World War One was great for New Hampshire’s immigrant workforce, the mills were booming and jobs were plentiful. But as thousands of American returned home from war, there was a growing distrust of the immigrant in general and of Russians in particular.
unemployment is high In 1919, there was something like 3600 strikes in America. So we’re looking for a scapegoat.
New Hampshire Historian, Stu Wallace
The fear we had.. was when we were looking at the Bolshevik. Red Revolution in Russia, we heard the verbiage from people like Lenin talking about exporting the revolution to other countries. That this was a really an international movement, the workers of the world were going to rise up. And as result of the economic problems here we had strikes, there were anarchist bombings, who knows who was responsible for half of those. And so there’s a fear beginning to develop in the country by the middle of late 1919, that the Red Revolutions, is coming to the United States.
U.S. Attorney General, A Mitchell Palmer and his young assistant, J Edgar Hoover, had a plan to rid the country of these so called ‘subversives’. On January 2nd, 1920, Federal Agents along with local police conducted a series of raids in New Hampshire and twenty three other states. Stu Wallace picks up the story
(UNDER MUSIC AND RAID SOUNDS) they just stormed into Russian homes, Russian workplaces, Russian baths and other clubs and started rounding up Russians. They rounded them up in Berlin, they rounded them up in Claremont, in Lincoln, in Newmarket, Portsmouth, Nashua, Derry, several other towns, the would round these people up and haul them by train. And these Palmer Raids had no legal standing. They’d figure out where the Russians were living and just bust in on their homes. There’s no search warrant, no warrant for arrest, no legal action, no judges involved. And it must have been a terrifying experience because many of the Russians didn’t speak the language, had no idea what was happening to them. To many of them this looked like something that had happened back in Russia, now it was happening in America
Two hundred and sixty people were rounded up in New Hampshire that day. The city of Nashua arrested one hundred and forty people alone; the largest single haul in the country. Yet, most of these men and women weren’t dangerous or a threat to the nation. According to Stu Wallace, most weren’t anarchists, communists, some weren’t even Russian.
They rounded up just about anybody, they rounded up some Poles, they didn’t know a single letter of the Cyrillic alphabet, at one point they found something in Claremont written in Cyrillic alphabet and they decided it was the Constitution of the Communist or Bolshevik party of Claremont, but it wasn’t. There was so such thing. In some cases, people were rounded up because they read Russian newspapers, well what else could they read? They only read Russian.
The 260 taken into custody that night were first sent to Concord. They eventually joined others rounded up in other New England states. They were brought to a prison in Boston Harbor on Deer Island; the island which was ironically the first stop for many of these immigrants when they landed in America. The detainees faced deportation, but most weren’t deported. Eventually most were released. But there were long residual effects for the Russians. In 1920 New Hampshire had the 12th largest population of Russians in the country; but within a decade many had left. Plymouth State University History Professor Linda Upham Bornstein observed how it hit the city of Berlin
The palmer raids identified at least 8 local residents from this new community as communist sympathizers... out of this community of 300 Russians. Even thought it was only 8 people, everyone else looks at the remaining Russians with suspicion and distrust so there was some tension that grew out of that and many families then chose to leave. If you go to Berlin, the first thing that I notice is that beautiful Russian Orthodox church and yet, the church membership is almost non existent, if you look in the 1929 Berlin centennial book, they don’t even call it the RO church, they call it the Greek orthodox church when at that time there were no Greeks in Berlin... they don’t even want to make that connection in 1929.
(SOUND OF CHURCH UP)
Today the state’s only active Russian Orthodox church is Saints Peter and Paul’s in Manchester. I visited the church recently, no one I talked to knew about the Palmer Raids. But still, many still do have long memories of a strong Russian community that has remained present in the state
my name is Don Bolinski, The church was founded in 1915,. We have about a third of the congregation are decedents from the original migration,. About 1/3 are various ethnicities, American born converts to the orthodox faith and 1/3 of the congregation is either from Russia, white Russia or the Ukraine and they’ve come here in the last 5-6 years we’re grateful to our grandparents for in founding this church is that it gives us an anchor to our roots, our heritage, our culture and really a way of propagating it to our children as you can see, here in the parish, there’s quite a few children and they’re taught about the old culture, the old songs and the old traditions and without the church there would be really no other way to carry that on
… this is my mother, this is my father, his is Mr. Grumpcord, he was the head of the church choir, his whole family was head of the church choir
My name is Doris pierce now but was Doris Woroniak. I’ve been a member of this church since I was about 10 years old . I’m going to be 84 in June, so that’s quite a long time. My father never spoke the real Russian, he spoke more or less half polish and half Ukrainian, when we got father Alexandrov, everything went back to Russian and we sing English songs but I really don’t know how to speak Russian truly, but I read it when its written down on a piece of paper and I can sing…
my name is Angelina Androseva my father started serving here about 8 years ago. Its very nice when people stay close to their traditions because what I’ve notice that in America is very easy to dissolve in the mass culture, which is how it originated. The first thing that’s lost is the language and then after a few more generations, they lose their traditions, they loose their religion and then blend in with the rest of the crowd and just remember that their ancestors were once from another country.