The Polish Women

The following is a post from Curiosidades Cariocas which I translated into English. Additions to the text is the photo below and the information sectioned off at the bottom.

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The so-called “Cemitery of Polish Women”, whose official name is Cemitério Israelita de Inhaúma, was created by the Israeli Funeral and Religious Benevolent Association, in 1916.

This Association brought together Jewish women taken to Brazil (and, taken to other countries) by a group of Jews dedicated to the trafficking of whites, known as Zwig Migdal. Men from this group, in the 1890s to the start of the Second World War used to go to small villages in Eastern Europe, promising work or marrying the women off to young and poor Jewish men, in fake cerimonies that immitated the Israeli customs. The young women only realized it was a sham when they were already far from their families. They were brought to Rio de Janeiro (and also to cities in Argentina, South Africa and India) where they had to live in brothels and be known as “francesas” (French girls).

The women, almost always illiterate and rejected by the Jewish community, were usually buried as indignents because, to the local community, they were considered impure people and were treated differently in the Israeli cemiteries, buried without the usual Jewish rituals and cerimonies. They then created the Association, building a synogogue, and established a cemitery in Inhaúma.

There are fairly interesting books on the subject. I can cite “O Baile de Máscaras” (The Masked Ball), by Beatriz Kushnir; and that of the authorship of journalist Isabel Vincent, telling the stories of three women: Bertha, one of the creators and president of the Association; Sophia, sold by her father at 13 years of age; and Rachel, forced to prostitute herself by her husband.

The Israeli Cemitery of Inhaúma was listed by the Rio government as Cultural Heritage of Rio de Janeiro. The decree 32993, of October 27th, 2010, states: “its foundation in 1916, by the Israeli Funeral and Religious Benevolent Association, played a relevant social role to a slice of the population of Israeli immigrants in the country”. It is located on Rua Piragibe, in Inhaúma.

This image shows the location of the Cemitery.

There are blogs that deal with this very subject. See Polacas and Historia do Brasil.

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For a short documentary (in Spanish and Portuguese) on the Polacas, go here. To read up on the subject (in Portuguese), here’s a research paper (PDF) on it.

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