In 1888 the East End of London was a veritable melting pot of many different nationalities. It was very much the immigrant district of London, due largely to its proximity to the London Docks. Newly arrived immigrants would eave the ships that brought them in to London and then settle in the area closest to their point of disembarkation.
The press coverage of the Jack the Ripper murders highlighted this kaleidoscope of different nationalities. There were Irish immigrants who had fled their homeland in the wake of the dreadful potato famines.
There were German and Swedish immigrants. And there were those from countryside of Essex and the rest of the East of England who had been thrown out of their jobs by the developments brought about the advances of the Agricultural Revolution.
But, by far the largest community of immigrants in the East End during the Jack the Ripper crime spree of 1888 were the eastern European Jews who were fleeing the pogroms in Russia, Poland and Romania.
By 1888, it has been estimated that there were around 50,000 Jewish immigrants dwelling in the streets of Spitalfields and Whitechapel.
Their arrival in the East End of London coincided with a trade slump that saw the spectre of mass unemployment drift through the area. As a result the gentile population concluded that these newly arrived immigrants (they had been arriving in increasing numbers since 1881) were stealing English jobs and English homes.
There was also the fact that the eastern European Jews were living differently to their gentile neighbours, and a many amongst the indigenous population came to resent this fact.
How is this a lesson from history?
Well, if you were to take any right wing newspaper today and read its coverage of the spectre of unemployment that is blighting modern society, you will see almost identical arguments being propagated in their pages and, strangely enough, directed once more against the eastern European immigration of the past ten years.
The fact is that, when a society feels threatened, scapegoats will be sought and, inevitably, the outsiders will be the ones who are blamed for that society’s woes.
If history teaches us one thing, it is that society’s adapt, immigrants begin to integrate and, sooner or later, problems are solved and the next economic cycle is underway.