When I was a kid, growing up in Michigan, there were two world powers: the United States and the USSR or the Soviet Union. In my mind, the USSR was RED for Communism and made up of Russia (where they had snow and vodka) and some other gray areas that never really took shape for me.
Map of Iron Curtain from Wikipedia
When I met my husband in high school, he said his grandparents were “Russian Jews,” and that their relatives were shut behind the Iron Curtain. He remembered his grandmother receiving letters from her relatives with more words cut out by censors than the number of words left in the letters. Today we wish those letters still existed, but at the time nobody thought to save them.
For years, we assumed that all records of these relatives were lost to time and war.
Not so, we are now discovering. And the reality of who his relatives were, where they lived, and what their lives might have been like seems to be different than our assumptions. But we are only beginning to learn about them. This blog is meant to share our findings with others who might be interested in the people of The Pale of Settlement.
Have you ever seen Fiddler on the Roof? If you’re like me, you probably assumed it took place in Russia because of the references to the Czar, the Russian soldiers, and the pogroms. The musical is based on the short stories of Sholem Aleichem who grew up in Ukraine, near Kiev. His stories are set in the area he knew best, thus Anatevka was in Ukraine! I’m not a history scholar of the area by any stretch of the imagination, so I could be wrong, but I imagine that is why the focus on the Cossack soldiers in the story. Cossacks are from eastern Europe–primarily, but not exclusively, Ukrainians. Of course, these lands were all under the Russian Empire at the time of the story.
As I explain about this blog in the About Entering the Pale page:
This blog is dedicated to researching family from a historical area of Europe known as The Pale of Settlement. This area included Belarus, Lithuania, Moldova, Ukraine, and parts of Latvia and Russia, extending from the demarcation line (known as the eastern pale) to the Russian and Prussian/Austria-Hungary border. The reason I call the blog Entering the Pale is that the Pale was an area where Jews were allowed permanent residency, as opposed to other areas of Russia. This is where the Scheshkos, Goodsteins, Pechniks, and others lived.
When I was a young history student, I was taught that the expression “beyond the pale” referred to the land east of the Pale of Settlement. Nowadays some people assert that the expression comes from an area of Ireland that was beyond the boundaries of England. In either case, the pale refers to the Latin word palus or stake. The land that is enclosed by a fence driven by stakes is a pale.