Yes, Jewish mobsters knew how to properly punch Nazis. This feature for the Jewish Telegraphic Agency was fun to write. I talk to author Michael Benson about his book Gangsters Vs. Nazis: How Jewish Mobsters Battled Nazis in Wartime America. Before WWII, Jewish mobsters kept Nazis at bay in the US—with their fists.
The way author Michael Benson tells it, one day in 1938, New York judge and Jewish communal leader Nathan Perlman sat at a bar and thought, “How come these Nazis get to march down 86th Street, goose-stepping and ‘sieg heiling’ like it’s the Macy’s Parade? Why are they so brazen?”
It was because they were not worried about the consequences. Too few people in then-isolationist America really cared about what was being said about the Jews or what was happening to them in Europe, Benson said. What was needed, then, were Jews who weren’t afraid to break some laws — and some bones — as they challenged the homegrown Nazi threat.
And that’s when, in Benson’s words, “Judge Perlman thought outside the box.”
What happened next is the subject of Benson’s book, “Gangsters Vs. Nazis: How Jewish Mobsters Battled Nazis in Wartime America” (Kensington), published in late April. As the title suggests, Perlman had a few connections in the underworld. That included Meyer Lansky, an accountant, bootlegger and fixer whose work straddled both the Italian American and the Jewish mob. Lansky, in turn, had at his disposal Jewish members of a mob enforcement organization known as “Murder Inc.”