We Americans are either descendants of immigrants or have come ourselves to North America from somewhere else.
Before 1825, fewer than 10,000 immigrants entered the United States annually. By the early twentieth century America was receiving an annual average of more than one million immigrants, two-thirds of whom cane from Eastern and Southern Europe.
The men and women who arrived in the United States in the century after 1820 brought with them discontent with their status at home and the desire to improve their conditions. Some entered under the pressure of great disasters in their native homeland. Others were moved by the force of more gradual economic and social change. America’s need for labor and the widespread belief that the United States was a land of opportunity and a refuge for the oppressed were principally responsible for America’s last great migratory wave, which began in the middle of the nineteenth century.
The newcomers often found themselves in conflict—sometimes they seemed to take jobs away from the earlier inhabitants. In the cities, they drifted into the slum areas, and seemed partially responsible for the rise in crime and taxes. They appeared frequently as clients of charitable agencies.
But the immigrants also made a decided contribution to our civilization. Their labor was an important factor in America’s economic expansion and development into a major industrial and world power. As the author of
points out, America did the immigrants no favors; they were discriminated against, and forced into menial occupations and the most miserable housing. They were exploited, hated, despised, condemned. Attempts were made to change them into “good Americans” by making them ashamed of their heritage.
Yet still they came—from Russia, Poland, Austria, Hungary, Rumania, Lithuania—came because they were persecuted both in the old country by governmental actions that made them third-class citizens and by constant threats of violence to themselves and their families.
This unit, designed to be incorporated into the Social Studies curriculum in the eighth grade or above, is an attempt to examine the reasons why one of the Eastern European groups—the Jews—came to America and how they overcame some of the problems they faced when they arrived. It is also hoped that this unit will stimulate others to develop units devoted to America’s ethnic groups. This unit may be used as part of a full marking period’s unit on the
Contribution of Immigrants and Minorities to America
or as part of a unit devoted to the treatment of Jews in Russia. No time limitations are set for this component as each educator may desire to add or delete materials suitable for the grade level of his or her class.