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Lubomyr Prytulak   07-Apr-1998   Alphonsenpogrom: Unique or universal?
The burden of blackmail, blacklegging, and criminal brutality explains the mob's fury.  So too does the violence which the underworld did the Jewish name.  For there is no doubt that in Warsaw the wildest stories about Jewish vice were in circulation.  One set of slanderous letters in the press, for example, stated that "most brothel owners are Jews with university education.  All customers are Jewish.  The girls are mostly servants Christian." Edward J. Bristow

Alphonsenpogrom: Unique or universal?
by Lubomyr Prytulak
07-April-1998


In May 1905, Warsaw witnessed a pogrom that demolished forty houses, injured one hundred persons, and killed eight.  This pogrom was called the Alphonsenpogrom for reasons that will be explained below.  The Alphonsenpogrom is of particular interest because it initially gives the impression of being entirely different from other pogroms, but it nevertheless may merely make patent characteristics that lie hidden within all pogroms:

In Warsaw the Jewish involvement in prostitution so outraged the respectable portion of the community that in the revolutionary year of 1905, with all of the empire in political upheaval, Jewish workers there launched a murderous assault against their coreligionists' brothels, underworld dens, and cafes.  This remarkable "Alphonsenpogrom" so named because local pimps were known as alphonses ... is an incident of the greatest value for the light it sheds on Jewish prostitution and its place in the life of the community.

There are many accounts of the Warsaw brothel riot.  It was widely covered in the European press and it became part of Jewish folklore.  ...

The exact origins are not important.  In Warsaw and other cities throughout the Pale the Jewish working class had come to hate the underworld and any spark might have set off a conflagration.  The underworld was powerful, well-organized, and supported by employers and the police.  ...

...  [E]vents soon got out of hand as the workers spontaneously seized the initiative.  For three days they rampaged through brothels, looting and destroying furniture, knifing, beating, and defenestrating pimps and prostitutes.  After visiting Krochmalna street, where Isaac Bashevis Singer spent part of his youth and saw the poor prostitutes whom he later depicted in his short stories, the rioters turned south to the fancier avenues off the city's major artery, the Marszalkowska.  There was no single red-light district in the city and the rioters' destruction was visited upon ten widely scattered streets.

...  Reuter, the British news agency, reported forty houses of ill fame demolished, eight persons killed and one hundred injured.  Among the casualties was one dead prostitute.

The burden of blackmail, blacklegging, and criminal brutality explains the mob's fury.  So too does the violence which the underworld did the Jewish name.  For there is no doubt that in Warsaw the wildest stories about Jewish vice were in circulation.  One set of slanderous letters in the press, for example, stated that "most brothel owners are Jews with university education.  All customers are Jewish.  The girls are mostly servants Christian."  Reuter observed that "Jews became tired of hearing themselves called keepers of disorderly houses, thieves, usurers and other opprobrious epithets, and resolved, as the police were receiving bribes from these classes and protecting them, to take the matter into their own hands and resort to drastic measures."

There is an interesting footnote to the riot.  Some of the dispossessed alphonses fled Warsaw for the quieter confines of Lemberg [Lviv] across the border.
Edward J. Bristow, Prostitution and Prejudice: The Jewish Fight Against White Slavery 1870-1939, Shocken Books, New York, 1982, ISBN 0-8052-3866-2, pp. 58-61

Seven observations on the above Alphonsenpogrom:

  1. Rational motives for some pogroms?  Though this pogrom was directed at Jews and at Jewish property, it was not motivated by irrational anti-Semitism, and calls to mind the question of whether rational motives could be discovered for other pogroms.

  2. Some pogroms are not Christians attacking Jews, but good attacking evil.  This pogrom was conducted by respectable Jews against criminal or destructive Jews because the latter were tarnishing the image of all Jews.  This brings to mind the realization that events that may conventionally be depicted as Jewish-Slavic friction in fact may not divide participants cleanly along ethnic lines, but rather that the very elements within Jewish society that Slavs might object to might also be objected to by the majority of Jews.  Perhaps, then, the friction is at least sometimes not one of Christians against Jews, but rather Christians allied with the vast majority of Jews who are respectable against the minority of Jews who are destructive.

  3. Leaders of today's Alphonsenpogroms are Jews.  That Jews are in fact divided in their willingness to defend the destructive elements in their midst is attested to by the observation that the best-documented and most-scathing attacks on these destructive elements have come from Jews themselves for example, from Israel Shahak, Norman Finkelstein, Noam Chomsky, Akiva Orr, John Sack, William J. Wolf, Boaz Evron, Yoram Sheftel, and Philip Roth.  (Readers are able to discover where these individuals are cited within the Ukrainian Archive by using the Google internal search engine on the Ukrainian Archive home page.)  Noting the underlying similarity between the 1905 Alphonsenpogrom and the attack by Shahak, Finkelstein, Chomsky, Orr, Sack, Wolf, Evron, Sheftel, and Roth upon the destructive individuals among contemporary Jews, it is possible to view these seven and others as the leaders of a contemporary Alphonsenpogrom, where we understand "Alphonsenpogrom" to cover not only physical attack, but also to include criticism of Jewish misbehavior.

  4. Brothel owners in Slavic lands were mainly Jews.  Bristow refers to the following statement as a "wild story" and as "slanderous": "Most brothel owners are Jews with university education.  All customers are Jewish.  The girls are mostly servants Christian."  However, Bristow does not mean that every part of the statement is untrue.  In fact, Bristow documents that in the Slavic world, brothels were owned almost exclusively by Jews.  The parts of the statement for which there is no evidence and which are implausible are that the brothel owners had university educations, and that all customers were Jewish.  On the question of whether the prostitutes were mostly Christian, the evidence is mixed often Bristow presents data supporting this view, but sometimes he presents data supporting the opposite view that most of the prostitutes were Jewish.

  5. How Jews can reduce anti-Semitism.  It is possible to imagine that some Slavic feelings of antipathy might be directed primarily toward the minority of Jews engaged in destructive activities, and might extend to Jews generally only upon the mistaken impression that Jews generally supported and defended these destructive activities.  If this were the case, then a simple step toward reducing anti-Jewish feeling would be for the majority of Jews to disown and renounce the activities of the destructive minority sheltering among them.

  6. Slavs caught repeatedly in the same traps?  One wonders whether there might not be some application on a historical and inter-ethnic level of the aphorisms "Fool me once, shame on you; fool me twice, shame on me," and "He who is cheated twice by the same man is half as bad as the scoundrel."  That is, if approximately one century ago Jews controlled prostitution in the Slavic world which control, as Bristow documents, included the export of Slavic girls for sex slavery to foreign destinations then perhaps it is symptomatic of a lack of historical awareness, or of a deficiency in the ability to avoid being caught twice in the same mistake, that the Slavs find themselves being victimized in a similar way today and by the same people.

  7. Will Jacob Golans ever become the victim of an Alphonsenpogrom?  One wonders whether something resembling the 1905 Alphonsenpogrom could occur within Israel today with respect to the Jacob Golans of Israel the brothel owners who currently offer Ukrainian sex slaves as their big draws.  Might Israelis tire of having their image smeared by the criminal element among them?  Might Israelis tire of waiting for a corrupt police force, and a corrupt government, to clean up the notorious Israeli brothels?  Might Israelis participate in a contemporary Alphonsenpogrom, ride their Jacob Golans out of town on a rail, and emancipate the Ukrainian sex slaves?  If such a thing happened, it would contribute greatly toward improving Ukrainian perceptions of Israel and toward ameliorating Ukrainian-Jewish relations.


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