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.
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.
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.
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
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.