Founded in London in 1935, the Frayland-lige far Yidisher Teritoryalistisher Kolonizatsye (Freeland League for Jewish Territorial Colonization) united the three main organizations of the territorialist movement (based in Poland, Paris, and London) and other related local groups. Its objective was to procure a sizable tract of land for agricultural and industrial colonization in an underpopulated area of the world where East European Jews could settle. The fraylandistn, as its members were known, aimed to build a secure foundation for the continuity of their socioeconomic life and culture (including the Yiddish language). For them, compact, mass colonization was the only effective means to avoid the pressures of assimilation and dispersion associated with individual immigration—regardless of its scale.
Not wanting to displace the large Arab population in Palestine and foreseeing long-term conflicts in that region, the leaders of the Frayland-lige searched for alternate locations. Differing with Zionism also on the necessity of national sovereignty, the territorialists were willing to accept a parallel and separate coexistence with citizens of a friendly nation, thus avoiding the potentially inflammatory role of competitors or usurpers. Prominent among the founders and leaders of the organization were Yitskhok Nakhmen Steinberg (or Shteynberg; 1888–1957), Ben-Adir (1878–1942), and Yoysef Tshernikhov (1882–1941).
The Frayland-lige represents the second phase of the territorialist movement, the first phase of which began in 1905 with the establishment of the Jewish Territorial Organization (ITO) in London led by Israel Zangwill (1864–1926). Together with the two parties linked to territorialism, the YS (Jewish Socialist Labor Party; SERP) and the SS (Zionist Socialist Labor Party; SSRP)—later united as the Fareynikte (United Jewish Socialist Labor Party)—the ITO promoted the procurement of an autonomous territory for those Jews who could not, or would not, remain in the lands in which they currently lived. The Balfour Declaration of 1917, along with massive emigration of individual European Jews, drained the momentum of the ITO. By 1925 it had disbanded.
Phase two of the territorialist movement had its beginnings in 1933 in Paris with, among others, former members of the YS, SS, Fareynikte, and ITO taking the lead (including Ben-Adir). Recognizing the threat of Hitler’s rise to power, they formed the Lige far Yidisher Kolonizatsye (League for Jewish Colonization). The Frayland movement soon blossomed with organizations being founded in other cities as well, including Vilna and Warsaw (the two largest branches), Łódź, Częstochowa, and Białystok in Poland, as well as London and New York.
In Poland, the Frayland-lige experienced a setback when heightened antisemitism in 1935 after Józef Piłsudski’s death—including calls on the part of Poles for wholesale Jewish emigration, if not voluntary, then forced—led the Bund, supported by the Communists, to launch a campaign to insist that Jews hold their ground and fight. Even though the Frayland-lige had refused to negotiate with any country that wanted to rid itself of Jews and would only do so with countries that welcomed them, the opponents of the antisemitic Polish campaign saw territorialism as a tacit acceptance of the terms of the oppressor.
Nonetheless, the popularity and visibility of the Frayland-lige grew when its negotiations led in 1937 to France’s minister of colonies, Marius Moutet, expressing his support for potential mass Jewish colonization in Madagascar, New Caledonia, New Hebrides, or French Guiana. The organization’s activity in Poland intensified after the German Anschluss (annexation) of Austria (March 1938) and Kristallnacht (November 1938). Few records of the Polish Frayland-lige survive, but the extant membership figures of the Vilna territorialist youth group, Shparber, numbering almost 200 in 1939 (second only to that city’s Bund youth group), illustrate to some degree the extent of involvement. That year also saw the initiation of three summer agricultural training camps to prepare young Polish Jews for settlement.
With Britain’s publication of the White Paper (May 1939) severely restricting Jewish immigration to Palestine, increasing numbers turned to territorialism as a viable option. This, however, did not reduce persistent Zionist opposition to the Frayland-lige. Later that month, Britain informed the Frayland-lige of its approval of unlimited Jewish settlement in British Guiana. In August 1939, the West Australian government endorsed a project of settling a mass colony of Jewish refugees in Kimberley. This news, announced by Steinberg, came mere hours after Hitler had attacked Poland. The activity of the territorialists in Poland came to an abrupt halt and those fraylandistn who were able to flee continued their work in Paris, London, and New York.
Steinberg, known as a politician and organizer, continued his lobbying for the Kimberley project in Australia during the early part of the war, but the Frayland Plan was eventually defeated there in 1944. After immigrating to New York in 1940, Ben-Adir, recognized as the organization’s theorist and ideologue, steered the Frayland-lige in America away from its socialist roots to embrace nonpartisan inclusivity. Steinberg, called to New York after Ben-Adir’s death, took over leadership in 1943. As more information on the plight of European Jews reached America, the Frayland-lige gained supporters.
Negotiations with Holland, Great Britain, and France for the three Guianas begun in the last year of the war accelerated in 1946. In 1947 the governments of both Holland and Suriname (Dutch Guiana) approved colonization of 30,000 Jews. This number fell far short of the greater territorialist goal of settling the full 250,000 inhabitants of displaced persons camps in Europe. Also during the postwar period, the Frayland-lige reestablished itself in Poland and developed in Romania. In Romania, for example, a petition drive in support of territorialism collected 9,966 signatures in Iaşi and Dorohoi out of a combined Jewish population of 40,000 in those two cities (Astour, 1967, p. 636). However, by 1948, under growing Soviet influence, Poland and Romania forced the Frayland-lige to cease its activity.
In the Austrian displaced person camps, thousands of working-class Jews were readying themselves for Suriname. Zionist opponents, however, did whatever they could to thwart the efforts of the fraylandistn. By the end of 1950, negotiations with Holland and Suriname for Jewish colonization had collapsed and the project was officially abandoned in 1952.
Apart from several attempts at small-scale Jewish settlements in New Jersey and Argentina in the 1950s, the Frayland-lige remained active in New York and Paris, focusing mainly on nurturing the culture, values, and language of East European Jewry. In 1979, after nearly 30 years with almost no concrete territorialist activity, the organization, under the leadership of Mordkhe Schaechter, officially changed its name to the Yidish-lige (League for Yiddish).
Frayland-lige publications include Frayland (Warsaw, 1934), Naye shtime (Warsaw, 1937–1938), Afn shvel (New York, 1941–1979; after 1979, under the auspices of the Yidish-lige), and Freeland (New York, 1944–1973). Other journals with the title Frayland appeared in Paris and Iaşi, Romania, at different times. Frayland-lige youth publications included Undzer kamf (Warsaw, 1934), Oyfshtayg (Warsaw, 1935), In oyfshtayg (Warsaw, 1936), Der pyoner (Warsaw, 1939), and Freeland Newsletter (New York, 1947). Undzer tog (Vilna, 1937–1939) unequivocally supported the fraylandist perspective.
Michael Astour (Mikhoyl Astur), Geshikhte fun der Frayland-lige un funem teritoryalistishn gedank, 2 vols. (Buenos Aires, 1967); Ben-Adir (Avrom Rozin), ed., Sotsyalistisher teritoryalizm: Zikhroynes un materyaln tsu der geshikhte fun di parteyen S.S., Y.S. un Fareynikte (Paris, 1934); Ben-Adir, Farn geshikhtlekhn yom-hadin: Dos yidishe folk tsvishn toykhekhe un geule (Paris, 1940); Eliahu Benjamini, Medinot la-yehudim: Ugandah, Birobidz’an ve-‘od 34 tokhniyot (Tel Aviv, 1990); Joseph Leftwich, What Will Happen to the Jews? (London, 1936).
RG 255, Tanhum Ber Herwald, Papers, 1893-1948; RG 264, J.A. Cherniak, Papers, 1930-1962; RG 366, Isaac Nachman Steinberg, Papers, 1910s-1950s; RG 394, Ben-Adir, Papers, ca. 1934-1942; RG 461, W.E. Podolsky, Papers, ca. 1914-1962; RG 554, Abraham Kin, Papers, 1940-1955; RG 670, Judah Zelitch, Papers, 1959-1972; RG 682, Mordkhe Schaechter, Papers, 1940s-1970s.