The Prostitution Ring That Lured Women From Their Shtetls


The subject of prostitution is rarely associated with the word “Yiddish.” But from the 1860’s until the cusp of WWII, a powerful sex-trafficking ring operated between the shtetls of Eastern Europe and the streets of South America. The “Zwi Migdal” ring used well-dressed men to publicize openings for domestic service in the homes of affluent Jews in Argentina and Brazil, as well as promises of marriage into a better life. The advertisements were all fake.

The young women knew neither how to read nor the hell awaiting them in the humid streets of their new home. On the voyage over, during which they were often beaten and raped, reality sunk in. In place of poverty and pogrom, they had become captives of a new enemy: Jewish pimps.

Upon arrival, they were paraded around for auction, naked, in front of men who had wrapped themselves in tefillin the very same morning. These pimps, major patrons of synagogues and Yiddish theater, were an unstoppable force, bribing local officials and judges. At its height, Jewish prostitution made up one third of the trade in Buenos Aires.

It would take the nightmare of WWII and the courage of one woman to bring an end to the trafficking. Stay tuned to Jewniverse for more on her.

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