Organization for Jewish Colonization in Russia
The Organization for Jewish Colonization in Russia (Idishe Kolonizatsie Organizatsie in Rusland), commonly known by its transliterated acronym of IKOR, was a Communist-sponsored mass organization in North America devoted to supporting settlement in the Jewish socialist republic of Birobidzhan in the Soviet Union. The organization was founded in the United States in 1924 and soon spread to Canada.
The founding meeting was held in New York City in December 1924 and the initial mission of the organization was to raise money to fund Jewish collective farms in Crimea and to provide a humanitarian alternative for Jews facing anti-Semitism in Europe.
One of IKOR's initial patrons was Julius Rosenwald, president of Sears, Roebuck and Company who contributed more than $2 million to IKOR. When, in 1928, the Soviet Union abandoned the idea of Jewish settlement in Crimea and endorsed instead the eventual formation of a Jewish Autonomous Republic in the eastern USSR, IKOR followed suit. IKOR worked closely with the Komzet, the Soviet agency facilitating Jewish settlement, and its partner, the OZET.
The Canadian wing became a separate organization in 1935. The IKOR was active among first and second generation Yiddish speaking Jewish immigrants and was intended as a rival to the Zionist movement and its agitation for a Jewish homeland in Palestine. In the 1930s the organization was also involved in protests against Nazi Germany and encouraged a boycott of German goods and also fundraised for the International Brigades fighting in the Spanish Civil War.
IKOR was associated with the Communist Party, USA and the Communist Party of Canada and generally followed the Comintern's party line. The organization declined following the signing of the Molotov–Ribbentrop Pact.
The American Committee for the Settlement of Jews in Birobidjan (Ambidjan) was established on February 27, 1934, at a meeting held in the Ritz-Carlton Hotel in New York City. The meeting was addressed by Lord Marley, Dudley Leigh Aman, a British Labour Party Member of Parliament and leading spokesman for the Birobidzhan project in the United Kingdom.
The chief American behind the establishment of the new organization was William W. Cohen, a banker and stockbroker who had been a Congressman from New York's 17th Congressional District from 1926 to 1928. Cohen saw the establishment of a Jewish Autonomous Region in the USSR as providing an important "haven for the salvage and rehabilitation of many thousands of Jews suffering in the infernos of central and eastern Europe" and supported the establishment of Ambidjan with his money, time, and effort.
Ambidjan began formal operations in September 1935 with the establishment of an office located at 285 Madison Avenue in New York City. Lord Marley was named honorary president with Cohen the president of the organization.
A key figure behind the scenes at Ambidjan was J.M. Budish, a member of the Communist Party USA and employee of Amtorg, the New York-based Soviet foreign trade office in the United States. Budish's close ties with Soviet Ambassador Alexander Troyanovsky and position in the Communist Party apparatus made him the ideal conduit for information to Ambidjan regarding developments in the Soviet Union. In the summer of 1935 Budish travelled to Birobidzhan to tour the region and conduct talks with government officials regarding the future role of Ambidjan.
Following Budish's 1935 talks, Soviet authorities gave Ambidjan permission to proceed with its efforts to subsidize the emigration of European Jews to Birobidzhan. Selection of settlers, primarily from Poland, Lithuania, Romania, and Germany, was to be made by Ambidjan in consultation with Soviet officials. Ambidjan would provide a grant of $350 per family selected to aid in the costs of relocation.
Ambidjan's efforts attracted a wide spectrum of Americans to membership in its ranks, including a substantial contingent from the middle and upper classes, some of whom were non-Jews. Dues in the organization cost $5.
In 1946 IKOR and Ambijan merged to form a unified organization.
The organization was unable to withstand the anti-Communism of the McCarthy era; moreover, the creation of Israel in 1948 greatly increased the attractiveness of Zionism as offering an alternative for "Jewish Colonization". It was terminated in 1951.
- Society for Settling Toiling Jews on the Land (OZET)
- Committee for the Settlement of Toiling Jews on the Land (KOMZET)
- History of the Jews in Russia and the Soviet Union
- Jews and Judaism in the Jewish Autonomous Oblast
- Jewish Colonization Association
- Oakton Community College, "Biro-Bidjan and American Support," A Gift to Biro-Bidjan: Chicago, 1937: From Despair to New Hope. oakton.edu/ Retrieved October 16, 2010.
- Henry Felix Srebrnik, Dreams of Nationhood: American Jewish Communists and the Soviet Birobidzhan Project, 1924-1951. Brighton, MA: Academic Studies Press, 2010; pg. 33.
- Srebrnik, Dreams of Nationhood, pg. 36.
- Srebrnik, Dreams of Nationhood, pg. 37.
- Srebrnik, Dreams of Nationhood, pg. 34.
- Henry Felix Srebrnik, Dreams of Nationhood: American Jewish Communists and the Soviet Birobidzhan Project, 1924-1951. Brighton, MA: Academic Studies Press, 2010.
- Red star over Birobidzhan: Canadian Jewish Communists and the "Jewish Autonomous Region" in the Soviet Union. BNET
- The short history of the Jews of Icor, a Jewish agricultural settlement named after IKOR, and their murder during World War II, at Yad Vashem website.