By Ruth Leiserowitz
If we investigate where the immigrants came from it turns out to our surprise to be mainly a short distance migration. A large number of Jews who were naturalised in the 19th century, i.e. one called naturalisation the process whereby one became a citizen in Prussia at that time, originated from the region directly lying on its boarders. The tangle of relationships between Jews on both sides of the boarder has been explored very little till now. There was lively contact and in all cases this was foremost due to economic reasons. Among these are the frequent markets in the region (on both sides of the boarder) and the numerous visits of Jewish businessmen to Tilsit. As well as this form of cross boarder commerce a broader formulation of the problem of the economic migration across the boarder includes-legal immigration as well as unauthorised visits –and the restrictions of the Prussian administration for them. In addition smuggling was a commonplace occurrence and should not go without being mentioned here.
One glance over the boarder into the Lithuanian Stetl at that time makes it obvious to the observer that economic depression and famine forced the inhabitants to search for other alternatives. Between 1867 and 1871 there was a significant emigration from the city and in particular to Germany but also to the United States. (Later the situation became aggravated at terrific speed because of political factors and in particular the pogroms.)
While observing the situation in the place of origin it is apparent that not only did people set their sights on these places in Prussia for the future but as well in general they decided to emigrate at the time. This demonstrates the banal claim that whoever lived on the boarder wanted to go over to the other side. The decisions were strongly influenced by the financial situation and always represented a rational step. Branches of families often went very different ways. In general the distance of migration increased. Some travelled to America, others went to Palestine and the most well-off settled in East Prussia.
Konrad Fuchs points out correctly “The total economic situation in East and West Prussia accordingly the Jewish population was occupied to a greater extent with commerce and enterprises in small cities putting aside the towns of Königsberg, Danzig and Ebling.”
(Konrad Fuchs, “Jüdisches Wirtschaftsleben in Ost-und Westpreußen in: Brocke, Heitmann, Lordick (eds.): Zur Geschichte und Kultur der Juden in Ost-und Westpreussen. Hildesheim 2000)
A statement from Meyer Liebschütz’s naturalisation papers from Neustadt in 1844 gives an apt account of the pros and cons for settlements of Jewish businessmen in the eyes of the Prussian State:
“If the commerce in the market area of Heydekrug, which should not be touched by the road, should experience a considerable upturn through the newly established tariff ….in Neustadt as well as through the construction of the road, then the mentioned needs would be completely and quickly met by the settlements of domestic Christian and Jewish businessmen in Heydekrug. For this place lies in between two not insignificant commercial towns, Tilse and Memel and there is no lack of commercial activity here. The advantages, however, which can grow somewhat with these states with a relation to p. Israel by these businessmen, is, however, to be outweighed by the thereby established disadvantages. For it is a fact that the Russian and Polish Jewish settlers tend to draw an amount of peddler and smuggler activity and recognised harmful religious relatives from the neighbouring states for this country. And these are only too glad to protect the intruders from the hostility of the appropriate police regulation.”
Jews who immigrated had to perform a complex and complicated task of adaptation due to the prevailing stereotype in order to satisfy the conditions of the second socialisation. They were under pressure to learn and use new ways of thinking about life. This included for example the acceptance of principles of authority or official social control.
The decision to migrate implied as well expectations about the new rolls which the newcomers wanted to take up in the new environment. Many of them came as young couples to Prussia and brought their parents with them. The children were born in Prussia; the grandchildren knew little about the origin of the family on the other side of the boarder.
From a western point of view the border region was attractive for the inhabitants because it promised positive prospects. The “short” solution,- that is short in the sense of the distance to be covered but also subliminally in the sense of very limited time period, appeared to be easily calculated. It was a move to Prussia i.e. the German Reich. The group of emigrants who were the focus of attention saw a positive solution, an opportunity which they could choose themselves in their crossing the boarder. The children of the migrants ( those who belonged to the second generation) became authentic German citizens. Their strong identification extending into middle age lead them to underestimate the danger of the political situation after 1933. Because of this they neglected to organise their escape at the appropriate time. Suddenly the positive boarder experience turned into a highly negative exclusion of their children(members of the third generation) who grew up in a foreign country as long as the escape was still possible. The third generation attempts to situate the explicit German cultural attitude of the parents and grandparents in their memory whereby there remains many unexplained questions.
At first glance the migration of the 19th century has the appearance of a success story. The turning point came very suddenly in 1885. Then the Prussian government began to expel Jews with Russian citizenship even if they had already lived in Russian for quite some time. Residence status could only be bought by those who were commercially successful and had influence on the place.
According to what considerations the administrators gave priority can be seen from an excerpt from Mr Rogalsky’s file for naturalisation:
“The Rogalsky family, who were Russian citizens and moved here on 17 November 1873, is safeguarded a residence permit without any restrictions in September 1886. If the members of the Rogalski family are still to be considered foreigners then they are in fact as such not any more to be treated. An expulsion can no longer be carried out and the community would have to be responsible in the case of impoverishment. The petitioner receives an income of DM 1200 and possesses wealth of DM 18 000. He owns material supply business along with a restaurant and thereby is in the position to support his mother and 5 unmarried sisters. This would end if the applicant moved from here. It remains therefore in our interest to keep him here.”
Only a few Jews could come up with this kind of capital. Most of them without citizenship were sent back over the boarder again. Some were able to emigrate to America or Africa.
What was their fate? Did they remain in Lithuania? Did they emigrate?
For my research I am seeking documents about Lithuanian Jews who were expelled from East Prussia as well as their subsequent path in life.
Translation from German by Mark Lekarew