The Third Daughter by Talia Carner explores a dark time in history at the turn of the 20th century when Jews from Russia emigrated to the Americas to flee persecution, sometimes to suffer worse fates at the hands of those who would help them. I was fortunate enough to attend a book group discussion with the author present to learn more about the historical context surrounding the book.
This historical fiction novel takes place in the late 1800s and early 1900s in Russia, where teenager Batya and her family are living. In order to escape poverty and with the hope of settling in the United States, Batya’s father marries her off to Yitzik Moskowitz, a seemingly respectable, wealthy Jewish man visiting the Ukraine. He agrees to wait two years to marry young Batya, but insists she travel with him for the time being. Once she turns 16, they would marry and settle in the United States, then bring over the rest of Batya’s family, to escape the pogroms and antisemitism in Russia, and they’ll all be together again. But sadly, this does not happen and Moskowitz is not who he appeared to be.
Instead, Moskowitz abandons her, and young Batya is shipped out all alone. Cruelly abused and violated on a trip across the Atlantic, she arrives in emotional and physical distress and is forced to work in a brothel in Argentina. At 14 years old she is caught up in legal prostitution and sexual slavery run by a Jewish criminal group called Zwi Migdal.
The Third Daughter is the story of Batya’s enslavement and how she and the other young girls at the brothel survive. With little control over how she is physically treated by the men who visit the brothel, Batya is happy to be selected to dance the Tango with one of the johns, allowing her to reclaim her body during the time she is dancing. All the young prostitutes suffer greatly and lose dignity in life, yet they are able to create a prostitute cemetery, which gives them strength and hope, knowing they can ensure their purity in death.
With the ongoing dream of bringing her family to safety, Batya is faced with the dangerous opportunity to help bring down the prostitution network. This fictional story of Batya was heartbreaking, showing the strength of young girls trapped in an unwanted lifestyle and eye-opening regarding Jewish organized crime at the turn of the century.
A LITTLE BACKGROUND
In 1995, Carner attended an International Women’s Conference in Beijing where she learned about many horrible acts against women. This is where the seed for her story was planted. She struggled with exposing such a dark part of Jewish history, but the personal need to write about it never dissipated and The Third Daughter was published in 2019.
The Jewish organized crime group, Zwi Migdal, operated in Buenos Aires for 70 years, luring young girls into legal prostitution with false promises of jobs, careers and better lives. There were over 1,000 members and in the 1920s; more than 400 pimps controlled 2,000 brothels and 4,000 women. Ironically, this inhumane organization run by Jews also supported Yiddish theater and donated money to build Jewish synagogues. (Corrupt people and businesses often are philanthropic as well.) Ultimately, Zwi Migdal was brought down by the Brazilian Jewish community.
Carner is a wonderful speaker and often shares her knowledge at book groups and public events. I highly recommend reading her book and finding the opportunity to learn from her. Visit the author’s website for more information about The Third Daughter, her other novels and sex trafficking.