Soviet Jews had always faced discrimination to a certain degree throughout the 20th century. Even before the Soviet Union was created, there were pogroms against Jewish communities, many of them in the Pale of Settlement (Belarus, Ukraine, Lithuania and Poland). Jews from Western Europe first started mass immigration to the area in the 14th century, to escape persecutions. The Pale of Settlement itself was an antisemitic measure taken by the Russian imperial regime to make sure most of the Jews were kept in one place, where they could be controlled– in other words it was like a ghetto. If you wanted to leave the Pale of Settlement, you would have had to convert to the Russian Orthodox Church, the biggest religion in the Russian Empire.

Pogroms reached their peak between the 1880s and 1900s, when the Russian Tsar Alexander III implored his imperial police to target Jews, after they were wrongly blamed for the assassination of the previous tsar in 1881. This led to the largest ever mass emigration of Jews from the Russian Empire to Western Europe and America (around 2.5 million people). However, some of the Jews who stayed, decided to fight back against the oppressive imperial regime, and turned to socialism and communism. Jews like Leon Trotsky played a crucial part in overthrowing the Russian Empire and forming the Soviet Union. In the early years of the Soviet Union, it had seemed that things were looking up for Jews. Unfortunately this was not the case.

Credit: The Jewish Encyclopedia: Vol. 10, New York, N.Y.: Funk & Wagnalls, pp. 531, Wikimedia Commons Public Domain