Words of the Uprooted
Jewish Immigrants in Early Twentieth-Century America
American Jewish leaders, many of German extraction, created the Industrial Removal Office (IRO) in 1901 in order to disperse unemployed Jewish immigrants from New York City to smaller Jewish communities throughout the United States. The IRO was designed to help refugees from persecution in the Pale of Russia find jobs and community support and, secondarily, to reduce the Manhattan ghettoes and minimize antisemitism. In twenty-one years, the IRO distributed seventy-nine thousand East European Jews to over fifteen hundred cities and towns, including Chino, California; Des Moines, Iowa; and Pensacola, Florida. Wherever they went, these twice-displaced immigrants wrote letters to the IRO's main office.
Robert A. Rockaway has selected, and translated from Yiddish, letters that describe the immigrants' new surroundings, work conditions, and living situations, as well as letters that give voice to typical tensions between the immigrants and their benefactors. Rockaway introduces the letters with an essay on conditions in the Pale and on early American Jewish attempts to assist emigrants.