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Pre-WWII American Jews, Communism, and Poland

Filed under: Uncategorized — grypa666 @ 00:48

Review of Dreams of Nationhood: American Jewish Communists and the Soviet Birobidzhan Project, 1924-1951, by Henry Felix Srebrnik. 2010. Academic Studies Press, Boston.

Reviewer: Mr. Jan Peczkis

Details on the Extensive Pro-Soviet Orientation of American Jews. Zydokomuna Correctly Understood

Another reviewer has described this book in considerable detail. I write my review from a somewhat different angle.

The amount of research for this work, in old American Yiddish publications, borders on the staggering. It unambiguously shows the vast extent of American Jewish support for Communism and the USSR. Srebrnik also provides statistics on the abundance of Jews in American Communist and Communist-front organizations. (p. 3)


The issue of Jewish influence should be examined dispassionately. One does not have to believe in PROTOCOLS OF THE ELDERS OF ZION types of world-control conspiracy theories in order to appreciate the reality and magnitude of both Jewish influence and “international Jewry”. Srebrnik makes this obvious.

Two major Jewish-American organizations figured prominently in support of a Jewish republic in the Birobidzhan region of the USSR: ICOR and Ambijan. In addition, ICOR defended the Soviet Union, and advanced the goals of the American Communist Party (CPUSA). Ambijan presented itself as broad-based politically, but merged with ICOR in 1946. The impact of these two organizations is summarized by Srebrnik, (quote) These two organizations were for some three decades central to the concerns of a large portion of the American Jewish community. They attracted thousands of members, and created branches and divisions in tens of cities across America. Millions of dollars were raised by them, especially in the 1941-1949 period. Ambijan and ICOR addressed all the major issues facing American Jews at the time…Many important figures were supporters of Ambijan and the ICOR, including the scientist Albert Einstein; explorer Vilhjalmur Stefansson; the artists Marc Chagall and Molly Picon; U. S. vice-president Henry Wallace; a number of U. S. senators…many governors, mayors, and other officials; and Soviet diplomat Andrei Gromyko. (unquote). (p. xv).

The support of American Jews for the Soviet Union was quite visible. For instance, there was a major conference, in 1936, under the auspices of Ambijan. It drew 300 delegates from 200 organizations. (p. 56).

It would be a mistake to think of Jewish American support for the Soviet Union and Communism as only coming from working-class Jews. Consider the wealthy Chicago Jewish merchant and philanthropist Julius Rosenwald. In 1928, he pledged $5 million in support of Jewish settlement projects in the USSR, even preferring Birobidzhan to Palestine. (p. 24).


Poland is of little relevance to the main issues raised in this book, and it is not surprising that she is hardly even mentioned. Even so, Srebrnik states some actions by influential American Jews that harmed Poland.

Some of this was quite egregious. In the late 1930’s, ICOR actually blamed Poland for not allowing Soviet officials to visit Poland to, of all things, select prospective settlers for Birobidzhan. (p. 72). Soon after WWII, some influential American Jews, including those in Ambijan, tried to sway American public opinion by presenting a rosy view of the Soviet puppet government imposed on Poland. (p. 192, 218).


Srebrnik has a good grasp of the concept of Zydokomuna (Bolshevized Judaism), even though he never actually uses the term. By way of introduction, the reader should realize that the term Zydokomuna has been misrepresented as implying that all or most Jews are Communists, that Communism is some sort of conspiratorial device created and run by Jews to rule the world, or some similar pejorative connotation. Others have gone to the opposite extreme, suggesting that Jewish Communists are simply Communists that happen to be Jewish. Failing that, they say that Jewish Communists are no longer Jewish.

In contrast, the author has an implicit, correct understanding of Zydokomuna. True to its character as Bolshevized Judaism, it is effectively a synthesis of Judaism and Communism. More accurately, Zydokomuna is a redefinition of Judaism in Communist terms. Thus, Srebrnik comments, (quote) Paul Buhle has recounted, `a Messianic radicalism among the immigrant Jewish workers…allowed Communism to appeal to some of the deepest traditions of the community.’ The world of Jewish socialism was a secular one and its discourse radical; even so, its roots lay deep within the Jewish tradition…such people did not turn to Communism because they were alienated from the Jewish world…This `messianic’ aspect of their ideology would also revise the old Judaic idea of a return to the `Land of Israel’, by substituting Soviet Russia for Israel as the new `promised land’. Such people `were imbued with a semi-religious attitude to the USSR’, which had become for them `a dreamland of freedom and equality.’ (unquote).  (p. 2). [For more on the Zydokomuna as a Communization of Judaism, and not an abandonment of Judaism, please click on The Old Country: The Lost World of East European Jews, and read the detailed Peczkis review.]


Srebrnik repeats the usual exculpation of Jewish support for Communism stemming from a desire to build a better world. However, even though he identifies himself as at least a onetime leftist (p. xiv), he realizes that Jewish support for Communism was founded on a pervasive state of denial of the true nature of Communism. He quips that, (quote) Even so, and taking into account that they were thousands of miles removed from the utopia in which they had invested all their political hopes, I still cannot understand how so many well-educated people, well aware of the shortcomings of their society, could so completely take leave of their critical faculties and suspend all disbelief when it came to judging the Soviet Union…If I were less sympathetic, I might describe theirs as a form of `willful blindness’, a term used by lawyers to describe a situation where people intentionally allow themselves to be deceived or deluded. (unquote). (p. xx).


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