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‘Gangsters vs. Nazis’ by Michael Benson -A Book Review

“So we raided the joint. We went over there and grabbed everything insight, all their bullshit signs, and smacked the shit out of them, broke them up the best we could. Nobody could pay me for this work. It was my patriotic duty.”

Quote from L.A. gangster, Mickey Cohen, on bashing up a meeting of the American Nazis in 1938.

I enjoyed listening on Audible to  Gangsters vs. Nazis: How Jewish Mobsters Battled Nazis In Wartime America (Citadel Press Books, 2022) for a number of reasons:

As a student of American history, I found the book a well-written and well-researched study of America fascists and American Jewish mobsters, a rabbi and a Jewish judge and how their lives intersected prior to the beginning of WWII;

I loved when US mobsters beat the crap out of German American Bund and Silver Legion members;

I liked reading about the Jewish mafia, with its fascinating characters like Meyer Lansky, Mickey Cohen, Bugsy Siegel, and Jack Ruby;

I also found it interesting when the author speculated on how present-day American Jews are going to handle a neo-Nazi (Proud Boys and Oath Keepers) takeover of this nation.

Finally, I like books that I can relate to the persons and places mentioned within its pages.

Benson’s book did that for me, since I grew up in the Borscht Belt, in the small Catskill Mountain town of Woodridge, New York and I had neighbors who were hoods or associated with them.

In Woodridge, I also had a small number of Jewish American heroes.

One of them was Barney Ross.

Barney participated in smacking the crap out of Bund members. He was associated with certain members of the underworld.

In 1938, Barney was part of a team of tough mobsters, who raided a Bund meeting and swung lead pipes, blackjacks, sawed-off pool cues, brass knuckles and baseball bats at the Nazi’s bodies.

Their actions helped dissuade many of these Jew haters from attending further meetings.

Barney was also famous for being:

A world champion boxer in three divisions: lightweight, light welterweight and welterweight;

A decorated marine in World War II. He fought in the Pacific theater, Battle of Guadalcanal, where he was awarded a Silver Heart for single handedly fighting off two dozen Japanese soldiers and saving another marine’s life.

Quite a guy.

And Barney Ross summered in my hometown of Woodridge. (Years before I moved there.)

He hung his fedora at the Kentucky Club, which was Woodridge’s only eating, drinking and entertainment establishment.

So of course, I loved this guy and reading about him in Benson’s book made my day.

Benson’s book reminded me that the Bund had a Nazi youth camp in the Catskills.

Pretty scary.

Gangsters vs. Nazis made me recall tales of Sullivan County anti-Semitic rats who were given a brand new pair of cement shoes by members of Murder Incorporated. Those rodents learned to swim with the fishes in Kiamesha Lake in Monticello.

Pretty interesting.

So why am I recommending Benson’s book to my readers.

The answer is found at the end of his book, in a quote by E.A. Bucchianeri, “Once evil is invited in, tremendous effort is required to show it to the door and kick the cloven hoof off the threshold.”

Benson understood who invited the evil, cloven hoofs out of the darkness and into our homes.

And Benson asked two important questions.

Since the Jewish mob is all but gone, who is going to knock the heads together of these Proud Boys or these Oath Keepers?

Where do American Jews find replacements for the strong arms, killer instincts, organizational skills and guts of the mobsters who loved fighting and hurting Nazis with their lead pipes, blackjacks, sawed-off pool cues, brass knuckles and baseball bats

And for those two great unanswered questions alone, I recommend you read Gangsters vs. Nazis.

About the Author
Florida's Jewish short-story writer, speaker, film producer and retired attorney. He has authored, "A Hebraic Obsession", "The Hanukkah Bunny" and "The Greatest Gift." He produced an award-winning short film entitled, "The Stairs". Movie can be viewed on my TOI blog. Mort was a correspondent for the Fort Lauderdale Sun Sentinel Jewish Journal. He has recently taken on the post of president of the South Florida Writers Association.
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