Shtetl is defined by Yohanan Petrovsky-Shtern as "an East European market town in private possession of a Polish magnate, inhabited mostly but not exclusively by Jews" and from the 1790s onward and until 1915 the Shtetl was also "subject to Russian bureaucracy" (because the Russian Empire had annexed, and was administering, the area of Jewish settlement). The concept of shtetl culture describes the traditional way of life of Eastern European Jews. Shtetls are portrayed as pious communities following Orthodox Judaism, socially stable and unchanging despite outside influence or attacks.
The decline of the shtetl started from about the 1840s. Contributing factors included poverty as a result of changes in economic climate (including industrialisation which hurt the traditional Jewish artisan and the movement of trade to the larger towns), repeated fires that destroyed wooden homes, and overpopulation. Also the anti-Semitism of the Russian Imperial administrators and the Polish landlords, and later, from the 1880s Russian pogroms made life difficult for Jews in the shtetl. From the 1880s until 1915 up to 2 million Jews left Eastern Europe. At the time about three quarters of its Jewish population lived in a shtetl. The Holocaust resulted in the total extermination of shtetls. It was not uncommon for the entire Jewish population of a shtetl to be rounded up and murdered in a nearby forest or taken to the various concentration camps. Some shtetl inhabitants did emigrate before and after the Holocaust, mostly to Israel and the United States, where some of the traditions were carried on. But, the shtetl as a phenomenon of Ashkenazi Jews in Eastern Europe was eradicated by the Nazis.