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Anglo-Jewry and the Jewish International Traffic in Prostitution, 1885–1914

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  15 October 2009

Lloyd P. Gartner
Department of Jewish History, Tel-Aviv University, Ramat-Aviv, Israel 69978
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Our tale opens in some little town in the Pale of Settlement between the 1880s and World War I. A well-spoken, well-dressed young man appears and courts an attractive girl of a family belonging to the great majority of the Jewish townspeople—that is, impoverished and burdened with many children. The unknown suitor offers charm and gifts, and speaks knowingly of the great places he has seen and where he has a good business—Paris, Johannesburg, London, or New York. Will the girl accompany him westward and become his bride once they reach their destination.He does not want to stay long enough in town to marry publicly, since he might be seized for military conscription. The girl, excited by the prospect, implores her parents to give their consent to this proposal. She feels she loves this young man. With him, the bleak life and dismal future in the town will be exchanged at a stroke for happiness and prosperity in a great, distant city. Every month a few young townspeople were leaving, mainly for America. Already there were many more marriageable girls in town than there were young men for them. How could such a chance be thrown aside? Might it ever recur? If the girl wondered why of all the numerous poor girls in town she was enjoying these attentions, she would answer in her own mind by complimenting herself on her prettiness. Her parents, or her surviving parent or step-parents, gave their consent.

Research Article
Copyright © Association for Jewish Studies 1982

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1. JAPG&W, Report, 1901, p. 23. A sketch, in Hebrew, of the subject by Stal, A. appeared in Megamot 24 (August, 1978): 204215.Google Scholar

2. Paulucci, R. de'Calboli, “La tratta delle raggazze italiane”, Nuova antologia 38 (Whole no. 182) (1902): 421422.Google Scholar

3. Pappenheim, Bertha and Rabinowitsch, Sara, Zur Lage der jüdischen Bevölkerung in Galizien: Reise-Eindrücke und Vorschläge zur Besserung der Verhältnisse(Frankfurt, 1904), pp. 76, 79–80.Google Scholar

4. Ha-Meliṣ, June 20 (July 3), 1904; Borokhov-Berekhyahu's collected writings, Nekhasim va-'arakhin(Tel Aviv, 1938), do not include this article.

5. A. Litvak (Ḥayyim Ya'aqov Helfand), Mah she-hayah, trans, from Yiddish, Vos Geven, by Ḥ. Sh. Ben-Avram (Ein-Harod, 1945), pp. 159–64; Sisyphus-Arbeit, pp. 144–45, 158. Litvak's story of the Jewish mass assault on Jewish brothels in Warsaw during the revolutionary disturbances in May, 1905 is confirmed by reports form the local British vice-consul, W. B. St. Claire, to Ambassador Hardinge in St. Petersburg: “On the 25th May the disturbances were renewed when large crowds of [Jewish] men and boys went to disorderly houses, attacked the inmates and proceeded to demolish the contents. There was no attempt at robbery, everything was completely destroyed.” Fifty Jewish brothels were wrecked, and only afterwards did non- Jews join in the rioting (E. B. St. Claire to Ch. Hardinge, May 27, 1905, enclosure in Ch. Hardinge to Marquess of Lansdowne, May 30, 1905, F.O. 65/1700, No. 351; also F.O. 393/22, No. 19, May 22, 1905 Public Record Office). My colleague Prof. E. Feldman generously provided this material.

6. Ha-Dor(Cracow), vol. 1, no. 24 (June 13, 1901), p. 5; Ha-Meliṣ, July 11 (24), 1902; Sisyphus- Arbeit, p. 166.

7. VR, July, 1892, pp. 78–79, January, 1893, p. 99. See Edward J. Bristow, Vice and Vigilance: Purity Movements in Britain since 1700(Dublin and Totowa, N.J., 1977), p. 178.

8. Sisyphus-Arbeit, pp. 158, 201–5; JAPG&W, Report, 1912, p. 32.

9. Assembled in Nahum Stutchkoff, Der Oytserfun der yidisher shprakh (Thesaurus of the Yiddish Language) (New York, 1950), sec. 598, pp. 693–95. Thirty-four songs and ditties by and about prostitutes are in Pinkhos Graubord, “Gezangen fun tehoym… (Lider fun ganovim, arestanten, gasn-froyen),” in Vanvild, M., ed., Bay undz yidn: unfilologiye (Warsaw, 1923), pp. 1941.Google Scholar

10. Quoted in JAPG&W, Report, 1903, p. 40; Referat von Fräulein Bertha Pappenheim erstattet in einer von dem Vorstande des Israelitsches Hilfsvereins einberufenen Versammlung am 26. Februar 1901, p. 6. On Bertha Pappenheim, see Marion A. Kaplan, The Jewish Feminist Movement in Germany(Westport, Conn., 1979), especially pp. 103–45, and the same author's “German- Jewish Feminism in the Twentieth Century,” Jewish Social Studies 38 (1976): 34–53, esp. 44–49; Dora Edinger, “Bertha Pappenheim (1859–1936): A German-Jewish Feminist.” Jewish Social Studies 20 (1958): 178–86.

11. JAPG&W, Report, 1907, p. 14.

12. Sidonie Werner, “Zur Sittlichkeitsfrage,” in Referate gehalten aufdem 2. Delegiertentage des Jüdischen Frauenbundes Frankfurt a. M.,2 und3 Oktober 1903, pp. 23–31.

13. Pappenheim and Rabinowitsch, Zur Lage, p. 47.

14. Ibid, pp. 49, 50.

15. Sisyphus-Arbeit, pp. 19, 28, 34, 36–37,40^2, 51–53, 56,64.

16. Rubinow, I. M., “Economic Condition of the Jews in Russia”, Bulletin of the Bureau of Labor 72 (1907): 487579 (reprinted as a book, New York, 1970).Google Scholar

17. These figures, as well as those in the next paragraph, are drawn from the Annual Reports of the Jewish Association for the Protection of Girls and Women. The proportion of Christians among the unaccompanied females is given for ten scattered years, and ranges in random fashion from 6.86% to 16.66%; the average is 9.82%. In the first two years available, 1887–1888 and 1896–1897, there are 432 unaccompanied females, of whom 61 (14.1%) were Christians. However, the proportion of unaccompanied Jewish girls and women to the total number of immigrants is quite stable, dipping no lower than 2.25% in 1912 and climbing no higher than 3.72% in 1903.

18. 52 out of 929 in 1906, and 61 out of 712 in 1907.

19. United States immigration figures divide immigrants into three age groups: under 15, 15 to 44,45 and over. Therefore they are not of use here.

20. Pappenheim and Rabinowitsch, Zur Lage, pp. 21–22.

21. Ha-Dor, vol.1, no. 24, June 13, 1901, pp. 4–6.

22. Goren, Arthur A., New York Jews and the Quest for Community: The Kehillah Experiment, 1908–1922(New York, 1970), pp. 159–86. In 1913 a careful investigation found 423 disorderly houses on the Lower East Side; p. 17. The operations of one of them are documented in the same author's “Mother Rosie Hertz, the Social Evil, and the New York Kehillah,” in Michael: On the History of the Jews in the Diaspora 3 (1975): 188–210. This brothel functioned for thirty years until it was shut by the police in 1913, and recruited its prostitutes not from the international traffic but among local girls. The same appears true generally of Jewish prostitution in the United States. Louis E. Levy, “Jewish Aspects of the So-Called White Slave Traffic in America,” in Jewish International Conference, especially p. 252. European sources hardly ever refer to America as a destination for traffickers.Google Scholar

23. Ha-Meliṣ, July 11 (24), 1901. Mr. Yossi Goldstein provided this and several other references to Hebrew periodicals.

24. Ha-Meliṣ, June 20 (July 3), 1901.

25. JAPG&W, Report, 1908, p. 19.

26. JAPG&W, Report, 1902, p. 27.

27. JAPG&W, Report, 1910, p. 31.

28. Ha-Ṣefirah, February 5 (18), 1904.

29. JAPG&W, Report, 1901, p. 23.

30. JAPG&W, Report, 1905, pp. 24–25. Information on Jewish procurers of girls for export is found in VR, August, 1887, p. 52; November, 1888, p. 118; May, 1890, p. 39; December, 1890, p. 121; July, 1891, p. 72.

31. JLA, Gentlemen's Committee, Minutes, April 25, 1890. The surviving records of the JLA and its successor, the JAPG&W, are at the Jewish Welfare Board (formerly Jewish Board of Guardians), London. I am indebted to the Board, and particularly to Mr. Mark Fineman, for permission to use them.

32. Ha-Meliṣ, March 27 (April 9), 1898.

33. JAPG&W, Report, 1903, p. 50.

34. Ha-Meliṣ, July 1 (14), 1902.

35. Bertha Pappenheim, who visited the place, considered the local antitraffic committee ineffective. Sisyphus-Arbeit, p. 207, dated September 6, 1912.

36. AZJ, July 18, 1902, p. 339; July 25, 1902, p. 353; letter to editor, Frankfurter Zeitung, July 9, 1902-notseen.

37. Ha-Meliṣ, February 26 (March 10), 1904

38. JAPG&W, Report, 1911, p. 49.

39. Ibid.

40. JAPG&W, Report, 1911, p. 52.

41. JAPG&W, Report, 1911, p. 50.

42. Ha-Ṣefirah, February 5 (18), 1904.

43. National Vigilance Association, Seventh Annual Report of the Executive Committee, 1892, p. 36; JLA, Gentlemen's Committee, Minutes, June 27 and December 27, 1891.

44. R. Paulucci de'calboli, “Ancora la tratta delle ragazze italiene,” Nuova antologia 38 (Whole no. 185) (1902): 195–97. The author, an Italian marquess, replied to an inquiry by Arthur R. Moro regarding statements in his article concerning Jews, with the observation that out of respect for Jews and reluctance to provide material to anti-Semites, he had refrained from publishing the finding of an investigation conducted by himself and “certain French authorities” that 75% of traffickers were Jews. Jewish International Conference, p. 36.

45. Todd M. Endelman, The Jews of Georgian England 1714–1830(Philadelphia, 1979), p. 217; Henry Mayhew, London Labour and the London Poor, 4 vols. (London, 1861; reprint ed., New York, 1968), 4: 223,241, and, on the recruitment of English girls for the traffic abroad, pp. 268–72.

46. , Bristow, Vice and Vigilance; Cyril Pearl, The Girl with the Swansdown Seal (London, 1955)Google Scholar; Houghton, Walter E., The Victorian Frame of Mind (New Haven, 1957), pp. 365368, 384–85, 408–9;Google ScholarCrow, Duncan, The Victorian Woman(London, 1971), pp. 212231,258–68;Google ScholarMarcus, Steven, The Other Victorians(New York, 1966);Google ScholarBest, Geoffrey, Mid-Victorian Britain(New York, 1971), pp. 2833, 216–17;Google ScholarThomas, K. V., “The Double Standard”, Journal of the History of Ideas 20 (1959): 195216;CrossRefGoogle ScholarCominos, Peter, “Late Victorian Sexual Respectability and the Social System”, International Review of Social History 8 (1963): 1848, 216–50; Eric Trudgill, “Prostitution and Paterfamilias,”CrossRefGoogle Scholar in Dyos, H. J. and Michael Wolff, eds., The Victorian City: Images and Realities, 2 vols. (London and Boston, 1973), 2: 693705.Google Scholar The thorough empirical study by Finnegan, Frances, Poverty and Prostitution: A Study of Victorian Prostitutes in New York(Cambridge, 1979), places its subjects in a grim setting of poverty and privation and early death from venereal disease and the effects of drink. Rescue efforts showed little success.Google Scholar

47. Cited, with commentary, from Halsbury's Laws of England, 4th ed., 11 (London, 1976), pars. 1117–18, pp. 608, 609. Judge I. Finestein, Q.C., has kindly aided me in understanding the legal matters which are discussed here.

48. Judith Walkowitz, “We Are Not Beasts of the Field: Prostitution and the Poor in Plymouth and Southampton under the Contagious Diseases Act,” in Mary Hartman, S. and Lois Banner, eds., Clio's Consciousness Raised: New Perspectives on the History of Women(New York, 1974), pp. 192226Google Scholar; Petrie, Glen, A Singular Iniquity. The Campaigns of Josephine Butler(London, 1971).Google Scholar

49. Trudgill, “Prostitution and Paterfamilias”; a careful survey turned up 15,000 open prostitutes in New York City in 1912, a figure which suggests doubt about the number in London, a metropolis of similar magnitude; Kneeland, George J., Commercialized Prostitution in New York City(New York, 1913), p. 100. Contemporary Germany was no more certain, estimating the number of its prostitutes between 100,000 and 200,000 in 1900 and as high as 300,000 in 1914;Google ScholarEvans, R. J., “Prostitution, State and Society in Imperial Germany”, Past and Present 70 (1976): 106129.CrossRefGoogle Scholar

50. Stead's personal “purchase” of a young girl for prostitution—whom he did not touch—was done to show that these things were done, and it cost him a term in jail. This episode furnished the basis for G. B. Shaw's “Pygmalion”—see especially the lines spoken by Alfred P. Doolittle in Act II—and in turn for the musical play “My Fair Lady.”.

51. Bristow, Vice and Vigilance, pp. 106–19 and passim; Coote, William A., ed., A Romance of Philanthropy(London, 1916) tells of Coote's life and the National Vigilance Association, while his A Vision and Its Fulfillment(London, 1916) describes the religious vision which directed him to extend his organization's work into combating the international traffic.Google Scholar

52. JC, July4, 1913.

53. Jewish International Conference, p. 93.

54. JLA, Report, 1889–1890, pp. 16–17.

55. Jewish International Conference, p. 141 (the Rev. I. Phillips of Portsmouth).

56. Constance Lady Battersea (née Rothschild), Reminiscences(London, 1922), pp. 418–23.Google Scholar

57. JLA, Minutes, April 25, 1890. The “Urgent Warning” to “Representatives of Jewish Communities and Heads of Families,” was published in VR, August, 1891, pp. 80–81.

58. JLA, Gentlemen's Committee, Report of Honorary Secretary for 1891 (MS, in Minutes).

59. National Vigilance Association, Fifth Annual Report of Executive Committee, 1890, p. 35.

60. JLA, Gentlemen's Committee, Minutes, May 31, 1896.

61. Ibid, June 7, 1896.

62. The Times, May 27, 1890, p. 12; JLA, Gentlemen's Committee, Minutes, March 30, April 8, April 9, April 17, May 11, May 19, June 3, July 6, 1890. The foreman of Balberski's jury believed that the sentence was too severe; ibid, July 28, 1890. A private collection raised a substantial sum to cover the expenses of the case and to provide for Amelia Hyman personally. She was also furnished with a testimonial attesting her high character, and she then disappears from sight. Schlamowitz reappeared upon his release from prison, when he threatened to maim Levison and was warned sharply by the police, to whom the JLA turned; ibid, December 18, 1892 and February 19, 1893.

63. Ibid, July 6, 1890; Honorary Secretary's report for 1890, in Ibid, February 8, 1891; Adler to A. R. Moro, July 10, 1890, and to Rabbi [Samuel Mohilever] of Radom, July 15, 1890, in Chief Rabbi's Archives, Office of the Chief Rabbi, Woburn House, London, Letter Copy Book, vol. 34, nos. 3332, 3435.

64. Liverpool Daily Post, March 26, 1896, p. 3; March 31, 1896, p. 3.

65. The Times, April 29, 1907, p. 4; JAPG&W, Report, 1907, pp. 26–27; the two men and their trade were excoriated in JC, May 3, 1907, p. 3.

66. Liverpool Daily Post, August 8, 1899, p. 3.

67. Gartner, Lloyd P., The Jewish Immigrant in England 1870–1914, 2d ed. (London, 1973), pp. 177178, 184; Jewish International Conference, pp. 94–96.Google Scholar

68. Board of Deputies Archives, B2/13/2.

69. Gartner, Jewish Immigrant, p. 178, n. 30.

70. JAPG&W, Report, 1907, p. 22.

71. Ibid, pp. 23–24.

72. JAPG&W, Report, 1909, p. 65.

73. Jewish International Conference, pp. 101–3; Royal Commission on Divorce and Matrimonial Causes, Report(Cd. 6478, 1912), pp. 142–44; Minutes of Evidence, vol. Ill (Cd. 6481, 1912), Qq. 41384, 41395 (H. Adler), 41467, 41473, 41477 (D. L. Alexander). There were views within the Jewish community strongly opposed to this recommendation, which was published during the interval between Adler's death in 1911 a few months after he had testified, and J. H. Hertz's installation as his successor in 1913. One possible “divorce” is in JAPG&W, Report, 1912, p. 44.

74. There are no figures for 1892, when the port was closed most of the year on account of epidemic. The 1890 total includes 36 girls who were not met at the dock but came to the shelter on their own.

75. These Figures and those which follow are drawn from the annual reports of JAPG&W and its predecessor, the JLA.

76. In 1899 they numbered 25 of 655; in 1900, 25 of 775; in 1901, 18 of 751; in 1902, 42 of 1,021; in 1903,45 of 1,089.

77. Gartner, Jewish Immigrant, pp. 34, 35.

78. JAPG&W, Report, 1911, pp. 74–75.

79. JAPG&W, Report, 1906, p. 25.

80. JAPG&W, Report, 1901, pp. 49–53.

81. JAPG&W, Report, 1903, p. 26.

82. JAPG&W, Report, 1901, p. 19.

83. Royal Commission on Alien Immigration, Minutes of Evidence(Cd. 1742, 1903), Qq. 8254, 10166–99.

84. JAPG&W, Report, 1905, p. 35.

85. Royal Commission on Alien Immigration, Qq. 12617, 13001–6, 10694.

86. The Times, April 29, 1907, p. 4.

87. Holmes, Colin, Anti-Semitism in British Society 1876–1939(London, 1979), pp. 4446.Google Scholar

88. C. L. Bathurst to White, January 21, 1907; Arnold White Papers, Folder WHI/53, National Maritime Museum, Greenwich.

89. The Standard, January 30, 1911, p. 7.

90. S. Cohen to C. H. L. Emanuel, Board of Deputies, in Board of Deputies Archives, B2/1/9.

91. JLA, Report, 1888–1889, p. 8; JAPG&W, Reports, 1901, pp. 50–52; 1905, pp. 18,21; 1906, p. 31; 1908, p. 31; 1912, pp. 44,45, 55; 1913, p. 56.

92. JAPG&W, Report, 1912, pp. 24,76.

93. JAPG&W, Report, 1912, p. 29.

94. JAPG&W, Report, 1907, p. 22.

95. JAPG&W, Report, 1911, p. 28.

96. JAPG&W, Reports, 1908, pp. 15–16; 1911, p. 42; 1912, p. 52.

97. JAPG&W, Gentlemen's Committee, Minutes, November 8, 1896. The committee decided to investigate, but nothing further is on record.

98. The Times, February 8, 1898, p. 4.

99. The Times, February 17, 1898, p. 12.

100. The Times, February 25, 1898, p. 3.

101. I am greatly indebted to Professor Charles Van Orselen, University of Witwatersrand, Johannesburg, for illuminating information on the career of Lis-Silver-Smith, which provided the lead to the trial.

102. The Times, April 4, 1898, p. 14; see also March 31, p. 14, and April 1, 1898, p. 14.

103. JAPG&W, Report, 1902, pp. 22–23.

104. JAPG&W, Report, 1902, p. 22.

105. Ibid, p. 24.

106. Ibid, p. 25.

107. A concise statement is in Lipman, V. D., A Century of Social Service: The History of the Jewish Board of Guardians(London, 1959), pp. 247–55.Google Scholar

108. Draft of letter, Hermann Adler to Horace de Guinzberg, St. Petersburg, Chief Rabbi's Archives (n. 63), vol. 52, no. 4972; Speeches…at the 'Coming of Age' Celebration of the Travellers' Aid Society… 3rd May, 1906, held at Lady Battersea's home; National Vigilance Association, 35th Annual Report, 1920, p. 6; JAPG&W, Reports, 1906, pp. 54–55; 1908, pp. 27–28; Bristow, Vice and Vigilance, pp. 191–94.

109. The Literary Remains of the Rev. Simeon Singer. Sermons, ed. with a memoir by Israel Abrahams (London, 1908), pp. xxxi-xxxii.Google Scholar

110. JC, November 4, 1892. However, an earlier report lays the blame for the traffic mainly upon new immigrants. JC, August 5, 1887.

111. Avni, Haim, Mi-Biṭṭl ha-'inqviziṣyah ve-'ad hoq ha-shevul (The History of Jewish Immigration to Argentina)(Jerusalem, 1982), pp. 6970, 84, 173, 177–78. Yehudah Shuster, “The Beginning of the Poale Zion Party in Argentina, 1906–1915,” seminar paper, Department of Jewish History, Hebrew University, 1975.Google Scholar

112. JAPG&W, Report, 1901, pp. 26–30.

113. JAPG&W, Report, 1910, p. 46.

114. JAPG&W, Reports, 1901, p. 41; 1903, pp. 35–37; 1905, p. 32; 1907, pp. 32–34; 1911, pp. 36–39.

115. MPG–26, where Lady Battersea and her cousin Lord Rothschild are thanked for their aid, “through whose introductions we gained the active cooperation of the authorities….” It is indeed suggestive that the intervention of perhaps the foremost banker in the world was required to make the Buenos Aires police remove one girl from a brothel.

116. JAPG&W, Gentlemen's Committee, Minutes, April 22, 1900.

117. JC.February 9, 1900.

118. Ibid.

119. JAPG&W, Gentlemen's Committee, Minutes, April 22, 1900. On the prostitution traffic along the South Asian coast and the role of Jews in it, See VRAugust, 1892, pp. 54–55.

120. JAPG&W, Gentlemen's Committee, Minutes, December 10, 1899.

121. Sisyphus-Arbeit, pp. 149–50; Jewish International Conference, p.113.

122. AZJ, July 18, 1902, p. 339.

123. Die Wirksamkeit des von der Grossloge fur Deutschland U.O.B.B. ernannten Comitees zu Bekämpfung des Madchenhandels (Berlin, 1900), pp. 16–19; this volume, marked “Streng vertraulich!,” is a compilation of activities and press reports and includes a lengthy supplement which is a translation from Spanish of a work naming traffickers and describing their methods of operations. Almost all of them bore Jewish names and carried on in South America. Chief Rabbi Hermann Adler's draft letter to Baron Horace de Guinzberg of November 28, 1900 (cited above, note 108) requests him to receive sympathetically a circular about to be sent by the National Vigilance Association and to urge Russian rabbis to do likewise. The circular, if sent, has not come to light.Google Scholar

124. Text and translation in Jewish International Conference, pp. 154–57; Ha-Meliṣ, March 27 (April 9), 1898.Google Scholar

125. AZJ, July 11, 1902, “Der Gemeindebote,” p. 3; July 18, 1902, pp. 339–40; July 25, 1902, p. 353; Ha-Meliṣ, July 15 (28), 1902; Rosenak's address, “Die Bekämpfung des Mädchenhandels,” appeared as a pamphlet, Frankfurt, 1903. On Rosenak, see, Encyclopedia Judaica (Jerusalem, 1971), s.v. Dr. Michael Rosenak, Jerusalem, kindly provided some information concerning his grandfather.

126. Pappenheim and Rabinowitsch, ZurLage

127. Kahana, Avraham, Divrei zikkaron le-toledot ha-Rav ha-Ga'on R. Gedalyah Schmelkes(Przemysl, 1933).Google Scholar

128. A full report appeared in AZJ, September 25, 1903, pp. 461–63, and briefer accounts were published in Ha-Ṣefirah, September 7 (20) and 8 (21), 1903; JC, September 25, 1903; JAPG&W, Report, 1903, pp. 46–51.

129. Perhaps 81, since one name seems to appear twice.

130. Israel Zangwill, representing the Jewish Territorial Organization, did inquire why a distinct Jewish effort was required, and Claude G. Montefiore replied that “the evil has also a special Jewish side” and there was close collaboration with general organizations which were functioning in the field. Jewish International Conference, pp. 51–53.

131. Ibid, pp. 5–8.

132. JC, June 27 and July 4, 1913.