Monday, March 24, 2014

"THOSE WOMEN": POLISH JEWISH PROSTITUTES


A Portuguese documentary video, "Aquellas Mujeres..." ("Those Women...") directed by Matilde Teles and Verena Kael, is available at: http://tal.tv/video/aquellas-mujeres/. It is about white Jewish slaves, known as "The Polish Women" or "Poland", who were transported to the Americas by pimps ("kaftens") in the late 19th C. In Rio de Janeiro, Brazil they created a mutual aid society, a synagogue, and a Jewish cemetery, Cementerio Israelita de Inhauma, thus maintaining a link to Judaism despite their way of life.

A very rough translation of the film: The young women, very poor and usually with no future, arrived from Poland, Austria, and Russia. Women were trafficked through an organization known as Zvi Migdal. They were told that the clientele might be "treif" but the money would be "kosher". Many were young women who were enticed into prostitution with the false promises of marriage when, in reality, they were forced into prostitution.

Because they were not permitted to be buried in existing Jewish cemeteries, the prostitutes raised money to purchase land and to construct what was to become a well-known cemetery, Inhauma. There are several views of the cemetery at the beginning and end of the documentary.

Eventually, they built their own synagogue on Calle Afonso Cavaicanti in Rio. The seats were of beautiful Jacaranda wood with name plates. Some were inscribed with their birth (or Hebrew??) names; others with their "professional" ones. It has since been demolished.

In 1906 they created a mutual aid society (Benevolent, Funeral and Jewish Religious Association). The Jewish prostitutes formed the first Chevra Kadisha, which was the first Jewish society in Rio.