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The Immorality of Galician Women

February 26, 1901 — Frankfurt Israelite Relief Organization, Frankfurt, Germany


You spoke, and you speak, about the “immorality of the Galician women,” as if they were a particular class of people who are exceptional and inherently abnormal. The gentlemen do not know — or do not want to know — that the same decline in morality can also be observed among the German Jewish girls who are entitled to residency here — the same decline you see among all the girls who have become morally less stable due to the existing social conditions.

It was once unheard-of for a Jewish girl to give birth out of wedlock — like apostasy from faith or baptism, it seemed like the subject for a novel or a short story. But these days it’s not a rare event — in fact it’s often a recurring one.

The morality of Jewish women and girls, this pillar upon which the endurance and regenerative power of our people rests, is indeed threatened — but not just by the Galician women.

In both sessions, gentlemen spoke of this impending danger, and of protective measures — both defensive and preventive — to be taken towards these Galician women. But no one asked about the root cause of this evil.

A good doctor does not seek to cure the symptoms without investigating the type and causes of the disease.

If one searches for the cause of the increasing immorality among women and girls, the clergy of most denominations will say, first, that it’s because of a lack of religious piety. And perhaps, at first glance, this would seem valid. But take a closer look, and you’ll see that in fact, it’s actually the fault of reactionary parties that, in their call for for morality, suppress personal and religious freedom in order to pursue their own private, political, and special interests.

Very conspicuous phenomena, which those professing the strictest observance in all denominations cannot deny, argue against the fact that decreasing “piety” causes increasing immorality.

Those from all religious denominations who profess the very strictest observance cannot refute or deny that social realities argue against the link between decreasing “piety” and increasing immorality.

So we see that Galicia, that reservoir of Jewish orthodoxy, has for many years “supplied” a significant part of the need for girls to Hungary, Romania, London and many cities in America.

The piety demanded by these Orthodox leaders seems to be powerless to change the situation, and its influence in the asylums and Magdalene houses also remains powerless — and that yields very poor results with regard to their attempts to improve things.

A single house in Chicago that sets itself the task of rescuing “fallen” Jewish girls without any form of religious coercion has comparatively better results than other more traditional institutions.

The second reason, according to popular opinion, is also given by gentlemen: that women who are comfortable do not engage in such dirty things — so the gentlemen say in their patented logic: “The girls are bad because they are bad.”

Well that’s just not true. It is true that there are many rampant, bad elements throughout society, and if not vigorously opposed, there will be many more in the future. But the girls who are bad today are bad because society made them bad, and did not help them get good when they wavered on the divide between good and bad.

By helping, of course, I don’t mean help in the sense of charity. I mean: advice, protection, support, and the availability of all legal and political means that every human being, man and woman, needs to maintain his or her physical and moral existence.

Just look at the life of one of these creatures — I, of course, am excluding cases where excessive charity turns entire families indolent — any girl, regardless of whether she comes from Whitechapel, or a back building in Berlin, or a Galician village.

Let me describe the setting: The child is physically neglected, her healthy development hindered in every direction. The bedrooms are overcrowded. To the child, the struggle for existence appears as the only purpose in life. Instruction and training, upbringing and supervision are all wholly inadequate in preparing her for the demands that life will inevitably demand of her later.

In Germany, the state offers compulsory education up to the age of 14. Nobody can seriously assert that at that age a girl can be capable of work and emotionally mature enough for self-determination. And yet at the age of 14, a girl reaches legal maturity, and in many thousands of cases she’s faced with the necessity of earning a living.

But let’s consider more favorable circumstances, in which a girl is granted an apprenticeship — as, say, seamstress, tailor, milliner, shopkeeper, etc.. In every field of employment, whether as factory workers or teachers or civil servants, the work of women is the same. Her performance is paid worse than that of a man. There are wage rates and salaries that are downright despicable. If a girl who is poorly trained and insufficiently educated learns that there is an opportunity that can, seemingly effortlessly, offer her a carefree, comfortable existence, under circumstances that outwardly appear alluring, it is only too understandable, yes, even excusable, that she would pursue it. Martyrdom of decency is not a relevant option.

For the Galician girls, the situation is even worse. In Galicia there is no compulsory education. The girls are not only socially but also religiously inferior to the boys — they are allowed to go to school, but in fact that only happens irregularly, and as far as lessons go, they’re completely haphazard. In addition, the girls tend to become engaged when they are still children. If they grow up feeling an aversion to the man who’s designated for them, then they either take refuge in baptism, or they escape into the wider world — only to finally fall prey to the same illegal fate that they had hoped to escape from under a legal guise.

What I have so far tried to sketch, however fleetingly, is the social justification of the phenomena known as “increasing immorality.” This raises many questions. Perhaps from my remarks you can already discern the deepest roots of the woman’s question — perhaps even the goals of the women’s movement.

Fortunately, these extreme examples that we see in everyday life frighten even the most well-meaning of men. They see and they recognize the magnitude of the problem that it poses for the community as a whole. The link between these questions of morality and questions of housing, questions of wages, and questions of education are easy to see.

But if you restrict yourself in dealing with the moral question to the exclusion of the double morality, then you will continue to spread the disease.

The members of the Israelite Aid Society are not the first, and not the only ones, to whom increasing prostitution among girls appears to be a problem. One of them recently offered this dismissive advice: “Get rid of the rabble.” It’s neither a generous view, nor an isolated one. The only remarkable thing about it is that for men, even those with a commercial or business education, the laws of supply and demand do not seem to apply.

These Jewish peddlers — the waitresses, the shopkeepers, the milliners, the tasters, the ballet operatives and choristers, yes, they are selling. You can choose to be morally indignant about it — but could they sell their wares if there were no buyers?

The terrible injustice lies precisely in the fact that when two people commit a crime together, all the guilt is placed on one of them, while the other is considered flawless in the eyes of the world. I mean exactly what I say: flawless in the eyes of the world — and inevitably there is punishment for the other, according to the unchangeable laws of nature.



Source: “Die Immoralität der Galizianerinnen,” in Sisyphus: Gegen den Mädchenhandel — Galizien, ed. Helga Heubach, (Freiburg im Breisgau: Kore, 1992), pp. 19-23.


Also: Rererat von Fräulein Pappenheim, gehalten in einer von dem Vorstande des Israelitischen Hilfsvereins zu Frankfurt am Main einberufenen Versammlung am 26. Feburar 1901, Sonderdruck (Frankfurt a.M.: 1901)


Also: “Soziale Schäden,” Allgemeine Zeitung des Judentums 65, no. 25 (June 21, 1901) pp. 289-290.