Jewish Pimps, Prostitutes and Campaigners in a Transnational German and British Context, 1875-1940

Lead Research Organisation: Queen Mary University of London


This research project will draw on the expertise of a project group specializing in the study of gender, antisemitism and migration to investigate the phenomenon of Jewish involvement in the sex trade. While in the late nineteenth century up until the Second World War, Jews were consistently demonized by antisemites because of their role in the trade as prostitutes, pimps and brothel owners, they have featured only marginally in recent studies of prostitution that in recent years has experienced a renewed interest. Over a period of thirty-one months, two postdoctoral researchers will explore Jews and the sex trade, 1875-1940, in British, German and transnational contexts. Largely neglected by historians of Jewish history, and the history of Antisemitism this research project will look beyond institutional frameworks that governed the everyday lives of Jewish prostitutes in the age of the great Jewish migration to expose a new understanding of international mobility in the era of modern globalization. Our research project will show that Jewish prostitutes were never merely passive objects. This study of Jewish prostitutes will place the women center stage and will unravel their agency behind moral politics, criminalization, and male fantasies. Such an approach will allow us to recast the focus away from politicians, state reformers and national anti-trafficking campaigners, to consider the Jewish women's experiences as historical actors as they navigated unfamiliar relationships with men (pimps, physicians, judges and the police) who exercised control over their bodies. Both the UK and Germany housed ports and other spatial sites that are key to analysing Jews' interaction with the sex trade. An understanding of how Jewish women navigated the gendered spaces and the metaphorical codings of Bremen, Hamburg, Portsmouth and Southampton will reveal their power of negotiation and highlight their agency.

Daniel Lee (PI), Stefanie Fischer (PI), Daniel Wildmann and Stefanie Schüler-Springorum (German Co-I) will mentor the postdoctoral historians who will use unpublished and recently-released sources and testimonies. Our main objective is to produce a more nuanced interpretation of the ties between sex work, migration and trafficking in persons and to build a UK-German network that helps fight human trafficking. Through network meetings, training sessions, and public workshops, the research project aims to communicate its findings beyond traditional academic circles so that it will, ultimately, have an impact on law and law enforcement, and help reduce vulnerabilities for sex workers and victims of human trafficking.


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Description Collaboration with the ICI (London) 
Organisation Italian Cultural Institute, London
Country United Kingdom 
Sector Public 
PI Contribution The postdoc on this project, Dr Paola Zichi (QMUL), has designed an entire exhibition, based on her research in Italian archival collections, that will take place at the ICI (London). The exhibition - on Jews, philanthropy, and sex work in Modern Italian history - will be open to the public and will take place in January 2023. A series of events will accompany the exhibition. It is hoped that we will be hold this exhibition at other Italian Cultural Institutes (such as Berlin) in the months that follow.
Collaborator Contribution Dr Paola Zichi (QMUL), has undertaken extensive research in archives in Milan and Trieste. During the course of this work, she uncovered a series of documents that have never been shown to the public. Dr Zichi approached the Italian Cultural Institute in London, which in recent years has produced a number of excellent exhibitions, to see whether they would be interested in showcasing these documents, objects and images. Naturally they jumped at the chance. Dr Paola Zichi has designed the entire exhibition. She has also been in touch with multiple sex work organisations in the UK and Italy in regards to the public events that will accompany the exhibition.
Impact Too early.
Start Year 2022