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Jewish settlement in the late 19th century

The late 19th century saw increasing numbers of Eastern European Jews settling in Britain, fleeing economic hardship and increasingly violent anti-semitic persecution (particularly after the assassination of the Russian Tsar Alexander II in 1881). These primary sources look at different responses to the new Jewish residents in the late 19th and early 20th century.

Click on the images to read the documents in full.

The Polish Yidel'Small clouds in the sky', 3 October 1884

'The Polish Yidel' was a moderate socialist newspaper published in London in Yiddish between 1884-1886. The editor was Morris Winchevsky, a Polish immigrant, born in Kovno in 1856. Winchevsky was shocked at the conditions in London's East End and he started the newspaper for Jewish immigrants with the intention of representing the proletarian Polish Jew in England. The leading article in vol.1, no.11 of 'The Polish Yidel' comments on everyday anti-semitism experienced by East London Jews (a typed translation of the original Yiddish is provided). A follow-up article was included in vol.1, no.12.

[From the archives of Aaron Rapoport Rollin; document reference: MSS.240/R/5/4/1]

Jewish East London'Jewish East London', 4 April 1887

This hostile article from the Conservative newspaper 'St James's Gazette' outlines the "social, economic, moral, and political questions created by the existence of a vast colony of foreign Jews in Whitechapel and Spitalfields". The anonymous author criticises the East European Jewish immigrants for their lack of integration, their alleged threat to the employment of British workmen and "moral and physical degradation", and the "political evil" of their radical politics which, the author implies, makes them a potential terrorist threat.

[From the archives of William Wess; document reference: MSS.240W/10/2/3]

Sweating song'Sweating Song', 1888

Lyrics of a song written by Tom Maguire, a poet, trade union activist and socialist, "on the occasion of the strike of Jewish tailors at Leeds". It calls for united action to defeat the "sweaters" who employ immigrant labour for low wages in "sweating dens" (these would now be called sweatshops). Maguire was born in Leeds, the son of Irish immigrants, and died of pneumonia at the young age of 29. This one penny songsheet was published in East London by the radical Yiddish language newspaper 'Workers' Friend', and includes versions of the song in both English and Yiddish.

[From the archives of William Wess; document reference: MSS.240W/4/6/11]

East London, The Jewish Community, 1889East London: 'The Jewish Community',1889

This chapter from Charles Booth's 'Labour and Life of the People', vol.1, 'East London', was written by Beatrice Potter (better known by her married name of Beatrice Webb), and attempts to provide an outline of Jewish settlement and institutions in East London for a British audience. The chapter focuses on the new Eastern European immigrants, driven westwards by anti-Jewish pograms, rather than the more established Anglo-Jewish community.

[From the archives of the the Involvement and Participation Association; document reference: MSS.310/5/7/16]

A voice from the aliensA voice from the aliens: About the Anti-Alien Resolution of the Cardiff Trade Union Congress, 1895

This pamphlet, written by Joseph Finn, was issued on behalf of eleven trade unions or trade union branches which represented Jewish workers. It provides a counter-argument to the "anti-alien" (i.e. anti-foreigner) resolution passed at the 1895 Trades Union Congress, in particular the idea that foreign immigrants were taking jobs from British workers.

[From the archives of William Wess; document reference: MSS.240W/4/2/9]

A newspaper report of an East London protest meeting against the resolution (thought to have been attended by more than 6,000 people) is also available online.

The proposed deportation and compulsion for Russian subjectsThe proposed deportation and compulsion for Russian subjects, 1916

Two years into the First World War, the British Home Secretary, Herbert Samuel, proposed legislation to give Russian refugees the limited choice of either serving in the British Army or being to deported back to Russia. This appeal on behalf of the Conference of Jewish Trade Union Committees in London outlines the persecution faced by Jews in Russia and attacks the legislation as pandering to the "unscrupulous mongers of race-hatred, these heroes of the "no Jews, no dogs" advertisements", who claim that the Jews "are "Job-snatchers" and could only be rendered harmless by being forcibly pressed into the Army". Herbert Samuel was the first practising Jew to serve as a British Cabinet Minister.

[From the archives of the Trades Union Congress; document reference: MSS.292C/11.1/1/2/16]

A more detailed pamphlet about the case - 'An appeal to public opinion: Should the Russian refugees be deported?', issued by the Committee of Delegates of the Russian Socialist Groups in London - is also available online.