Investigative journalist Vincent (Hitler’s Silent Partners, 1997, etc.) uncovers a little-known slice of Jewish history.
Sophia Chamys was just 13 when her father, a struggling peasant in a Polish shtetl, arranged her marriage to a well-dressed stranger from Lódz. Or, at least, that’s what papa Chamys thought he was doing. But the marriage was a ruse: Sophia’s “husband” was, in fact, a wheeler-dealer in an international prostitution ring run by a group of Jewish gangsters known as Zwi Migdal. Their web of brothels stretched from Poland to New York to India, but the nerve center was in Buenos Aires. That was where Chamys ended up, locked in a whorehouse, despised and shunned by the more respectable members of the city’s Jewish community, which refused even to give the prostitutes proper burials. So the women themselves—largely illiterate, bitterly poor—banded together to form their own benevolent society: the Chesed Shel Ermess, or Society of Truth. At the forefront were Chamys and fellow prostitutes Rachel Liberman and Rebecca Freedman, who managed to get to a police station and leave a record of her life before she died of tuberculosis at 18. While the story is fascinating, this history would have been stronger if Vincent had made an argument or two, offered more analysis and availed herself of more of the scholarly literature on white slavery. Footnotes would also be welcome: the story of these prostitutes, after all, has long been buried (Jews in Buenos Aires reportedly avoid the subject still today), and citations documenting the awesome research surely required for Vincent to retell the tale would only add to the book’s popular appeal.
Riveting and disturbing, if somewhat incomplete.