The current humanitarian disaster in Iraq brought to mind one of my most poignant and interesting images – that of a group of emigrants waiting by the quayside in Liverpool. I am speculating that they are Russian or Polish Jews fleeing persecution in their homelands. (The photograph is probably late 1880s).
It is estimated that over nine million emigrants left Liverpool for the New World. Many left for economic reasons, leaving behind poverty in their European homeland to take their chances in America. Others, probably the ones in the photograph above, were fleeing for their lives. Anyone who visited the fascinating Chagall exhibition at the Tate last year will be familiar with the story of how Jews in Russia were confined to the Pale of Settlement – a geographical area covering an area that is now Lithuania, Poland and Ukraine. Frequent anti-semitic pogroms and purges left Jews in fear of their lives and more than two million Jews fled Russia between 1880 and 1920.
Sadly, I can add no more information about the photograph. There are no names – only desperate faces. The two details below give some idea of what it must be like to flee with little more than the clothes on your back.