Zwi Migdal

Zwi Migdal was a criminal organization of Jewish gangsters specialized in prostitution and trafficking of white women from the poor shtetls in Eastern Europe to the world.

It operated from the 1860s to 1939. In its heyday, after the First World War, it counted with 400 members in Argentina alone, and made annual profit of 50 million dollars in the turn of the century. Its centre was Buenos Aires, with branch offices in several locations in Argentina and Brazil; New York City, NY; Warsaw, Poland; South Africa; India; and China.

The Zwi Migdal Organization reached its peak in the 1920s when some 430 rufianos or pimps controlled 2000 whorehouses with 4000 women in Argentina alone. Its success was owing to its members being bound by internal rules that were "all based on order, discipline, and honesty." The network was well-organized and members cooperated closely to protect their interests.

Origin and Meaning of the name

Originally called Warsaw Jewish Mutual Aid Society, the organization changed its name to Zwi Migdal on May 7th, 1906, when the Polish Embassy made an official complaint to the Argentinian authorities regarding the use of the name Warsaw.

Zwi Migdal means "strong power" in yidish, and this name was chosen also to honor Luis Migdal, one of the first founders of the organization.

Modus operandi

The organization lured girls and young women from Europe in several ways. For instance, a well-mannered and elegant man would appear one day in a poor Jewish shtetl (village) in Poland or Russia. He would advertise his search for nice young women to work in the houses of rich Jews in Argentina by posting an ad in the local shul (synagogue). Fearful of more pogroms and often in desperate economic circumstances, parents would give their daughters away to these gentlemen, hoping to give them a new start.

Another popular ruse was to find pretty girls and offer to marry them, usually in a "stille chupah" ceremony, a Yiddish expression meaning a quick wedding ceremony performed without a rabbi. Other times the "recruiter" would arrange for a fake wedding with a fake rabbi.

The girls, mostly aged 13 to 16, packed a small bag, bid their families farewell and boarded the ships to Argentina accompanied by a stranger, certain they were off to a better future. Their training period often started on the ship and was always a cruel and brutal affair. The young virgins were broken in - raped, beaten, starved and locked in cages. Some of them were married off to local men so that they could obtain entry visas. Far from their families, without friends or knowledge of the language, they started serving men, their bodies belonging to the Jewish rufianos.

Prostitutes that failed to satisfy their clients were beaten, fined or taken to work in provincial houses. Every business transaction was logged. The rufianos held a "meat market" where newly arrived girls were paraded naked in front of traders in places such as Hotel Palestina or Cafe Parisienne.

These activities went on undisturbed because they were frequented by government officials, judges and reporters. City officials, politicians and police officers were paid off. The pimps had powerful connections everywhere.

The largest bordellos of Buenos Aires housed as many as 60 to 80 sex slaves. There were bordellos all over Argentina, but most were in the big city, in the Jewish quarter on Junin Street.

Rejection by the "respectable Jewish community"

As the pimps prospered, the Argentinian Jewish community rejected them. Articles in the local press condemned them and, in 1885, the community established a Jewish Association for the Protection of Women and Girls. Ads posted on Jewish quarter walls called on locals to refuse to rent to the rufianos. On their part, the pimps very much wanted to be part of the community. The wealthiest would pick a new girl every night to take to the Jewish theater, the center of Buenos Aires cultural life for Jews.

Despite their trade, Zwi Migdal members were eager for acceptance by the Jewish community, and made donations for temples and other community buildings. Response was divided among the community's leaders with some fearing that accepting 'dirty' money would legitimize the exploitation of women.

One night, Nahum Sorkin, a well-known Zionist, stood outside the theater and physically stopped the rufianos from entering the Jewish theater. Next, they were banned from the synagogues, and later refused burial in the Jewish cemetery.

Splinter groups

The organization later split and the splinter, led by Simon Rubinstein, established its own society named Ashkenazum. Once officially recognized, both associations bought plots of land on the outskirt of Buenos Aires and established their own cemeteries there.


The rufianos' audacity eventually led to their demise when they refused to forgo their income from the work of Rachel Lieberman, a woman from Lód?, Poland.

In desperation, she contacted Superintendent Julio Alsogaray whom she had heard the man would not take Zwi Migdal bribes and was looking for ways to destroy the organization. She slipped into his office one day and gave a detailed account of the connections among the various pimps in the organization management. Her testimony was reason enough to launch an extensive investigation. Unlike previous occasions where nothing was done, this time, results of the investigation reached a judge who was also immune to Zwi Migdal bribes, Dr. Rodriguez Ocampo.

The lengthy trial ended in September of 1930 with 108 detainees.

"The very existence of the Zwi Migdal Organization directly threatens our society," Judge Ocampo wrote in his verdict, handing down long prison terms.

While in prison, the pimps appealed their sentences in January 1931, and senior Justice Ministry officials released all but three from jail. After this was reported in the media, public outrage convinced the authorities to reverse the discharges. Later, hundred of pimps were deported to Uruguay, slowly returning over the years, one by one.

Literary References

Sources and References

Vincent, Isabel - Bodies and Souls, Harper Collins ed., New York. ISBN-10: 0060090235 / ISBN-13: 978-0060090234 Kushnir, Beatriz - Baile de Máscaras, Imago Editora, Sao Paulo. ISBN: 8531204852

Glickman, Nora - The Jewish White Slave Trade and the Untold Story of Raquel Liberman ISBN10 : 0-203-90512-1 ISBN13 : 978-0-203-90512-8

External links


The first boatload of young Jewish women arrived in Brazil in 1867; by 1913, there were 431 brothels controlled by the Zwi Migdal in downtown Rio alone.

Three women - largely illiterate, bitterly poor and despised by the mainstream Jewish community - banded together to form their own benevolent society: the Chesed Shel Ermess, or Society of Truth. At the forefront were Sophia Chamys, Rachel Liberman and Rebecca Freedman, who also managed to get to a police station, and provide testimony which helped an honest cop destroy the Zwi Migdal in Argentina in the 1930s.

THE POLACAS ("POLISH WOMEN" in Portuguese) first organized in 1906, in Rio de Janeiro, setting up the Jewish Association for Charity, Burial and Religion (ABFRI). Their goals, they wrote in the charter, were: "To set up a synagogue, and there practice all the ceremonies of the Jewish religion. To grant sick members in need of treatment outside the city a third-class train ticket and three pounds sterling. To grant members a third-class funeral." In its heyday, the organization existed in several cities, and several rabbis, all since deceased, were in its employ.

link in French:

See also

Index: A B C D E F G H I J K L M N O P Q R S T U V W X Y Z

This article is based on "Zwi Migdal" from the free encyclopedia Wikipedia ( It is licensed under the terms of the GNU Free Documentation Licencse. In the Wikipedia you can find a list of the authors by visiting the following address: