Η Αργεντινή Και Το Δουλεμπόριο Του Σεξ Στις Αρχές Του 20ού Αιώνα: Όλοι Οι Δρόμοι Οδηγούν Στους Εβραίους ~ Argentina And The Sex Slave Trade In The Beginning Of The XXth Century: All Roads Lead To The Jews…! (Photos)

argentina-jews

Pimps and Polacas: The Preeminence of the Proboscis in Prostitution in Buenos Aires.


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Luis Zwi Migdal, Jewish gangster and pimp

Skynet recently had occasion to note the remarkable intersection of pimping and anarchist violence among Jewish immigrants in Argentina during the early twentieth century. Buenos Aires, as Jews continued to settle in the city in growing numbers, quickly developed a reputation as an international center in the “white slave trade” – which, in the case of Argentina’s largest flesh syndicate, involved the prostitution of Jewish women from Eastern Europe. The majority of the country’s massive immigration consisted of single men and married men who had come alone, intending to send for their families later1 – and unscrupulous Jews were eager to meet the high demand for female companionship, so that by 1910 sex trafficking came to be understood as a “principally Jewish activity”2.

Leon Malach, in a 1928 article for The Canadian Jewish Chronicle, colors the background:

The first Jews to settle in the Argentine were, not to blink the facts, procurers, who came in the wake of the great European migration about fifty years ago. They enticed girls from the small towns of Eastern Europe into the Argentine and sold them into a life of vice. No wonder that the name “Buenos Aires” became a synonym for shame among the Jews of Eastern Europe or that it was a social stigma to admit to relatives in the Argentine.

These then were the Jewish pioneers of the Argentine: men who made no secret of their disgraceful trade and men who were, curiously enough, chauvinistically proud to call themselves Jews. Taking root in the new land and flourishing, they became wealthy, and with their families whom they brought from Europe established a community which took to itself all the aristocratic airs common to early settlers and first families the world over.3

Mordechai Alpersohn, a Jew who immigrated to Argentina in 1891, claimed that “near the gates of the immigration house [they] met a few dozen elegantly dressed women and fat men in top hats. Through the gates,” Alpersohn said, the pimps “were talking with [the immigrants’] wives and gave chocolate to the children.”4 The procurers bribed the police in exchange for a free hand in the city, and enjoyed wealth, power, and an ostentatiously high lifestyle. An account from the early twentieth century gives these details:

They wear enormous diamonds, they attend the theater or the opera daily. They hold their own clubs, where the “merchandise” is classified, auctioned and sold. They have their own secret code […] They feel comfortable in the Jewish neighborhood knowing that many of the tailors, shop-keepers, and jewelers depend on them as clients.5

The Zwi Migdal (“Great Force” in Hebrew) syndicate, named for its gangster founder Luis Zwi Migdal, controlled 2,000 brothels and pimped 30,000 women at the height of its commerce6. These men styled themselves “fur merchants”; they dubbed their illegal alien talent “false weights”, while the underage girls in their employ were “lightweights”7.

albert-londres

French journalist Albert Londres, who reported on the activities of the international sex syndicate, died at sea when his ship, the MS Georges Philippar, caught on fire under what some have alleged were suspicious circumstances.

French journalist Albert Londres, who visited Buenos Aires during the twenties, left this description of the pimps:

Those dark Levites, their filthy skins making the strangest effect of light and shade, their unwashed locks corkscrewing down their left cheeks, their flat round caps topping them like a saucepan lid […] I shuddered; I felt as though I had fallen into a nest in which great and mysterious dark birds were spreading their wings to bar my retreat.8

sholem-asch

Motke the Thief author Sholem Asch

Some of the girls and women are supposed to have been lured to Argentine shores by procurers posing as suitors – men who, once they had the innocent creatures in their clutches, would drop the ruse and put the women to use as captive prostitutes; but Yiddish writer Sholem Asch, in his 1916 novel Motke the Thief, does something to discount the putative coercion involved in this “white slave trade”:

The words “Buenos Aires” and the “Argentine” are for those girls [i.e., Polish Jewesses, or polacas] surrounded with the gloriole of legend. There in Buenos Aires, girls were free, made lots of money from the “blacks” [i.e., dark-skinned men], then acquired a husband and they themselves became proprietresses of establishments […] when the dealers came from Buenos Aires to replenish their stock the Old Town held a High Holiday.9

 

nora-glickman

Nora Glickman

Many of these polacas, in short, emigrated “for the express purpose of prostitution”.10Corroborating this assessment, Comisario Ernesto Pareja, in his 1937 study Aspectos Raciales de la Prostitucion, explains that the Jewish whores in Argentina exhibited “no moral qualms, and their desire to obtain money was frequently the source of their degradation.”11Londres adds that “the romance of the girl betrayed” was “an excellent story to make mothers weep; but merely a story; the girl who is unwilling knows where to apply” for rescue12. He refers either to the police or to the Ezrat Nashim, a Jewish organization devoted to discouraging the polacas’ participation in prostitution.

Nora Glickman, in her book The Jewish White Slave Trade and the Untold Story of Raquel Liberman, describes the conflict that rent the Buenos Aires Jewish community – or, rather, communities – as more conventionally behaved Jewish immigrants were appalled by the damage being done to their ethnicity’s reputation:

Although to naïve minds there was no difference between one criminal Jewish group and another, during the first three decades of the twentieth century, two groups of Jews lived side by side in Buenos Aires: The “pure” ones, and the t’meyim (Hebrew for “unclean”). The traffickers insisted on identifying themselves as Jews, and on legitimizing their religion through rites. This was a factor that disturbed the Jewish community intensely, as they feared […] xenophobic and antisemitic actions […]

The paradox consists in that at the same time as the t’meyim profess with devotion a religion of high ethical principles, they do not hesitate to practice the commerce of women.13

Argentine nationalists, Glickman writes, made use of the well-known Jewish “white slave trade” and “presented a distorted picture of the Jew based on racial prejudice and the prevailing Christian myths derived from Judas and from the Wandering Jew.”14Consequently ostracized by those Jews looking to keep up appearances, the sex traffickers developed religious institutions of their own – for instance, a synagogue and cemetery just for pimps and prostitutes – and organized themselves into what was termed the Caftan Society, “so called because their traditionally long gowns became synonymous with pimps in charge of the illegal brothels.” Another group, the Ashkenazim Society, “was composed principally by Russian and Rumanian Jews who hid their illegal activities, ostensibly as an Israelite Society of Mutual Help.”15 The Zwi Migdal originally billed itself as the Warsaw Society, another “mutual aid provider”, but was obliged to change the organization’s moniker after the outraged Polish ambassador interceded16.

Historian Donna J. Guy, in Sex and Danger in Buenos Aires, gives a sense of the embarrassment these groups caused the international Jewish community:

 

donna-guy

Donna J. Guy

In 1910 Rabbi Halphon reported to the Jewish Colonization Association in London that “people often speak ill of the [Israelites], without anyone taking the time to demonstrate their good qualities.” The situation was considered so abnormal that for potential Jewish immigrants from Europe, Argentina was stained with the image of being a “contaminated land.”

Reports of the Jewish Association for the Protection of Girls and Women reinforced the unfavorable image of Jews in Argentina. The group claimed that in 1909 more than half of the 199 licensed houses [of prostitution] were operated by Jewish madams and that half of all inmates were Jewish. […]

The astonishing proportion of women identified as Jewish in Buenos Aires brothels was a tremendous embarrassment to Jewish communities in Europe as well as in Argentina. But fears of anti-Semitism, rather than overt acts, helped fan the flames of the white slavery controversy.17

The city’s international infamy even found itself immortalized by literary figures, as Amy Kaminsky explains:

Shalom Aleichem

Sholem Aleichem, author of “The Man from Buenos Aires”

Although Argentine Jews were reluctant to advertise Jewish participation in Buenos Aires organized crime, by 1909 Jews in Europe were already familiar with the outlaw Jews of Buenos Aires. People knew enough about the operations of the Zvi Migdal so that Sholem Aleichem, writing in Yiddish, could rely on their notoriety in “The Man from Buenos Aires” […]. In this short story, two Jewish men share a train compartment in Eastern Europe, and in the intimacy and anonymity of travel the title character tells about his rise from poverty as a supplier of a highly profitable, though never named, commodity. Although the man from Buenos Aires never says quite what his valuable merchandise is, the name of the city in the story’s title is a sign of the traffic in women. The man’s comments about bribing the police, blackmailing his boss, and his rough and tumble upbringing supply more clues, but the city itself signifies Jewish trade in women’s bodies.18

Glickman recounts how the propriety-minded Jews attempted to marginalize thet’meyim by advocating boycotts, pressuring various venues to bar entry to pimps, and engaging in acts of public shaming. A Jewish organization called Yugnt (i.e., “Youth”) “had issued an order not to rent places to the traffickers, and […] there were situations in which right in the middle of a theatrical performance the audience would expel the unwanted elements, shouting ‘Out with the pimps!’” “Nevertheless,” Glickman continues, “during the nineteen twenties, the place where white slave traders became most visible, and where they found a lax atmosphere which was congenial to their operations was the Yiddish theater, ‘where hundreds of prostitutes patrolled the balconies nightly, in search of customers’ […]”19

As Malach relates, the two opposed camps of Buenos Aires Jews eventually came to blows:

Perhaps the bitterest of the conflicts was that for the control of Jewish life between the new emigration [i.e., immigration] and the established […] Jewish settlers, whose fortunes were founded on white slavery, who were more numerous, wealthy, and wielded considerable social and political influence. The new emigrants [i.e., immigrants] saw with horror the identification of the Jewish name in the Argentine with open commercial vice, and from the beginning felt that this must not be tolerated.

The time soon came when war was literally waged. Blood ran in the streets. Jewish workmen armed themselves with clubs and iron pipes, and invaded the brothel quarters, determined to drive their debased brethren by force from the city or at least from the Jewish community.20

 

raquel-liberman

Raquel Liberman

It was ultimately the testimony of one of the prostitutes, a polacanamed Raquel Liberman, that spelled the end of the Jewish “white slave trade” in Argentina. She was able to provide valuable information to a police official, Julio Alsogaray, and a judge, Rodriguez Ocampo, who were unwilling to accept the criminals’ bribes. None of the other women in the pimps’ service would testify, however, and it was left to the dictatorial government formed by General José Felix Uriburu in 1930 to deal the coup de grace to the Zwi Migdal by restricting immigration and naturalization21. Glickman is eager to turn the story of the “white slave trade” in Argentina into a tale of triumph and a showcase for the “strong moral zeal” of the Jewish community22; but the fact of the matter is that

 

those Jews who opposed the prostitution syndicate did so not out of moral outrage, but from concerns about the possible repercussions of Jewish immigrants’ poor reputation.

jose-felix-uriburu

Jose Felix Uriburu

“The statistics,” Glickman insists without producing any figures, “show that the number of Jews involved in the prostitution business were greatly exaggerated.”23 Is she telling the truth? “Of 164 pimps in a [Buenos Aires] police file of 1893-1894,” reveals historian José C. Moya, “no less than 121 (74 percent) and as many as 150 (92 percent) were Jewish.”24 Argentine patriot Francisco Stach abhorred Jewish immigrants as “the most undesirable element, full of anarchists, pimps, and prostitutes all capable of criminal acts”25. “Furthermore,” writes Guy, “Jewish individuals represented most of those arrested in Buenos Aires between 1902 and 1908 for pimping, illegal brothel keeping, and sexual solicitation.”26 Glickman’s claim

 

that Jewish representation in the sex trade has been exaggerated conflicts, moreover, with her own assertion a few paragraphs later that, while Liberman’s “courageous action [in testifying against the Zwi Migdal] did not destroy the prostitution traffic completely, it had very effective consequences: most of the brothels in Buenos Aires were closed and hundreds of traffickers were imprisoned or had to run away” (italics added).27  

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Jose C. Moya

Whatever the Jewish community’s motivations in excommunicating the shameful elements from its midst, however, the present writer is inclined to wish that Europeans could muster something resembling the ethnic solidarity demonstrated by the Ezrat Nashim and the Yugnt in ridding their people of embarrassing co-ethnic liabilities.

Rainer Chlodwig von Kook

[Related: A Feather in Their Cap: The Story of Simon Radowitzky and Jewish Anarchist Terrorism in Argentina]

Endnotes

  1. Glickman, Nora. The Jewish White Slave Trade and the Untold Story of Raquel Liberman. New York, NY: Garland Publishing, 2000, p. 4.
  2. , pp. 4-5.
  3. Malach, Leon. “Two Generations in the Argentine”. The Canadian Jewish Chronicle(December 28, 1928), p. 10.
  4. Glickman, Nora. The Jewish White Slave Trade and the Untold Story of Raquel Liberman. New York, NY: Garland Publishing, 2000, p. 4.
  5. , p. 6.
  6. , p. 7.
  7. , p. 10.
  8. , p. 11.
  9. , p. 18.
  10. , p. 10.
  11. , p. 15.
  12. , p. 12.
  13. , p. 6.
  14. , p. 5.
  15. , p. 6
  16. , pp. 6-7.
  17. Guy, Donna J. Sex and Danger in Buenos Aires: Prostitution, Family, and Nation in Argentina. Lincoln, NE: University of Nebraska Press, 1991, p. 19.
  18. Kaminsky, Amy. “The Jew in the City: Buenos Aires in Jewish Fiction”, in Biron, Rebecca E., Ed. City/Art: The Urban Scene in Latin America. Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2009, p. 171.
  19. Glickman, Nora. The Jewish White Slave Trade and the Untold Story of Raquel Liberman. New York, NY: Garland Publishing, 2000, p. 9.
  20. Malach, Leon. “Two Generations in the Argentine”. The Canadian Jewish Chronicle(December 28, 1928), p. 14.
  21. Glickman, Nora. The Jewish White Slave Trade and the Untold Story of Raquel Liberman. New York, NY: Garland Publishing, 2000, pp. 13-14.
  22. , p. 4.
  23. , p. xi.
  24. Moya, José C. “What’s in a Stereotype? The Case of Jewish Anarchists in Argentina”, in Lesser, Jeffrey; and Raanan Rein, Eds. Rethinking Jewish-Latin Americans. Albuquerque, NM: University of New Mexico Press, 2008, p. 58.
  25. , p. 61.
  26. Guy, Donna J. Sex and Danger in Buenos Aires: Prostitution, Family, and Nation in Argentina. Lincoln, NE: University of Nebraska Press, 1991, p. 19.
  27. Glickman, Nora. The Jewish White Slave Trade and the Untold Story of Raquel Liberman. New York, NY: Garland Publishing, 2000, p. xii.

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