The mass migration of Jews to the United States occurred in two major time periods. The first wave was, for the most part, due to the pogroms in 1881-2, and culminated in 1892. Many left during that time to escape the massacres, pillaging and other atrocities that befell the Jews. Also, in 1887, the Czar chose to place educational restrictions on Jews and had his forces expel many Jews from their villages. The second period of migration began for various reasons. There was the Kishinoff pogrom and massacres of 1903 and 1905, the beginning of the Russo-Japanese War in 1905, and the outbreak of even more devastating pogroms in 1906, when more Jews were killed by roving bands of Cossacks. In 1906, the year that the number who emigrated had reached its apex, my grandfather Harry Ness came to the U.S.; his wife Flora Burak came a year later.
Most Jews wanted to leave Eastern Europe then to escape the many hardships that they had to face on a daily basis. Many young men and women desired to pull themselves out of poverty. Others wanted desperately to avoid the draft and conscription (remember the Russo-Japanese War) into the Russian or Polish Armies. Many wished simply to fulfill whatever dreams they had for a better life. Unfortunately, their emigration often caused a lifelong separation from their family, especially their aging parents, many of whom grew habituated to where they were living and their traditional way of life, and would not leave.
After 1888, the czarist government unofficially permitted millions of Jews to leave. However, it was very hard to them to obtain passports legally. Many regional boundaries that an emigrant would have to cross to reach port where they would need a passport had their own rules and regulations, and every official wanted to get as much money as they could. If you wanted a passport in less than three months, it could very easily cost a lot more.
THE JOURNEY ACROSS EUROPE
Emigrants most often would have to cross over German borders in order to get to one of the major ports in northern Europe. Trying to get to the port was risky business. Often border guards would have to be bribed so they would look the other way. Agents might have had to be hired to sneak the emigrant across the various borders.
Once at the port, they would have to bide their time until it was time to board their ship, most likely destined for some port in the United States. Some decided to board whatever ship they could, regardless of their preferred destination, just to be know that they were on their way to leading a new life somewhere else.
In 1913, a ticket on a steamship could be bought for thirty- four dollars. Most often the port of departure would be Hamburg or Bremen, but many also left from Rotterdam, Amsterdam or Antwerp. Before boarding the ship for the long sea voyage, they would have to pack a shoulder bag filled with food and water-- perhaps a few loaves of bread and some cheese. They could not count on being able to obtain any food during their journey.