Jewish homeland proposal for Crimea – Stalin and the “Crimea California” project

Read Kristina Russ’ comments at the end.

From Fort Russ, March 14, 2015
Translated by Kristina Rus

Crimean California
Originally published in “Ostrov Krym”  (“Crimea Island”) in September, 1999

1948. Returning from Sevastopol to his summer house, Stalin recalls everything that was recently associated with Crimea. As the main theorist in the field of ethnic issues, it was obvious to him: if the problems on the Peninsula are not properly addressed, these problems will turn into a time bomb of a tremendous destructive power in the future. In recent decades, the ethnic question, along with the victorious pace of its antipode – the ideas of proletarian internationalism, was the basis and the driving force behind processes on a global scale. It, of course, is not comparable with the power of the Marxist-Leninist ideology in general. But…

The Crimean peninsula usually either contained several small municipal entities, or the entire Crimea or a part of it was part of other states. Therefore none of the historical events in Crimea should be considered in isolation, without regard to the fate of not only the Northern Black Sea region, but also Europe, and most importantly – the Soviet Union (Russia).

– But… – Stalin mused, – now Crimea is just a region in RSFSR.

Crimea is Russian, as it should be, for it is a historically predetermined fact. Only Russian, otherwise there will be a lot of hunters for this land. Take, for example, the project to create “Crimean California”…

These facts are little known today to the general public. Unavailability of archives raises a lot of conflicting rumors and speculation, but the secret is securely hidden…

In the second half of the nineteenth century, Crimea and Southern Ukraine was a sparsely populated region. By the beginning of the twentieth century every fourth resident was a newcomer to the peninsula. The [Russian – KR] Imperial government has provided financial assistance and granted a number of privileges to some ethnic groups. The privileges were mainly enjoyed by German colonists, and some others, including Jewish settlers. The privileges were expressed in large land plots, tax incentives, special terms loans and exemption from military service. That’s why these groups subsequently formed the basis of the forces that sought to create an independent national state in Crimea.

In 1920, after the liberation of Crimea from Wrangel and the establishment of Soviet authority, the privileged ethnic groups of colonists lost all benefits, and their plans to establish their own state became hopeless. In order to increase their influence they created societies and unions. In 1921 a [German]  union called the “Bundestroy” was formed; in 1922 a Jewish consumer cooperative “Samodeiadelnost” was active.

In the early 1920’s, taking advantage of the extremely difficult predicament of the young Soviet Republic, a number of foreign firms started negotiations with the Soviet government on the provision of economic assistance under appropriate conditions: the concession of a number of developments on the territory of Crimea and the establishment of a Jewish autonomy. It is in the hungry 1921-22 years Crimea for the first time learned about the charitable Jewish organization “Joint”.

In 1920-30’s “Agro-Joint,” founded in the USA was already active in Crimea,  relying on the Crimean Jewish colonists. In 1922 in Simferopol opened a branch of the “Agro-Joint” bank, financing resettlement of the new Jewish residents, as well as the training of Jewish human resources in educational institutions of Crimea. The largest office of “Agro-Joint” opened in Dzhankoy. It was at this time that more then 150 villages appeared in the Crimean steppes, which were inhabited exclusively by “persons of Jewish descent”.

This activity soon grew to a scope of interstate relations. In 1923, in the USSR and the United States almost simultaneously began discussions of the idea of a national autonomy and resettlement of Jews from Belarus, Ukraine, Russia to the Black sea area. According to documents found in the Crimean archives and other sources, it is now possible to partially restore the sequence of those early events.

… The elite circles of the capital’s intelligentsia began actively discussing the topic of resettlement of Jews to Crimea. From America arrived one of the leaders of “Joint”, a native of Russia, Rosen, urging the chairman of Crimean Central Executive Committee, Gaven, to allocate vacant land on a trial basis for resettlement of 1,000 Jewish families in exchange for financial and technical assistance. The catastrophic situation in Crimea after the famine of 1921-22, the lack of assistance from the Center did not leave Crimean authorities much choice.

One of the main ideologists of the implementation of the idea was a prominent member of the Soviet government, Yury Larin (Michael Lurie), a native of Simferopol, the future father-in-law of N. I. Bukharin. He developed a plan to create a Jewish Republic in Crimea and settling on its territory of 280 thousand Jews. At the same time, through Abram Bragin, close to Maria Ulyanova and Nicholai Bukharin through the newspaper “Pravda”, the head of the Jewish section of the Russian Communist Party of the Bolsheviks RCP(b), a hype was raised around “The Jewish pavilion” at the all-Soviet agricultural expo of 1923. It was financed by the same “Joint”. It is noteworthy that during his last visit to Moscow in October 1923, half-paralyzed Lenin was taken through the entire Jewish exhibit at the all-Soviet agricultural expo. Analysis of literature, ordered for Lenin at the time indicates his heightened attention to the Jewish issue and Crimea.

In November 1923, Bragin prepared a draft document, in accordance with which by the 10th anniversary of the October revolution, it was proposed to form an Autonomous Jewish region on the territory of Northern Crimea, the southern steppes of Ukraine and the Black sea coast up to the borders of Abkhazia [including Sochi – KR], with a total area of 10 million acres, with the aim of relocating 500 thousand Jews. Based on this document, Bragin, Rosen and zamnarcomnats [Deputy National Commissar? – KR], Broydo, presented through Lev Kamenev a Memorandum in the Politburo, in which it was stressed that the formation of a Jewish state “would be politically advantageous for Soviet authorities”. In case of successful implementation the authors of the note guaranteed the receipt of tens of millions of dollars “through Jewish, American, and international organizations”, as this “will cause an unprecedented interest in all economically and politically powerful organizations in America and Europe”.

The Politburo has repeatedly discussed the project. Its active supporters were Trotsky, Kamenev, Zinovyev, Bukharin, Rykov, and Tsuryupa and Chicherin. During the discussion, the emphasis has gradually shifted to just Crimea, since in Ukraine the memories of Jewish pogroms during the civil war were still fresh and a danger of repeating those tragic events still existed.

In January 1924, the talks were already about the “Autonomous Jewish government, federated with Russia”, a draft decree on the establishment in the Northern part of Crimea of a Jewish Autonomous Soviet Socialist Republic was prepared. Jewish Telegraph Agency (ETA) on February 20, 1924, published the appropriate announcement abroad.

To address the issues raised in the appeals of Larin and Bragin about the resettlement of Jews from the shtetls of Ukraine and Belarus, the Presidium of the USSR at the meeting of August 29, 1924, decided to form a Committee for land settlement of Jewish workers (KOMZET) and the Public Committee for land settlement of Jewish workers (OZET). KOMZET was headed by P. G. Smidovich, OZET – by Larin.

KOMZET focused their activities on resettlement of 500-600 thousand people. The need for this was based on the fact that “the economic structure of the Jewish population is absolutely not adapted to the Soviet system, with its course on State trade, cooperation and concentration of industry, and if emergency measures are not taken for the transfer of the Jewish population to productive labor, then a significant part of it would face the prospect of extinction and degeneration…”.

In May 1926 a long-term plan was established for the resettlement of Jews in the USSR for 10 years – 100 thousand families. In June of the same year a plan for the next 3 years was approved – 18 thousand families. In accordance with the decision of the Central Committee of the Soviet Communist Party (VKP (b)) from July 26, 1928, the Crimean Autonomous Soviet Socialist Republic (ASSR) along with Birobidzhan became the main base of the Jewish resettlement. By October-November 1928, 131,901.24 hectares of land was allocated in Crimea for these purposes.

Since 1921 there was an Autonomous Republic in Crimea, with its own Constitution. Gradually the consequences of famine were overcome, Crimean Tatars were resettled from the Crimean mountains into the steppe areas in order to provide them with land. More than 200 thousand Tatars-immigrants from Bulgaria and Romania received official permission to return to Crimea with the granting of benefits (the corresponding decision of the Central Executive Committee of RSFSR has not been repealed until now).

On April 21, 1926, a visiting session of the Bureau of the OK VKP (b) (Regional Committee of the Communist Party) in Bakhchisarai approved the prospective resettlement plan for the Republic, but it turned out that the resettlement of the Jews to Crimea was contrary to the attitudes of local authorities in respect of land provision of Tatar peasants. Inevitably this has led to a conflict between the leadership of the Crimean Republic and [Communist] party authorities and Moscow. The top officials got on the case in the capital. 49 famous writers and poets spoke in support of the “Crimean project” and appealed to the West for funding. A number of delegations were sent to America and Europe with the aim of campaigning for the establishment of a Jewish Republic in Crimea. In Berlin at a meeting with representatives of the financial and political elites of Europe, People’s Commissar for Foreign Affairs, Chicherin, assured that the government of the USSR is treating the Crimean project “very seriously”, and “not a slightest problem” is expected to come in the way of its implementation.

The reaction of the leaders of the World Zionist organization was to include the issue about the “Crimean project” on the agenda of the Jewish Congress of America, held in Philadelphia. 200 wealthiest people in America asked the participants to raise funds for the Crimean project. The discussion was welcomed by the future presidents Hoover and Roosevelt, and the wife of Roosevelt, Eleanor, took part in its work personally. On the eve of the Congress on behalf of the Soviet government, Smidovich reassured that in exchange for financial assistance there “will be colonization of Crimea by Jews.” The Congress decided to support the “Crimean project” and to allocate $15 million.

During the Congress, some of its influential members have strongly opposed the project, describing it as a clever move of the Bolsheviks with the purpose of gaining access to international financial resources. However, the last word was made by L. Marshall, who positively characterized the situation in the USSR and the value of the “Crimean project”. Thus, despite the absence of diplomatic relations between the USSR and the United States, the Congress decided to begin investing in Crimea through the “Joint”.

The Politburo passed a resolution, in which the aim was “to stay the course on the possibility of organizing a Jewish Autonomous Unit under favorable results of resettlement” in Crimea. At the same time in the USSR and the USA simultaneously – probably not without the mediation of the Jewish community – began probing the soil with the purpose of the establishment of diplomatic relations between the countries. Thus, during the negotiations with one of the leaders of the “Joint,” Rosenberg, Larin and former Bundestroy member,  Weinstein, on behalf of the Soviet leadership has stated, that the implementation of the “Crimean” project” “will be carried to a successful result under all circumstances”, but in connection with the “non-recognition by the American government of the Soviet government, the American Jewish community must move from a state of neutrality and to exert pressure on the government of the United States.” Rosenberg promised to provide the necessary assistance. The same was negotiated in Moscow by Warburg. Their efforts produced an impact on Roosevelt, who shortly after his election to the post of President of the United States, established diplomatic relations with the USSR.

All decisions on Crimea were taken under conditions of top secrecy. Even the Secretary of the Crimean Regional Communist Party Committee, sent from Moscow, Petropavlovsky was not aware of them. And the Deputy of Menzhinsky in GPU (State Political Dpartment at the NKVD), Trilisser, at the meeting of the CC RCP(B) (Central Committee of the Russian Communist Party of Bolsheviks) on anti-semitism was surprised by rumors in Jewish circles of the USSR about the creation in Crimea of a Jewish Republic. The situation was suddenly “blown up” by the Chairman of the Ukrainian CIC (Central Executive Committee), Petrovsky, who leaked the information about the decision of the Politburo in an interview with the correspondent of “Izvestia”.

On April 7, 1926, a Crimean Jewish conference opened in Simferopol, which was associated with an unpleasant for KOMZET incident. On April 11, “Red Crimea” published the basic ideas from the speech given in Yiddish by the representative of the Department of Nationalities of the Central Executive Committee, I. M. Rashkes: “We strive to create a solid land area with autonomy with a perspective in the future not for the concentration of world Jewry, but in order to settle the three million Jews from the USSR on this land”. The situation in Crimea immediately escalated: Crimean Tatars and Germans became alarmed. However, three days later, the editors published a letter of Rashkes, in which he retracted his words, calling it a “ridiculous idea”. Citing insufficient language skills of his employee, the editors apologized to the comrade from the capital…

In contrast to the project of resettlement of Jews, the Crimean Tatar Communists came up with the idea of creating in the North of Crimea of a German Autonomous Republic. One of the main opponents of the mass migration of Jews to Crimea became the Chairman of the Crimean CEC (Central Executive Committee), Veli Ibragimov. When the situation on the peninsula got out of control, he wrote an article in the Crimean Tatar newspaper “Yeni-Dunya”: “They demand land for resettlement to Crimea of 8,000 Jewish households, but …our inventory does not even satisfy our internal needs [this could justify Crimean Tatar deportation, see more later – KR], and therefore, the Crimean authorities has found it impossible to satisfy these demands. Recently we raised this issue in Moscow and hope that it will be resolved in our favor”. Ibragimov was supported by the national intelligentsia, which formerly was part of the party “Milli-Firca”.

On September 26, 1927, Larin has proposed a set of measures on settlement of Jews in Crimea, according to which the main specialization of their work would become grape alcohol production to supply the Crimean wine factories. One of the important points was the proposal of the NKVD of the Crimean ASSR “to develop… a plan of division for village councils of Jewish farming areas with the establishment of respective village councils in accordance with  actual settlement and recognition of the official languages of Russian and Jewish on equal basis”.

The proposal was met with resistance from the leaders of the Crimean ASSR, primarily Veli Ibragimov. Worried by the development, Larin has sent a letter to Stalin, in which he accused Ibragimov in “igniting the dark Tatar masses”. Desperate telegrams were sent to Stalin and Molotov by completely bewildered Petropavlovsky. In the end, Ibragimov was summoned to Moscow, where at the beginning of 1928 he was arrested and charged with criminal offences in the civil war. Forced under pressure to confess to the murder of one of the Tatar activists and sheltering the bandits, he was shot.

At the same time the GPU was preparing a closed “process 63”: thus the elites of Tatar ethnic intelligentsia were exiled to Solovki. Protests among the Crimean Germans were brutally suppressed, but about a thousand of them managed to leave the USSR.

To free the land for the resettlement of the Jews the Presidium of the CEC of USSR approved a law recognizing the Northern Crimean territory – “the lands of national significance”. Decisive action of Moscow persuaded Americans to move from individual investments to large-scale long-term projects. The development of the loan agreement between the “Joint” and the government of the USSR had begun, which was signed on February 19, 1929. According to the contract, “Joint” allocated 900 thousand dollars a year for 10 years at 5% annual interest. In case of successful realization of the project the payout of the so-called incremental amounts up to 500 thousand dollars a year was agreed on. Debt repayment was to begin in 1945 and be completed in 1954 (when the transfer of Crimea from Russia to Ukraine was accomplished by Nikita Khrushev!). In case of violation of the Soviet party of its obligations, the funding would cease. “Joint” has reserved the exclusive right to reduce the loan amount from 9 to 7 million dollars without explanation.

The feature of the project was that the government of the USSR issued for the full amount of the loan and passed to the “Joint” the bonds that were distributed by subscription. Thus the largest financial and political families in America – Rockefeller, Marshall, Warburg, Roosevelt, Hoover, and others became the holders of the shares of land in Crimea.

On September 5, 1930, by the decision of the Crimean CEC , Freidorf became the center of Jewish National District. In 1931, OK VCP(b) and the Crimean government stated that “the Jewish resettlement to Crimea is politically and economically justified”. A Jewish National Freidorf District, 32 Jewish national village council, and the newspaper “Lenin Weg” in Yiddish were established in the Republic.

The resettlement of the Jews coincided with the “dispossession” and forced deportation of Crimean peasants. GPU has deployed a network of camps across the peninsula (only in the Simferopol district there were four of them). According to a report by an employee of the Crimean OGPU, Salyn, by March 26, 1930, 16 thousand people were “dispossessed” and identified for deportation, and the total number of deported reached 25-30 thousand.

Regional authorities reacted differently to these events. In February, 1931, the Chairman of the CEC of the Crimean ASSR, Mehmet Ismail Kubaev at the party conference of Dzhankoy district said that Moscow is pursuing a policy of imperial chauvinism, impoverishing the labor masses of Crimea, first of all – Tatars. The OK Bureau regarded this speech as “counterrevolutionary” and Kabaev was immediately removed from his post.

Jewish collective farm in Crimea

The resettlement of Jews sometimes was met with rejection from the local population. Land, economic conflicts escalated into ethnic conflicts, in connection with which in July 1928, an outflow of immigrants was observed (certain farms lost 60-70%). According to the census of 1926 out of 39,921 Jews in rural areas lived only 4,083 people. On January 1, 1930, out of 49,100 Crimean Jews only 10,140 lived in villages. By 1941, the number of Jews increased, according to some estimates, up to 70 thousand, of which in 86 Jewish collective farms lived only 17 thousand people.

After the establishment of diplomatic relations with America, with the active assistance of the U.S. President Roosevelt activity in the colonization of Crimea began to decrease. At the same time increased the negative attitudes, fueled by the witch hunt on the “enemies of the people”. The refusal of the Americans to sign a new loan agreement until the full fulfillment of the contract resulted in that instead of a Jewish Republic in Crimea, two Jewish districts were established. There, according to the general principles of national policy of the USSR, all administrative offices, courts, educational institutions had Yiddish as an official language, and public and educational institutions were maintained at the expense of the state.

The activities of nationalist forces in Crimea, fueled from abroad, did not stop until 1934, but in later sources it is difficult to find even a mention of it, apparently, because on May 7, 1934, a Jewish Autonomous region in Khabarovsk krai was established. The branch of “Joint” in the USSR was abolished by the decision of the Politburo of the VCP (b) on May 4, 1938. By this time D. Rosenberg had already spent on the activities for the establishment of Jewish colonies in Crimea $30 million.

With the beginning of the Great Patriotic war one of the most important issues was the propaganda and socio-political provision of defense of the country. Simultaneously with the Anti-fascist Committee of Scientists, Slavic, Women’s and Youth Anti-fascist committees, a Jewish Anti-fascist Committee (JAC) was established. The Chairman of the Presidium was awarded with the order of Lenin, national artist of the USSR, member of the Arts Council’s Committee of SNK of the USSR, artistic director of the State Jewish Theater (GOSET), Solomon Mikhailovich Mikhoels (Vovsi). Executive Secretary – editor of the newspaper “Einikait” (“Unity”), journalist and theater critic Shakhno Epstein, and Deputy Chairman – the poet and playwright Itzik Fefer (Isaac Solomonovich).

To prevent the growth of Jewish nationalism in the country, the Committee was initially focused on overseas activities, having as its objective:

(1) To promote pro-Soviet sentiment in the world community, establishing contacts with international Jewish organizations;

(2) To attract foreign aid to the USSR.

On the proposal of Beria in 1943, Stalin allowed the heads of the Committee to visit overseas.

Officially, the trip of Mikhoels and Fefer was held on the initiative of Albert Einstein, but the mission pursued quite specific pragmatic purpose: to evoke sympathy for the Soviet Union from the Jews of the United States and other countries in order to influence public opinion, prompting them to agree about the necessity of opening a second front. Propaganda machine of F. Roosevelt wrongly represented the contribution of each of the allies to the war. Moreover, in the States, few people knew about the atrocities of fascism: no matter how paradoxical it may seem, the media in North America have kept silent about much of what was happening in occupied Europe.

The Americans, accepting the delegation of the Committee pursued its own goals. Although Mikhoels and Fefer acted as representatives of the Soviet Union, they were seen as messengers of all Russian Jews. (Note that by the beginning of the WWI on the territory of the Russian Empire lived 5.5 million Jews, and from the 1880’s, their immigration to America exceeded 1.5 million. According to estimates, on the eve of WWII on the territory of the USSR lived at least 3 million Jews). Such treatment of the delegation of the Committee was consistent with the level of hospitality towards Mikhoels abroad.

During his stay in the USA (three months), Canada (two months), Mexico (two weeks) and England (three weeks), Mikhoels met with Albert Einstein, the Chairman of the Administrative Committee of the World Jewish Congress, N. Goldman, who was the leader of the Masonic Lodge of the “Sons of Zion”, Senator D. Limen, the lawyer millionaire D. Rosenberg, writers W. Hashem, E. Sinclair, L. Feihtvanger, artist Marc Chagall, Charlie Chaplin, Chairman of the World Jewish Congress, the chief Rabbi of USA, Dr. Steven Wise, President of the American Federation of Labor, V. Green, the Oppenheimers, many prominent bankers and financiers. In England on the occasion of the arrival of Mikhoels the Honorary Committee was organised, which included the wife of Churchill, and politicians, and activists of working committees of Whitman. Mikhoels was seen as “a link between the best and the most beautiful of the old Jewish world and all the best and most beautiful of the new”.

The public rallies of Mikhoels were visited by a total of more than 500 thousand people, while the Foundation of the Red Army collected about $32 million. It seemed that all of America was eager to welcome Mikhoels, so it was not without excesses –  part of the journey Mikhoels had to do on crutches, because during one of the meetings the excited audience toppled the wooden platform, on which Mikhoels was standing.

“The Crimean issue” was discussed at almost every serious meeting. It was about the project “Crimean California”, which did not come to fruition before the war, but was revived in 1943. D. Rosenberg admitted during the interview: “Crimea interests us not only as Jews, but as Americans, because Crimea – is the Black sea, the Balkans and Turkey”. Apparently, the delegation of the Committee was reminded that the time to pay the debt of the USSR was approaching, but the situation can change if the idea of creation of Jewish Republic in Crimea is revived. The offer was for a fantastic sum of $10 billion.

The political leadership of the USA and the FBI made their conclusions on the results of the trip of Mikhoels: industrial and financial circles and American cultural elites, leaders of Jewish organizations were deeply interested in the provision of Crimea to not only the Soviet Jews, but to the entire diaspora, therefore, the establishment of a Jewish Republic in Crimea looked like quite a good idea. In the long run it was beneficial to the USA, including for the implementation of their military-strategic and geopolitical objectives.

After Mikhoels returning to Moscow the project “Crimean California” moved to a new stage. In February 1944 – the year of successful strategic operations, the year of “ten Stalin’s strikes”, a document arrived at Molotov’s table, written in Moscow, on Kropotkin st #10, the headquarters of the Jewish Anti-fascist Committee:

“During the Patriotic war a number of issues related to life and settlement of Jewish masses of the Soviet Union emerged.

Before the war in the Soviet Union there were up to 5 million Jews from the Western regions of Ukraine and Belorussia, the Baltic States, Bessarabia and Bukhovina, as well as from Poland. In the Soviet areas, temporarily occupied by the Nazis, presumably, at least 1.5 million Jews were killed.

…At one time, a Jewish Autonomous Region in Birobidzhan was created with the prospect of transforming it into a Jewish Soviet Republic, so as to resolve the state-legal issue of the Jewish people. It must be recognized that the experience of Birobidzhan, due to a number of reasons, primarily the lack of mobilization of all possibilities, and also because of its extreme distance from the location of major Jewish labor masses, did not provide the desired effect. But, despite all the difficulties, the Jewish Autonomous Oblast became one of the most advanced regions in the Far Eastern region, which proves the ability of the Jewish masses to build their own statehood. This ability is better manifested in the development of the Jewish national districts in Crimea.

Judging from the above, we would have considered it appropriate to establish a Jewish Soviet Republic in one of the regions where it is possible for political reasons. It seems to us that one of the most suitable areas would be the territory of Crimea, which best suits the requirements in regards to the capacity for resettlement, and due to the successful experience in the development of Jewish national districts there.

The creation of a Jewish Soviet Republic once and for all would solve in the spirit of Bolshevism, in the spirit of the Leninist-Stalinist ethnic policy, the problem of state-legal status of the Jewish people and the further development of its centuries-old culture. No one has been able to solve this problem for many centuries, and it can only be resolved in our great socialist country.

The idea of creating a Jewish Soviet Republic enjoys exceptional popularity among the wide Jewish masses of the Soviet Union and the top representatives of the brotherly nations.

In the building of Jewish Soviet Republic the Jewish people’s masses of all countries of the world would provide considerable assistance, wherever they were…

Based on the above, we offer:

1. To create a Jewish Soviet Socialist Republic on the territory of Crimea.

2. Before the liberation of Crimea to appoint the government commission for the development of this issue.

We hope that You will pay due attention to this issue, on the implementation of which depends the fate of an entire nation.

Chairman of the Presidium of 
The Jewish Anti-fascist 
Committee of the USSR, S. Mikhoels

Executive Secretary, W. Epstein

Deputy Chairman of the Presidium, I. Fefer

February 15, 1944, Moscow”

It is noteworthy that an attempt to move the issue into a practical realm was made, when Crimea was still occupied and two months were remaining until “the third strike of Stalin”. A vital problem was being discussed from “the back door”, behind the scenes. In 1920’s and the 1940’s the fact of the existence of the Crimean Autonomous Republic seems to have been ignored. In contrast to the 1920’s, in 1944 the issue was not only about the Northern part of Crimea, but the entire peninsula.

Molotov sent the letter from the Committee to the archives – but not the idea itself. In June 1944 in Moscow, Eric Johnston met with the American Ambassador, Averell Harriman, Stalin and Molotov. The Americans offered to invest $10 billion into the Crimean economy, and also to create a Republic, where Jews from all over the world could resettle. The name of Michoels was raised  as a possible leader of this Republic. Stalin insisted that the investments were directed not only to Crimea, but also other regions of the USSR, destroyed by the war, and, in turn, suggested Kaganovich for the post of the leader of the Republic.

Until June 1945 the “Crimean project”, it seemed, remained in force and in the future could become the key reason for the implementation of the “Marshall plan” in the USSR. The idea of creation in the Crimea of a Jewish Republic, with the support of the United States has been increasingly widely supported among Soviet Jews. The core of these sentiments remained the Jewish Anti-fascist Committee headed by Mikhoels. Some of its leaders started to carelessly distribute the posts in the future republic among themselves.

On June 30, 1945, the Presidium of the Supreme Council of the USSR adopted the Decree on the transformation of the Crimean ASSR into the Crimean region of the RSFSR. When in November 1945, Harriman tried to get in touch with Stalin through Molotov, to discuss issues of economic cooperation, his request for a personal meeting was rejected: Stalin had chosen a different political course. The USSR began to actively support the establishment of Israel on the territory of Palestine.

On May 15, 1948, the creation of Israel was proclaimed. The new state was immediately recognized by the USA and the Soviet Union, and on May 18, 1948, the Soviet Union first established diplomatic relations with Israel.

The Americans, in particular, Harriman, continued to test the boundaries of how far the Soviets are ready to go in their political concessions in exchange for support in the framework of participation of the USSR in the implementation of the “Marshall plan”? Is the “Crimean project” still on the table for Moscow? What benefits can be realized from promising financing to Russia?

“Strictly confidential.

To the Minister of Commerce of the United States,

A. Harriman

Dear Averell!

The President approves of Your plans. He added to them the following. Coexistence on the territory of Crimea of the Soviet Black Sea Fleet and the Jewish Republic, open for free entry of Jews from all over the world is not feasible, fraught with unpredictable consequences. This initially caused him to doubt the possibility of  the “Crimean project”. Crimea should become a demilitarized zone. Let Stalin know, that he should be ready to relocate the fleet from Sevastopol to Odessa and the Black sea coast of the Caucasus. Then we will believe that the Crimean Jewish Republic is a reality and not a propaganda myth.

J. Marshall”

Having received the message from Washington, the Secretary General [Stalin – KR] called the head of the Department “S” of MGB [Ministry of State Security] of the USSR, Lieutenant-General Pavel Sudoplatov, who participated in negotiations with Harriman, and instructed him to re-check the facts. Two weeks later he reported: the Americans are really prepared to put forward proposals for rejection of reparations; the information on Sevastopol was not confirmed…

“Ostrov Krym”, No. 5
August-September 1999

In 1943, Stalin complained to Tito, that in Tehran, Roosevelt told him (Stalin) that the US can no longer continue land-lease deliveries, because the Jewish lobby is very strong in America, and is demanding the implementation of the project for the establishment of the “Crimean California”. We (USA) are also unable to open a second front, if the decision on Crimea is not taken“, – said Mikhail Poltoranin, the Chairman of the Inter-agency Commission on the KGB Archive Research.

[Under the pressure from the Americans, On May 11, 1944, Stalin signed the order to deport Crimean Tatars to Uzbekistan. 

A month later, on June 6, 1944, the Americans opened the second front! – KR]

The pressure on Stalin, as we see, was enormous. The bonds for the Crimean land were coming due. “Crimea is almost ours. The Soviets have no money” –  was the thinking in the United States.

[The letter cited above from George Marshall was written in 1945, the year the first Bonds came due. – KR]

Apparently, then Joseph Vissarionovich [Stalin] got the idea on how to trick the Americans.

Stalin reminded the world Jewish lobby about the Congress in Basel, held in 1887, where it was decided that the homeless Jews should create their own state in Palestine. In the mid-forties of the last century it was ruled by the British. And then Stalin in 1946 gave the order to supply weapons to the Jews who fought against the Arabs and the British. To Palestine through Bulgaria went tens of thousands of assault rifles, machine guns and howitzers. Stalin’s idea was to establish Israel in Palestine, and not in Crimea,” – says Poltoranin. In the end, on May 15, 1948 Israel was created.

But, despite the fact that the Jews received Palestine, the idea of “Crimean California” did not die.

– In June 1948, Golda Meir was appointed an Israeli Ambassador to the USSR, and arrived to Moscow on September 3. In two weeks she organized in Moscow two rallies with 50 thousand people each. These were people from Leningrad, Moscow, and even from Siberia. At rallies people demanded to fulfill the promise to America and give up Crimea. Finally it was decided to deport the “fifth column” from Crimea. In the summer of 1953 about 17 ships left for the New Earth, behind the Arctic Circle. This was the beginning of the operation under the code name “Kuropatka”, – says Poltoranin.

Also Stalin was planning to deport the Jews from the major cities of the country, in particular from Moscow. Minister Furtseva already made lists. But suddenly – Stalin mysteriously dies.

In 1954, Khrushchev gifts Crimea to the Ukrainian SSR. The RSFSR, i.e. the Soviet Union, ceased to carry the legal responsibility for the bonds, signed in 1920’s by the Russian government . The Americans never saw their money. 

And after 1991 the “Joint” again actively expanded its activities in Ukraine, including Crimea.


From the Memoirs of Pavel Sudoplatov:

From the point of view of Soviet mentality the intention to create a Jewish Republic with support from abroad was seen as a blatant interference in our internal affairs. Foreign participation – was unheard of in our closed society.

When I probed the attitude of Harriman on the establishment of a Jewish Republic, I followed instructions received from Beria. I knew that such a probe often does not lead to any results, and is just a common practice of intelligence gathering. At that time I had no idea that the very fact of participation in such discussions could be subject to a death sentence.

The tragedy was in the fact that in a closed society, which was the Soviet Union, the creation of Israel in 1948 was seen as undesirable creation of a second homeland for the Jews. This was especially evident after Israel defeated the Arabs during the war for independence in 1948. The pride of Israel for the victory in the war led to a revival in our country of the national Jewish culture, which was virtually destroyed in the 20-30’s. The Jews and the Germans, who had their historical homeland abroad and, and therefore, potential support, did not receive a permission to establish their own republics in the Union. Discrimination of these ethnic groups was especially cruel.

The Stalin’s use of anti-semitism and cosmopolitanism in his political machinations, always characteristic of him, untied the hands of those leaders who harbored hatred against the Jewish population. For Stalin anti-semitism was a tool for achieving his goals, but in the hands of his subordinates, it became the principle of state human resource policy. Support of the senior leadership of anti-semitism ultimately deprived the state of capable people who participated in the revolution and worked for the creation of the Soviet state. When it fell on hard times and the USSR collapsed, a significant part of the creative and scientific intelligentsia, talented people found themselves outside Russia, emigrating to Israel and the West.

Kristina Rus:

Looks like Stalin’s attitude towards the Crimean issue had changed over the years. The situation in the early 1920’s was desperate in the USSR and investments based on the idea of Jewish resettlement to Crimea (which came from the US) were welcome. Also it was welcomed by prominent Jews and their relatives inside the Soviet establishment.

At the time there was no Israel, and the Jews were literally homeless, but very numerous in the USSR.

Attempts to establish Jewish settlements and serious financial contracts indicate serious intent. Hardly Stalin conceived to gift Crimea to Ukraine and fool the Americans from the start. But looks like his trust of the Americans evaporated over the years.

Notably the focus was first only on the Northern Crimea, and only for the Soviet Jews, starting with 1,000 families.

By 1945, it changed to “the entire Crimea for all the Jews of the world, minus the Black Sea Fleet”.

During the war the topic was revived as a bargaining chip to get more help in the war effort.

The entire possibility of the second front for the Americans depended on the “Crimean project”. 

It is quite reasonable to assume that such proposal enraged Stalin. When he was hearing the same tune from the Americans, with whom he had lost all illusions by that time, and the Soviet Jewish elites, he automatically classified the Jewish aspirations as a threat to national security, assuming the allegiance of the Soviet Jews to the World Jewish Community surpassed their allegiance to the Soviet Union. In his policies Stalin followed the interests of the state with cold pragmatism. When the Jews weren’t a threat, Stalin was ready to provide them with their own geographic homeland, and when he saw them as foreign agents – it resulted in yet another tragedy, deportations and prosecutions.

In the end, Crimea was “hidden” from the long arms of American bankers in Ukraine in 1954. Vladimir Putin, who was 2 years old at the time, will complete the Crimean affair 60 years later.

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