The Scum of Europe

Edward Pearce considers the vitriolic reception offered by some to Russian Jews seeking asylum in Britain a hundred years ago.

William Hague has made great play with the question of asylum seekers, and Home Secretary Jack Straw’s response is the establishment of what some might call prisons, to detain asylum seekers while inspectors decide if they are bogus.

It has not been an edifying tale, nor is it a new one. After the assassination of Czar Alexander II in 1881, his successor, the pious Alexander III, authorised persecution of the Jews of the Russian Pale and Poland. A people already discriminated against was now visited with Cossack billetings, beatings-up and murder. A flight of Jews followed, many to the United States, a minority to London’s urban slums of Whitechapel, Stepney, Bow, Stoke Newington, Limehouse, Wapping.

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