Pale of Settlement

Pale of Settlement

Pale of Settlement Map. Photo from: http://www.berdichev.org/mappaleofsettlement.htm

Pale of Settlement Map. Photo from: http://www.berdichev.org/mappaleofsettlement.htm

In her decree of 1791, the Russian Empress Catherine the Great designated a region of the Imperial Russia, primarily annexed by military means, to wall in, metaphorically, and divide, physically, most of its Jewish subjects. That region was known as the Pale of Settlement. Jews were allowed to permanently reside only in the towns inside the Pale referred to as shtetls. They had the right to relocate within the Pale but all generations forever remained legal residents of the town where the decree had originally found them. Children belonged to the shtetl of their father.

The privilege to reside beyond the Pale and in major imperial cities was restricted to rich merchants, students, holders of university degrees, artisans, discharged soldiers. If the artisan failed to adhere to the craft declared in the petition for residency, his residency right was revoked, and he was expelled from the city. The decree with all its big and minute statutes was scrupulously enforced.

De jure, the institution of the Pale held until the Bolshevik Revolution of 1917 when it collapsed. De facto, this ghetto-like system began fracturing in 1915 due to the demands of WWI. Jews were evicted from the western provinces and resettled farther from the frontline where they would present less danger. And they could now live in cities, except the capitals and localities with royal palaces.

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