Twilight of a Diaspora

I traveled all across the Soviet Union from the Baltic Republics in the North to Crimea and Central Asia in the South and from the Carpathian Mountains in the West to the remote Birobidjan in the Far East. I photographed the remains of Jewish life and culture in the territory of a dying Russian Empire. Twice I traveled as a member of the Historical and Ethnographical Expedition, funded by the Jewish Cultural Association. I conducted all other trips on my own.

I was intrigued by towns where Hasidism first developed, including Medjibozh, Bratzlav, Annopol, Lubavichi and Lyady.

I searched for the remnants of Jewish life in small towns situated in the Pale of Settlement, an area specially designated for Jews to inhabit in Czarist Russia. There, I visited such places as Zhitomir, Polonnoye, Odessa. Some of these towns, such as Chernovtzy, Lvov, Galich, Brody and others belonged to Poland or Romania until 1940; there remained more traces of Jewish presence than in those towns under Communist rule since 1917.

I visited several large Karaim communities, including the cave-settlement of Chufut-Kaleh in Crimea, Galich in Ukraine, and Trakai in Lithuania.

In Central Asia, I was fascinated by the Sephardi Jews who, in dense, ghetto-like communities, retained a purer version of ancient traditions than Russia's Ashkenazi Jews.

Everywhere I traveled to small towns occupied by the Nazis during the Second World War, I found remnants of the Holocaust. Oftentimes, the population of a whole village was wiped out within a day. Only slight monuments mark the mass burial.

My last trip was to Birobidjan, where the Communists created an autonomous Jewish region with promises of safety and freedom in the remote Siberian taiga. Jews not only from the USSR but from the United States and Australia traveled in the 1930s believing the propaganda. By the early 1950s, the Russian government had planned a forced migration of all Jews to Birobidjan. The plan was halted by Stalin's death in 1953.

A great help in this project was provided by Mikhail Chlenov, Chairman of VAAD as well as the Jewish Historical Society with his advice, historical notes on the regions I explored, and help in planning my expeditions. I have fond, grateful memories of all those who accepted me, an unexpected stranger from Moscow, into their small towns with hospitality and warmth throughout my journey. Some of these people became my friends for life.