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Pogroms And Exodus

March 2023
1min read

Alexander II, ThE Czar who liberaled Russia’s serfs in 1861, also considerably eased government, pressures against the Jews. The “better” class—highly skilled artisans, universily graduates, and wellto-do merchants—were permitted to move from the Pale to other parts of Russia; the cruelly discriminatory draft law, which took Jewish boys at the age of twelve for six years of indoctrination in Christianity before the regular twenty-five years of service in the army, was abolished. (The draft period itself was reduced to a mere six years.) The last part of Alexander’s reign, however, was increasingly reactionary; and his assassination in 1881 was followed by a widespread anti-Semitic terror wave, for it was discovered that one of the conspirators was a Jewess. The Czarist government now began a practice that in its extreme form would lead to the Nazi slaughter of millions of Jews: most of the nation’s serious ills were blamed on this one unassimilated minority. By officially promoted rumors, Jews were held to be responsible for the revolutionary movement, crop failures, economic depression, and epidemics. Vicious pogroms—maiming, killing, looting, and burning—were encouraged or blinked at by the czarist police. New laws expelled Jews from many rural areas, and whole shtetl populations were driven from their homes by enraged peasants and the dreaded Cossacks, producing anguished scenes like those shown below and at right. Only one hope seemed left for Russia’s Jews: to escape to free America and start life over again.

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