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Pale of Settlement
 

 Map of the Pale of Settlement (1835 - 1917)

The Pale of Settlement was created by a decree of Czar Nicholas 1 in April 1835 and with minor modifications remained Russian policy until 1917 when the Bolshevik revolution removed it from the statute books. It included present day Lithuania, Belarus, Poland, Ukraine, Moldavia, and other regions west of Russia. According to the census of 1897, there were 4,899,300 Jews lived in the Pale, forming approximately 11.6% of the total population.

When the commonwealth of Poland-Lithuania was partitioned in the late 1700s, the Russian Empire suddenly was home to almost a million Jews, speaking their own language (Yiddish), attending their own schools and observing their own religion. Prior to this time, Russia's czars had striven to keep Jews out of their country. Even Peter the Great, famous for his friendliness to foreigners, inviting them to settle in Russia in the thousands, drew the line at Jews, saying "I prefer to see in our midst nations professing Islam and paganism rather than Jews. It is my endeavor to eradicate evil, not multiply it."

As Peter's 'mission to eradicate evil' took hold in Russia, condemning Jews to a stagnate existence within the Pale of Settlement, an area delineated by the boundaries of the former Polish kingdom, the Enlightenment was sweeping the Continent, liberating the Jews of Western Europe from the bonds of the ghetto, beginning the process of assimilation. In contrast, the Jews of Russia were, as the foreign journalist, Harold Fredric, wrote near the end of the 19th century, "a people that dwells apart."

When Czar Nicholas 1 created the Pale of Settlement by decree in April 1835, he was following a long tradition of keeping the Jews away from the main cities of the Russian Empire, as well as using them as a "buffer zone" between Russia and potential enemy armies. The policies of the Russian Empire towards Jews changed with the Czar/Czarina. Sometimes they would be allowed to settle in cities and/or purchase land, other times they would be prohibited from settling in either Russia's main cities or her rural townships. To make matters worse, the government's manufactured hysteria over Jewish economic exploitation and revolutionary activity culminated in three major waves of pogroms against the Jews between 1881 and 1921.

Despite repression by the authorities, Russia's Jewish population grew to over five million by the end of the 1880s. Half of those Jews lived in towns and cities, while the rest inhabited the traditional shtetls, or small, isolated Jewish villages.

After the assassination of Czar Alexander II of Russia, Russia began to enter a period of chaos, disorder, anarchy, poverty, and violence. The Jews were given the blame for much of the latter, despite the fact that they were just as poor as their Russian countrymen. A series of pogroms was visited upon the Jews particularly in the southern Russia/Ukraine portion of the Pale. Cossacks, groups of Czar loyalists, often attacked the shtetls and massacred Jewish communities. The Russian government under Czar Alexander III, and Czar Nicholas II, did nothing to stop these progroms, and often sponsored them.

"The number of these attacks is estimated to have been approximately 200 in one year with some forty Jews killed, many times that number wounded and hundreds of women raped. Thousands of Jews were rendered homeless and penniless. The local authorities were particularly slow to intervene and those brought before the courts generally received very light sentences. To add to their sense of despair, the new Czar, Alexander III passed The May Laws ('Temporary Edicts,') which returned the Jews to the Pale. The consequent deterioration of their economic situation led many Jews to leave Russia. By 1914, over two and one half million Jews had left the Pale, the vast majority for the United States although a small minority made their way to Eretz-Israel."  (Jewish Chronicle (London) describing pogroms in Russia, May 1881)

By 1900, 40% of Russian Jewry was dependent on international Jewish charity. Over two million Jews emigrated from the Russian Empire from 1890 to 1914, forming the first massive wave of Jewish emigration to the United States. Beginning in 1907 or 1908, Jewish organizations or clubs called landsmanschaften were formed by emigrants to raise funds and help those who stayed in the "Old Country".


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