One advantage of living in New York is the availability of films and film festivals which are probably only matched in Los Angeles. I have several tickets to the New York Jewish Film Festival, currently happening under the co-sponsorship of the Jewish Museum and the Film Society of Lincoln Center.
The other day, I caught a double-feature of documentaries, “Red Zion” and “Buenos Aires Pogrom,” featuring discussions with the filmmakers after. The Argentinean film depicts filmmaker Herman Szwarcbart’s investigation of this forgotten incident in 1919 when approximately 179 Jews in the Once neighborhood of Buenos Aires were murdered on the streets and in police stations by mobs organized and led by police authorities and powerful anti-Semitic and right-wing elements in society.
Szwarcbart uncovers the story from Yiddish sources (mostly dusty old books) written by victims of police arrests, beatings and tortures who survived to tell the tale. But next to nothing, if anything, was written in Spanish, accessible to a wide audience. Even the Jewish community soon forgot or buried this episode.
The pogrom was triggered by a bitter industrial labor strike. The immigrant Jewish community from Eastern Europe was heavily left-wing in its sympathies; the anti-Semitic authorities and the ruling elites at the time totally equated Jewishness with “Bolshevism.” The newspapers engaged in a coverup.
The film itself is a little hard to follow for non-Spanish speakers, and not as artful as it might be, but it’s powerful and Herman Szwarcbart deserves credit for making it.
“Red Zion,” narrated in Russian, is about the Soviet regime’s efforts to establish Jewish agricultural colonies in the Crimea in the 1920s, followed by their shift to Birobidzhan in the Far East, and their ultimate sad ending. Birobidzhan (the Jewish Autonomous Oblast) still exists in some sense, with Yiddish institutions and street signs and a tiny proportion of the local population being Jewish (about one percent), but it failed as a “Red Zion” alternative to Palestine/Israel.
The Crimea’s downfall was more dramatic and is less known. See Part 2…