Migration, Memory & Memorial





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The ice blockade of Odessa harbour has thrown out of employment upwards of 5,000 workmen and dock labourers. In addition to these the Russian Benevolent Society is providing for 10,000 wholly or partially destitute people in the city. These do not include a large number of destitute Jews who are being temporarily supported by Jewish charitable associations. To add to the misery of the situations, the ice blockade rapidly enhancing the price of coal, wood fuel, petroleum, &c.


Our Odessa correspondent telegraphs that during the past week upwards of 2,000 Jews have emigrated from Berditscheff, Odessa, and Rostoff for England and America. The exodus is continuing.



The following despatch has been received at the Foreign Office, from her Majesty’s Consul-general at Odessa:—

Odessa, June 8.

My lord, —I had the honour on the 6th inst. to receive Sir James Fergusson’s telegram of the previous day instructing me “to ascertain and report by telegram if there is any foundation for a report that arrangements have been made with a steamship company for the conveyance of large numbers of destitute Jews to London.” The telegram adds, “no opening exists in this country for the class of workpeople indicated.” I immediately instituted inquiries on this subject, and found, as I had anticipated, that there was no foundation for the report in question, and I accordingly dispatched the following telegram: “No foundation for report mentioned your telegram of yesterday.” There are two agencies here for the conveyance of emigrants — one called the Hamburg-American Company, which gives through tickets to America via Hamburg, and another, a Netherlands company, granting through tickets via Rotterdam. On inquiry at these offices I was informed that not only had they not sold any tickets for England, but though they had numerous applications from Jews desirous of emigrating to America they had done very little business indeed.

It is comparatively easy to arrive at fairly accurate knowledge of the emigration movement from Odessa because of the strictness of the passport system in Russia1. It is impossible for a traveller to leave the country unless his passport is in order, all Russian subjects passing through Austria and Germany are bound to have the Austrian and German visas on their passports. My Austrian colleague informs me that he has affixed about 150 visas to Jewish passports during the past days, this number including many family passports, while the German Consul-general has issued many less, though he remarks that emigrants often have their passports vised in Warsaw before crossing the German frontier.

There are absolutely no emigrants by sea to England.

Abraham’s diary

Written in Russian.

Abraham's Diary 1891

1st January 1891, Odessa

How quickly this year has gone! Everything is exactly the same as last year, nothing has changed. If somebody asked for help and you told him that you would help him in a year’s time or that you would do for him what he wanted next January, he would lose his temper and shout: ‘What do you mean, in 1 years’ time? I have to wait 12 months, 365 days it’s too long! God knows where I will be by then. I might be dead for 6 months by then or else I might not need your help anymore then?’ However, the year has gone so quickly, it seems to have been only an hour long. Everything is still the same as in the beginning of it. I was doing the same job then as now, and in the beginning of the year, I was sitting in this very room at this very table. The only difference is that I am a year older. And what will happen next year? Will it be as similar to now as now is to then? Will it also pass without any changes taking place? No, this is not what I’m expecting! I am expecting great changes for myself this coming year, only I hope to God they won’t be for the worse. This year I expect a change in my way of life, place of residence and occupation. God grant me only life and good health.

24th January 1891, Odessa

Everything is bad. Wherever I turn, everything is going badly. The business isn’t going well, in fact, it has never been so bad. In the morning I take 45 newspapers and stand with them until 2 o’clock and only seldom sell them. And the expenses are almost twice as high as my earnings. I must give my mother 40 kopecks for supper, 10 kopecks go on glue, 7 roubles are for rent and 4 roubles to the master joiner. This is already 26 roubles a month without any incidental expenses, whereas I don’t earn as much as 20 roubles. This makes my life an agony. Luckily, I get all the goods and foodstuffs in Grevtsov’s shop. He is a kind Russian man and if not for him, my circumstances would have been ten times worse. At least, I can take what I need without paying if I am short of money, which happens very often. Nevertheless, it is very hard for me to be indebted to him for I already owe him 23 roubles. After pleading with him for a long time and promising to pay back as soon as the business picked up, I finally got the goods and have food to sustain me. My health is not very sound either. I don’t know whether it is due to work or something else, but I feel pain and fatigue in all my bones, especially at night. No joys in the craft of joinery either. I simply can’t master the art of planing. I don’t know if it takes everybody so long to learn it or whether I suffer from a particular lack of ability. However, I think that the cause of my bad performance is not lack of ability, but lack of practice. After all I work from 4 p.m. till 8 p.m.

16th February 1891, Odessa

It is already a week since I’ve started working for the new joiner, as his apprentice for six months, on condition that I work for him for half a year and pay him 25 roubles. In return he will provide me with as much work as I am able to do. I started my apprenticeship with him on the 10th February and the term will end on the 10th August.

29th June 1891, Odessa

I’ve been to the railway station today. I was seeing off a friend of mine, B., who was leaving for America. God, the railway station does affect me so much every time I visit it! I feel deeply upset, a passionate desire to leave the country seizes me and I stand there near the train, rooted to the ground and unable to go away, the train attracting me like a magnet. What is luring me to leave? What awaits me in another country? My sister is partly to blame for she has upset me with her letter promising me a good life. My friend C. and his letters full of promises also make me want to go to London. Or I might have fallen victim to the fashionable disease called emigration which is rampant amongst the Jews. Whoever you talk to these days, all you hear is… America. Single people are leaving, married people burdened with families are leaving. And why on earth shouldn’t I go? What am I going to lose? My position? My good job? And still, when I think of leaving my heart aches. I shiver and a strange inner feeling darkens my soul. What could this mean? Cowardice? Lack of courage? Perhaps travel seems so frightening to me because I have never done it before?

1st July 1891, Odessa

Today, at ten o’clock in the morning my granny passed away. God, it is so awful to die of old age! What a painful way to go this is! She had been ill for nine months, getting thinner and thinner every day and lately she simply turned into a skeleton. She couldn’t take any food and death had marked her already. Several days before her death she beckoned me to her side and told me in a soft, faltering voice: “When you…you…you…go to London, don’t leave …your mother. And God will help you. She was exhausted and couldn’t speak anymore. I promised her (not to leave my mother). May you rest in peace, dear granny! She was a very devoted relative, loved us a lot and always helped us as best she could.

18th July 1891, Odessa

Today I have received 25 roubles from my sister for my trip to London. She has upset me enormously with her letter. I am quite at a loss what to do. I should go, but how can I go. My sister herself writes that I will need 20 roubles more to get to London whereas I haven’t got as much as 3 roubles and there is nowhere I could get this money from. I couldn’t save it from my earnings, because they’ve never been so bad. I have been selling papers for a long while and I have never had such bad times. I am afraid I might have to send this money back to my sister. If I can’t raise enough money in two weeks’ time I will have to stay here forever.

24th July 1891, Odessa

I have been really vexed today, the reason for my vexation being that the whole Gaskevich. family with whom I had lived for 6 years and from whom I moved out only a week ago, were trying to talk me out of going to London. Using facts, they have persuaded me that going to London, leaving my motherland and searching for happiness somewhere else isn’t worth it. They promised that I would be very miserable there and regret having left Odessa. All this affected me greatly and made me very upset. Really, why am I leaving? What draws me there? Am I being turned out? Are my circumstances bad? Well, how do I know I will be better off there? Simpletons are really doomed there and I know I couldn’t rely on my joiner’s craft. I know I’d have to study there and would be very badly off at first, owing as I am 25 roubles to my sister. In a word, I am well aware of the fact that I should expect no good to come to me there to start with. And yet, I feel compelled to go and no advice or persuasion will sway me from my chosen course. For once in my life, I have decided to make a rash move. I have decided to leave myself to the mercy of fate: it’s either win or lose. I want to change my way of life. Here in Odessa it would take a long time. It is possible only in a foreign country. But the trouble is I haven’t got enough money to go and I am afraid that I will have to stay here. I need 20 roubles more, while I haven’t got even the twentieth part of this sum. Only lack of money can detain me here.

13th August 1891, Odessa

My god, what a day! I am running around like a madman, unable to decide whether to go to London or not. Today is the last possible day for me to leave. If I don’t go today, God knows when I shall go. And if I don’t go? What is left for me to do here? The same old job? But this will never end! I shall only waste away my years. If the business at least was going well, but the times are bad and I shall not earn enough to cover my expenses. All in all I earn 70 kopecks a day, whereas my expenses amount to a rouble a day. And what if l go? But how can I go! I have only 30 roubles, while I need a least 45 roubles and can’t get any more money. C. is urging me to go, promising to help me during the journey. He says he will either lend me the missing sum or we shall write to my sister from somewhere on the way, asking her to send me more money. And what if she can’t? After all, she has written that she sent me her last 25 roubles and didn’t have anymore. So where can she get the money to send me if C. can’t lend me any? No, I have to stay here for the time being. Let them go alone and I shall follow them in a month later if I manage to obtain the money and if not – I shall send the 25 roubles back to my sister and remain here forever in great torment. Perhaps, it has been decreed by my destiny that I am not to be in London. I know that I will not be able to save enough money so soon.

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