The Pale of Settlement, ca. 1855. Originally formed in 1791 by Russia’s Catherine II, the Pale of Settlement was a region designated for Jews. For political, economic, and religious reasons, very few Jews were allowed to live elsewhere. The area mostly falls within today’s Poland, Russia, Ukraine, Lithuania, Belarus, and Moldova. At the end of the nineteenth century, close to 95 percent of the 5.3 million Jews in the Russian Empire lived in the Pale of Settlement. In early 1917, the Pale of Settlement was abolished, permitting Jews to live where they wished in the former Russian Empire. This region continued to be a center of Jewish communal life until World War II.
A volleyball team in Szczuczyn, Poland. In the interwar years, it was not uncommon for Jewish children to participate in school or community recreational activities with non-Jewish children. Despite the lurking danger of antisemitism, Jews often had close relationships with Christians, which led many to believe that Jewish integration was possible and might even be welcomed.
A group of Jewish children, prewar, Lublin, Poland. Between the two world wars, Jews constituted Poland’s second-largest minority group. While many Polish Jews still lived a traditional life in rural towns, many moved to cities, where many quickly acculturated to modern life.
A Jewish family walking down a street in Kalisz, Poland on May 16, 1935. During the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, as more and more countries lifted age-old restrictions on Jews, many modern Jewish families lived urban lifestyles that were in stark contrast to life in a shtetl.