That the Hebrews as a race have survived at all is a tribute to their splendid vitality. Not least wonderful is the fact that they have developed a common language in spite of their widely scattered distribution, among half a hundred alien peoples. This language, called Yiddish, is a corrupt German, modified by the addition of Polish and Hebrew words and suffixes. By means of this language expressed in Hebrew characters, and read from right to left, the Jewish people have preserved an extensive literature, mostly historical and religious in tone.
The persecutions endured by the Hebrew in the past were exceeded in severity by the comparatively recent anti-Semitic outbreaks in Russia and Roumania, and in the consideration of the Hebrew immigrant we are chiefly concerned with Russian, Roumanian or Galician Jews. German Jews formed a part of the great German exodus of the eighties, but to-day they, as well as the Hungarian Jews, are seldom seen among the immigrants.
The Jews moved eastward from western Germany and the Rhine valley under stress of persecution of the middle ages. They were welcomed by the kings of Bohemia and Poland and grew in numbers and prosperity in those countries until Bohemia came under the dominion of the House of Hapsburg, and Poland was divided between Russia, Prussia and Austria. Since the partition of Poland, the Jews have suffered, as well as the Catholics of Lithuania and Poland, from the religious enmity of the Russians. During the reign of Czar Alexander II., the stringency of oppressive anti-Semitic measures in Russia was relaxed, and the condition of the Jews in Russia was much improved. The assassination of the good Czar Alexander II., an event entirely unconnected with the Jews, was followed by terrible anti-Semitic outbreaks in southern Russia, and by the tyrannical enactments known as the May laws of 1882. These laws provided that the Jews, who hitherto were permitted to live anywhere within the Jewish pale, which comprised a territory of over 300,000 square miles, were now forced to prove that they possessed their right of residence previous to 1882, or, in default of such proof, to move into the towns. Many Jews, owing to the relaxation of the laws under Alexander II., had established themselves without the pale, and these now were forced back to add to the confusion and misery of the inhabitants of the towns. Within eighteen months of the enactment of the 'May Laws' the population of the little town of Tchernigov increased from 5,000 to 20,000 souls, and this terrible overcrowding was as marked in nearly all other towns within the Jewish pale. The economic pressure in the towns, the consequent hopeless competition for existence produced by these edicts, can be understood, and conditions grew worse as the population increased.