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'Sad And Absurd': The U.S.S.R.'s Disastrous Effort To Create A Jewish Homeland
Russian-American journalist Masha Gessen discusses the Soviet effort, in 1929, to create an autonomous Jewish state in the country's far eastern region. Gessen is the author of Where The Jews Aren't.

“This is FRESH AIR. I’m Terry Gross. One of the worst good ideas ever is how my guest, Masha Gessen, describes one of two Jewish states created in the world. The Jewish state that you know about is Israel. The one you probably haven’t heard of, the one that Gessen writes about, is called Birobidzhan. It was created after the Bolshevik Revolution as a Jewish Autonomous Region. Jews who moved there had hoped to create a place of safety where Jewish culture and the Yiddish language could thrive. That’s not how it worked out.

The history of Birobidzhan is told in Gessen’s new book, “Where The Jews Aren’t.” She’s a journalist who’s also written books about Vladimir Putin, the Russian punk band Pussy Riot and the Tsarnaev brothers, who bombed the Boston Marathon. Gessen grew up in the Soviet Union deprived of many rights because she’s Jewish. She emigrated with her family to the U.S. in 1981, when she was 14. As a journalist, she returned to Moscow. But she had to flee a second time to avoid a law that would’ve enabled the government to take away her adopted son because she’s a lesbian.

Masha Gessen, welcome back to FRESH AIR. So just give us the basic outline of - what was Birobidzhan?”

@redmensch did you know this existed??