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Bodies and Souls: The Tragic Plight of Three Jewish Women Forced into Prostitution in the Americas Paperback – December 12, 2006


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Product Details

  • Paperback: 304 pages
  • Publisher: Harper Perennial (December 12, 2006)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0060090243
  • ISBN-13: 978-0060090241
  • Product Dimensions: 5.3 x 0.7 x 8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 4 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (12 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,287,598 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

One of the saddest and most shameful stories in Jewish history has been suppressed for generations: between 1860 and 1939, thousands of poor young women from Eastern European shtetls were sold into sexual slavery by the Jewish-run Zwi Migdal crime syndicate, which controlled brothels on several continents. Focusing on three women, Vincent reconstructs the miserable lives of many of these women. One, sent to New York, saw 273 men in a two-week period. Many, unable to find support in the Jewish community—which ostracized them—committed suicide. And one, Sally Knopf, whose own uncle was a trafficker, escaped by disguising herself as a man. There is some triumph here: the Jewish prostitutes of Rio de Janeiro purchased their own cemetery in 1916 and ran their own burial society. By the time they bought their own synagogue in 1942, they had seen the demise of the Zwi Migdal gang. Unanswered questions, many raised by Vincent herself, abound. Clearly, poverty and lack of opportunity in Europe drove women into the trade, but why did they stay? Canadian journalist Vincent (Hitler's Silent Partners: Swiss Banks, Nazi Gold and the Pursuit of Justice) demonstrates her strength as a writer and storyteller, which enables her to at least partially retrieve this all-but-lost world.
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

Review

A shameful tale, and necessary in the telling. (The Globe and Mail)

“A clear, angry, important . . . work that treats significant matters with clarity and intelligence.” (Kirkus Reviews for Hitler's Silent Partners)

“A thoroughly gripping tale.” (Toronto Star for Hitler's Silent Partners)

“[A] disturbing and wonderfully narrated book... Hitler’s Silent Partners is gratifyingly precise.” (Vancouver Sun for Hitler's Silent Partners)

“Isabel Vincent has done a first- rate job of telling the story of Swiss perfidy during and after the war.” (San Francisco Chronicle for Hitler's Silent Partners)

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Customer Reviews

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Hard to imagine this happening but it is a true story.
Susan N.
I cannot urge readers enough to go out and buy this book - it may be upsetting to read, but one should know what happened at this time in history.
Jan Comsky
With that being said, I do believe that the author does too much perhapsing and it makes it seem as if the author is doing it just to add drama.
J. Maharisi

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

10 of 11 people found the following review helpful By Jan Comsky on December 12, 2005
Format: Hardcover
"Bodies and Souls" by author Isabel Vincent is a horrifying and compelling book on the young shtetl women from Eastern Europe and Poland abducted into prostitution. Isabel Vincent tells about 3 young women Sophia Chamys, Rachel Liberman, and Rebecca Freedman and the reader follows their story from the villages in Eastern Europe from where they were abducted, to the brothels of South America. The brothels were located in Rio, Buenos Aires, and Argentina. It was a terrible life that these young, innocent girls were brought into by the pimps that posed as "Gentlemen". These "gentlemen" bought or "married" the girls to entice them to South America where they were sold into White Slavery. The Commissioner of Argentina, Alsogaray, along with Rachel Liberman, brought down the empire of the Zwi Migdal who ruled the underworld of white slavery in South America.

As stated in the title for this review, I found this book a shocking part of history that should not be ignored. It is required reading for history and Judaica readers. I cannot urge readers enough to go out and buy this book - it may be upsetting to read, but one should know what happened at this time in history.
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful By aliled VINE VOICE on May 19, 2007
Format: Paperback
Vincent does an admirable job of telling the story of Eastern European Jewish girls from the shtetl being conned into sham marriages and forced prostitution by an underworld Jewish organizaton. In this book, the events take place mainly in South America, although the practice was (sadly) widespread. It's a relatively unknown story, and I'm glad that Vincent made the effort to relate it.

Unfortunately, nearly everyone connected with the actual events is now long gone. The lack of anything but relatively meager links with the book's personalities is palpable, but Vincent manages to eke out just enough detail to make this book both riveting and personal. I'd love to know exactly how she managed to locate some of the book's photos and some of the more esoteric aspects of the lives of those described, given the unwillingness of nearly anyone to discuss them and (of course) the fact that many of these people led lives which made them difficult to trace.

One imagines that had Vincent been able to conduct her research fifteen or twenty years earlier, a much more in-depth history would have been the result - a pity that no one thought to do it sooner. But one can't fault Vincent for her admirable efforts, and her skill as a writer. The work is partially framed around a couple of encounters with a man who tends to the graves of these now-departed Jewish prostitutes, and it's a nice technique. It's impossible to know what could have been going through the minds of these young and naive village girls as they entered a new world and a special kind of hell - Vincent is wise enough not to speculate too deeply - but the ultimate strength and unity of this community is apparent. One can't help but admire the strength of these poor women; in this sense Vincent performs a real mitzvah, by lovingly memorializing women whose own community turned against them unrepentently.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful By Reader on December 2, 2007
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
This book was undoubtedly necessary, both as a reivindication of so many wretched lives and as a chronicle of a very dark chapter in Jewish history. I believe the author when she says that the story of the Zwi Migdal criminal association and its victims has been deliberately suppressed - when I asked one of my Jewish friends, a smart and cultured man, educated at the best Jewish institution in my town, about it, he said he had never heard of it. It is perhaps a proof of the reluctance of Jews to look at such a shameful chapter of their history that, when I said to this friend what a good play the story would make, he -who once directed a play about the Holocaust- replied: "I don't think so. Why give attention to such an ugly and painful matter?"

That said, I had several problems with Vincent's book. The reader must be aware that this book uses no first-hand sources, apart from interviews with people who knew the prostitutes but do not seem to have been directly involved in their lives as such - for instance, the accountant of the welfare society they founded. Vincent makes it clear that most of the first-hand information was destroyed in the terrorist attack on the AMIA, an Argentinean-Jewish institution, in 1994. That leads to what was for me the major flaw of the book - the three main female subjects, Sophia, Rachel and Rebecca, did not really come alive for me, as would perhaps have happened if primary sources had been used.

There are so many gaps and question marks in these women's stories, so many things that we just cannot know. (After all, much of the information comes from succint newspaper articles, or police files, where officers would have consigned only the "objective" facts, but hardly the prostitutes' feelings, even if the latter had chosen to tell about them).
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful By Fred Houpt on December 8, 2009
Format: Paperback
There are many responses that one can have when reading this book. I think that shock is more about our own notions, how innocent we had configured European Jews to be. In the imagination and largely written in history the most common conception is that Jews were victims, brutalized by 'the other', by Goyim, by non-Jews. Surprise! Jews could be just as nasty, cruel and heartless as any bestial person not of the tribe.

I learned several key insights from this book. One was that (through ignorance and prejudice) legions of Jews both in Europe and in the America's have a share in the blame, if blame can be assessed, for the fates met by the completely unwitting and unwilling prostitutes. That share is entirely due to the complete rejection and total exclusion of the lives of these prostitutes. If a small number of them had taken the time to investigate by asking questions instead of giving into the knee jerk reaction of judging them all as evil, then not a few would have heard of the rapes, the enforcement by extreme brutality of very poor, innocent and naive Jewish girls into a life of servitude that was worse than a life sentence in jail. And what jails they did live in! It is an even greater tragedy that these women were all judged as wanton harlots whose only joys were the carnal lusts of the flesh. These judgements could not have been any more wrong and damaging.

Another thing that is apparent is that Rabbi's on both sides of the ocean were aware of the suffering and did next to nothing to examine the circumstances or were motivated even in a minimal way to put an end to the practices. The riots in Poland in some of the larger cities against the houses of prostitution were an infrequent event and only resulted in the same innocent women being attacked.
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