Open access peer-reviewed chapter

Zionist Organizations in Voronezh

By Bakhtin Viktor Viktorovich and Ashmarov Igor’ Anatol’yevich

Submitted: October 15th 2019Reviewed: September 14th 2020Published: December 10th 2020

DOI: 10.5772/intechopen.94019

Downloaded: 43


The chapter is based on materials from the archives and investigations of the OGPU of the late 1920s and early 1930s. The last years of the XIX century and the first twentieth century became a time of rapid development and strengthening of the Zionist movement in Russia developed rapidly. In 1902, over a thousand disparate Zionist organizations merged into the Russian Zionist Organization (RNO). In this article, we will consider the processes taking place in a separate region of Russia - the Central Black Earth Region (CCO). Voronezh became the center of the Central Council in 1928.


  • political regime
  • Zionism

1. Introduction

In the late 1920s, the Soviet political regime acquired the features of totalitarianism, which D. Volkogonov described as “classical Stalinism” [1]. Its formation took place under the conditions of the formation of a one-party system with increased repression against dissidents.

Soviet society reacted to the tightening of the regime by various forms of protests: from domestic anti-Sovietism to armed uprisings. Resistance to totalitarianism in Soviet Russia was massive. The forced establishment of a one-party wild tattoo in the early 1920s destroyed the possibility of legal struggle.

In pre-revolutionary Russia, Zionism, the Jewish national movement, aimed at the unification and revival of the Jewish people in their historical homeland - in Eretz-Israel, as well as the ideological concept on which this movement is based, arose.

In May 1918, the Central Committee of the North Ossetia officially declared its neutrality in matters of domestic Russian politics. The main goal of the Zionist groups operating at that time in the USSR was agitation among Jews in favor of resettlement in Palestine and preparation of young Zionists for labor activity [2].

Since July 1919, the Soviet authorities launched a widespread attack on the Zionist movement. By 1923, only two authorized Zionist organizations remained in the Soviet Union: the Jewish Communist Workers Party Poalei Zion (created on the basis of the Jewish Social Democratic Party Poalei Zion) and the so-called “legal” wing of Khe-Halutz, whose supporters considered coexistence possible Zionist movement with the Soviet regime.

In 1926, arrests of Zionist activists began in different parts of the country [3]. In April 1927, the NKVD of the USSR called for the liquidation of Khe-Halutz because the latter “in addition to ... the tasks of attracting Jews to work is also engaged in the training of construction workers Center in Palestine and facilitates the emigration of Jews to Palestine” [4].

On May 24, 1928, the Politburo of the Central Committee of the All-Union Communist Party of Bolsheviks approved a resolution of the Organizing Bureau of May 21, 1928 on the need to liquidate the legally existing party of the Jewish Communist Party (ETUC). In accordance with this decision, on the night of June 25–26, 1928, the OGPU carried out a special operation to liquidate the ETUC and all its structural divisions. As a result, by the end of the 1920s. Zionism in Russia as a mass movement was suppressed [5].

These are facts illustrating the suppression of the opposition, on the scale of the USSR. In terms of its size, the Central Election Center exceeded a number of European states. The territory of the region amounted to 192 thousand square kilometers, on which more than 11 million people lived [6].

The territorial basis of the Central Black Sea region was: Voronezh, Kursk, Oryol and Tambov provinces, Rannenbursky district of Ryazan province and part of the Efremov district of Tula province. The region was homogeneous in terms of ethnic composition: Russians made up 85%, Ukrainians - 15%, other nationalities - 1% [7].

Jews in large numbers appeared in the Central Black Earth cities during the First World War as refugees. In 1917, according to the census of the Voronezh Jewish Committee for Assistance to War Victims, 6946 Jews lived in Voronezh, of which 4307 were refugees [8, 9, 10, 11].

The appearance of Jews in the cities of the Central Black Sea region contributed to the emergence of legal and illegal organizations and institutions. By the end of the 1920s, virtually all Jewish organizations in the city were closed.

Political parties were the first to disappear, the Bund self-destructed, the Poalei Zion club was forcibly closed back in 1921. Heder was eliminated in 1922 as part of the fight against clericalism, a Jewish school I level “due to lack of funds” in 1923, the orphanage, since it “did not have its own production base and school” was merged with the commune school [12].

In 1927, the pro-government Committee for the Land Management of Working Jews (KOMZET) and the Society for the Land Organization of Working Jews (OZET) were organized in Voronezh, 13 which, among other things, sought to divert the attention of Jews from the Zionist program of creating a “Jewish national center” in Palestine [13, 14].

2. Methodology

The study is based on traditional historical methods. The historical-systemic method was used to study the emergence of the Jewish population in Voronezh, the emergence of Zionist organizations, and analyzed the organizational structures, internal and external relations.

Features of scientific research can be analyzed using the method of scientific objectivity and historicism, which allowed us to identify features of the political views of members of Zionist organizations. Archive-investigative cases are a complex and contradictory historical source, since along with reliable facts and information, they often also contain falsified employees of punitive bodies. In this connection, it is necessary to be especially critical of the materials of the investigation and the indictment. But, in our opinion, given that these cases were directed against the exiles, that is, using the terminology of that period, to persons who showed their hostile essence, the fabricated material in them was insignificant or minimal.

The cases also contain ego-documents: letters, photographs, which also allow characterizing political and public views.

The article uses a comparative historical method that allows one to trace the change in state policy in relation to the Zionist movement, to find out the change in the aspects of the interaction of socialist Zionist organizations and Soviet power in different historical periods.

The statistical method made it possible to confirm the analysis of the Zionist population based on the materials of the regional archive. The method of socio-psychological analysis was used and allowed to show the socio-political views of the Zionists, their moods.

The use of various approaches and methods of scientific research allowed us to study the activities of two organizations in respect of which repression was applied.

3. Results

Arrests of Zionists in different regions of the country led to an unexpected result. Voronezh has become a place of concentration of members of various Zionist parties and organizations, whose term of administrative exile expired. Some of the Zionists filed applications to leave for Palestine, the request was granted to 21 people who left Voronezh.

On August 18, 1930, OGPU officers in Voronezh carried out mass searches of 30 Zionists, 20 of them were arrested [15]. Thus, investigative file No. 6991 of the “Zionist organization in the city of Voronezh” arose. 19 people were charged, and the case was dismissed for one arrested. According to the investigation, all of them “were hostile to the Soviet power and the dictatorship of the proletariat, set themselves the task of fighting the existing state system” [16].

Employees of the punitive body in Voronezh “received” fertile material, since all those involved in the Zionist case had already been harassed and were serving a sentence or imprisonment. 12 defendants were members of the illegal Zionist Socialist Party (TS), 6 belonged to the youth Zionist socialist organization “Gasmer-Gatsior” and one belonged to the youth Zionist organization “Khe-Halutz.”

An analysis of the biographies of those arrested made it possible to single out the dynamics of repressions, as it was first convicted in 1924–4 people, in 1925–5, 1926–8, in 1927–1, and in 1928–1. Most were arrested for belonging to Zionist organizations in Ukraine, others in Moscow, Lenin-grad and Rostov. By gender and age characteristics: 13 men and 5 women, the oldest was 49 years old, the youngest was 20 years old. The average age is 25–30 years.

According to investigators, “members of Zionist parties and organizations … made up organizations for anti-Soviet purposes and conducted activities aimed at combating the Soviet power” [17]. It can be safely assumed that the Zionists who found themselves in Voronezh were real opponents of Stalinism and the case materials reflected their real socio-political views.

During interrogations, they expressed their views on the ongoing political processes in the USSR. These views, obtained during the investigation, reflect the evolution of many romantics of the revolution, who, with enthusiasm, having met the overthrow of the monarchy and the beginning of radical social transformations, gradually became disappointed in the post-revolutionary reality.

In the context of a tightening of the political regime, suppression of all opposition in the country, and the beginning of violent collectivization, a transformation of the socio-political views of the social Zionists took place. They believed that the October Revolution of 1917 as a revolution was not completed, “a revolution in which, instead of tsarist power and the power of the Provisional Government, the oppression of the Bolshevik dictatorship was established.” A member of the Central Committee, David Brailovsky, 18, who was the leader of the Voronezh Zionist community, compared Stalinism with the bureaucratic regime or Bonapartist dictatorship [18, 19]. Such a comparison was a fairly common comparison in the 1920s and was present in many theoretical and journalistic works [20].

Anatoly Ovseevich, 21 former student of the Leningrad Institute of National Economy, characterized the regime as “fascist” [21, 22].

Such a comparison has not yet become widespread among the socialist milieu, but has been common among anarchists. One of the first to pay attention to many of the most important features of totalitarianism was liberal and anarchist theorists.

So, even at the II Congress of the Anarcho-Syndicalist International - the International Association of Workers (MAT) in 1925, the Italian Armando Borgi compared Mussolini’s fascist regime with Bolshevism [23]. Perhaps A. Ovseyevich was familiar with some anarcho-syndicalists and borrowed from them this is a comparison. He could get acquainted with the left-wing radical criticism of totalitarianism, both in the Ural exile and in Voronezh itself, where many anarchists ended the administrative exile [24].

The link of the 1920s contributed to the synthesis of the ideas of various political parties that were in opposition to the existing government.

During the searches, a number of manuscript works were discovered, many of which formed the basis of the prosecution. During an interrogation on August 27, 1930, David Brailovsky said: “I refuse to give evidence about the author of the thesis of the CSP and the article ‘Our Disagreements’, as well as generally to give testimonies. I also refuse to testify about the persons from whom I received 2 books of Borokhov [25] in Hebrew, published in Warsaw in 1926 and 1927.

I admit that the above-mentioned manuscripts: theses and article are written in my handwriting” [26].

D. Brailovsky believed that in the modern, transitional period, the need arose to unite the Jewish masses through the creation of a labor party, the role of which is played by the CSP. It is she who, “when she appears, is the first intuitively brilliant form” [27].

In his notes, also discovered during the search, Mark Komissarov [28] developed ideas about the illegitimacy of the dictatorship of the Communist Party: “the power of the proletariat as a class should be the power recognized by the majority of the population.” [29].

Of particular concern was the practice of deprivation of electoral rights, which is widely used against certain categories of the population in the USSR. This form of socio-economic discrimination was criticized: “the management of the state and society on the basis of political powerlessness of all non-proletarian sections of the population … should come into irreconcilable conflict with the tasks of social transformation” [30].

Zoya Gilodi [31], being exiled for belonging to Gashomer-Gatsair, worked as a librarian in Voronezh, where she could calmly study literature. She analyzed the work of V. Lenin, “The Collapse of the Second International” [32]. In this case, according to the investigation, she tried to prove that Lenin is a false Marxist [33]. Although in the synopsis she writes a little differently: “Lenin’s doctrine is a variant of Marxism,” which is not at all It was not a counter-revolutionary statement, since after the death of Lenin in 1924, Soviet party functionaries started talking about Marxism-Leninism.

However, investigators found in Zoe Gilodi even more seditious remarks about Lenin: “Lenin is far from a popular writer … you must have a more or less solid baggage of knowledge in order to be able to distinguish Lenin’s opinion from pure followers of Marxism. Lenin chose a way to strike at the feelings of the townsfolk” [34].

The evolution of the individual views of Zoe Gilodi was also characteristic of the ideological searches of Gashomer-Gatsair. In the 1920s the platform of organization ideology close to communism underwent changes, becoming a synthesis of Zionism with socialism, of Halutianism with the class struggle. When Histadrut was founded [35], Gashomer-Gatsair did not enter any of the political parties operating then in the country, declared himself an independent group [36].

Zionists often held political discussions in their apartments. The limited financial resources of the administratively exiled forced to rent apartments together. So, in one apartment, 6 people lived together.

The Voronezh Zionists also created a mutual assistance fund for material assistance to needy members in Voronezh and other cities [37]. A library was also organized. Conversations, joint readings of the literature led to various discussions. Witnesses in the case, and possibly informants, showed that in the apartments where the Zionists lived, they often read books and talked on different topics. One witness K. testified that in the evenings, 5–6 people gathered at Brailovsky almost every day, and twice - about 12–15 people gathered. “During their disputes, they spoke exclusively in Hebrew, the conversation was very noisy, you could hear them trying to prove something to others” [38].

According to testimony, many Zionists openly criticized the existing system. In particular, Ovseyevich stated that the dispossession policy that the Bolsheviks began to pursue was “a method of physically and administratively protecting the kulaks, not a political measure,” [39] and the chronic shortage of essential goods was a consequence of the “ongoing intensified industrialization of the country” [40].

The presence of various handwritten works was a reflection of political censorship. The strengthening of state ideology led to an increase in prohibited literature, and in addition there was a shortage of books and periodicals. All this gave rise in Soviet conditions to the appearance of a self-publishing house - as a way of unofficial, uncensored production and distribution of literary works, religious and journalistic texts.

Zionists copied many publications from each other, handed over to their friends. Anatoly Ovseevich organized a library, where in addition to both legal and forbidden literature was collected, it is presented both in print and in manuscript form. Ovseyevich ordered books to cousin Kransky, who lives in Berlin. The books were translated from German into Russian by Ovseevich and Brailovsky into Russian, and then a handwritten translation was distributed among the Zionists of Voronezh. According to the investigation, Ovseyevich translated “The Worldview of Capitalism” [41] Otto Bauer [42], Brailovsky - the book “Implementation of Economic Activities” [43] Fritz Naftali [44] and the report “Transformation of Capitalism” by Werner Zombat [45]. The latter is of particular interest, so most likely the handwritten translation “The Transformation of Capitalism” could be a variant of the newspaper or magazine publication of Zombat and had a free translation of the title of the future book “The Fate of Capitalism” [46].

The investigation could not establish the authorship of two manuscripts [47]. It is known from the documents of the case that “Industrial Policy of the USSR” is Ovseevich’s manuscript [48], it is not clear whether he was his work of authorship, or a translation, or is it just a rewritten work of some author.

The manuscript “The Economics of the Jewish Proletariat and National Competition” was discovered during a search of Maria Halperina, which she received from some Zionist whom she does not remember [49].

OGPU employees also seized numerous letters from Palestine, which were preserved and attached to the case as material evidence. The letters themselves are also valuable sources on the history of the Zionist movement in Soviet Russia, and also contain information about the structure of the first settlers in Palestine. These Letters were interpreted as “written directives of the Zionist leadership” or “coordination of anti-Soviet activities” of Zionists in the USSR [50].

December 30, 1930 was sentenced to the Voronezh Zionists. From the conviction of case No. 6991: “they all lived in Voronezh, Jews, citizens of the RSFSR, former petty bourgeois, now servants, were convicted of anti-Soviet activities, completely exposed that, while in the city of Voronezh

  1. created a Zionist organization, which sets as its task the fight against Soviet power and the change in the existing state system;

  2. established contact with foreign and Zionist organizations in other cities;

  3. carried out work to raise the political level of members of their organization;

  4. organized an illegal library, supplied with foreign party literature, not allowed for distribution in USSR;

  5. distributed illegal printed and handwritten anti-Soviet materials;

  6. organized a mutual assistance fund for material assistance to needy members of the organization in the city of Voronezh, as well as members of Zionist organizations in other cities.

  7. conducted anti-Soviet agitation among residents of the city of Voronezh” [51].

19 people were sentenced to various terms of imprisonment under charges under Art. 58–10 (propaganda or agitation containing a call to overthrow, undermine or weaken the Soviet power or to commit certain counter-revolutionary crimes, as well as distribution or production, or storage of literature of the same content) and 58–11 (all kinds of organizational activities aimed at preparing or committing counter-revolutionary crimes provided for in this chapter) of the Criminal Code of the RSFSR. The case against the ongoing Gogol case in Israel was dismissed, four went to Palestine - Mendel Rogovoy, Meer Segal, Berta Movshovich, Abraham Uchitel.

The case against 7 Voronezh Zionists was set aside for department production: Aizik Furman, Rachel Sukhenka, Boris Genin, Chaim Livshits, Samuel Stern, Moses Shulman, Rachel Feld-man [52].

In 1930, arrests were carried out among a large Voronezh colony of exiled Social Democrats (Mensheviks). In this case, Rosa Levit (Levina) [53], who was involved in the case as a Zionist, was convicted. She was accused of “being a member of an active group of exiled Mensheviks in Voronezh and actively participating in the activities of the illegal mutual assistance fund, collecting membership fees to the fund.” Levin openly criticized the repressive policies of the Stalinist regime. She condemned the open trial of the Fedorovites [54]: “The verdict of the court on the shooting of 16 defendants is unusually cruel, the court is not fair, such sentences are handed down to the peasants that are inconsistent with the case, since the court did not prove that they really (i.e., Fedorov’s) are counterrevolutionary organization [55].

Levina criticized the policy of forced collectivization: “The Soviet government is conducting a wrong policy towards the peasantry, dispossessing not only the kulak, but also the middle peasant” [56]. This phrase was introduced into the indictment on the basis of testimony, in connection with which falsification of these testimonies is possible, so Rosa Levit (Levina) did not plead guilty to anti-Soviet activities, but refused to answer a number of questions.

In 1932, members of the Gashomer-Gatsior were arrested again. The movement was founded in 1916 as a Jewish counterpart to scout organizations. The purpose of which was to prepare Jewish youth for resettlement in Eretz Yisrael. The principles of socialist Zionism, combining Zionism and Social Democracy, were declared as the basic values of the movement.

According to the investigation, the exiled Zionists, retaining their previous political views, created an organization in Voronezh under the leadership of Aizik Furman [57], which was held in case No. 6991.

From the indictment: “going to the apartments, we discussed the political measures of the Soviet government and the CPSU (b) and worked out a counter-revolutionary program that was put into practice.”

The exiled Zionist Naum Breitman [58], member of the Odessa group, worked at the Stalin plant. The assignment to the plant of the name of the party leader was already a symbol of the forming personality cult. It was built for the manufacture of cables by the industrialist A.N. Petichev in 1916 during the First World War. Revolutionary processes and subsequent nationalization halted production. In 1928, the plant was converted for the production of agricultural machinery. In October 1930, the plant was named after Joseph Stalin.

In March 1932, Breutmann organized the “Italian strike” [59], in which 5 enumerated workers of the factory department took part. The day before they filed for dismissal. The reason is extremely low wages. The management of the plant did not sign, as “there was an urgent need for accountants.” And as a result - the Italian strike, which lasted from March 24 to 26, 1932.

On March 26, the factory committee convened a general meeting of accountants, at which the chief accountant of the plant reported. Breitman openly stated at the meeting that salaries were unrealistic and demanded an increase based on the calculation of increasing market prices. As a result, “with his speech, Breitman caused anti-Soviet activity by counting workers, as a result of which the meeting was disrupted and the factory committee did not achieve its goals” [60]. The charge was built on the basis of the meeting’s protocols and statements of the plant’s administration, which were at the disposal of the investigator. Perhaps it was precisely the appeal of the plant’s administration that served as the basis for initiating proceedings against Breitman and served as the basis for the arrests of exiled members of “Gasmer-Gatsior” in Voronezh.

At the interrogation, Naum Breitman said: “By my political convictions, I am a Social Democrat. I sympathize with the ideas of proletarian Zionism. I do not share the policies and measures of the CPSU (b) and the Soviet regime because they contradict my convictions” [61].

In general, he outlined the official program of the organization. September 23, 1932 by the Decree of the OGPU OGPU Aizik Furman, Naum Breutman, Boris Enin [62], Yudif Khaimovich [63] Samuel Stern [64], Israel Bergman [65], Solomon Popel [66] were sent for 3 years.

4. Discussion

Voronezh province was not a territory with the traditional residence of Jews. The emergence of the Voronezh Jewish community was examined by historian A.N. Akinshin [67] and the chief rabbi of Voronezh [68]. In the 19th century, there were 2277 Jews in the province. The problem of the origin of the Zionist movement in the region still remains a “blank spot,” and the Jewish political and non-political organizations and associations have not been subjected to scientific research [69]. Meanwhile, the activities of Israel Rozov, one of the leaders of Zionism in Russia, are connected with Voronezh [70].

The emergence of a large Jewish community during the First World War occurred during the massive forced deportation of Jews from the western provinces of the Russian Empire. For Soviet historiography, the topic of Jewish refugee was closed for many years. In contemporary Russian and foreign historiography, there is a steady interest in the problem of refugee, in general, and Jewish refugee during the First World War. Historian I. Belova cites material and Jewish refugee in the Voronezh province [71].

The activities of Jewish public organizations are characterized by M. Zlatina [72], A. Tumanova [73], V. Bakhtin.

However, we have to admit that a comprehensive monograph on the issue of Jewish refugee in Russia during the First World War was not published in the post-Soviet period, historians consider the problem of the process of Jewish refugee in the indicated period only in fragmentary (territorial or other particular aspects) [74].

The topic of the role of the Zionist movement in the political life of the country in the early Soviet period is also a poorly studied historical science. Considering that by 1917 the Zionist organization in Russia had more than 300 thousand members and had a significant impact on the Jewish masses, especially in the areas of the former Pale of Settlement [75]. And we can safely say that among the thousands of Jewish refugees Zionists arrived in Voronezh.

At the end of the 20th century, in the second half of the 1990s, works began to appear in Russia that objectively examined the history of the Zionist movement in Soviet Russia. These include M. Agapov [76], M. Krapivin [77] and others [78].

Despite the discovery of many sources on the history of the Zionist movement in Soviet Russia, nevertheless, on the whole this problem is poorly studied, since it included various trends and movements, including socialist ones, which need further research.

In foreign historiography, the topic of the Jewish socialist movement began to be studied, under certain circumstances, earlier than in the USSR.

Explored various aspects of Nora Levin [79], J. Hen-Tov [80] and others [81].

Of great importance for this issue is the collective work of Boris Morozov and Ziv Galili, “Exiled in Palestine: Emigration of Zionist Convicts from the Soviet Union, 1924–1934 [82].

B. Morozov in a separate article carries out a rigorous analysis of the archives of Russia, Ukraine, Israel, cites sources and statistical materials about those who were deported to Palestine. A group portrait of exiled Zionists, on the basis of a file cabinet compiled by B. Morozov, is of particular research interest [83]. And its further study is possible only with a comprehensive study of the archives of both central and regional Russia, Ukraine, Belarus and Israel, the UK and other countries.

5. Conclusion

Illegal Zionist organizations in Voronezh were defeated. Their specificity was that they consisted of serving a link. We have not yet identified Zionist organizations represented by Jews, natives of the Voronezh region. The only Zionist is a native of Voronezh Popel. However, further research in the archives may reveal new data on the history of Zionist organizations in Voronezh. Illegal Zionist organizations in Voronezh were defeated.

Their specificity was that they consisted of serving a link. We have not yet identified Zionist organizations represented by Jews, natives of the Voronezh region. The only Zionist is a native of Voronezh Popel. However, further research in the archives may reveal new data on the history of Zionist organizations in Voronezh.

Mass arrests of members of various Zionist parties and movements in the USSR took place in 1937 in accordance with the operative order of the People’s Commissar of Internal Affairs of the USSR № 00447 “On the operation to repress former fists, criminals and other anti-Soviet elements.”

Mass arrests of members of various Zionist parties and movements in the USSR took place in 1937 in accordance with the operative order of the People’s Commissar of Internal Affairs of the USSR № 00447 “On the operation to repress former fists, criminals and other anti-Soviet elements.” Many Zionists were again arrested, and convicted as Morduh Shliomovich or shot as Abraham Weinstein, Boris Halperin. The fate of the rest of the Zionists who were involved in Voronezh affairs remains unclear.

© 2020 The Author(s). Licensee IntechOpen. This chapter is distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 License, which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is properly cited.

How to cite and reference

Link to this chapter Copy to clipboard

Cite this chapter Copy to clipboard

Bakhtin Viktor Viktorovich and Ashmarov Igor’ Anatol’yevich (December 10th 2020). Zionist Organizations in Voronezh, A Closer Look at Organizational Culture in Action, Süleyman Davut Göker, IntechOpen, DOI: 10.5772/intechopen.94019. Available from:

chapter statistics

43total chapter downloads

More statistics for editors and authors

Login to your personal dashboard for more detailed statistics on your publications.

Access personal reporting

Related Content

This Book

Next chapter

Towards the Development of the Informal Economy: The Case of Street Trading in Ile-Ife, Nigeria

By Titilayo Olubunmi Olaposi

Related Book

First chapter

The Relationship between Instructional Leadership Style, Trust and School Culture

By Hülya Şenol and Figen Yaman Lesinger

We are IntechOpen, the world's leading publisher of Open Access books. Built by scientists, for scientists. Our readership spans scientists, professors, researchers, librarians, and students, as well as business professionals. We share our knowledge and peer-reveiwed research papers with libraries, scientific and engineering societies, and also work with corporate R&D departments and government entities.

More About Us