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Sunday, August 7, 2022

Review of Gangsters vs Nazis

Gangsters vs Nazis: How Jewish Mobsters Battled Nazis in Wartime America
By Michael Benson
Citadel Press Books, 2022.

Beginning in 1938, Judge Nathan Perlman phoned mobsters the likes of Meyer Lansky in New York, Longie Zwillman in Newark, "Greazy Thumb" Guzik- Al Capone's righthand man- in Chicago, Dave "The Jew" Berman in Minneapolis, and Mickey Cohen and Bugsy Siegel in L.A. to help combat the rising American Nazi menace led by Fritz Kuhn of the German American Bund and William Dudley Pelley of the Silver Shirts. Those mobsters turned to Jewish boxers to physically fight the American Nazis.

In Gangsters vs Nazis, Michael Benson retells in fascinating fashion how Jewish mobsters and boxers pummeled Nazis at home just as the lives of their brethren across the Atlantic grew increasingly tragic. Benson narrates as if he's your best storytelling uncle and you want to pester him for another one until he eventually falls asleep on the couch. Though the topic is weighty, the easy and conversational writing works well.

The book has a source list, but there are no endnotes and no index, which are nonissues for most readers, but a bit disappointing for those of us who write about the topics covered. There is so much enlightening and colorful information packed in these pages, it would great to trace it back to the original source.

Many Jewish boxers make appearances. In Chicago, legendary referee Dave Miller and the incomparable Barney Ross worked to stop the Nazi threat in the city. Sparky Rubenstein, Ross's childhood friend, urged the great champion to beat up Nazis, but Ross was worried that as a boxer his hands were lethal weapons. So Rubenstein gave him a leather sack filled with ball bearings to pummel the Nazis. According to Benson, Ross then joined the endeavor. Incidentally, Rubenstein would later change his name to Jack Ruby, a name that will live in infamy.

Nat ArnoPuddy Hinkes, and Abie Bain are among the Newark Minutemen featured. The section on Newark complements Greg Donahue's audio book The Minuteman and Leslie Barry's novel Newark Minutemen well. In L.A., Mickey Cohen's brief career as a pugilist is highlighted. Though Minneapolis and New York were home to many Jewish boxers, the mobsters are the stars of the show in those sections. Regardless, they are just as interesting.

Jewish boxing fans will find a lot of riveting stories in Gangsters vs Nazis told in an extremely entertaining manner. Those who enjoy reading about the mob or find catharsis in the bloodying of Nazis will thoroughly enjoy Michael Benson's work. This is highly recommended reading.

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