When the question of creating a Jewish state came to the forefront after WWII, Stalin supported the ideology of a Jewish state, but opposed the Jews who requested to immigrate there. Stalin’s position was that antisemitism could not be prevented in capitalist countries, and therefore, one could understand the need for a Jewish state. However, since there was no room for antisemitism in a communist country—as all nations and races were deemed completely equal—there was no need for Jews in the Soviet Union to emigrate there. Contact between Jews in communist countries and Israel was deemed unacceptable.

A short time after the State of Israel was established, the first Israeli diplomatic mission arrived in Moscow, and the Jews of Russia welcomed them joyfully. The Jews, most of whom had lost many relatives to the horrors of the Holocaust, were hopeful that the State of Israel would aid in allowing for their immigration to Israel. Golda Meir, the head of the delegation, arrived at the main shul in Moscow on Archipova Street, and thousands of Jews approached her with tears of joy asking that she help them make aliya.

Golda Meir brought up the subject at a meeting with Stalin, and he requested that she give him a list of the names of people who wanted to leave. In their naivety, the delegation prepared a list and presented it to Stalin’s office. To their dismay and horror, within a short time, all of the Jews whose names appeared on the list were arrested and sent to labor camps in Siberia. Many of them disappeared and until today their places of burial are unknown.

At that time, Stalin wanted to advance the idea of an autonomous Jewish region. The autonomous region was actually initiated twenty years prior, in reaction to two threats to the Soviet Union: the Jews who were a threat to atheism, and the Zionists who were part of a nationalist movement that was a threat to the international Soviet vision. The solution, in the communists’ mind, was to establish a Jewish region in Birobidzhan in the Russian Far East, which would provide Jews with a national homeland, where the language would be Yiddish, not Hebrew.

Efforts were made to promote relocation to the “Jewish” area. Posters were plastered and forms were dropped from aircrafts over areas where Jews resided. Books were written in Yiddish about the socialist utopia. The government even produced a movie in Yiddish called “Those Who Seek Happiness” about a family that had left the United States due to the poor economy and settled in this region.

The propaganda was so effective that thousands of Jews, even those who were not native Soviets emigrated there, including hundreds who had lived in Palestine. At a certain point, the number of Jews in the region reached a peak of about one-third of the local population.

With the founding of the State of Israel, Stalin went back to pursuing his idea of an autonomous Jewish area. The government advertised that whoever moved there would receive a farm animal for free and a gift of 18,000 rubles. Lubavitchers joked and said that if they received anything it would be the best-case scenario, but in truth, those Jews would be lucky to receive a Jewish burial in that distant wilderness.