In 1928, the Soviet Union created a Jewish Autonomous Oblast (JAO) in southeastern Siberia, with the newly created city Birobidzhan as its administrative center. The plan was to offer the Jews of the Soviet Union their own homeland as an alternative to Zionism, populate and develop the area, prevent Chinese and Japanese infiltrations, and exploit the area’s resources.

The JAO reached a pre-war peak of some 20,000 Jewish inhabitants around 1937. After the German-Soviet pact of August 1939, Germany floated the idea with the Soviet Union to deport Jews from the German sphere of influence into that region. The idea found no takers among the Soviets, though.

It is possible that some of the Jews deported east by the Soviet Union during and after the Polish campaign in 1939 and while retreating from the Germans in 1941/42 ended up resettled or in labor camps in the JAO.

Interest among the Jews of Europe in the JAO was rekindled after the war, when many displaced Jews were looking for a new home. The area’s Jewish population reached an all-time peak around 1948 with some 46,000 to 50,000 Jews. It may have grown even more in 1952/53, as Stalin initiated mass deportations of Jews to unknown locations in the Soviet Union’s east, probably Siberian labor camps. (See American Jewish Year Book, Vol. 54, 1953, p. 331.)

After the creation of Israel, and due to liberal immigration policies for Jews in most western countries, the Jewish population in the JAO declined steadily. It basically collapsed in the years following the collapse of the Soviet Union, with most Jews emigrating to Israel, Western Europe and the U.S.

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