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Russian-American Jews under Tsars Alexander III & Nicholas II

Alexander III became Tsar of Russia on March 13, 1881, the day Alexander II was assassinated by a group of Russian terrorists.  His official coronation took place two years later. Alexander III believed an ideal Russia would consist of a single nationality, language, and religion.  He mandated that Russian be taught throughout the country, regardless of the native languages of non-Russian subjects.  At that time Russia had large populations of German, Polish and Swedish citizens.  They were descendants of families that migrated to Russian during the 18th and 19th Century and had preserved their native languages, culture and religious practices.  Alexander III wanted  them to assimilate completely and issued laws  that would accomplish that goal as speedily as possible.  He treated Jewish residents more harshly.

Catherine II, also known as Catherine the Great, established the Pale of Settlement in 1791 as a place for Russian Jews to live.  She did so when under pressure to end Jewish dominance of commerce in Moscow.   The Pale included much of present-day Poland, Latvia, Lithuania, Ukraine and Belorus, which constituted only 4% of Imperial Russia.  Over 90% of the Jews living in Russia were forced to move to the Pale, where they lived in deplorable conditions.  Thirty years later, in 1820, the Jewish population had risen to 1.6 million and by to 5.6 million in 1910.  They were harassed, double-taxed, excluded from leasing land, run taverns or receive higher education and suffered wide spread discrimination.  Restrictions eased up in the 1860s, only to be reinforced under the May Laws of 1882, which required Jews in the Pale to live only in overcrowded urban areas with limited economic opportunities.  Although Jews were targeted by pogroms and discrimination throughout their stay in Russia, the attacks on them during the first two years that Alexander III ruled the country were horrific.  Thousands of Jews lost their lives, others lost or witnessed their property damaged during riots.  After his father’s death, Tsar Nicholas II continued to issue directives that led mobs to kill an estimated 2,000 Jews and injure an untold number.  Pogroms continued throughout Jewish urban neighborhoods and rural towns through 1906.

Russian pogroms and the directives of Tsars Alexander and Nicholas led to the massive Jewish exodus of 2 million Jews between 1881 and 1907.   The majority of them came to the United States.  Lineages has documented the lives of hundreds of Russian families after they arrived in the United States and discovered where the lived in Russia and Europe.  See http://www.lineages.com/hire-a-pro/ to hire a pro!

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