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Book Review: Gangsters vs. Nazis by Michael Benson

By Robert McCool

With sixty nonfiction books to his name, Michael Benson speaks with an authority that's hard to deny. That is especially true with his latest, Gangsters vs. Nazis: How Jewish Mobsters Battled Nazis in Wartime America (Kensington Press, ISBN: 978-0-8065-4179-2).

In this April 2022 release, Benson's genius particularly shines. His research is unparalleled and easy to follow in this engaging page-turner. His skill in writing nonfiction results in a flowing scene of visualizations of the people and places in the time they occur in, 1938. All of the action is accurate and true; he's committed to the story and willing to go the distance it takes to present it.

Plus, he's writing a tale that's all too relevant, unfortunately, in today's world. Nazi and militia groups now curdle the milk of human kindness by spewing conspiracy lies and false manifestos in an effort to take over our current government and social media. Witness the “Oath-keepers” and “The Proud Boys” taking over the heart of our American democracy when they attacked the Capital in Washington in January 2021.

However, this story tells how the same was almost accomplished during the time leading to World War II and after. Gangsters vs Nazis chronicles two groups unwilling to become a victim of the other.

It's a cautionary tale full of good guys, with Judge Nathan Perlman and Meyer Lansky directing the secret gangster groups, and bad guys like William Kunze, and William Dudley Pelley with his Silver Shirts storm troopers, and Fritz Kuhn backed by Joseph Goebbels, Hitler's Propaganda Minister. But it's also a revelation to find that Henry Ford was a leading fascist in America, even building trucks in Germany for the Nazi war effort. Charles Lindbergh spoke freely about the American Bunds, groups of Nazis coming together to promote German lifestyle in the states, while they in fact spread the Nazi filth to gather American Nazis together in solidarity.

It all begins in Newark, New Jersey, and New York City, when Fritz Kuhn and his traveling Nazi show gathered  together German-Americans into “Social Bunds” to promote the German idealization of its lifestyle from the Old World. In reality these groups gained followers by the hundreds, and really began  to spread the lies about Jewish bankers, Jewish Communists, and police groups liking Jewish gangsters  because they benefited from the gangster's business programs featuring graft, illegal booze shipments, and money changing hands under the table of crooked cops.

The Nazis had freedom to gather and free speech to inject its lies in these family gatherings of Bunds and Brown Shirt youth camps, and over the radio when Father Coughlin spewed his dangerous untruths on a radio show from middle America.

Finally some Jewish gangsters decided to take matters into their own hands. When Bunds held large gatherings, the gangsters came together and beat the hell out of Bund members. Anytime the Nazis got together, the gangsters met them with violence. This movement was endorsed on the down-low by a New York state judge named Nathan Perlman. The connected judge called upon Meyer Lansky to contact the Jewish crime lords and requested these groups take more organized action against the Bund gatherings. Meyer solicited Herb Brin-Nazi Hunter, and Nat Arno and his “army,” Longie Zwillman, and a journalist named John C. Dickstein, Samuel Dickson, and Leon Lawrence Lewis, leader of the anti-fascist movement. Also Jewish Hoodlums like Al Capone and other mobsters got involved. The Jewish mob beat the Nazis in the newspapers and head busting any time they could get away with it as the Nazis spread their efforts across America. From New York to Minneapolis to North California, to Oregon, the State of Washington, Texas, and San Francisco, but most importantly, Hollywood.

Nazi Germany's Propaganda Minister Joseph Goebbels had his eye on Los Angeles from the beginning of the Fascist rise of power. Robert Pape, Oberfuhrer of the Los Angeles operations, believed like Hitler himself, that to win in the movie business would rule American culture. A similar organization, the Ku-Klux-Klan also had a major presence in California, and Hitler studied America's southern race laws for guidance. But Jewish movie moguls wold not fall to the threats of the Nazis. Like in Cleveland, Ohio, the newly born Jewish “boycott” made an appearance. And then there was Rabbi Silver, and Davey “The Jew” Berman joining the Meyer Lansky movement to confront and attack Nazis whereever they gathered.

The largest Nazi riot came on February 22, 1938 to celebrate George Washington's birthday. Garbage was thrown at the fascist members entering the Deutsches House, on West Fifteenth street in Los Angeles. Gathering around the “German House” was a potent group led by Mickey Cohen, Bugsy Siegel's bodyguard. It turned into a slug fest where the police decided against directly confronting the angry mob. The Nazi's numbers began to flee after this attack. It was called a patriotic duty by the mobsters.

And then the Nazis planned on having 18,000 fascists gather at Madison Square Garden in New York for the birthday of George Washington. William Kunze and Fritz Kuhn took the stage and the evil hostility grew. A newspaper columnist, Dorothy Thompson, wife of Sinclair Lewis, when asked why she was there, replied, “I've got as much right to be here as you do.” She was led out of the meeting laughing loudly, saying, “I laughed because these Nazis were exercising the free speech which one day they would deny everyone.” The official message delivered by Kuhn was that the communist Jews controlled everything in America and other places.

Then Pearl Harbor happened. Everything changed.

I cannot forget the story that Michael Benson tells, with his intense mastery of the English language and research ability.

I recommend this book because Benson has the numerous skills of a nonfiction writer with a history and background of an excellent craftsman. I also add that it's a cautionary tale which applies to our current circumstances in this country, and the free speech of right-wing fascists warning of a violent future.

I plan on reading more of his work, and I recommend him to you, too. Start with this book (when it is released in April 2022) and see if I'm right.


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