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Monday, 8 July, 2002, 10:46 GMT 11:46 UK
Photojournal: Birobidzhan
BBC News Online's Kate Goldberg travelled across Siberia to find out what remains of the Soviet Jewish homeland created by Joseph Stalin in 1934.

The 5,000 mile journey from Moscow to Birobidzhan takes six days on the Trans-Siberian railway. The same journey took the first Jewish settlers more than a month.

The Jewish Autonomous Region is bordered by the rivers Bira and Bidzah. The first settlers found a swampland - freezing cold in winter, and hot and rainy in summer.

Through the grime of a train window, I saw the first clue to Birobidzhan's curious history: the station sign is in both Russian and Yiddish.

At the construction museum, I met Fira Kofman, one of the oldest living residents. She came to Birobidzhan voluntarily in 1936. A devout Communist, she helped build many of the town's buildings with her own hands.

Near where I stayed, I came across this single-storey wooden building, with an electric menorah on its roof. I later found out it was the synagogue. Only recently have people started attending services openly.

But after 70 years of state atheism, religious knowledge is scant. Many people confuse elements of Christianity and Judaism, baking matzo and painting eggs for Passover.

Birobidzhan's children, however, are eager to learn about Jewish tradition. Jews and non-Jews attend this Jewish Sunday school.

The Jewish community centre runs several free canteens for Jewish pensioners. It is often the elderly who suffer most from Russia's economic turmoil.

Adela Boltyansky spent World War II in a Nazi-occupied ghetto. All her family were killed; she came to Birobidzhan alone in 1947.

People of all ages remember those who died in the Holocaust. They are also now beginning to learn about their own Jewish history.
See also:

08 Jul 02 | Europe
22 Apr 98 | ISRAEL TODAY
05 Feb 00 | From Our Own Correspondent
22 May 01 | Media reports
06 May 02 | Country profiles
Links to more Europe stories are at the foot of the page.


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