Russia is and always was a place of great ethnic diversity. Being so large geographically, how could it not be? Not all ethnic groups were treated equally. The Jews living in Imperial Russia suffered legal discrimination and were blamed for many problems in the empire.
The photo taken here by Prokudin-Gorskii shows a group of young children learning with a Jewish teacher. All seems well in this photograph, but what this picture does not portray is the persecution that they likely suffered by living in Imperial Russia as Jews.
The Pale of Settlement was a region of czarist Russia where Jewish settlement was allowed and beyond which Jewish movement was restricted. The Pale covered the area between the Baltic and the Black Sea. This territory was acquired during the late 1700’s-early 1800’s in military conquests. Many Jews already lived in this area and were for the most part required to stay there.
First created by Catherine the Great for economic and nationalist purposes, the Pale of Settlement turned into a region closely associated with antisemitism. There were large numbers of Jews living there in shtetls, or small towns with a large Jewish population. The high concentration of people in these areas led to a poverty-stricken population. On top of that, it made it easy for antisemitic mobs to riot and terrorize those people.
Many pogroms, a violent persecution, were aimed at Jews at this time. They were not only forced to live in one place and restricted from another, but they were physically attacked by antisemitic mobs. The pogroms of 1881-1884 were very notable. The Jews were wrongly blamed for the assassination of Tsar Alexander II.
An ethnic group, the Jews, being blamed for a problem and consequently being exiled, attacked, and even killed. Sound familiar?
This type of religious and ethnic purging is characteristic of a regime beginning to shift. Things always get out of hand when a big change is about to happen, which is definitely the case here. Russia was on the verge of a major revolution and this is a tell-tale sign of that.
What do you think? What does the Pale of Settlement mean to you in regards to leading up to the Soviet Union?
Read more about this topic at these links:
Prokudin Gorskii – http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sergey_Prokudin-Gorsky
The Pale of Settlement – http://www.jewishvirtuallibrary.org/jsource/History/pale.html
Catherine the Great – http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Catherine_the_Great
The pogroms – http://grossmanproject.net/pogroms.htm
***After reading many comments, I feel that I should update this and post this link to the history of Bukharan Jews. In the 1880’s, there was a mass exodus of Jews to Samarkand, where the above picture was taken by Prokudin-Gorskii. The goal of this blog post was to shed light on the persecution of the Jews in imperial Russia, focusing on the Pale of Settlement. Just as some minorities are discriminated against in certain parts of our own country and not in others, the same concept applies to imperial Russia. There are always exceptions. This photo just led me to discover what life was like for the Jewish community in the Pale, even though the setting and the conditions of the photograph were not exactly the same. It was simply the beginning to a route that I took to learn something new about a people and and an area that I have a limited knowledge of.