- Dear Jeff, I am a member of one of the most reputable
families in Israel. While everybody knows that 50 years ago, my granfather
was a Rabbi and a Mayor, no one knows that my other grandfather had brothels
in the Middle East and India in the 30's. This fact always puzzelled and
bothered me, it was kept a secret in the family. I could never comprehend
that my grandather who is a member of the 'chosen people' could possibly
be a pimp. Like most Jews, I did a search of my family's Jewish history
on the world famous website: http://www.jewishgen.org/.
- To my surprise I found out the my grandfather was not
unique, we Jews controlled much of the prostitution business worldwide
at the beginning of the last century. I am enclosing one particular episode
which really touched me, you may want to post it in memory of these poor
Jewish women. Please do not post my name or address.
- A FORGOTTEN EPISODE IN JEWISH HISTORY
- We now come of a very sordid period in Jewish history.
Late in the 19th and early 20th centuries, Jews controlled the trade
in white slavery, which is a polite way of saying prostitution. And they
did so worldwide. Reputable historians claim Jews ran brothels in Shanghai,
India, Turkey, Argentina, Brazil and New York City.
Women for the trade were procured in the following way: After the Eastern
European pogroms, many young Jewish women became orphans who were without
skills. As orphans they lacked dowries, which meant that arranged marriages
were out of the question for them. During those years, only men received
Yeshiva education, and if they were to marry and continue their education,
they needed a wife with a dowry.
A charming young man, with plenty of cash, would show up in an Eastern
European town and seek out a beautiful Jewish orphan. He would connect
with her through an organization and eventually offer to marry her. After
the marriage had been consummated, he would excuse himself because he had
business commitments in another city, and leave, but not before giving
his new wife a steamship ticket to Buenos Aires and promising to meet
her there. When the wife would arrive in Buenos Aires or Rio, her husband
was nowhere to be seen, but someone presenting herself as his aunt would
meet the young woman.
Typically, these young ladies, some not older than 18 years, without any
skills, with no education and without family, were told by these "aunts"
in so many words that they either become prostitutes or would starve to
death. Although many women faced with this situation committed suicide,
Because these women and their pimps were considered "impure"
by the regular Jewish community, they were ostracized. At the end of their
lives they were not allowed to be buried in the existing Jewish cemeteries.
To deal with this situation, the women and their pimps established their
own cemeteries and synagogues. Incidentally, the word in Portuguese for
pimp, is cafetão, a word derived from kaftan, the long black silk
robes worn by orthodox Jews.
In his book "Prostitution and Prejudice: the Jewish Fight against
White Slavery - 1870-1939", Edward J. Bristow quotes my father after
he had visited several cemeteries where Jewish prostitutes were buried.
My father reported that their average age was about 20 years. My father
surreptitiously copied the wording of many tombstones. According to my
dad, a typical tombstones might be inscribed in Yiddish or Portuguese:
"Ruchelle, beloved daughter of Shmuel and Hanna O, of (the name of
the village in Eastern Europe), 1900-1920".
One unfortunate result of Jewish-controlled white slavery was that anti-semites
in Europe used the information to paint all Jews as unworthy, as criminals,
and deserving of expulsion from their country. Fortunately, Jewish communities
that had been initially timid in dealing with this issue eventually rallied
and worked throughout the world to stamp out this blemish, finally succeeding.
So much so that today many Jews have not heard of this shameful episode
in Jewish history.
By 1960, the Jewish prostitutes of Latin America had all but disappeared.
Most had died, as did their associates and associations.
Recent Brazilian Jewish historians have been more charitable when writing
about these women and their plight. Brazilian historian Beatriz Kushnir
has pointed out that the women and their men, despite being ostracized
by the Jewish community, maintained their Jewish identity by creating
their own synagogues, cemeteries and even mutual help societies that duplicated
those of the regular community. According to Kushnir, they kept Jewish
holidays and some even kept the kashrut. In recent years the Jewish community
of São Paulo has allowed the reburial in its regular cemetery of
those who initially had been laid to rest in a cemetery restricted to
Jewish prostitutes. But instead of burying them with names on their tombstones,
they were given numbers.
I have just received a clipping from a Brazilian newspaper reporting that
a director is planning a film dealing with the story of a Jewish woman
immigrant from Poland who was forced into prostitution, etc. It is based
on a book by Moacyr Scliar, a Brazilian Jewish writer.
The woman in this film had been promised marriage. That didn't occur on
her arrival in Rio, and her only option for survival turned out to be prostitution.
Furthermore, in the story, the woman only speaks Yiddish. The Brazilian,
non-Jewish, soap-opera actress chosen for the part has been learning to
speak Yiddish for her part in the film.