Jewish gangsters once took on Nazis in the streets of NYC – New York Post

Posted By on May 8, 2022

In 1938, New York City had a Nazi problem.

At the time, there were about 12 million German immigrants in the US, and most were happily assimilating. But about 1 in 500 were members of the German-American Bund, a national organization that avidly supported Adolf Hitler and pledged allegiance to Germany.

Its literature called the Jewish people a menace and a threat to democracy. In New York, the Bund held massive rallies, goose-stepping down the streets of the Upper East Side in brown-shirted uniforms with swastikas on their arms.

The demonstrations terrified New Yorks Jewish community, many of whom had relatives in Europe and had been watching the headlines from Germany with growing alarm. A former US congressman and judge named Nathan David Perlman saw the path the Bund was on, and he wanted it stopped. He knew their actions werent illegal, but the judge had a revelation one evening while enjoying a cocktail in a Manhattan saloon.

What those Nazis need is a good ass-whipping, realized the judge, as Michael Benson describes in his new book, Gangsters v Nazis: How Jewish Mobsters Battled Nazis in Wartime America (Kensington), out now.

Perlman knew exactly who should deliver said ass-whipping, too. He called Meyer Lansky, New Yorks preeminent Jewish gangster.

You got some boys who might want to punch a Nazi? he asked.

I do, Judge, the mobster answered. Respectfully, you understand we can do better than punch? I know just the crew in Brownsville. The boys in the press call them Murder, Inc.

Lansky had grown up tough on the Lower East Side with gangsters Benjamin Bugsy Siegel and Charles Lucky Luciano, helping to form New Yorks Five Families organized crime outfit and becoming rich and powerful through bookmaking, bootlegging and opening casinos. Lansky was smart but tough, too, willing to get physical when necessary.

Perlman declined Lanskys offer to kill the Nazis. Instead, he wanted Lansky to teach the Bund a lesson they wouldnt soon forget.

I want you to do anything but kill them, Perlman said.

The purpose of the German-American Bund was to promote Hitlers agenda in the US, and throughout the 1930s various American Nazi organizations were discovered amassing arsenals of arms and ammunition, planning to sabotage roadways and power plants even buying planes for a Nazi air force inside the United States. While the Bund was started by German-Americans in the United States, Adolf Hitler knew of its existence (theres a picture of him shaking hands with Bund boss Fritz Kuhn) and approved of it. Hitler knew from his own experience in World War I that he didnt want to fight the Americans again, so he hoped to brainwash the country into supporting him.

Many of New Yorks Germans lived in Yorkville (East 86th Street was nicknamed Sauerkraut Boulevard), where the Bund frequently held rallies and parades. To honor Hitlers 49th birthday on April 20, those fascists planned a celebratory march from Carl Schulz Park to the Yorkville Casino.

Waiting for them at the casino were Meyer Lansky and his Jewish gangster friends, including members of Murder, Inc.: Mendy Weiss, who worked as a kidnapper and choker; Buggsy Goldstein, rumored to crack jokes while killing; Harry Pep Strauss, reputedly one of the most prolific contract killers; and Jacob Drucker, known as an ice pick man for his favorite means of murder.

After the parade, the Bund planned on listening to a speech from Kuhn in a ballroom decorated with swastikas and likenesses of the Fuhrer.

Lanskys crew broke into three groups: Outside, five racketeers with baseball bats and pool cues waited to pound fleeing Nazis; on the second floor, five more planned on attacking from on high; and in the back of the casino ballroom sat Lansky and friends, Jewish men who listened to ugly speeches briefly before randomly unleashing haymakers. The gangsters attacked from three sides and15bouts of fisticuffs ensued, and although the gangsters were far outnumbered bythe more than 3,000 Nazis,it wasnt a fair fight most Bund members cowered in fear, while the gangsters dealt in violence every day.

Men who knew how to march were fighting men who knew how to hurt, Benson writes.

When it was over, Benson writes,scattered about were injured Nazis. So much blood. Some lay unconsciousafter their heads were pummeled, others with compound fractures of the limbs. The gangsters only challenge was not killing anyone, which they barely accomplished: After beating one mouthy Bund member into semi-consciousness, Buggsy and Drucker tossed the man out a second-story window. He survived, but his leg was shattered. Afterward, Lansky and company dropped their weapons andthe American Legion hats they wore for coverand slipped into the night, never fingered for the assault exactly as Lansky hoped, the next day The New York Times blamed the melee on the Legion.

You got some boys who might want to punch a Nazi?

Judge Perlman had offered Lansky compensation for the work, but Lansky refused. I need no pay, Judge, Lansky told him. I am a Jew, and I feel for the Jews in Europe who are suffering.

Lansky didnt want help, either.When his boyhood friend Lucky Luciano offered his Italian thugs to assist in the ass-whippings, he demurred.

Its a job for Jews, he explained.

The Battle for Yorkville had the desired effect. When the next Bund meeting was scheduled for White Plains, only about 250 of an expected 1,000 Nazis showed up, many still bearing injuries from the Yorkville fracas. A strong police presence kept Lanskys crew from getting into the arena, but he bribed two local Jewish teenagers for $1 each to smuggle corked, glass bottles into the event.

With the first speech underway, one boy yelled Hitlers got one ball! and both threw their vials towards the stage. Stink bombs erupted and the crowd fled. By the time the arena was aired out and the proceedings restarted, even more seats were empty. Lanskys war of intimidation was working.

While the US government understood the First Amendment protected the Bunds right to march and rally, it still disapproved of the group. President Franklin D. Roosevelts unofficial position was to make the American Nazis uncomfortable whenever possible, Benson writes.

Judge Perlman went beyond New York to help with the effort. In Chicago a city where boardinghouse signs plainly announced No Jews or dogs allowed he reached out to Jake Greasy Thumb Guzik. Guzik was Chicagos senior Jewish boss, right-hand man to Al Capone.

Guzik happily said I do when Perlman asked if he knew people who could punch a Nazi. The next time Chicagos German-American Bund met, they were waylaid by various hardened Jewish boxers, including Jacob Rubenstein, who would later be known as Jack Ruby, infamous killer of Lee Harvey Oswald.

Its safe to say that by 1939 every Nazi in the Windy City knew how tough Jews could be, Benson writes.

It was a similar story in Los Angeles, Detroit and Cleveland, with every battle between Nazis and Jews ending the same. The gangsters had an appetite for violence that overwhelmed their Aryan foes. Germans fled and cried and covered their faces with their hands.

And at the end of every vicious attack, the Bund was threatened with even more violence. After one Buffalo brawl, a Jewish hood was heard grumbling to a fallen, bloodied Nazi, Next time we aint gonna be so nice.

Back in New York, Lanskys work had chased the Nazis across the Hudson River to Newark, where the group fared no better. Newarks Third Ward was led by Longie Zwillman, whod spent his New Jersey childhood defending Jewish kids from Polish bullies.

The Bund scheduled meetings for Newark, even posting flyers calling for the citys streets to run with Jewish blood. Judge Perlman contacted Longie about the Nazis plans and he deputized one of his enforcers, Nat the Fighting Hebrew Arno, to put together a crew.Arno recruited other Jewish pugilists and mob enforcers, and soon The Anti-Nazi Minutemen of America was born.

A lot of them just plain loved to fight, and busting up those Nazi creeps sounded like fun, Arno said.

In subsequent Newark battles, Hymie The Weasel Kugel was seen incapacitating Nazis with frying-pan blows to the head. Golden Gloves boxing champ Harry The Dropper Levine knocked them out. It was a hobby that thrilled Jewish toughs like Puddy Hinkes, whose only complaint was the single restriction on their work. Its just too bad we couldnt kill them all, he grumbled.

By 1939 it wasnt just Jewish gangsters fighting the Bund. News from Europe of the horrors Jews were facing there being forced into ghettos or sent to camps turned the tide against American Nazism. Every time the German-American Bund or other similar organizations met, patriotic Americans by the hundreds gathered to protest.

When Fritz Kuhn scheduled a massive event for the Bund at Madison Square Garden in February 1939 supposedly a pro-American event, but really just another chance to espouse angry anti-Semitism more than 1,700 NYPD cops had to protect the venue from an angry crowd of thousands gathered outside, including Lanskys crew. Many of the uniformed Nazis hoping to attend were beaten before they could even enter the arena, and the final death knell for those fascists was tolling. By 1940, the Nazis in America were on the run, Benson writes, fearful of stink bombs and crowbars. By Pearl Harbor, the Bund was through.

As to why Meyer Lansky and Mickey Cohen, Jewish gangsters from different coasts, offered their violent services pro-bono to Judge Perlmans crusade, they gave exactly the same reason: It was my patriotic duty.


Jewish gangsters once took on Nazis in the streets of NYC - New York Post

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