In 1928 Stalin proposed the creation of a Soviet Jewish Autonomous Zone in Birobidzhan, a remote marshy area on the Chinese border. Beginning in 1934, thousands of Soviet Jews–along with Jewish leftists from the U.S. and other countries–were drawn to the region by the promise of freedom to express their cultural identity. Life there was difficult (the family shown here stands outside an underground mud hut, known as a zemlianka), and the dream of a “Soviet Zion” came to an end with the birth of Israel in 1948 and Stalin’s continued campaign against Jewish culture and institutions. Photographs, films, and posters from the era make up “Stalin’s Forgotten Zion: Birobidzhan and the Making of a Soviet Jewish Homeland,” an exhibit at the Spertus Museum, 618 S. Michigan (312-322-1747), through the end of December. Admission is $5, $3 for children, students, and seniors. On Thursday, August 26, at 12:15 Northwestern University professor Irwin Weil will give a free lecture on Birobidzhan at the Conrad Sulzer Regional Library, 4455 N. Lincoln (312-744-7616).

Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photo/Courtesy The Historical Museum of the Jewish Autonomous Region, Birobidzhan, Russia, and the Judah L. Magnes Museum, Berkeley, California.