Froy’m Krakauer, a tall gruff man with a long graying beard, is over sixty years old in 1910, and will live into his eighties. He is a religious man, earns his living as a storekeeper a few blocks from home, and is known throughout town as “Froy’m one-and-a-half” because of his great height. His business is grinding and selling grain. A few miscellaneous items such as soap and herring add to his income.
His son, Moishe Mechel Krakauer, 31, away in Warsaw on a buying trip for the family store is taken with the sophistication of that city’s secular Jews. He wants to be up-to-date too. In emulation he shaves his beard and buys modern clothes. When Moishe returns home Froy’m is horrified, curses and cuffs his son. It is a defining moment in their lives. Moments like this are repeated in countless families throughout the entire Imperial Russian Pale of Settlement.
The Pale of Settlement is a region in the western-most portion of the Russian Empire. It includes traditional Polish lands annexed by the Russians in the 18th century, and is home to millions of Jews. Russia has official policies limiting the rights of its Jews and the types of jobs they may hold. One policy confines nearly all Jews to the region; Jews may not live in Russia beyond the Pale.
The people in this area, Jew and gentile, are impoverished. But Jews are also subject to unofficial and official persecution. Many East Europeans harbor anti-Semitic views, and Russian Government policy is openly discriminatory, intended to discourage the practice of Judaism. Further, Jews are subject to terror in the form of pogroms, frequent raids by Cossacks on Jewish communities. The government turns a blind eye at these sprees of looting, raping and killing. Jewish life in the Pale is difficult and often nasty. The Pale and its discriminatory policies will exist until the Russian Revolution deposes the Tsar in 1917.
Eastern Europe is in a period of political and social ferment. The ferment is especially difficult for Jews because of the Pale’s oppression and wretched poverty, particularly for young Jewish adults who want change. Some are attracted to political movements such as Socialism and Zionism. Many just want to be less religious so they can participate in a modernizing world. Still others want to emigrate to escape. This ferment contributes to family and generational conflict, resulting in confrontations like that between Froy’m with Moishe.Photo: Froy’m One and a Half