Yevreyski Komissariat

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YEVREYSKI KOMISSARIAT (Jewish Commissariat). The central commissariat for Jewish national affairs was a government organ of the Soviet regime for carrying out the nationality policies of the Communist Party among Jews. The Jewish Commissariat functioned from January 20, 1918, through April 1924 (alongside commissariats of other national minorities) within the framework of the People's Commissariat for Nationalities Affairs headed by *Stalin. Simon *Dimanstein was appointed commissar of the Jewish Commissariat with the left Socialist-Revolutionary I.G. Dobkovsky serving as his deputy. A number of returning emigrés and anarchists alienated from Russian Jewry who had joined the Bolsheviks worked in the Jewish Commissariat. Until mid-1918 the left *Po'alei Zion, headed by Tzevi Fridlander, also participated in the work of the Jewish Commissariat. Only a few Jewish writers (including Samuel *Niger and Daniel *Charney) cooperated with the Jewish Commissariat in publishing its organ – the first Soviet newspaper in Yiddish Die Warheit ("Truth") which appeared from March 8 to August 1, 1918. A group was established within the Jewish Commissariat to work with the impoverished segment of the Jewish population. A department of culture and education headed by N.O. *Buchbinder controlled Jewish schools; it had its own, Evreyskaya tribuna ("Jewish Tribune," 1918, nos. 1–4). During 1918, 13 local Jewish commissariats were established (in Vitebsk, Eltse, Mogilev, Perm, Tambov, and elsewhere). Under the influence of proponents of autonomy (mainly from Po'alei Zion), the central Jewish Commissariat, through its newspaper, called for the establishment of local Jewish councils (soviets) or Jewish sections attached to local soviets "to strengthen the Soviet authorities and combat the national bourgeosie" and also able to convene an all-Russian conference to determine the forms of organization of Jewish life in Soviet Russia and for electing a commissar for Jewish affairs. Following the July 1918 congress of Jewish communities which met in Moscow with the participation of representatives of various Jewish political parties, the Jewish Commissariat rejected the idea of democratic Jewish autonomy. The election by the congress of a central bureau to coordinate the work of Jewish institutions led to repression by the Soviet authorities. All non-Bolsheviks were removed from the Jewish Commissariat. There was established the *Yevsektsiya (Jewish Section) of the Communist Party which in close cooperation with the Jewish Commissariat submitted to Party control the resolution of all problems of Soviet Jewish life.

At the first conference of the Jewish Commissariat and the Yevsektsia (in October 1918 in Moscow) there were officially chosen a commissar of the Jewish Commissariat (Dimanstein) and a board of the Commissariat which was charged with liquidating all institutions of the Jewish community. The decree closing down the Center Bureau of Jewish Communities and transferring all communal resources and property to local Jewish commissariats was published in June 1918 but the closure of synagogues and the liquidation of communal institutions, yeshivot, ḥadarim (traditional primary schools), and schools with instruction in Hebrew began earlier (in Orel, Perm, and other cities).

As early as 1918 the Jewish Commissariat published the anti-Zionist brochure of Z. Grinberg Die zionistn oif der Idisher Gas ("The Zionist on the Jewish Street"). In the Jewish Commissariat circular of July 23, 1919, on the closing of communal institutions Dimanstein announced the impending liquidation of *Tarbut, *He-Halutz and other Zionist "bourgeois organizations." Nevertheless, the Jewish Commissariat hardly fought against Zionism, for which it was criticized in the Communist Party press. At the insistence of the Yevsektsiya the Jewish Commissariat declared Hebrew a "reactionary language" and on August 30, 1919, the People's Commissariat of Education banned the teaching of Hebrew in all educational institutions. Books in Hebrew then began to be removed from libraries.

As the Bolshevik doctrine of the transformation of the peoples of the Soviet state into a "single Soviet nation" became more dominant, the functions of the Jewish Commissariat as a government organ became correspondingly more narrow. In late 1918 the handling of issues of Jewish culture and education was transferred to the Yevburu (the Jewish Bureau), a body attached to the People's Commissariat of Education, and other areas of work with Jews were included in the sphere of activity of the appropriate commissariats. In January 1919 local Jewish commissariats were transformed into Jewish departments attached to provincial committees of the Communist Party and in early 1920 the Jewish Commissariat became a department of the People's Commissariat for Nationality Affairs. Both theoretical and practical guidance in regard to measures to "Sovietize" the labor and culture of the Jews of the Soviet Union were concentrated in the hands of the Yevsektsiya.

[The Shorter Jewish Encyclopaedia in Russian]