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Chemeriskii, Aleksandr

(1880–1942), participant in the Russian Jewish revolutionary movement and Soviet Communist official. Born in Bar, Ukraine, Aleksandr Chemeriskii settled in Minsk in the mid-1890s and worked as a photographer. In 1898, he joined the Bund. The following year, he was arrested and sent to Moscow where Sergei Zubatov, head of the secret police, persuaded him to help found a legal Jewish workers’ party. The party would defend professional interests and seek to expand Jewish civil rights, but would not fight against the autocracy.

In 1900 Chemeriskii returned to Minsk and, in 1901, worked to establish the Evreiskaia Nezavisimaia Rabochaia Partiia (Jewish Independent Workers Party), made up primarily of former Bundists. In June 1903, however, the party disbanded, as its leaders contended that after the Kishinev pogrom (April 1903) cooperation with the authorities was impossible. In 1904, Chemeriskii rejoined the Bund and moved to Łódź, where during the revolution of 1905–1907 he belonged to that city’s Bund committee. He was arrested in 1907 and spent the next three years in exile in Siberia. After his release, he participated in Bund conferences and published articles on theoretical issues in their publications.

After the outbreak of World War I, Chemeriskii spent several months in Vienna and Geneva. He returned to Russia illegally in 1915 and was arrested because of his involvement with antiwar propaganda. When he was released from jail after the February Revolution, the Bund Central Committee sent him to Ekaterinoslav and Kiev to organize Jewish workers. Chemeriskii also wrote for the Kiev Bund newspaper Folks-tsaytung. After the Ukrainian Bund split in 1918, he joined the Kombund and, in May 1919, was elected to the pro-Bolshevik Komfarband (Communist Union) Central Committee. 

Cherminskii joined the Russian Communist Party of Bolsheviks in August 1919, and became a member of the bureau of the Evsektsiia in Ukraine. Subsequently, in early 1921 he joined the Central Bureau of the Evsektsiia in Moscow and, in May, became its secretary. He remained in this capacity until the Evsektsiia was liquidated in early 1930. 

In most cases, Chemeriskii’s views reflected the position of the Evsektsiia Central Bureau. He wrote regularly for the Yiddish press, mainly for Der emes, and also published several books: Di alfarbandishe komunistishe partey (Bolshevikes) un di yidishe masn (The All-Union Communist Party of Bolsheviks and the Jewish Masses; 1926); Tsyonistishe trayberayen (Zionist Tricks; 1926); and Af shtolts (vegn di Poaley tsyon) (With Pride [for the Po‘ale Tsiyon]; 1928). Chemeriskii constantly emphasized that building socialism in the USSR could resolve problems related to Jews’ status as an ethnic minority; he concurrently opposed “Yiddishism” (supporting Yiddish as an independent value).

At the first congress of the Society for the Settlement of Jewish Toilers on the Land (OZET), which convened in late 1926, Chemeriskii supported the establishment of a Jewish agricultural territory in Crimea, but avoided the term Jewish republic. He assumed that creating such a territory would not mean concentrating all Soviet Jews in one place. According to Chemeriskii, its establishment would simply be a component of the solution to the Jewish problem in the USSR, along with the development of Yiddish culture, the establishment of ethnically Jewish councils and courts, and other such efforts.

In 1934 Chemeriskii was expelled from the party (purportedly for his youthful cooperation with Zubatov) and was exiled to Kazakhstan. In 1939, while working as a photographer in Iaroslavl’, he requested that his case be reviewed. However, he was soon rearrested, charged with participation in an alleged Bundist underground organization, and sentenced in July 1941 to 10 years imprisonment. Chemeriskii died the following year in a prison camp.

Suggested Reading

Mordechai Altshuler, Ha-Yevsektsyah bi-Verit ha-Mo‘atsot, 1918–1930: Ben le’umiyut le-komunizm (Jerusalem, 1980); Zvi Gitelman, Jewish Nationality and Soviet Politics: The Jewish Sections of the CPSU, 1917–1930 (Princeton, 1972); Gennadii Kostyrchenko, Tainaia politika Stalina: Vlast’ i antisemitizm (Moscow, 2001).



Translated from Russian by Yisrael Cohen