How the Jewish Mafia Took on the Nazis
Judge Nathan Perlman and Rabbi Stephen Wise met with Jewish mobster Meyer Lansky — and they agreed to take on the Nazis. But Lansky had one stipulation. He didn’t want bad ink, should he get arrested.
“I don’t want anything in the Jewish papers that my wife shouldn’t read,” Lansky said, according to Michael Benson’s mesmerizing book “Gangsters vs. Nazis: How Jewish Mobsters Battled Nazis in Wartime America.”
This was in 1938, when the German-American Bund was setting up camps to raise money and try to gain influence in the US. Fritz Kuhn was the ringleader. Along with Lansky, the Jewish tough guys who took on the Bund included Abraham “Kid Twist” Reles and Charles “Bug” Workman. One incident where Jewish mobsters attacked the Bund took place at the Yorkville Casino in New York.
Was Perlman risking his career?
“It was completely on the down low, although there must have been some sort of conspiracy because the cops kind of looked the other way during the fights,” Benson said. “They would always arrive just about too late to do anything.”
Benson’s book details how Jewish mobsters and others beat up Nazis in different cities, and how the Nazis became afraid to meet publicly.
The Jewish fighters were always greatly outnumbered, but somehow Lansky knew they’d win.
“I think he suspected his boys would have the advantage because they hurt people for a living,” Benson said. “A lot of the Germans at the Bund meetings weren’t there to fight. They were there to drink beer and pinch waitresses.”
Jewish gangsters also attacked the Nazis in America, because they believed it was their patriotic duty.
Benson said the beatings were instrumental in preventing the Nazis from gaining a foothold in America.
“It stifled the pro-Nazi organizations,” Benson said. “It kept the numbers … down to a minimum. And intelligence gathered helped to prevent [Nazi] sabotage at the docks and other places once the war began.”
In what was a last-ditch effort, Kuhn invited Nazis from across America to meet in Madison Square Garden — but the event turned into a riot that went against the Nazis. Much of the press would go to Izzy Greenbaum, who stormed Kuhn. Greenbaum would get a letter from Perlman congratulating him.
While there is no Jewish mafia now, Benson said regarding recent attacks on Jews on the streets of America, he wouldn’t object if there were a bunch of tough Jews to protect people from violent attacks.
Benson has written numerous books, including a number on the mafia, and also on Ronald Reagan. He said he first began writing when he was 11, becoming interested in crime when his babysitter and her friend were murdered. The book on that killer is called “The Devil at Genesee Junction.”
As for his new book, he said the most startling thing to find was that Americans were sending their children to the Bund camps prior to the war.
“We know that the Holocaust happened, and that World War II happened, and that’s something in 1938 that they didn’t yet know,” Benson said. “But to send your kid to a camp to hate is crazy.”
The author is a writer based in New York.