A very small fraction of the total
number of Jews who once populated the many countries of
Eastern Europe before the devastation of World War II
remained in these countries after the war. Those who returned
most often did not find their loved ones there. Even after the
war, many were greeted with virulent anti-Semitism or worse.
Despite the gross maltreatment they were forced to endure, the
pogroms, and the massive waves of emigration of the late
nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, one can still find
Jews in many of these countries, though in very small
numbers. Perhaps one can even find a synagogue that wasn't
razed during the war (especially those in the bigger
towns or cities), and maybe even a Jewish cemetery in
need of some
degree of repair.
During the time that there were large numbers of Jews who lived in
such countries as Poland,
the Ukraine, Galicia, Hungary and Romania, where there thrived a rich
culture and an endearing and traditional way of life. Much of the opportunities that were afforded them
often depended on the region in which they lived and who ruled the land. In such areas as the "Pale of
Settlement" and in other regions under the control of the
Russian government, Jewish life and livelihood was often
dictated by the whim of the man who was the Tsar at the time.
Restrictions and regulations were heaped upon the Jews that
affected their way of life, such as those that had to do with land
ownership, education and occupation. There were also special regulations
that were also placed on the Jews concerning military conscription.
Perhaps such selective and pejorative treatment was placed
upon the Jew because it had always been done to them
before--a product of the old prejudices that had been passed down from one generation to the
next. Perhaps it was easy to single out Jews because
of their traditional lifestyle, appearance and way of dress,
making them easy targets. There was certainly no one reason
why all this befell the Jew. It was, however, through this same
traditional way of life, through an abiding faith and belief
family ties, that the Jewish people managed to survive and
prosper in the years following the war.
In this section of the Museum of Family History, a humble
attempt is made to paint a picture of what life was like for
the Jew during these times, when a great Jewish population
graced the many shtetls, towns and cities of Eastern Europe,
enriching the Eastern European cultures as a whole.
Hopefully such a portrayal, when combined with additional
knowledge, such as an
understanding of the lives of those who survived an arduous emigration and immigration,
along with stories that exemplify the lives of the many Jewish
immigrants who settled in such countries such as the United States, will give both young and
old alike a better and enduring sense of what Jewish life was
like during these historic