Shopkeepers and peddlers into Soviet farmers : Jewish agricultural colonization in Crimea and Southern Ukraine, 1924-1941 / by Jonathan L. Dekel-Chen.
This dissertation explores Jewish agricultural settlement to southern Ukraine and Crimea between 1423 and 1941. It uses archives, primary sources, and oral history from the former Soviet Union and elsewhere to interpret the triadic interaction between the Soviet regime, the Jewish settlers, and foreign philanthropies—particularly the Joint Distribution Committee [JDC]—during a volatile period in Soviet history, all at a time when the United States and Russia had no diplomatic relations. Jewish colonization is interwoven into the general conditions under NEP, the “Great Turn,” and the purges. The impact of colonization on Diaspora Jewry also receives attention. Relations between tens of thousands of Jewish colonists and the indigenous population of Crimea, all subject to increasingly intrusive Soviet authority, form another important theme. The adaptation by religious Jewish shopkeepers, peddlers, and tradesmen from the Pale of Settlement to new, cooperative, agricultural colonies in the Crimea constitute the final subject. Colonization affected the region and beyond. It changed how the Soviet Union viewed the “Jewish question” and embodied a transition anticipated in both Moscow and New York—from peddlers and shopkeepers to “productive” citizens. Colonization not only changed Crimea's demographic balance, but also catalyzed events that deeply influenced relations between Simferopol and Moscow. Even if Russian colonization exacerbated the key issues confronting interwar American Jewry, it ultimately strengthened both the JDC and its Zionist opponents. The near absence of state authority in Crimea in the 1920s also allowed for unique types of religious observance, youth culture, gender relations, and foreshadowed wider rural phenomena after 1929. Jewish colonization reflected important features of the Soviet state. First, the Stalinist regime did not—however much it may have wanted—exercise “totalitarian” control over daily life before 1941. On the contrary, the colonies—aided by JDC—retained relative administrative autonomy, religious piety, and economic vitality through introduction of cooperative agricultural practices. Furthermore, unlike Soviet attempts to colonize Birobidzhan, pragmatism characterized policy decisions in Crimea. Soviet behavior toward colonization therefore reflected expedience; if it could not control the periphery, then the Kremlin instrumentalized and publicized colonization to compensate for weak political authority.
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