I have read a number of books over the years about the Soviet gulag, starting with Alexandr Solzhenitsyn’s One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich, and recently, Anna Larina’s memoirs, This I Cannot Forget.
Over the past few days, I have read another, called “The Birobidzhan Affair”, by Israel Emiot, a Polish Jew who went to the USSR to escape the Nazis, and was encouraged in 1944 to move to the far eastern Jewish autonomous region of Birobidzhan. Shortly after he did so, the tide turned in the USSR and the concept of Jewish nationhood became to be viewed as a strong negative, even in Birobidzhan, where it was deemed to be an example of anti-Soviet agitation. Hence, Emiot wound up, for seven years, in the gulag, in a number of work camps, sharing experiences with a wide array of Jewish, Russian, Polish, Mongolian, Ukrainian, and German prisoners with varying educational and experiential backgrounds. As usual, the description of life in the Siberian prison camps is fascinating, in large part because it is so different from any form of prison or detention that we are used to reading about.
The book started out as a series of Yiddish language articles in the Forward newspaper in the late 1950s, and was translated and published by the Jewish Publication Society in 1981.