Two hundred and fifty glass plate negatives discovered in the archives of the World ORT Union, an international organization for education and training founded in the late 19th century, bear witness to a relatively little known episode in the contemporary history of Jewish communities: the creation and development of “Jewish agricultural communities” by the newly established Soviet authorities in the early 1920s.
The aim of these colonies, set up in the Soviet Union, Lithuania, Latvia, Poland and Romania, was to “normalize” Jewish life through professional activities considered productive, and in so doing solve the “Jewish question.”
Farmers benefited from the support of international philanthropic organizations including the ORT. But from the late 20s Stalin denied Jews their special status and embarked on the compulsory collectivization of agriculture and industry. The ORT’s activities were gradually curbed and finally forbidden in 1938, at the same time as the rise of Nazism in Europe .
The exhibition, organized by ORT France and the Musée d’art et d’histoire du Judaïsme, comprises some sixty of these photographs. They are a priceless and unique testament to a historical interlude during which, in parallel to Zionism, agriculture was seen as a solution to the “Jewish problem,” which in the late 30s the Soviet regime believed it could solve by creating an ephemeral autonomous republic far from Moscow in Birobidjan.
The trilingual exhibition catalogue (French-English-Yiddish), published by Editions Somogy with a preface by Serge Klarsfeld, and a forward by Anne Grynberg, is on sale in the museum bookshop.
The ORT received support from the Fondation pour la Mémoire de la Shoah for this exhibition.
© Musée d'art et d'histoire du Judaïsme