I came across this article whilst doing something unrelated and thought it might interest many here.
Jewish Autonomous Oblast
"In the northern southwest corner of the Khabarovski Krai on the border of China is the Jewish Autonomous Oblast, a district set up in 1928 to settle the "Jewish Question." Its history is an interesting one. In the 20's the Soviet government made several efforts to found Jewish Homelands in the Ukraine and Crimea where Jews could live and work without fear of repression. These met with such local resistance that the projects were soon abandoned. In March of 1928, the government allotted an area in the Amur River Basin for "settlement by working people of the Jewish Nationality." By creating a special area for the Jews in sparsely populated regions of the Russian Far East, the Soviet government hoped to accomplish several things. First they would create a "homeland" for working Jews in an area where there would be no local backlash. Second, by devoting resources and land to the Jews, the Soviets hoped to attract Jewish money and settlers from abroad. Third, the region bordered on China, and settling and developing the area would be a strategic step in strengthening Soviet control over the area."
"Soon after the declaration, the first migrants arrived and over the next ten years a total of 35,000 Jews came to the area, mixing with the Cossacks and the Koreans already there. Conditions were terrible; the land was swampy and the winters harsh. Although some migrants stayed and built the settlements of Waldheim, Tikhonkaya (later Birobidzhan), Amurzet and others, even the most conservative sources cite that of the arriving settlers, 20-30% returned home each year, and in some cases up to 70%. By 1934, although 22,000 Jews had come to the region, few more than 5,000 had stayed to work and live."
"In the post war years, Jews again became the subject of persecution in Russia and all Jewish Institutions were shut down. In the Jewish Autonomous Republic migration came to a halt. Thousands of Jews were imprisoned and killed. Afterwards the region became "Autonomous" and "Jewish" in name only. Economically the JAO became the light industrial area of the Russian Far East, known for its clothing factories and treaded combines."
"In the late 80's less than 5% of the population was Jewish, and there was one synagogue for the capital of Birobidzhan. However, in the last few years this figure has grown to 16% as some residents are now less afraid to announce their Jewish background, while others look to use their Jewish nationality as a way to immigrate to Israel."*
*Quoted from the Russian Far East by Erik and Allegra Harris Azulay.