Gangsters Vs. Nazis: The Untold Story Of How Jewish Gangsters Fought Nazis In America, Without Bloodshed

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This is a review of the book Gangsters vs. Nazis: How Jewish Mobsters Battled Nazis In Wartime America by Michael Benson.

This is an excellent book, and it offers a historical account of a chapter in history that is unknown or forgotten by most, including by many of the Jewish people. Maybe it is because of who the history is about (mobsters), and everyone would prefer to forget about it.

However, this chapter of mobster history is one everyone will enjoy, and most will find the actions of the Jewish mobsters heroic. Unlike many of their other escapades, which included running gambling rings, killing people they didn’t like for little or no reason, and running prostitution and drugs, their anti-Nazi activities were honorable and for a good cause.

One thing that is important to note about the Jewish gangsters in America who undertook these activities, is that they were done before it was known the true extent of Hitler’s “final solution” for Germany’s Jews.

When these gangster-led anti-Nazi activities were being carried out, they were on the basis of a strong anti-Semitic rhetoric, spouted by Hitler, and carried across to our shores by German-born Americans (both citizens and immigrants), who created the German American Bund and Silver Shirts, and other outfits of German superiority and racism.


Did you even know about this, that the Nazi party was trying to recruit American Germans to join their war effort, and to create a Nazi party, and ultimately Nazi power, in the United States? Clearly, and for so many reasons, it was quite unsuccessful.

Heroic Deeds Of Gangsters In America To Stop Nazi Recruiting Across The Nation

But this owes in large part to the heroic deeds of the American Jewish gangsters who, at least in this war, fought with honor and dignity, and for a real purpose. These were not the ordinary activities of the Jewish mobsters, or any mobsters for that matter.

These were activities that sought to take away power from the Nazis, discouraging them from recruiting in the US. Perhaps most honorable, it was all done without a shot fired, and without a single American German Nazi being killed in the US.

The fact that they were able to hold to this agreement is pretty amazing, considering the fact that every one of the gangsters featured in the book was regularly, both before, during, and after World War II, killing other people at their whim.

That was the culture of the gangster at the time. Anyone could be killed by a rival gangster, at any time, and for all types of reasons. But, in order to make sure that the Nazis got the correct message, it was important that none of them be killed. The message this gave them was that they were not welcome here in the US, and that any and every event they held in the US would result in at least a number of their members taking a trip to the hospital, but… they would live to tell the tale.

This book tells the wide-ranging story of Nazi propaganda and recruitment in America. It was Hitler’s dream to create a second Germany, of sorts, in the US. The end goal of all of the Nazi propaganda, pomp and circumstance, ceremonies, and the like was to create an army within the US borders of traitorous German-Americans, who would carry the Nazi fascism across to our shores, allowing the world to be united in worship of Hitler and his vision for German world domination, with the “great leader” at the helm, of course.

The author, in the introduction, makes it clear that these gangsters were the good guys, beating up men in the German American Bund and the Silver Shirts, the two branches of Hitler’s recruitment in America. According to Myron Sugerman, the son of Barney Sugerman, who features in the stories in the book, if there’d been a Jewish mob in Germany in 1923 during the Beer Hall Putsch, “They’d’ve shot Hitler, and history would have been a hell of a lot different.”

Fritz Kuhn, German American Bund rally (1938 or 1939); from: "Battle of the United States", Spies in US; FBI; J. Edgar Hoover, Story RG-60.4508, Tape 2820

Fritz Kuhn, German American Bund rally (1938 or 1939); from: “Battle of the United States”, Spies in US; FBI; J. Edgar Hoover, Story RG-60.4508, Tape 2820

Many people do not know that German immigrants at the time of the Great Depression were second only to the Irish in number, year after year, and apparently a rather large number of them maintained loyalties to their home country. However, by and large, German Americans wanted nothing to do with Hitler. They knew hate when they saw it, and they wanted what America had to offer, not what Germany tried to sell the world.

Interestingly, the Bund had been organizing for a while before Hitler’s rise to power and the start of World Wart II. They were allowed to continue because there was no violence at their rallies, and for the most part they could claim a right to hold them due to freedom of speech, a paramount American value designed to protect the rights of American citizens and others.

Rallies were held in New York City, Newark, Minneapolis, and Los Angeles. No one could stop the rallies because they were an expression of freedom of speech. Only when violence broke out at the rallies were they shut down by the police. This, of course, was the point of the beatings at the rallies. Sometimes, however, the rallies experienced heightened police presence to deter further trouble.

There was an excellent reason why the Jewish gangsters were the perfect people to stop the Bund rallies: “The rallies where Hitler wannabees worked the troops into a Jew-hating frenzy were not illegal. That was what made the Jewish gangsters the perfect warriors for the cause. They hurt and killed people for a living and didn’t particularly care about the law. ”


How the Jewish Gangsters Were Recruited

The story begins with a special sessions judge in New York, Judge Nathan David Perlman, who was a Polish immigrant who moved to the the US with his mom at four years old. He had quite a long and storied career before the Nazis came to town.

Judge Nathan Perlman. Image Credit - Library of Congress

Judge Nathan Perlman. Image Credit – Library of Congress

He became a lawyer, was appointed special deputy New York attorney general, then served four years in the New York State Assembly. He also ran for a seat in the US Congress, where he served for seven years, returning to law, and then becoming a New York magistrate.

This is where he was when he started to see the writing on the wall, It was not hard for him to imagine the logical conclusion to the hateful, anti-Jewish rhetoric that the Nazis in Germany and America were spewing: genocide.

He could see this coming in 1938, well before anyone knew what was about to happen. He realized, over drinks in a Manhattan saloon, what needed to be done. He snapped his fingers and said, “What the Nazis need is a good ass whipping.”

But he had to think of a way for this to become a practical reality. He quickly realized that what was needed was a Jewish army, and the first person he called was Meyer Lansky. If that name sounds familiar, you may have been watching Youtube videos about the gangsters in New York City in the era of the Great Depression.

Or you might have watched the movie “Bugsy” a million years ago, in the 1990s. Bugsy Siegel and Meyer Lansky were close friends, and both worked together in what was then known as “Murder, Inc.” their gang of Jewish mobsters during prohibition.

The author states that Meyer Lansky should be credited with creating the Five Family system of the New York mob, and he also taught the other big names you have probably heard of, including Lucky Luciano and Ben “Bugsy” Siegel the importance of manipulating their books to look legit and using offshore bank accounts to hide their finances.

Judge Perlman explained that the most important thing that the Nazi Bund and Silver Shirts should learn was that if they held a Nazi rally, a parade, or any other kind of event, fists would fly and some of them would be going to the hospital.

Nothing more serious than that could occur, as committing murder of the Nazis would have the wrong effect, and would send the wrong message. Simple violence, with fists, brass knuckles, sand bags, and other generally non-deadly weapons were all acceptable. Guns and knives had to be left at home. If the Jewish gangsters started murdering the Bund and Silver Shirts members, that would strengthen the cause of Nazis in America, and would be likely to breed more anti-Semitism.

The conversation between Meyer Lansky and Judge Perlman went as followed. A rabbi, Rabbi Stephen Wise, accompanied Judge Perlman to the meeting, to add some guilt if it became necessary:


“These *&^%ing Nazis, they are becoming bolder with their shenanigans. They march on the streets, and they are anti-Semites, and they think we are soft, Meyer,” the judge said.

“I hate that too” Lansky said

“…Nazism is flourishing in the United States…You got some boys who might want to punch some Nazis?” Perlman asked.

“I do, Judge, Rabbi. Respectfully, you understand we can do better than punch? We could give somebody a deal. Very deterring to the survivors.”

“I’m sorry, we cannot condone killing. There can be no killing,” the rabbi and Perlman nodded in agreement.

Meyer saw the wisdom in this and told them so:”It’s always better not to shoot, right? But there will be violence, am I correct?”

“Oh, yes, let me rephrase. I want you to do anything but kill them. You have the men…?”

At that point, the judge offers to pay them for their time and effort, to which Lansky reminds the judge, “I need no pay, Judge. I am a Jew, and I feel for the Jews in Europe who are suffering. They are my brothers.”

Sharply dressed, [gangster/gambler], Meyer Lansky as he left court today / World Telegram & Sun photo by Al Ravenna. Image Credit - Library of Congress

Sharply dressed, [gangster/gambler], Meyer Lansky as he left court today / World Telegram & Sun photo by Al Ravenna. Image Credit – Library of Congress

The name of the group of gangsters that Lansky chose to use for this particular project was already called by the press “Murder, Inc.” Of course, in this instance, there would be no murder, but it was the only instance in these gangsters’ careers where this rule was applied.

Battling the Nazis in states across the US

This excellent book gives a very compelling and fast-paced account of the battles that ensued after this first conversation. It talks about the people who became involved in the fighting, including many other Jewish gangsters all across the country. The four states mentioned above were the most popular destinations for the Nazi recruiting in America, and these were the sites of most of the fights. But there were events at small towns in New Jersey, in Long Island, in California, Minnesota, and in other places as well.

The author takes the reader on a play-by-play of nearly every large meeting that was broken up by the gangsters, and also shares details when the rallies were not disrupted. This would often happen when a second rally was planned in the same location as one a day or so prior. The Nazi groups would demand police protection, which was most often not forthcoming until after a beating had been dealt out to the Germans. Most of the police in the towns where the rallies were held didn’t care very much about protecting the Nazis…until after there was violence.

There were rallies that were disrupted with stink bombs, with hecklers, and with ordinary fist fights in hallways, staircases, and alleyways outside. There were rare cases where the fighting was called off if the police presence was too high. Most of the time, however, the police were arresting the Nazis. If they did arrest the Jewish gangsters, several things would happen. In most cases the judges were lenient with the gangsters. And in all cases, there was no bad press about the gangsters themselves. This was a special request of Lansky to Perlman.

One might wonder how they managed to disrupt so many of the Nazi rallies. They had spies. They had women acting as spies, reporters going undercover to meetings, and other networks of people finding out where the next meeting or rally would be. Somehow, the gangsters always knew when they were holding their rallies. The Nazis never could find the spies, as there weren’t any notable mentions of this occurring. The infiltrators did an excellent job of reporting on them and also of evading detection.

One funny thing about the spy network was that there were always reporters tipped off to the meeting as well. The people organizing the gangsters always let the reporters know, and in many cases it was the same reporter who would cover and photograph the melee in each city.

This way the beat-downs got excellent news coverage, and acted as a somewhat effective deterrent, though not to the organizers. As time went on, the number of rallies continued to increase, but the number of attendees dwindled over time, because who wants to go to a rally just so they can come home with a bloody nose, or worse?

Well-Researched and Compelling Storytelling

This is a very carefully researched historical account, without the traditional dryness that such accounts often have. This author makes the reader feel like part of the story, and features some really great storytelling.

The only part of this book that I didn’t like was the final chapter. While it was interesting to know how life turned out for each gangster, the level of gory detail was a bit much for me. If you are not interested in knowing the intimate details of how each person was disposed of (as most of them were eventually gruesomely murdered because, of course, they were gangsters – what else could be expected?), you may want to read the final chapter with caution.

I will provide here an example from the final chapter so you can see what I mean. If you have a weak stomach, you may want to skip this next paragraph. This is the demise of Bugsy Siegel:

“Bugsy was reading a newspaper when he was hit, shot six times in the head and torso from a .30 caliber military carbine… The bullets did terrible things to Siegel’s handsome face. Police found one of his eyeballs in the next room. The other eye and Siegel’s nose were also smashed. His cervical vertebrae were shattered to powder.”

That was a gross level of detail, while other death accounts were even worse Some people, however, particularly those who like these types of gangster histories, love that level of gory detail. If that doesn’t describe you, then just be aware of that last chapter.

In all, this book is highly recommended. It is a well-written, thoroughly researched account of an unknown part of history. It also provides a great rebuttal when people say the Jewish people didn’t fight back against Hitler. In America, they most definitely did.


 

Banner Image: German American Bund parade in New York City on East 86th St. Oct. 30, 1937] / World-Telegram photo. Image Credit – Library of Congress


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