Wednesday, November 07, 2012

Review | Prostitution and Prejudice


In one of Singer's early novels, The Magician of Lublin, the wife of an imprisoned gang member tells Yasha the Magician that she has an offer to go to America. "You mean New York?" asks Yasha. "No" she replies, "a different America." Yasha quickly informs her that in her circumstances "another America" means Buenos Aires and the offer is a veiled attempt to get her into a brothel. SEE  RAQUEL LIBERMAN and ZWI MIGDAL.

Paradoxically, aspects of Jewish religious life actually facilitated the trade. The most graphic example, a variation on the agunah (wives unable to prove the deaths of their disappeared husbands), was the practice of stillah chuppah (literally "silent chuppah"), that is, clandestine weddings done before witnesses and sealed with a gift. The stillah chuppah refers to an arcane point of Jewish law, not unlike common law, which holds that a rabbi is not necessary at a wedding ceremony. The presence of any attending adult (male) is sufficient in Jewish law to confer married status. Often practiced in precisely those districts where families were most desperate and unlearned in the subtleties of Jewish law, such marriages resulted, in what was referred to delicately as "irregular civil status."

But transporting Jewish women from as far east as Bombay was no laughing matter. Perhaps because Jews simply did not see themselves as procurers, there was a long period of turning a blind eye to the extent and depth to which Mädchen-handlen flourished among Jews.

Lest there be any doubt that the Galicia reference meant Jewesses, Lord Kitchener himself abetted the practice of encouraging European prostitutes -- largely Jewish -- for his troops in India, while discouraging English ones, to preserve "the moral character of the governing race."

The tangled history of pimps and prostitutes faced with an outraged general and Jewish public is thoroughly explored in Edward J. Bristow's Prostitution and Prejudice. Bristow documents a ready-made Jewish underworld eager to engage in pimping. The Buenos Aires branch of alfonsins (the Polish-Jewish epithet for pimps) even formed a fraternal society (Zwi Migdal), which maintained its own synagogue and cemetery.

Although Jewish procurers dealt almost exclusively in Jewish women, they were successful enough to achieve 50 percent of the market in Hamburg, Eastern Europe, and South America, according to police records. The names alone conjure up a Jewish world: Aside from Harry the Mock, Crazy Itch, Charlie Argument, Ryfka the Cow, and an array of madams named Sadie, there is a supporting cast of alfonsins, bombiens (from Bombay), kaftismus (observant alfonsins), macks, freuenhandlers, and a host of other pejoratives.

Additional references to Jewish prostitution occur in the writings of Sholom Aleichem, and Isaac Bashevis Singer. Aleichem's, The Gentlemen From Buenos Aires, features a Jewish procurer. Someone innocently asks him what he deals in. "Not in prayer books, my friend, not in prayer books," he replies, The story is set in Buenos Aires because -- along with Constantinople, Hamburg, Warsaw, New York, Rio De Janeiro, Manila, and, unexpectedly, Butte, Montana -- Buenos Aires was a principal destination for white slave traffickers right up to the beginning of World War II.

The weave which formed this history had many threads. Chief among them was the desperate poverty of five million Eastern European Jews virtually entombed in the Pale of Settlement. An uneducated Jewish girl (few were otherwise) could escape the ghetto by registering as a prostitute. Many of the pimps were Jewish men who, as boys, had been snatched from their homes and returned after 25 years of forced service in the Czarist Army. For many Jewish tavern keepers ("between the gates of purity and defilement," in the words of Chaim Nachman Bialik), the transition from tavern keeping to brothel keeping was an easy one.

Incidentally, the word in Portuguese for pimp, is cafetão, a word derived from kaftan, the long black silk robes worn by orthodox Jews. 


Edward J. Bristow, PROSTITUTION AND PREJUDICE, The Jewish Fight Against White Slavery 1870-1939 - the book's jacket

Prostitution and Prejudice: The Jewish Role in Vice Exposed

Review by Wayne Tinsill

PROSTITUTION AND PREJUDICE does a superb job of demonstrating the extremely disproportionate Jewish involvement in the worldwide sex slave trade in the period under discussion. Jewish involvement with prostitution began in the old Pale of Settlement in Czarist Russia. Bristow ascribes this phenomenon, with partial validity, to Jewish misery and social disability. Whatever the causes there is no doubt of Jewish control over the sex slave trade in Czarist Russia and Eastern Europe generally. Thus, an internal census of the Russian Empire in 1889 showed that throughout the Pale of Settlement and European Russia Jewesses ran 203 out of 289 licensed houses. In this same year in Warsaw 16 out of 19 houses of prostitution were run by Jewesses. According to Bristow:

"By the 1860s a French visitor to Odessa wrote that Jews there were responsible for a white slavery market in Russian women to Turkey. This is feasible, especially since we know that Jewish brothel-keepers were already in place at the other end in Constantinople. The 1889 census shows that Jewish women ran 30 of 36 licensed brothels in Kherson province, where Odessa was located. In 1908 the American consul there claimed that the whole business of prostitution is almost exclusively in the hands of Jews."

Jewesses were prominent in the practice of prostitution. Thus, of 5127 licensed prostitutes in 1889, 1122 or 22 per cent were Jewish. Prostitution was particularly prevalent in the impoverished Habsburg province of Galicia. According to Rabbi Rosenak of the German Union of Rabbis in 1902:

"In fact I was assured by different doctors that there were between 30 to 50 per cent Jewish prostitutes. If this is terrible, it is even more startling if one speaks of the procurers of prostitutes. It is inconceivable how it could be that the owners of the tolerated houses are Jewish throughout."

Jewish procuring flourished throughout the Austro-Hungarian Empire. One Jewish madam was known as "Lucky Sarah" so named because she was the founder of the Hungarian export trade. Equally famous was Sarah Grossman known as "The Turk" because of her practive of dispatching girls to Constantinople. Two major centers of sex slave exporting were the industrial towns of Czernowitz and Lemberg. In 1892 a very famous mass trial of 27 procurers was held in the latter. All 27 defendants were Galician Jews.

As Bristow notes the trial received so much attention that it marked a turning point in the use of the issue by the anti-Semites. A major device of the procurers was a Jewish ceremony referred to as the stillah chuppah. This included a religious wedding ceremony which had no civil validity. Thus, the soon-to-be abducted female would be misled into believing that she was married with the rights of a wife only to discover later that her legal rights were nil. Innumerable Jewesses found themselves tossed into brothels by this device.

The Jewish sex slave trade was international in scope. When the mass exodus of Jews out of Czarist Russia began in the 1880s the Jewish pimps and procurers soon found greener pastures in South America. A vast transatlantic trade in prostitutes began along the Warsaw to Buenos Aires route.

Adolf Weissman, Sigmund Reicher, Adolf Dickenfaden, the "King of the Traffickers", Noe Traumann, the Goldenbergs, the Springfeder brothers of Warsaw, the Goldstein brothers, Jacob Zabladovitch and his three sons and many, many others, including Israel Meyrowitz plied the transatlantic trade. These Jews eventually established the Zwi Migdal Society which institutionalized the prostitution business in Argentina until its power was broken in the 1930s.

A partial list of Zwi Migdal's formal directorate of 1926 is revealing: Zacharias Zytnitski, president; Felipe Schön, vice-president, Max Salzman, secretaty; Simon Brotkevich, treasurer; Abe Marchik; Jacob Zabladovich; Sally Berman; and Marcus Posnansky.

These Polish and Hungarian Jews were known to police on two continents as they made annual trips back and forth to Eastern Europe to trick, kidnap and recruit fresh faces for their brothels.

Prostitution was not accorded the same legal protection in North America as in the South, but in New York City too the Jewish prostitution and vice business flourished. Rosie Hertz from Hungary was one of the city's earliest and most successful prostitutes. Mortke Goldberg and the Soviner brothers, Max and Louis later came to dominate the New York sex business. As in Argentina, the "New York" pimps and procurers had a self-help and self- promotion organization the "Independent Benevolent Association".

Two of its founders were Martin Engel and Max Hochstim. The Jewish sex slave trade was so infuriating to real Americans that in 1910 Congress passed the Mann Act which made it a felony to procure for prostitution across state lines. The Mann Act had been preceded in 1907 by a famous essay by G. K. Turner "Daughters of the Poor" in McClure's Magazine (No. 34, 1908). Although Bristow insists that Turner was wrong to label New York City as the center of the world wide sex slave trade many of his charges against Jews did have a basis infact.

As noted earlier in discussing Odessa, the Jewish sex slave trade flourished in Constantinople under the Ottoman Sultanate. Although Bristow does not mention it Jews were strongly entrenched in Ottoman society from the time of the expulsions from Spain in 1492. Large numbers of Jews migrated to Turkey where they replicated their positions as tax collectors and financial advisors.

This privileged position was certainly an asset to those Jews who wanted to go into the prostitution business. The Jewish pimps and procurers were further aided by general Ottoman tolerance of prostitution and servitude in general. Writes Bristow:

"Nothing was more disturbing to the Jewish opponents of white slavery than the state of affairs at Constantinople on the eve of the First World War. The existence of a thriving community of Jewish traffickers and brothel keepers was confirmed over and over again by pained observers from the B'nai B'rith, ... ICA, Hilfsverein der Deutschen Juden (Relief Organization of German Jews), Jüdischer Frauenbund (League of Jewish Women) and other interested organisations."

In 1915 the Turkish government finally decided to clean up the thriving prostitution business. Osman Bedri Bey, the prefect of police rounded up 176 suspects of whom all but a handful were Jewish. Hungarian and Rumanian Jews predominated in the Turkish sex slave trade along with the Odessan Jews. Two the most famous Hungarian Jews were Julie and Anton Hirshfeld, whom Bristow labels "probably the most prosecuted couple in the annals of white slavery". The Romanian city of Galatz on the Danube river served as one of the principal launching points for the Constantinople traffic. There was even an Argentinian link through the infamous David Felken. The road from Constantinople led further East. In Alexandria in Egypt police statistics in 1903 showed that "between 70 and 80 per cent of the prostitutes in tolerated houses there were Jewish women from Galicia, Bukovina, and Romania". A certain number of Jewish prostitutes followed the British Raj into India following the opening of the Suez Canal in 1869. The Jewish prostitutes also followed the American military into the Philippines following the Spanish-American War of 1898. According to an interesting statement of the celebrated Rabbi Stephen Wise in 1902:

"According to the statement of my informant, a large number of Jewish women in Manila are to be found in the ranks of prostitution ... at one time the number reached 200, but ... now the number is less than 100, thanks to the measures of the American Government. These women are mainly of Galician, Russian or Rumanian birth. It is almost too shaking to put to paper, but according to Mr. Rubenstein, the statement of a man that he is a Jew is followed invariably by the question 'Have you any nice women to sell ?' ..."

From London the infamous Joe Silver moved to South Africa and established a thriving prostitution business.

These facts and many others conclusively establish the existence of a thriving, international and interconnected Jewish sex slave trade. What was the Jewish response to this horrible business? PROSTITUTION AND PREJUDICE makes very clear that Jews of the day were at least as concerned about the use anti-Semites were making of the issue as they were about the sex slave trade itself. For instance, Der Israelit, the German orthodox newspaper wrote the following against the Jewish liberals who insisted on airing the problem:

"First they commit a folly ... second they commit a chillul-hashem against God. Third their communities confront them with the words, 'You've given our enemies a sword to smite us with'."

The Jewish fight against white slavery, such as it was, consisted mainly of organising societies for the protection of women and children, establishing international coordination and exchange of information, watching docks and ports for suspicious characters and holding international conferences. This activity took place mainly in England and Germany. One early such society was founded in 1896 and named the Jewish Association for the Protection of Girls and Women. (Interestingly, several members of the Jewish Board of Deputies who were later to become prominent in the fight against the Balfour Declaration, such as David Aleksander, were involved in this work.)

In Germany, relations between the Jewish and non-Jewish members of these anti-white slavery leagues were less than cordial. German Jews were taking the heat for the Ostjuden and their activities. Bertha Pappenheim, the famous German-Jewish feminist, complained about this popular attitude long and bitterly.

Edward Bristow admits that despite laudable efforts by more enlightened western Jews the sex slave problem gradually faded because of considerations extraneous to organized attempts to fight the evil. The slowing down of the great Jewish migrations out of Czarist Russia, the equalizing of sex ratios in frontier parts of the world, the growth ofupward mobility all played a far greater role in eventually reducing the sex slave trade than all official and coordinated efforts.

PROSTITUTION AND PREJUDICE: The Jewish Fight Against White Slavery 1870-1939, is a thoroughly researched and documented study of a problem of major importance. But as the very title of the volume indicates, it is written from an inherently flawed and self-serving perspective. Bristow argues that Jews were the "good guys," even as he abundantly proves that they were not. Throughout his study prevails the attitude that it was and still is illegitimate for anti-Semites to make use of the sex slavery issue. In Bristow's own words (referring to the political effect of Jewish anti-white slavery activism):

"Did the work do anything to deny the issue to the anti-Semites ? After the war the argument that trafficking in Christian women was inherent in Jewish genes was resorted to even more insistently than before. In the relatively innocent years before 1914 one can understand how Montefiore, Maretsky, Pappenheim, and the others could place hope in a reasoned response. Their 'rationalist fallacy' was a product of their times. As difficult as the situation was, they had no way of knowing what was to come."

PROSTITUTION AND PREJUDICE makes no attempt to examine possible causes for Jewish predominance in the prostitution racket beyond the misery and suffering of the Pale of Settlement. Thus, there is no Israel Shahak-style examination of the Talmudic passages which teach that all non-Jewesses are whores or that the Jew may do with the non-Jewess what he will.

Nor is there any discussion of the general Talmudic injunctions to cheat, steal from or lie to non-Jews. These principles, followed literally in the real world, may have had much more to do with why Eastern European Jews played such a large role in the worldwide sex slave trade than general social conditions.

Bristow ends his account on a sour note by noting the political capital the Nazis made of the issue. He says nothing about the massive sex slave trade in kidnapped Ukrainian girls being shipped to Israeli brothels which is flourishing right now. As he says in his concluding paragraph "defending the good name of the Jews" is a worthy endeavour, whatever the facts might be.

1 comment:

Nurit in Jerusalem said...

Perhaps the tradition of encouraging Jews to do what gentiles don't want to do has something to do with it more than the Talmud?