<< RTR Foundation Home Page                                                                             | NEXT >>

Documents on the Jewish emigration from the State Archive of
Kiev Oblast Fond F-444

by Vladimir P. Danilenko, Director

Record Group (Fond) F-444 in the State Archives of Kiev Oblast contains the documents of the Kiev Jewish Emigration Society. Declassified in early 1991 and transferred to regular storage, the society's archive had been closed to the public as classified material containing state secrets. It contains 296 items dating from the period between 1895-1917.

The migration of Jews from Russia to America began in the 1870s, but between 1861 and 1871, only 314 Jews were allowed to emigrate every year. The number increased to 4,304 during the next decade. Then, in April-May 1881, a wave of pograms swept through Southern Russian (today, Ukrainian) towns of Yelisavetgrad (today's Kirovograd), Berezovka, Ananievo, Kiev, Smela, Zhmerinka, Alexandrovka, Nezhin, Romny and a host of other small settlements, known as shtetls. The pogroms occurred again, although on a smaller scale, in 1882-1884. Before that, occasional pogroms were only registered in Odessa (1821, 1859, 1871), where they were instigated by the Greeks and were due to competition in the exports market. Panic swept the Jewish population, and it set into motion mass Jewish emigration from Russia to America. The policy of the Russian government only contributed to Jewish emigration, as Jews were the only ethnic group in the country who were confined by law to permanent residence only in a special area, which they were not allowed to leave. The area known as the "Pale" encompassed 15 provinces (in what is now the territories of Ukraine, Belarus, Lithuania and Moldova [formerly Bessarabia]), including the Kiev province (with the exception of the City of Kiev) and the Polish Kingdom.

Pale of Jewish Settlement
click here to view/download enlarged pdf version)

Even life in the Pale involved many restrictions for Jews. Thus the Provisional Rules of 1882 forbade them to take residences outside towns and settlements, or to purchase or lease real estate there. Rural communities were allowed to evict Jews who had taken up residence there prior to the passing of the law, to start criminal proceedings against children of Jews residing in rural areas on charges of illegal residence, and to evict them from the villages when they came of age.

Restrictions were also enforced against the Jews who sought to enter educational institutions (only fixed percentages of Jews could be accepted in gymnasium secondary schools and universities). Jews were totally banned from such institutions as the Institute of Communications Engineering, the Electrotechnical Institute, the Military Medical Academy, the Galagan Collegium in Kiev, the teacher-training seminaries, the theatrical schools in the capital, etc. Jews were also prohibited from studying law as a profession.

Jews were not permitted to participate in the work of local government including Zemstvo elective district councils (1890) and municipal councils (1892) despite the fact that at the time Jews made up more than half of the urban population in the North-Western provinces (today's Belarus and Lithuania), and more than one-third of the population of the South-Western provinces (modern Ukraine). According to the All-Russian Census of 1897, the number of Jews in the country was 5,189,401, or 4.13% of the total population. However, only about 6% of them had permission to reside outside the Pale, the rest were confined to stay within these boundaries. In the Kiev Province, Jews made up 88% of the population in Berdichev, 67%; in Skvira, 40%; in Vasilkov; 34% in Tarasche, and 8% in Kiev, where at one time they had been prohibited to reside.

Special steps were undertaken in order to drive back into the Pale those inhabitants who had somehow managed to escape. Thus, regular nighttime searches of Jewish apartments were held in Kiev, with the police looking for Jews who might stay there without the proper papers. Agents of the criminal investigation department of the police were assigned to spy on Jewish craftsmen to make sure they practiced their crafts at all times and did nothing else.

The difficult financial position of the majority of the Jewish population caused by unemployment, low wages and the unbalanced economic situation in the settlements were other factors contributing to emigration. A group sent by the Paris Council of the Jewish Colonization Society on a fact-finding mission to Russia in 1898 said in its report on the living standards of the Jewish poor, "In Kremenchug, Yelisavetgrad (now Kirovograd) and Odessa, we visited dilapidated shacks put together with rotting planks housing two families of five to six people each, staying together in one room of nine square meters without a partition. We saw pits in Gomel where some 120 shacks of this kind are set up at surface level and are open to all the winds, where up to 2,000 live together, and sometimes one and the same room is a bedroom and a kitchen and a shop. In Vilna, we saw basements that were two floors underground; 5,000 families, that is, 20,000 human beings, live in these lairs. In one of them, a room of no more than five square meters, we saw 20 people, all complete strangers—children, women clad in rags, and hungry men. Darkness filled the room, and with the scorching sun outside, we had to light a candle to take in this picture of disgust and desolation." (G. B. Sliozberg,
The Legal and Economic Position of Jews in Russia, 1907, p. 145).

Considering these factors, it is no wonder that the Jewish exodus from Russia amassed huge proportions. Between 1881 and 1908, a total of 1,545,000 Jews left the country; the 1897 census put their number at 5,189,401. Out of this million and a half people, more than 1,250,000 headed to the United States, some 150,000 to England, and only some 145,000 went to all the other countries (30,000 went to Canada and France each; 20,000 to Palestine and to Argentina; 15,000 traveled to Germany and South Africa each; and some 10,000 to Egypt, etc.)

Emigration data to the U.S.:
approximate from 1881; accurate from 1899:

Total per Period
Average per Year

These figures are interesting in particular because U.S. immigration authorities
did not register the new arrivals according to their nationality.

During the 1905-1909 period, the number of Jews who left Russia was greater than the number of the Jewish newborns in the country. From June 1, 1908 til June 1, 1913, as many as 900,000 Jews left Russia for the United States.

According to an agreement reached with the Russian government, the organization of resettlement was entrusted to the Jewish Colonization Society, which was set up in 1891 in London by Baron M. Hirsch for the benefit of those who wished to take up work in agriculture. Young men emigrating under the auspices of the Society were released from conscription under the one and only condition—that they were leaving the country for good. The Colonization Society planned for up to 3,250,000 Jews emigrating over a 25-year time period.

In 1907, the Jewish Territorial Society was founded in Warsaw, only to be closed by the authorities in 1908.

The Jewish Emigration Society was established in 1909; its board and head office were in Kiev, with numerous offices in other centers of the Russian Empire. Heading the Society were Dr. M.E. Mandelstam (1839-1912) and Dr. D.L. Johelman. According to its by-laws, the principal mission of the society was "consistent regulation of Jewish emigration by redirecting the wave of Jewish emigration from the old and overpopulated centers such as New York and Chicago, etc., to the southern and southwestern states of North America, where the able-bodied elements of the emigrating masses stand better chances of finding work. The activities of the Jewish Emigration Society consisted of assisting each individual emigrant not only during his departure from Russia and along the route, but also upon his arrival in a new country and up to the moment when the immigrant settles down in a new place and no longer needs assistance from the Society." (opis 1, item 1, page 3). The Society, which was supported by well-to-do Jews, organized emigration of Russian Jews to the United States via the wealthy port of Galveston in Texas. Although emigration virtually ceased with the beginning of hostilities of World War 1, the Society continued to operate until 1917.

Valuable documents in Fond F-444 are sources of important information. The documents are all original and authentic. Among them are the by-laws of the Jewish Territorial Society and the Jewish Emigration Society, the circular letters, lists of emigrants, reports on various activities, proceedings of general meetings of Society members, correspondence to perpetuate the memory of M.E. Mandelstam and correspondence with governors and chiefs of police on the appointment of special representatives of the Society. Of special interest to researchers may be the questionnaire that a would-be emigrant to the U.S. had to fill out. It contained 23 questions and listed the person's full name, age and marital status, occupation, place of residence, the language he spoke and read, names of family members going with him and those staying behind, and the expected time of departure. The questionnaire also inquired about the motives incuding the person to emigrate, his weekly wages, the addresses of relatives who were staying behind, the most convenient border for departure, and whether or not the emigrant visited America before (opis 2, item 8).

Click here for Detailed Inventory of this Collection (including names of towns)

Item No. 140 in Opis 1 contains a list of diseases and physical defects that would bar the would-be emigrants from entering the Untied States. One also finds here statistics on the number of refusals issued on account of medical conditions for the period 1901-1910. In 1901, for instance, 3,516 persons (or 7.2% of all would-be emigrants) were denied permission to enter the U.S.; in 1910, the number shot up to 24,270 (23.3%). Medical assistance was provided at centers that received would-be emigrants to deal with conditions that could be treated on the spot; the patients had to pay $1.25 per day per adult and $0.75 per child.

The memorandum of the Jewish Emigration Society to Russia's Minister of Interior of 1913 (opis 2, item 230) noted that 75% of the emigrants crossed the border illegally, assisted by clandestine emigration "agents." These operations resulted in tremendous financial losses to the treasury, the Russian Red Cross Society and funds for the disabled. Moreover, clandestine agents often deceived the emigrants, depriving them of their foreign passports and livelihood.

Among other documents in the archive are letters that emigrants wrote about conditions of life and work that they encountered in the U.S. Here is an excerpt from the letter of Gersh Aishevich, 20 years old, a fitter, from Party 81:

"My trip to Galveston was very good. In Galveston emigrants were treated so that no one could even wish for anything better. The committee sent each to a job that was waiting for him and even gave money for the passage and for food. I have been in America for six weeks now and already I am making $14 per week. An acquaintance of mine who has been in America for three years now earns $25 a week. I hope that when I am here six months I will be making as much."

An emigrant from Party 83, Nohum Nepomniashchiy, 19 years old, a sales clerk, originally from Krolevets in Chernigov Province, writes the following:

"I settled down in Portland, Oregon and make $10 a week. I hope that with God's help I'll be making more soon. In Galveston, people cared for me and other emigrants as a father would care for his children."

In 1912, Dr. Johelman visited America at the invitation of Mr. Isher, a representative of the New York Committee. He described his impressions in a report on the state of affairs (opis 1, item 88):

"Most of our emigrants stayed where they had initially settled, and many of those who, due to temporary bad luck, migrated to other American cities, subsequently also came back and ultimately settled down quite successfully. All settled emigrants are pleased with their material position, they all earn good money and some of them have actually become quite rich already. Many of the emigrants who left families behind in Russia, had already brought them over, while others are trying to figure how to do so in the immediate future. After living for some time in the country, every immigrant develops a sense of belonging to his new home country and gradually begins to take in elements of local cultural and social life; in some locations, former immigrants set up new organizations of self-assistance and self-education, etc. The children of our emigrants go to schools and quickly pick up the language of the new country; and in many places special Jewish schools were set up to study Jewish subjects and Hebrew, etc."

The earliest document of the fond is the 1895 report by V.L. Berman on his trip abroad (November, 1893-February, 1894) to collect materials on Jewish emigration from Russia (opis 3, item 118). This handwritten report (207 pages) contains unique information on the first Jewish emigration wave. During his trip, the report's author visited Germany, Holland, Belgium, France, and England. This report provides an enormous amount of factual information on Jewish emigration from Europe to North America. Much of this information has not yet been studied.

On the whole, documents of this fond may be characterized as a valuable source to research Jewish emigration from Russia to the U.S., and other countries from the end of the 19th century to the beginning of the 20th century. The destinies of a large number of Jews who left Eastern Europe and chose the New World as their new homeland may be researched.

The documents are in the Russian, Hebrew, English, and German languages.

See “The Other Ellis Island”newspaper article about the immigration experience into Galveston, Texas. (pdf)

See List of 84 Names of Jewish Emigrants arriving into Galveston in July 1910. (pdf)

See Sample Index card for Hirsch Zukerman, from the files of the Galveston Jewish Immigrants Information Bureau. (pdf)

See Sample Questionnaire at a meeting of the Board of Special Inquiry wherein each new arriving immigrant was subjected to a lengthy interrogation about his intentions in this country and his family in the “old country.”

For more information about the Galveston Movement, see:
Marinbach, Bernard. Galveston: Ellis Island of the West, Albany, NY, 1983.

Documents about Jewish emigration
from the State Archive of Kiev Oblast
Fond 444

Author's Bio »


Documents on the Jewish emigration from the State Archive of
Kiev Oblast Fond F-444

by Vladimir P. Danilenko, Director

<< RTR Foundation Home Page                                                                                | NEXT >>