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Avraham Yosifovich Kaufman

KAUFMAN, AVRAHAM YOSIFOVICH (1885–1971), Jewish public figure, head of Jewish communities in the Far East. He was born in Mglin, Chernigov province, into a family of Ḥasidim and, on his mother's side, he was great grandson of the founder of this movement, *Shneur Zalman of Lyady. In 1903 Kaufman graduated from high school in Perm where he became an enthusiastic Zionist. From 1904 to 1908, he studied medicine at Berne University in Switzerland where he was vice chairman of the Union of Jewish Students. In 1908 Kaufman returned to Russia where, at the initiative of Jehiel *Tschlenow, he visited the cities of the Volga and Ural regions to disseminate Zionism. He was a delegate to three Zionist Congresses.

In 1912 Kaufman moved to *Harbin in Manchuria where he became involved in communal and Zionist activity. In late 1918 he was elected vice chairman of the National Council of Jews of Siberia and the Urals (the chairman was Moshe *Novomeysky). From 1919 to 1931 and 1933 to 1945 Kaufman was chairman of the Harbin Jewish community. During that period he was representative in China of the *Jewish National Fund and *Keren Hayesod, and official representative of the *World Zionist Organization and the *Jewish Agency, chairman of the Zionist Organization of China and head of almost all the cultural and social institutions of the Jews of Harbin. From 1921 to 1943 he was editor of the Russian language weekly Yevreyskaya zhizn ("Jewish Life"). At the same time he worked as chief physician at the Jewish hospital in Harbin which he had founded. From 1937 he was chairman of the National Council of Jews of East Asia (i.e., the Far East).

Kaufman was a brilliant orator and publicist and was very knowledgeable about Judaism. He devoted considerable efforts to Jewish education. Recognized as the spiritual leader of Chinese Jewry, he staunchly opposed antisemitic tendencies among the Russian emigrés in Harbin which became particularly strong after the Japanese occupation of Manchuria in 1931. Due to his indefatigable energy and personal charm, he was able to establish direct contact with the Japanese authorities in Tokyo and succeeded in having countermanded the orders issued at Hitler's urging for concentrating the Jews of China under Japanese occupation into camps specially established for that purpose.

When the Soviet Army occupied Harbin in August 1945, Kaufman was among the many arrested and taken to the Soviet Union. He was accused of spying and Zionist activities and sentenced to 25 years' imprisonment. He spent 11 years in confinement (three years in a solitary cell in Moscow and eight years in prison camp). He was released in 1956 with his criminal record erased and sent to Karaganda in Kazakhstan. During his five-year stay there he endeavored to reach Israel and succeeded in 1961. For the rest of his life he worked as a physician in an ambulatory care clinic in Ramat Gan. He also wrote his memoirs as well as a history of the Jewish communities in the Far East. He vividly described his life in the Soviet Union in his book Lagerniy vrach ("Camp Physician," Hebrew, 1971; Russian, Tel Aviv, 1973).

[The Shorter Jewish Encyclopaedia in Russian (2nd ed.)]

Sources: Encyclopaedia Judaica. © 2007 The Gale Group. All Rights Reserved.