed out what little the new settlers had managed to plant, stymied by the late arrival of seeds. Their cattle arrive late too, and were felled by an anthrax epidemic that raged that first year. The settlers at Birofeld, though they managed to put up eighteen houses over the summer, faced a cold winter of relentless hunger, surrounded by their ruined fields and foreboding woods, where tiger and bears roamed.

When the Stalinist purges began shortly after the creation of Birobidzhan, Jews there were likewise targeted. ″Jews in Birobidzhan are targeted, and they're targeted in this very Soviet way specifically for what they came there for - for nationalism, for promoting the Yiddish language, for what they were told was a good thing just a couple of years earlier,″ explained Gessen in an interview discussing her book.

Following World War II, tens of thousands of displaced Eastern European Jews found their way to Birobidzhan from 1946 to 1948. Some were Ukrainian and Belarussian Jews who were not allowed to return to their original homes.

However, Jews were once again targeted in the wake of World War II when Joseph Stalin embarked on a campaign against ″rootless cosmopolitans″ — a code name for Jews. Nearly all the Yiddish institutions of Birobidzhan were liquidated. Amongst those executed was David Bergelson, Birobidzhan's early promoter, who was killed in 1952 on his 68th birthday.

 

 

 

 

 


 

Transportation

 

 

Hotels, motels and where to sleep

 

 

Restaurant, taverns and where to eat

 

 

Cultural (and not so cultural) events

 

 

Interesting information and useful tips