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Where the Jews Aren't: The Sad and Absurd Story of Birobidzhan, Russia's Jewish Autonomous Region

Where the Jews Aren't: The Sad and Absurd Story of Birobidzhan, Russia's Jewish Autonomous Region

Written by Masha Gessen

Narrated by Christina Delaine


Where the Jews Aren't: The Sad and Absurd Story of Birobidzhan, Russia's Jewish Autonomous Region

Written by Masha Gessen

Narrated by Christina Delaine

ratings:
3.5/5 (30 ratings)
Length:
5 hours
Publisher:
Released:
May 9, 2017
ISBN:
9781541473508
Format:
Audiobook

Description

In 1929, the Soviet government set aside a sparsely populated area in the Soviet Far East for settlement by Jews. The place was called Birobidzhan. The idea of an autonomous Jewish region was championed by Jewish Communists, Yiddishists, and intellectuals, who envisioned a haven of post-oppression Jewish culture. By the mid-1930s tens of thousands of Soviet Jews, as well as about a thousand Jews from abroad, had moved there. The state-building ended quickly, in the late 1930s, with arrests and purges instigated by Stalin. But after the Second World War, Birobidzhan received another influx of Jews-those who had been dispossessed by the war. In the late 1940s a second wave of arrests and imprisonments swept through the area, traumatizing Birobidzhan's Jews into silence and effectively shutting down most of the Jewish cultural enterprises that had been created. Where the Jews Aren't is a haunting account of the dream of Birobidzhan-and how it became the cracked and crooked mirror in which we can see the true story of the Jews in twentieth-century Russia.
Publisher:
Released:
May 9, 2017
ISBN:
9781541473508
Format:
Audiobook

About the author

Masha Gessen is the author of Surviving Autocracy, the National Book Award–winning The Future Is History: How Totalitarianism Reclaimed Russia, and The Man Without a Face: The Unlikely Rise of Vladimir Putin. A staff writer at the New Yorker and the recipient of numerous awards, including a Guggenheim Fellowship and a Carnegie Fellowship, Gessen teaches at Amherst College and lives in New York City.


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What people think about Where the Jews Aren't

3.4
30 ratings / 4 Reviews
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Reader reviews

  • (4/5)
    "Where the Jews aren't" is Birobidzhan, a region in the far east of Russia, beyond Siberia and close to the Chinese border. After the Russian Revolution, this area was proposed as the site of an autonomous Jewish homeland within the Soviet Union. This very cold and swampy place was not well suited to settlement, and early efforts at farming and industrialization were not successful. Nonetheless, propaganda from the pen of Yiddish writer David Bergelson (1884-1952) lured waves of dispossessed and/or idealistic Jews to Birobidzhan to try their luck there. Most fled to Israel or other countries as soon as the opportunity arose. Today, only about one percent of the population of this so-called Jewish homeland is of Jewish descent.I thought this book would be a travelogue. It is not, although author Masha Gessen does take a trip to Birobidzhan in the final chapter. Throughout the book, the focus is on Bergelson, who is portrayed as an ambiguous figure. Seeing the dark shadows that were falling across Europe in the 1930s and gifted with a strong survival instinct, he cast his lot with the Soviets, despite Russia's well-documented antisemitism. He cooperated with Stalin's regime, but he was later branded a "rootless cosmopolitan" (a common charge against Jews) and executed by firing squad during Stalin's last purge, "The Night of Murdered Poets" (Aug. 12-13, 1952).The tale this book tells is indeed "sad and absurd". It is also well worth reading.
  • (4/5)
    Basically equal parts history, biography, memoir, and travelogue, Gessen is essentially looking at the fate of Russian Jewry through the lens of David Bergelson, a Yiddish-speaking man of letters who you can either view as being something of a confidence man or a martyr to a certain idea of cultural Judaism. As for Gessen herself she was the daughter of Soviet Jews who managed to get out of the USSR back in the bad old days of 1981, but who went back to Russia, only to find herself moving her family out of Russia again, due to the fear that, as part of a same-sex marriage, the current regime might strip Gessen of her children. You can also call this book a commentary on how Russia is far from overcoming the social and psychological damage wrought by the Communist experience.
  • (4/5)
    A history of a little known slice of Jewish life in Russia. Sad and tragic but ultimately revealing of Jewish life in the USSR.
  • (4/5)
    A good book; narrator can't pronounce anything Yiddish or Hebrew.