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Dimanshtein, Semen Markovich

(1886–1938), Soviet government and Communist Party figure. Semen Dimanshtein, first known as Shimon Dimanshtein, was born into the family of a craftsman in Sebezh and studied at the Slobodka and Lubavitch yeshivas. He received two rabbinical ordinations, one of which was from the renowned rabbi Ḥayim Ozer Grodzenski. However, by 1904 Dimanshtein had joined the Russian Social Democratic Workers Party in Vilna and worked at translating the party platform into Hebrew and Yiddish. He soon joined the Bolsheviks and participated in their struggle with the Bund.

Dimanshtein participated in underground groups in Riga and Minsk and was arrested several times. In 1909 he was imprisoned at the Saratov Central Jail, where he spent four years, following which he was sent to Siberia, whence he fled abroad. Living at first in Germany, after the outbreak of World War I Dimanshtein, a Russian subject, was forced to move to France. After the February 1917 Revolution, he returned to Russia, where he was a member of the Bolshevik committee in Riga and edited the newspaper Okopnaia pravda (Trench Truth). Subsequently he was called by the Bolshevik Central Committee to Petrograd, where he joined the central committee of the Professional Union of Metalworkers.

During the first months after the October Revolution, Dimanshtein became a member of the collegium of the People’s Commissariat of Labor. In January 1918, he was appointed head of the Jewish Commissariat of the Commissariat of Nationality Affairs and, from May 1919, was a member of the collegium of the People’s Commissariat of Nationality Affairs. He edited the first Soviet Yiddish newspaper, Di varhayt (1918), and its successor, Der emes (1918–1919).

Dimanshtein also chaired the Central Bureau of the Evsektsiia between October 1918 and June 1920. During the initial years of the Evsektsiia, he maintained that it should have considerable autonomy. For example, at its first conference, in Moscow in October 1918, Dimanshtein declared that within the framework of the Russian Communist Party the Evsektsiia was not federative, but autonomous.

Dimanshtein held important posts in Soviet governmental and party bodies. In June 1920, he became people’s commissar of education and of nationality affairs in Turkestan, and from 1922 belonged to the Organizational Bureau of the Central Committee of the Communist Party of Ukraine. In 1924, he became deputy head of the Department of Propaganda and Agitation of the Central Committee Secretariat of the All-Union Communist Party and, from 1929 to 1930, headed the nationalities sector of the Central Committee. He was also director of the Institute of Nationalities of the All-Union Central Executive Committee, which operated in Moscow from 1932 to 1936.

In the Jewish sphere, in 1926 Dimanshtein became chair of the Society for the Settlement of Jewish Toilers on the Land (OZET) and editor of its Tribuna evreiskoi sovetskoi obshchestvennosti (Tribune of the Soviet Jewish Community). In the 1920s, he oversaw Jewish matters for the Central Committee and ratified important decisions of the Evsektsiia, including the expulsion of independent figures from the leadership of “public” organizations, craftsmen’s associations, OZET, and others.

Dimanshtein wrote numerous articles and books in Yiddish and Russian, such as Evreiskaia avtonomnaia oblast’: Detishche Oktiabr’skoi revoliutsii (The Jewish Autonomous Region: Child of the October Revolution; 1934), as well as prefaces to various collected works, including Revoliutsionnoe dvizhenie sredi evreev (The Revolutionary Movement among the Jews; 1930) and Lenin’s O evreiskom voprose v Rossii (On the Jewish Question in Russia; 1924). In 1935, Dimanshtein edited the collection Yidn in FSSR (Jews in the USSR). In the 1930s, he also edited the journals Novyi vostok (The New East) and Revoliutsiia i natsional’nosti (Revolution and Nationality), for which he wrote a number of articles on Jews in the USSR. In October 1936, he joined the editorial board of the Birobidzhan journal Forpost (Outpost), which was actually published in Moscow.

Throughout his career, Dimanshtein supported Stalin’s policies. Only once, in 1930, did he publicly oppose forced collectivization in Jewish national districts, and for this he received a party reprimand. However, in 1936 the correspondence of high officials included accusations that Dimanshtein had held unsanctioned negotiations with Idishe Kolonizatsye Organizatsye in Ratnfarband (Organization for Jewish Colonization in the USSR), and his status began to decline. While speaking at OZET in 1937, Dimanshtein was sharply criticized by lower-ranking party members. In November 1937, Lev Mekhlis, head of the Central Committee Press and Publication Division, accused Dimanshtein of expressing, in a lead article of Tribuna, the nationalistic view that people should elect members of their own ethnic group to the USSR Supreme Soviet. On that basis, in January 1938 the Orgburo (Organization Bureau) resolved to confiscate that issue of the journal, close the paper down, and remove Dimanshtein from his post for nationalism. He was arrested on 18 February 1938 and executed on 25 August—for belonging to a counterrevolutionary terrorist organization and for nationalism.

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).



Translated from Russian by Yisrael Cohen