Popular Science Monthly/Volume 65/September 1904/Hebrew, Magyar and Levantine Immigration

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Hebrew Immigration.

THE persecution of the Hebrew race finds no parallel in history. Other races have suffered at the hands of the conqueror, but these other persecutions are transient and intermittent compared with the persistent persecution to which the Jew has been subjected for centuries. One thousand years before Strongbow landed in Ireland, Titus destroyed Jerusalem, slaughtered thousands of its brave defenders and carried many thousands more as prisoners to fight the beasts in the arena or serve as slaves in the Roman galleys.

It may be said that persecution of this race has never since ceased. No century of the christian era passed without its record of persecution of the Jew. Adrian, Trajan and their successors kept up the work begun by Titus, and the first real respite from persecution was secured to the Jew by the conquests of that Semitic conqueror, Mahomet. But while the Jew was respected and his work in science and letters encouraged by the Saracens in Asia and Africa, he was being persecuted consistently by christians in Italy, Spain, France, Germany and England. This persecution continued throughout the period of the Crusades and down to the beginning of the nineteenth century.

Napoleon I. was one of the first sovereigns in Europe to cease discriminating against the Jew, and extend to him the rights of citizenship. Since that time other countries, notably England, have removed the ban from the Jew. In Poland the Jew was not persecuted to any extent previous to the partition of Poland, but with the beginning of Russian domination in Poland and Lithuania, one million Jews came under the iron rule of the Czar. Jews had existed in Russia from very early times, but most of the Russian Jews of to-day are descendants of the Jews who lived in Poland and Lithuania before those countries became a part of Russia. When one reads of the history of the Jewish race, with its story of persecution, cruelty and discrimination, a feeling of wonder and admiration must be felt for this remarkable people, which, in spite of almost universal oppression, exists to-day as the purest racial type in the world, and which furnishes the world with more than its share of great men in finance, art, music, science and literature.

That the Hebrews as a race have survived at all is a tribute to their splendid vitality. Not least wonderful is the fact that they have developed a common language in spite of their widely scattered distribution, among half a hundred alien peoples. This language, called Yiddish, is a corrupt German, modified by the addition of Polish and Hebrew words and suffixes. By means of this language expressed in Hebrew characters, and read from right to left, the Jewish people have preserved an extensive literature, mostly historical and religious in tone.

The persecutions endured by the Hebrew in the past were exceeded in severity by the comparatively recent anti-Semitic outbreaks in Russia and Roumania, and in the consideration of the Hebrew immigrant we are chiefly concerned with Russian, Roumanian or Galician Jews. German Jews formed a part of the great German exodus of the eighties, but to-day they, as well as the Hungarian Jews, are seldom seen among the immigrants.

The Jews moved eastward from western Germany and the Rhine valley under stress of persecution of the middle ages. They were welcomed by the kings of Bohemia and Poland and grew in numbers and prosperity in those countries until Bohemia came under the dominion of the House of Hapsburg, and Poland was divided between Russia, Prussia and Austria. Since the partition of Poland, the Jews have suffered, as well as the Catholics of Lithuania and Poland, from the religious enmity of the Russians. During the reign of Czar Alexander II., the stringency of oppressive anti-Semitic measures in Russia was relaxed, and the condition of the Jews in Russia was much improved. The assassination of the good Czar Alexander II., an event entirely unconnected with the Jews, was followed by terrible anti-Semitic outbreaks in southern Russia, and by the tyrannical enactments known as the May laws of 1882. These laws provided that the Jews, who hitherto were permitted to live anywhere within the Jewish pale, which comprised a territory of over 300,000 square miles, were now forced to prove that they possessed their right of residence previous to 1882, or, in default of such proof, to move into the towns. Many Jews, owing to the relaxation of the laws under Alexander II., had established themselves without the pale, and these now were forced back to add to the confusion and misery of the inhabitants of the towns. Within eighteen months of the enactment of the 'May Laws' the population of the little town of Tchernigov increased from 5,000 to 20,000 souls, and this terrible overcrowding was as marked in nearly all other towns within the Jewish pale. The economic pressure in the towns, the consequent hopeless competition for existence produced by these edicts, can be understood, and conditions grew worse as the population increased. The first great exodus to England and America began soon after the enactment of the May Laws, and, owing to the reign of terror existing in the towns, resembled an indiscriminate flight. After a time the traffic became organized through the activity of steamship agents, and, the economic causes still existing, the stream of emigrants has since been almost constant. In addition to the oppressive enactments, an absurd story of ritual murder has been circulated among the ignorant Slavic peasantry for the purpose of inciting anti-Semitic feeling. Michael Davitt, the Irish patriot and writer, after a recent visit to Russia, thus sums up the situation in his book 'Within the Pale':

The murderous competition for employment, the deadly rivalry for existence, the bad blood between opposing races, the poverty and social wretchedness which such a condition of things would create—apart from the operation of coercive laws—can readily be imagined by the American reader. But this is no overdrawn picture of the economic anarchy prevailing within the Russian pale of Jewish settlement.

The towns are crowded with artisans and traders, and as these are out of all proportion to the producers and consumers of an agricultural country, they necessarily become more destitute and wretched as their numbers increase. They are too poor to emigrate. They are prohibited from migrating. They can not seek work on land. They are not permitted to engage in several occupations.

Mr. Davitt asserts that the Czar can accomplish much for the Jews in his domain by destroying the legend of the blood atonement. He avers:

M. de Plehwe and the Czar can accomplish one good and blessed work, if so minded, without altering a single anti-Semitic Russian law. The Emperor can destroy in Russia the atrocious legend about the annual killing of christian children by Jews as an alleged part of the blood atonement in Hebrew paschal rites. In this humane and christian task he is entitled to the cooperation of the Emperor of Austria, the King of Roumania, and the heads of the other Balkan states, where this story of ritual murder is constantly circulated, and not infrequently as a part of political propaganda There ought to be a truly christian crusade waged against this infamous product of ancient, insensate, sectarian hate.

In Roumania the intolerant attitude of the government and a series of oppressive enactments against Jews constitute the chief cause of emigration. These measures of persecution employed in Roumania were in violation of the Berlin Treaty of 1878, which guaranteed religious liberty and equal rights to all. The Roumanian government maintains that the Jews are aliens, and to give them equal rights would mean that they would control the country in a few years.

Galicia under Austrian rule has no legislation against Jews in force, but a strong anti-Semitic sentiment exists, and no doubt this prejudice aggravates the economic problem which is the chief cause of emigration from Galicia.

Much is heard of assisted immigration, and no doubt the majority of Russian and Roumanian Jewish immigrants are assisted at some point in transit, but it can be stated definitely that Jews in America neither individually nor collectively assist or encourage immigration to this country. They have sent representative men to Europe to confer with leading Jews of London, Berlin, Frankfort, Vienna, Paris and other centers in an effort to prevent wholesale emigration and to divert the stream from the United States. On the other hand, European Jews and Jewish societies, especially in England, have assisted thousands of destitute co-religionists and passed them on to America. Baron Maurice de Hirsch, the Rothschilds and other Jewish philanthropists have assisted the Jews to found colonies in Palestine and Argentina. In spite of these attempts to divert the stream from America, the bulk of the exiled European Hebrews land eventually in America. The American Hebrews realize that the chances for individual prosperity in the Hebrew immigrants depend upon their wide distribution. The more they congregate together, the greater the tendency to chronic poverty and pauperization. The success of the German Jews and Jews of other nationalities who came here years ago was due to their wide distribution, and competition with Americans in general, rather than the competition with each other for existence which is a necessary adjunct of life in the Ghetto. For these reasons American Jews, individually and collectively, are doing everything in their power to distribute their kindred over a wider area. In their work of caring for their poor they have encountered two obstacles which can be put down as the chief causes of the poverty of the Ghetto—one is the physique of the Hebrew immigrants and the other is their occupations. In physique they rank below all other immigrants, and few seem capable of hard physical labor. They seem to have no muscular development, and are prematurely old at an age when a German or Scandinavian is still in his prime. This poor physique is due to their living in the crowded quarters of cities and towns and to the occupations in which they have been engaged. These were conditions in Europe over which they had no control, as they were not only restricted as to residence, but were prevented by law from engaging in agricultural pursuits. Yet now when they are no longer subject to restrictive laws they cling tenaciously to the life in the slums, and their sweat-shop occupations.

Their occupation here is always some light one, requiring the least possible expenditure of physical labor. They are necessarily tailors, tinners, workers in fur and leather and other light occupations. They are physically incapable of any but the lightest kind of agricultural labor and have a distaste for that, as evidenced by the almost general failure of their attempts at rural colonization. One of the few successes recorded in the history of Jewish rural colonization was only made possible by the establishment of a clothing factory, to which industry the erstwhile farmers took as naturally as a duck to water. From 65 per cent, to 70 per cent, of these immigrants of poor physique remain in New York City, to add to the congestion of the lower east side. Of the remaining 30 per cent, the majority go to Baltimore, Philadelphia, Chicago and other large cities, where they are rapidly building up Ghettos similar to that of New York.

The geographical distribution of the Hebrews landed in New York during 1903 is shown in the table given below.

State. Number of
Ratio to Total
Hebrews Landed.
New York 50,945 67 per cent.
Pennsylvania 8,206 11 "
Massachusetts 4,130 5 "
Illinois 3,170 4 "
New Jersey 2,004 3 "
Ohio 1,521 2 "
Maryland 1,074 1 .5 "
Connecticut 1,020 1 .5 "
All other states 4,133 5 "
Total 76,203 100 per cent.

Four fifths of the male adults are skilled in some light occupation, and this fact, coupled with their physical incapacity for hard labor, forces them into the sweat-shop. The addition each year of thousands of these sweat-shop workers to the lower east side of New York has produced a condition of affairs that beggars description.

Manager Frankel in 'The Twenty-seventh Annual Report of the United Hebrew Charities of New York,' October, 1901, says:

No matter how earnestly we labor to care for the Jewish poor, already in our city, our burdens are being constantly increased by the thousands who come from Europe every year and settle in our midst. It is worth noting in passing, that, comparatively speaking, few of these newly arrived immigrants come to us for assistance until after they have been in New York for a year or two. Either they have sufficient means of their own to bring them to America and to support them for a period after their arrival or they have been sent for by relatives, who are able to give them assistance for some time.

But the evil conditions of the houses and the deteriorating influences of the sweat shops of the great Ghetto soon work havoc among these people, and after an interval of two or three years they come to us in numbers for relief. . . . Furthermore, in line with our belief, that the ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure, and that as law-abiding citizens of our country, we should not run against public sentiment nor pose as violators of the law, we have come to an understanding with the London Board of Guardians whereby the unwise shipment of Jewish immigrants, who are not adapted to conditions of life in this country, will be stopped. Hitherto we have had to bear the burden which should properly have been borne by our British co-religionists. They were perfectly willing to furnish free transportation to those persons who were unable to make a living in England, but who believed if they could only reach the shores of America (which means New York to all Jewish immigrants) their troubles would be at an end. . . .

What do these figures [here omitted] mean? The answer is easily given, and is but a repetition of the statements made to you in these annual reports for the past few years. They mean, if they mean anything, that a condition of chronic poverty is developing in the Jewish community of New York that is appalling in its immensity. Forty-five per cent, of our applicants, representing between 20,000 and 25,000 human beings, have been in the United States over five years; have been given the opportunities for economic and industrial improvement which this country affords, yet notwithstanding all this, have not managed to reach a position of economic independence. Two thousand five hundred and eighty-five of the new applicants, representing seven per cent, of the Jewish immigration to the United States during the year, found it necessary to apply at the office of the United Hebrew Charities within a short time after arrival. It must be remembered, furthermore, that the United Hebrew Charities does not represent the entire Jewish poverty and dependence that exists in New York City. Frequently our relief bureau is the place to which the applicant comes only after exhausting every other possible means of procuring assistance. When the numerous small relief societies, chevras, lodges, benefit societies, synagogues, individuals and others can no longer contribute, then and then only in many cases is the cooperation of the United Hebrew Charities sought.

If, besides the 50,000 people who applied at the United Hebrew Charities, we were to include in the dependent classes all who needed service of dispensaries, hospitals, asylums and institutions of all kinds or who were assisted by charitable effort other than that given by us, the statement can safely be made, that during the year from 75,000 to 100,000 members of the New York Jewish community are unable to supply themselves with the immediate necessaries of life.

The Hebrew has succeeded in America whenever he has separated himself from the Ghetto, and once away from all its influences Americanizes much more readily than is generally supposed. Other obstacles are in the way of transferring the Jews from the Ghetto to the country. The natural desire to be with their own people—to hear their own language, to be able to observe all their religious and social customs without fear of ridicule or interference, which the Jews possess in common with other alien races—make it difficult to get them away from the Ghetto. Then, too, the remuneration from agricultural pursuits is not enticing, and the opportunities for education and advancement to be found in the cities attract the Jew as well as the thousands of our native rural population, who flock to the great cities every year.

The hope for future betterment of conditions in the Jewish quarter of New York will lie in temporarily checking the Jewish immigration to this country, and in thus giving the Hebrew charitable organizations time to adjust conditions in the congested area. At present the good work performed in one year by finding places for poor Hebrews in other parts of the country is nullified the next year by the influx of thousands of new arrivals of the same character. If the stream of Hebrew immigration could be diverted for a time, those already here with the ample assistance of their charitable co-religionists might be distributed and made independent of charity. The realization of the dream of Zionism would tend to this result. Zion would hardly attract many Jews from America, but it would receive the bulk of the Russian and Roumanian emigrants, and thus relieve the pressure here.

Two facts concerning the physique of the Hebrew race in general have been frequently noted. These are their longevity and their freedom from consumption. These facts seem rather inconsistent with the known poor physique of the Jewish immigrant. The first can be explained by their abstinence from hazardous occupations, their relative immunity from tenement house conditions, and the care which the Jews bestow on their sick. The freedom from consumption claimed for Jews in other parts of the world can not be said to obtain in New York. Consumption is very prevalent among them and is probably due to a combination of climatic influences and their manner of life in the Ghetto. Tenement house conditions alone could not explain the relative frequency of consumption, because they have been exposed to just such conditions for centuries.

The physical inferiority of the Jews is partially offset by their mental capability. Their intellects are sharpened by centuries of mental training. They possess in a remarkable degree the power of concentration of mind upon the object to be attained and a dogged pertinacity that spells victory for the student. They will deny themselves anything to obtain an education, and, when they have the opportunity, occupy a prominent place among students in every branch of study.

The Magyars.

The tiresome routine of inspection at Ellis Island produces varied effects upon immigrants, according to their temperament or race. Slavs drift through with blank faces and animal-like docility. The diminutive representatives of the Latin races appear frightened, but their faces are alert, eager, watchful. The Irishman treats the whole matter as a huge joke, and passes the inspectors with his cap on one side of his head and wearing a broad smile. The Magyar differs from all others, no halting hesitation in his gait, no evidence of terror or uncertainty, but he walks with military precision and confidence and something of a challenge in his bold defiant eyes. In short, he evidences the carriage of the trained soldier and the unconquerable spirit of a proud, warlike people.

About the close of the tenth century we find the Magyars established in what is now Hungary, under the leadership of Arpad. They undoubtedly came from east of the Carpathians at this time and came originally from the Finno Ugric cradle in western Siberia. They were probably akin to the 'Huns' who devastated Europe under Attila in the fifth century. Like the Huns they were absolute barbarians and carried war and pillage during the first century of their advent through the countries to the west and south. They were finally defeated by Otho the Great of Germany and forced to accommodate themselves to a settled, peaceful existence. They adopted Christianity and western political institutions and showed themselves as progressive in civilization as they had been skilful in war and pillage. The last of the line of Arpad, Andrew III., died childless in 1301, and the crown became elective. The first Hapsburg to be elected king of Hungary was Albert V. of Austria (1438), and the House of Hapsburg has since considered the kingdom of Hungary a part of its heritage. Owing to civil strife and rival claimants for the throne, the Turks obtained a foothold in the country about 1541, and their possessions were retained until finally driven out by Prince Eugene in 1718. The long stay of the Turks in Hungary was made possible by Magyar jealousy of the growth of Germanic influence. This feeling has never disappeared and was largely responsible for the brave defense of the young queen Maria Theresa by Magyars when her throne was threatened by Prussia, France, Bavaria and Saxony. After 1815 a great revival of national feeling was manifest among the Magyars. This movement was characterized by a demand for personal and constitutional liberty and a remarkable activity in literature. Many liberal reforms were achieved, but the suppression of the misguided revolt of 1848 set back the cause of national constitutional liberty twenty years. In 1867 the wise and good Franz Joseph saw the necessity of conciliating his Magyar subjects, accentuated by the humiliating defeat of Austria by the Prussians in 1866. The result was the dual monarchy as it exists to-day with a complete restoration of the constitutional liberties of the Magyar. Under the new order of things the Magyars have performed wonders in the establishment of commercial and industrial prosperity. Their progress in agriculture and manufactures, in railroad building and architecture, has been the marvel of Europe. And their economic progress and commercial expansion have earned for them the title of the Japanese of Europe.

From a country so prosperous and so greatly favored by nature as Hungary, we can scarcely expect to receive the best type of her subjects as immigrants. It is probable that the best type of Magyar has no inclination to leave his native land, and necessity compels but a very small number to emigrate. The Magyar immigrants are usually unskilled laborers and find employment chiefly in the mining states; 36 per cent, of their number landed being destined to Pennsylvania. Physically they are active and strong, and 90 per cent, can read and write. In fact, the Magyar seems an ideal immigrant but for one fault, his lack of permanency. Their intense national feeling and love for their native country make them, like the Englishman, slow to adopt American citizenship. They have a tendency to go back to Hungary and in flitting back and forth from Europe to America are second only to those 'prize birds of passage' the Italians. They are very industrious workers and rarely become public charges, so must be given credit for the amount of work they do, even if their permanency as citizens is open to question.

The distribution of Magyars landed in 1903 is shown by the following table:

State. Number of
Ratio to Total
Magyars Landed.
Pennsylvania 9,701 36 per cent.
New York 5,291 19 "
Ohio 4,489 17 "
New Jersey 3,661 13 "
Connecticut 983 3 .5 "
Illinois 760 3 "
Indiana 555 2 "
West Virginia 443 1 .5 "
All other states 1,241 5 "
Total 27,124 100 per cent.

Levantine Races.

From the countries bordering on the eastern end of the Mediterranean Sea we receive several thousand immigrants each year, who are so far below all others in the matter of desirability that they are in a class by themselves. This scum of the Levant includes Syrians, Armenians, Greeks and Turks.

The Greeks are the best of this rather bad lot. Some few are producers and are engaged in textile industries, many more are peddlers and push-cart men. They establish Greek quarters in large cities and are probably under the control of padroni. Often when they are examined at Ellis Island, each member of a large party of Greeks will be in possession of the same amount of American money and all tell the same story, giving evidence of having been instructed and brought out in large parties by some one who probably controls their labor here.

The Syrians and Armenians are producers to a very limited extent in silk and cotton industries. The majority of Syrians and Armenians are engaged in trade, either as small shopkeepers or itinerant peddlers.

The activity of steamship agents in southeastern Europe and the establishment of a regular oriental steamship service from Marseilles to the Piraeus, Beirut and Smyrna, have had much to do with the increase in Levantine immigration. Greek immigration particularly is stimulated by the enterprising Greek population of Marseilles, who reap handsome profit from the traffic, as all these oriental immigrants are landed at Marseilles and shipped from there overland to Havre, Rotterdam or other Atlantic ports.

The Syrians and Armenians ascribe as the cause of their expatriation the rapacity and misrule of the Sultan. Well-meaning American missionaries have done much unwittingly to turn the tide of emigration from Asiatic Turkey to the United States. Young Syrians and Armenians educated here through the kindness of missionaries have advertised America, upon their return to Asia, as the land of promise, and thus increased our arrivals from Asia Minor and Syria. The majority of Syrian immigrants are orthodox Greek catholics, and very few Mohammedan Syrians come here. The Greek catholics or Maronite catholics will promptly espouse some form of protestantism in order to get their children into an institution. They are quite as ready to renounce the Greek religion for the Roman catholic for the same reason, to be rid of the responsibility of their young children. They always associate America in their minds with missionaries and charitable institutions. These traits have given the Syrian and Armenian a reputation for mendacity and lack of principle which can scarcely be said to be undeserved. The servile fawning humility and utter absence of spirit which these Syrians and Armenians exhibit are not attractive, and are but a pretense to cover the guile of the oriental. Bright young Syrians utilize religion to secure an education, then coolly repudiate all obligation to their missionary friends and engage in trade in the United States. The Syrian is averse to work of any kind, but he will never work at hard physical labor. He sends his wife and children out to peddle from door to door the oriental rugs, silks, laces and peddling truck. From peddling it is only a step to begging, and many of these peddlers combine the two vocations. The Syrian often goes into manufacturing small articles for this trade, using lofts in the Syrian quarter as work rooms, and employing men and women of their own race. They manufacture combs, brushes, hatpins, razor-strops, aprons, garters, suspenders, tooth-picks, crucifixes and other small articles for the peddling trade. The women earn from two to three dollars per week, and men make a little more, from four to six dollars per week. The Syrian women and girls also make the lace which they sell upon their peddling trips. The Syrian men and women peddlers make long trips from their headquarters, New York, and like true parasites follow in the wake of the rich to the seaside and summer resorts in the hot months, and to Florida or other parts of the South in the winter.

The Armenian immigrants, like the Syrians, are mostly traders, but a few are cigarette makers, and a small number are employed in the silk factories. Even the small percentage of these races employed as producers in the silk mills must be classed as unnecessary and competitive.

To the Greek, Syrian and Armenian quarters in New York, newly arrived immigrants go direct; and the congestion in these tenements is steadily increasing. The conditions which exist in the tenement of the Syrian or Greek quarters must be seen to be appreciated. No words can describe adequately the overcrowding, the filth, the lack of air and sunlight, the ignorance of the common decencies of life and the miserable poverty of the tenement dwellers. The tenement headquarters of the Syrian peddler is crowded from the damp, miserable cellar to the garret with women and children, often a half dozen women, whose husbands are on the road peddling and whose children are in institutions, occupying one small room.

The physique of these races is very poor, and the percentage of loathsome or contagious diseases found among them is very high. During 1903, one Greek out of every thirty landed was sent back as likely to become a public charge. One Syrian out of every 28 was sent back for the same reason, and one Armenian out of every 58 was deemed incapable of making a living and sent back during the same period. In the matter of disease in 1903, one Syrian in every 100 and one Armenian in every 67 were sent back because of loathsome or dangerous contagious disease. One Greek in every 475 Greeks was sent back because of the same disability.

The mental processes of these people have an oriental subtlety. Centuries of subjection, where existence was only possible through intrigue, deceit and servility, have left their mark and, through force of habit, they lie most naturally and by preference, and only tell the truth when it will serve their purpose best. Their wits are sharpened by generations of commercial dealing, and their business acumen is marvelous. With all due admiration for the mental qualities and trading skill of these parasites from the near east, it can not be said that they are anything, in the vocations they follow, but detrimental and burdensome. These people, in addition, because of their miserable physique and tendency to communicable disease, are a distinct menace, in their crowded unsanitary quarters, to the health of the community. In their habits of life, their business methods and their inability to perform labor or become producers, they do not compare favorably even with the Chinese, and the most consoling feature of their coming has been that they form a comparatively small part of our total immigration.

The Greek immigration has shown the most marked increase, but Syrian immigration is also steadily growing, and without restriction, we may expect in the next few years, through the activity of the Mediterranean steamship agents, that many thousands of these human parasites will come here to reap the benefits of our civilization and increase instead of sharing our burdens.