South America’s Jewish Prostitutes (Sex Slaves, Really)

YZM: Jews, themselves so exploited, exploited other Jews?

TC:  I felt shock and disgust, and after writing a book about Zwi Migdal I still feel the horror of the pimps’ callousness, cold-heartedness, and cruelty. These traffickers treated the captured girls like property—the way whites in the USA enslaved blacks, who then became their property forever. By Argentine law, these girls belonged to the brothels or the pimps for life. If their pimp died and no one else was running his brothel, Zwi Migdal reassigned “his” prostitutes to other union members.

I have no explanation for this Jew-on-Jew crime, other than to look at the effect of trauma on human beings in general, who can become immune to the pain and suffering of others.  Maybe as a nation, we suffered so much trauma that individuals within our society showed these symptoms. Since there are other recorded instances of Jewish mafias that operated brazenly within the Jewish communities of New York City and elsewhere, it seems that in some pockets of population the prevalence of crime is a matter of degree. We view ourselves as a people of virtue and high values and find it hard to believe that Jew-on-Jew crime may thrive wherever the boundaries of decency and law can be pushed.     

YZM: Did any of the enslaved women manage to escape their captivity? 

TC: There were a few recorded cases of prostitutes who married clients and moved away.  Some women simply disappeared, and no one knew what had happened to them; it is unclear whether they had escaped or were murdered. Given the extremely limited employment choices for women at that time, it is unlikely that many could have escaped into the vast, wild lands of Argentina or Brazil and made a living any other way. 

YZM: You’ve mentioned the librarian in Buenos Aires—and possibly others—who tried to downplay this shameful story.  

TC: Other than the librarian in at the AMIA building [the center for Argentine Jewish life], who suddenly forgot her English, no one has downplayed the story. No one I’d talked to had ever heard of it! With the novel launch, though, it takes courage to swallow the bitter pill of truth. Some people prefer that I not tell a story that shows Jews in a bad light—mirroring the doubts I struggled with myself. Others embrace my mission of honoring the victims by taking the lesson of this ugly past and applying it to activism against the evil of human slavery today. Tikun Olam is one of our highest Jewish values.

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