In those years, the authorities used a class-based approach in their policy toward Jews; the results were dual. In Ukraine and in Byelorussia, where poor Jews lived in compact, ethnic regions and country Soviets were established. Schools where pupils studied in Yiddish were opened. In places where Jews formed a majority of the population, there were no other schools. Pupils of those schools, at the insistence of their parents, also attended illegal cheders. There were Jewish branches at colleges; there were also Jewish collages. On the other hand, many Jews were qualified as "lishenetses". The drift of Jews from the towns continued. Simultaneously, the Jewish population in big cities of the USSR increased. A Jewish clerk or student became typical. New professions, such as engineer, teacher, scientist and even Red Army commander, were added to the traditional professions of cultured Jews: advocate, doctor, journalist.
The cancellation of NEP was accompanied by such repressive measures as mass deportations of "socially alien elements". Sometimes, Jews were even dispossessed as kulaks. Qualified as "class strangers", many Jews were forced to leave their traditional residences. Older people tried to join their children. Younger people either went to the five-years building-sites or hid their social origin and moved to large cities.
During those years, Jewish agricultural colonies still existed. OZET and Agro-Joint were especially active. In 1929, the reorganization of colonies into collective farms began. There were Jewish collective farms in Ukraine, in Belorussia and in Northern Crimea. Simultaneously, the resettlement of Jews to the Far East began. There was even the idea of establishing a Jewish autonomy in the Crimea. Nevertheless, in the later 1920s, the Central Committee of the VKP(B) decided to establish a Jewish Autonomous Region in the Far East.
The Jewish Autonomy was established in an undesirable location near the Bira and Bidzhan rivers. The resettlement was not prepared carefully. There was a shortage of construction implements and medicines, especially necessary to combat malaria and encephalitis, which were common there. The colonists had to clear the taiga and drain the bogs. The creation of new Jewish settlements in the Far East entailed much hardship. Many couldn't endure it and left for the big cities. However, in 1931, the creation of the Jewish Autonomous Region was declared. Soviet propaganda extolled that fact as a triumph of Communist ethnic policy. The Jewish Autonomous Region was presented as the ethnic center of the Jewish people to substitute for Palestine. The movie "The Happiness Seekers" - the first Soviet film with a Jewish theme - was a skillful advertisement for this hopeless project.
The movie "Circus" was also dedicated to the theme of Soviet internationalism; Mikhoels, a great Jewish actor, had a bit part in the film. He headed the State Jewish Theater (GOSET). Performances were in Yiddish in that theater but the repertoire was not limited to Jewish subjects alone. Russian and the world classics were performed there in Yiddish translation as well as plays by Soviet dramatists. Shagal, Altman and other distinguished artists took part in producing sets for performances. The authorities officially supported Yiddish culture. The "Der Emes" ("The Truth") publishing house existed in Moscow. A newspaper under the same name was published there. Works by Galkin, Markish, Bergelson and others were published in Yiddish. Verses for children by Kvitko were full of traditional Jewish humor and zest for life.
At that time, there were not only Jewish schools, colleges and institutes of higher education with instruction in Yiddish, but research centers on Yiddish culture as well: the Jewish Branch of the Byelorussian Culture Institute in Minsk and the Jewish Culture Institute in Kiev. Those centers conducted scholarly research. Some experts from Leningrad were invited to Minsk to be lecturers on Jewish culture. However, Hebrew culture was suppressed. Some writers who wrote in Hebrew and some scholarly experts on Hebrew culture became victims of suppression. Communists identified Hebrew culture with Zionism, and Zionist activity was forbidden as bourgeois-nationalist and was persecuted cruelly. By the mid-1930s, the last Jewish voluntary societies, even those established by Soviet authorities themselves, such as the Jewish Sections, were abolished.
In the years of NEP, the persecution of the Jewish religion was not yet intense. For example, in Ukraine, the number of synagogues decreased by only 10% compared with 1917. The authorities failed in their attempts to create a collaborationist tendency in Judaism. After the Civil War, large Jewish religious centers (Vilno, Mir and others) found themselves outside of the USSR. There was a lack of contact between synagogues. In 1926, in Korosten-town on the Volyn river, a Rabbinical Conference took place. A Lubavicher Rebe was elected its honorary president. LERO was represented by L. Rabinovich. The conference took one week and it did not support the idea of creating illegal cheders and mikvas; it rejected calls to create a "Communist Torah". Some of the Conference's delegates were soon arrested and interrogated. By the early 1930s, attacks on all religions, including Judaism, became widespread in USSR.
While persecuting all manifestations of Jewish ethnic life, the Soviet regime guaranteed equal civil rights for Jews. "Soviet workers of Jewish nationality" could freely join the Komsomol, Communist Party, they could enter universities or go to "Socialism building-sites". The real purpose was assimilation. This policy bore fruit. The number of Russian-speaking Jews increased substantially. Mixed marriages became very common. Some Jews consciously denied their culture. The number of Jews among popular figures of Russian culture was larger than ever before. In the 1930s, Soviet citizens enjoyed reading accounts by M. Koltsov, laughed at caricatures by his brother, B. Efimov, enjoyed songs by Dunayevsky as performed by Utiosov, learned by heart verses by Bagritsky, and raised their children on verses by Marshak and stories by Kassil.
Jews began to play a substantial role in all branches of Soviet science. Physicist A. Ioffe, mathematicians G. Fikhtengolts and L. Kantorovich, biologist D. Ioffe, physiologist L. Shtern, psychologist L. Vygotsky, historians S. Lurie and E. Tarle became famous worldwide. Nevertheless, anti-semitic sentiments were already present among Soviet scientists and they were exacerbated by talk of the privileged position of Jews in the state. Until 1937, there were, in fact, a great many Jews in Soviet and Party organs, as well as in the army and NKVD. The repressions of the 1930s struck precisely at that segment of the Jewish community. As a result of the represssions, the number of Jews in the upper echelons of state power decreased abruptly; among middle managers, especially in the economic area, there were still many Jews. All talk of "Jewish domination" was, however, unfounded.
Komsomol man-cobbler. I. Pan. 1925