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Date Posted: 21:29:03 03/15/05 Tue
Author: No name
Subject: History of the US Jewish Mafia
In reply to: 's message, "In Memory of Specter's Deeds" on 21:22:38 03/15/05 Tue

www.jewishgates.org - There were two major periods of organized Jewish criminal activity in America. At the end of the 19th century, Jews in New York, Philadelphia, Chicago, Boston, and Detroit controlled more than 90% of all prostitution in the United States. This period of crime, however, left few names that we can remember. It was the period between the World Wars---the eras of Prohibition and the Great Depression---that saw the rise of the American Jewish gangster as a force. In 1919 the United States government attempted to regulate morality by outlawing the manufacture and sale of alcoholic beverages. Prohibition offered an enormous opportunity for the mobster to provide what society still wanted, namely booze. Another contributing factor to the rise of gangsterism was the morality of the age. At all levels of society this was a time when "anything goes," when an honest man was considered a "sucker," and when flaunting the rules was the norm. It has been said that If one were to compute the number of Americans who violated the Eighteenth Amendment whether as producers, conveyers, or peddlers of intoxicants or as "protectors" of the trade, or as consumers, the total would probably be an overwhelming majority of the population.It was in this milieu that the Jewish gangster rose to prominence. Contrary to modern Jewish criminals who are involved mostly in white-collar crime such as fraud, insider-trading, or embezzlement, these men engaged in extortion, gambling, narcotics peddling, boot-legging, and murder. For a time they dominated the rackets in Boston, Cleveland, Detroit, Newark, Philadelphia, and New York.
A composite portrait of the "typical" Jewish gangster of this period would show him to be a second generation American male of Eastern European parentage, city bred, and in his early twenties. His parents would be working class and traditional, rather than Orthodox, Jews; that is, they would observe a number of the Jewish traditions and holidays but would not comply with all the religious injunctions that an Orthodox Jew is required to perform. This typical Jewish gangster would not have finished high school and would remain strongly attached to his family throughout his life. Generally speaking, he was the only person in his immediate family to turn to a life of crime, his brothers and sisters following more respectable routes to economic advancement and social mobility. Moreover, the most famous group of Jewish gangsters did not do so out of necessity; unlike the Jewish criminals of the late 19th century, they did not grow up or live in abject poverty. The typical Jewish gangster of the 20's and 30's chose crime because it was the quickest way for him to achieve material success, power, recognition, and status. It was a means to become "a somebody" and move up and out of the middle-class "ghetto." Legitimate work was hard, dull, and offered only slow economic and social mobility. Crime was exciting and provided a challenge for men of ability, aggressiveness, and daring. The ever-present element of danger-- -being caught by the police or killed by rivals---added to the excitement. Jewish gangsters saw what they were doing in the same way that many of their non-Jewish colleagues saw themselves: They were providing a service. People wanted liquor, narcotics, gambling, and women; the gangster furnished them. Physical violence was accepted as a tool of the trade; It was a way to eliminate competition and protect one's interest. The American Jewish community at large entertained ambivalent feelings about the Jewish gangster. The Jewish leaders were, of course, repelled by him because he epitomized the "bad Jew," the evil man who provided ammunition for the anti-Semite. They feared that publicized criminal activity by Jews would bring onus and hatred upon the entire community. In the 1920's and 1930's these were not idle concerns; the American atmosphere was charged with the anti-Semitic fulminations and activities of Henry Ford, the Ku Klux Klan, Gerald L. K. Smith, Father Charles Coughlin, and the German-American Bund. In addition, Jewish parents were in a perpetual state of anxiety lest their children be attracted to the lifestyle of the gangster and emulate him. Nevertheless, many people in the community harbored a grudging admiration for the Jewish mobster because he competed physically with the non-Jew and gave as good as he got. The Jewish gangster had "made it" in America by beating the violent and physical Gentile at his own game. At a time when Jews in Europe were at the mercy of hostile governments and under constant threat of violence and pogroms, the gangster provided American Jews with secret vicarious satisfaction and pride. A number of Jewish gangsters acquired respect because they assumed the role of protector and defender of their people. In Chicago the funeral of the Jewish gangster Samuel "Nails" Morton was attended by five thousand Jews who felt they owed him their thanks for protecting their neighborhood from Jew-baiters. Jewish mobsters in Detroit protected Jewish peddlers and grocery store owners from having to pay protection money to Polish and Italian hoodlums. And in the 1930's New York Jewish thugs broke up German-American Bund rallies in New York and New Jersey. Despite their aversion to the gangster, even Jewish leaders were not above using his services on behalf of the community. Arnold Rothstein was asked to help end the New York garment district strike of 1926, and Jewish gangsters were asked to help secure arms during Israel's War of Independence. In spite of their own success in crime, most Jewish gangsters kept their families separate and unimplicated in their criminal enterprises. West Coast mobster Mickey Cohen summarized this attitude when he said, "We had a code of ethics like the ones among bankers, other people in other walks of life, that one never involved his wife or family in his work. " These men wanted their children to marry well and achieve respectability and acceptance in the legitimate world. Thus, they sent their children to the best schools and encouraged them to enter the professions such as law and medicine. In this, they were very much like other Jewish parents of their generation. The following are some of the more prominent Jewish figures in organized crime before World War II: MOSES L. "MOE" ANNENBERG (1878-1942) was born in East Prussia and came to the United States in 1884. He was the circulation manager of all the Hearst newspapers and magazines in America when, in the 1920's, he conceived the idea of establishing a telegraphic news service for bookie joints that would carry fast and accurate information from race tracks across the country. According to the Internal Revenue Service, which collected evidence of his income tax evasion, Annenberg operated a racket that was a monopoly of the telegraph service from almost all the race tracks in the United States, Canada, Mexico, and Cuba. His wire service was the American Telephone and Telegraph Company's fifth largest customer. So extensive was this operation that one insider equated it with the British Empire. During the Depression Annenberg's income from his racetrack wire service was conservatively estimated to be six million dollars a year. In 1939, while under investigation by the Justice Department, Annenberg divested himself of all his interest in the racing wire service. He did not attempt to sell it to anyone or to realize any salvage from it ' he simply walked out. Nevertheless, he was convicted of income tax evasion, fined eight million dollars. and sentenced to three years in prison. Shortly after his release. he died. LOUIS LEPKE BUCHALTER (1897-1944) was nicknamed "Lepkele" (little Louis) by his mother. J. Edgar Hoover called him "the most dangerous criminal in the United States." Born on the Lower East Side of New York, where his family lived In a crowded flat over a small hardware store owned by his father, Louis was the only one of eleven children to embark on a life of crime. One brother became a rabbi, another a dentist, and a third a pharmacist. Little Louis got better-than -average marks in school and seems to have behaved himself, but he quit school at the age of fifteen after completing the eighth grade and went to work as a delivery boy. By the time Lepke was eighteen his family, except Louis, had moved out West. He turned down an older brother's offer to put him through high school and college and, instead, moved into a furnished room on the East Side.
It was in this brawling neighborhood, that Buchalter embarked on his criminal career. He joined a group of local hoods, who rolled drunks, picked pockets. and robbed from pushcarts. His close associate at this time and for the next thirty years, was Jacob "Gurrah" Shapiro, a surly, coarse young man. Just after his twenty-first birthday, Lepke was sent to jail for stealing a salesman's sample case. Paroled in 1917, he was back in prison the next year on a larceny charge and was sent up again for two years in 1920. Upon his release he turned his talent to labor racketeering. Lepke commanded an army of gangsters who extorted millions of dollars from his victims. Their weapons were destructive acids, bludgeons, blackjacks, knives, fire, icepicks, and guns. For a fee Lepke protected manufacturers from strikers and unionization of their shops by intimidating workers and using strong-arm tactics. He also forced unions to do his bidding by installing his own business agents or by creating rival unions. Lepke explained that the trick was a captive union and a captive trade association. "That way you got both management and labor in your pocket." Lucky Luciano once commented that "with the rest of us it was booze, gambling, whores, like that. But Lepke took the bread out of the workers' mouths." Lepke's system worked and he became a legend. The few men who failed to heed the gang's orders or who dared to go to the police with their stories suffered "destruction, acid throwing, mayhem and murder." In the same way that he gained control over the unions through terror, Buchalter moved into legitimate business. Those who tried to fight him found their plants wrecked or their stocks ruined by a special Lepke task force, expert in the art of acid throwing. When a manufacturer surrendered, Lepke would place his men in the factory as managers, foremen, and bookkeepers. In his private life Lepke was a devoted family man who rarely drank or gambled, and he never raised his voice. By 1932 Buchalter dominated a wide assortment of industries in New York, including the bakery and pastry drivers, the milliners, the garment workers, the shoe trade, the poultry market, the taxicab business, the motion picture operators, and the fur truckers. At the pinnacle of his power Buchalter was the feudal lord of New York's underworld. His reputation through gangland was that he never lost his temper but his own men feared him. They called him "The Judge," sometimes "Judge Louie." One associate, Sholem Bernstein, summed it up for all when he said, "I don't ask questions, I just obey. It would be more healthier." In 1934 Buchalter helped to organize the Syndicate. Its creation converted the scattered, unconnected mobs in New York, Chicago, Kansas City, and other cities into a smooth-working, tightly-bound business. On the early board of directors of this confederation of crime bosses were Lepke, Johnny Torrio, Frank Costello, Lucky Luciano, Joe Adonis, "Bugsy" Siegel. and Abner Zwillman. They decided that this would be a loose working confederation, with each boss having his own territory and with the regional chiefs sifting together on a board of directors. The board would dictate policy and handle all negotiations on the inter-mob level. It was Lepke who campaigned for a special enforcement group to keep the peace and insure that the Syndicate's decisions were carried out. Sometimes referred to as Murder Inc, this crack corps of killers was made up primarily of Jews from Brownsville, East New York, and Ocean Hill. They became the "official" execution squad for the Syndicate.
When Dutch Schultz boasted that he would do things his way, he was killed. And it was Charley "The Bug" Workman and Mendy Weiss, two Murder Incorporated killers, who did the job on orders from Lepke. In 1941 Lepke was indicted for the killing of Joseph Rosen, a garment trucker whom Lepke had driven out of business. Buchalter was the only top underworld figure of his generation to be tried, convicted, and executed for murder. He did at Sing Sing Prison on March 4, 1944. JACOB "GREASY THUMB" GUZ1K (1887-1956) was an exception to the generalization that Jewish gangsters were the only ones in their families to pursue a life of crime. Jake and his brothers all began their working careers in the rackets. Jake. however, rose to become the most famous of the Guzik brothers through his association with Al Capone. Jake became the Capone organization's treasurer and acquired the nickname "Greasy Thumb" from the green stain earned from counting Capone's money. Later in life Guzik brought numerous lawsuits against newspapers for portraying him as a gangster. He brushed aside queries as to the wisdom of this by saying. "I'm paying these judges, so why shouldn't I use them." At his death he received an Orthodox Jewish funeral and was eulogized as a man "who never lost faith in his God. Hundreds benefitted by his kindness and generosity. His charities were performed quietly."ARTHUR "DUTCH SCHULTZ" FLEGENHEIMER (1901-1935) converted to Catholicism on his death bed. However, he grew up as a Jew. His mother was a pious, patient woman whose great grief was that the son she adored turned out as he did. Arthur's playmates nicknamed him "Dutch Schultz" after an early twentieth century hoodlum. Starting out as a bootlegger, Flegenheimer moved into slot machines, the Harlem numbers racket. and the restaurant protection racket. By 1932 he was clearing two million dollars a year just from the restaurant racket. Dutch was killed in the men's room of a Newark chophouse by Charlie "The Bug" Workman and Mendy Weiss when he defied a New York syndicate decision not to kill Thomas E. Dewey, then investigating organized crime in Manhattan. MEYER LANSKY (SUCHOWLJANSKY) (1902-1983) was frequently mentioned by law enforcement officials as being one of the kingpins of organized crime in the United States. Since the 1920's he was linked with names like Bugsy Siegel, Longie Zwillman. Lucky Luciano, Johnny Torrio, and Frank Costello. His alleged gambling empire was at one time said to encompass Florida, the Caribbean Islands, and Las Vegas. Although he had been indicted numerous times, Lansky was only convicted once in 1953 on a gambling charge, and he served three months in jail.
In 1971 Lansky applied for Israeli citizenship. His application was rejected on the grounds that "he was a person with a criminal past, likely to endanger the public welfare." Lansky had long been associated with Jewish causes and despite this rebuff, he remained a strong supporter of Israel and of Jewish philanthropies.
ABE "KID TWIST" RELES (1907-1941) was a New York-born hoodlum and killer about whom it was said, "he committed just about every act of violence against which there is a law." Reles was one of Murder Incorporated's top gunmen, and it was his turning state's evidence in 1940 that provided lawmen with their first inside look at the New York crime syndicate. His testimony assisted in the conviction and execution of seven major crime figures; Lepke Buchalter was one of them. Reles died in 1941 when, while under police guard, he fell or was thrown from the Half Moon Hotel in Coney Island. ARNOLD "THE BRAIN" ROTHSTEIN (1882-1928) was the pioneer big businessman of crime in the United States. Rothstein was born in New York City, the son of a respected, middle-class Jewish merchant The elder Rothstein was versed in religious and Hebrew classical literature, was something of a philanthropist, and was chairman of the board of New York's Beth Israel Hospital. Arnold never achieved the kind of respectability his family hoped he would, but he did exceed their expectations in another area: By the time he died he had amassed a fortune estimated to be in the millions of dollars. Rothstein understood the logic of coordination and the potential of organized crime. He most- remembered as the man allegedly responsible for the "Black Sox" scandal," the attempt to fix the 1919 baseball World Series between the Chicago White Sox and the Cincinnati Reds. However, that was really small potatoes for him. It was Rothstein who, during the 1920's, put together the largest gambling empire in the United States and controlled most of the gangs in New York, as well as that city's traffic in bootlegging, narcotics, and gambling.
Rothstein attempted to bring order to the extreme competition prevailing in the bootlegging business. He supplied money, manpower, and protection; and if things went wrong, he was ready to provide bail and attorneys.
Rothstein moved freely in all circles, from politicians and statesmen to bankers and bums. On his payroll at one time or another were gangsters such as Waxey Gordon, Jack "Legs" Diamond, Lepke Buchalter, Albert Anastasia, and Frank Costello (who later rose to become a "boss" of the mob and the star attraction of the Kefauver Crime Committee Hearings), as well as a goodly number of public officials. So successful was Rothstein in organizing criminal enterprises and staying out of jail, that Damon Runyon dubbed him "The Brain." And his fame was such that he was immortalized during his lifetime by F. Scott Fitzgerald in The Great Gatsby as Meyer Wolfsheim.Despite this notoriety, Jewish community leaders in New York asked for (and received) his help in settling a strike in the garment district in 1926. Rothstein's life of crime, for which he never spent a day in jail, ended when he was shot to death in New York's Park Central Hotel. True to his underworld creed, he refused to divulge the name of his assailant before he died. The final irony was that Arnold received an Orthodox Jewish funeral.BENJAMIN "BUGSY" SIEGEL (1905-1947) was the archetypal movie mobster: handsome, hotheaded, ambitious, and ruthless. A petty thief and muscleman who rose to become a crime lord, he played an important role in New York City's underworld activities during the 1920's and 1930's. He became a member of the East Coast crime syndicate's board of directors at the age of twenty-eight. Siegel established the beachhead of organized crime in California and opened Las Vegas for the mob. He recognized the tremendous opportunities for profit from legalized casino gambling in Nevada and with syndicate help built the Flamingo Hotel. After it was built, however, he tried to keep most of the profits for himself. This defiance of the Syndicate was to cost him his life. On a June evening in 1947 someone pointed a rifle at Siegel's face as he sat in the apartment of his girl friend, Virginia Hill, and pumped three bullets into his head. Siegel thus had the distinction of being the first member of the Syndicate's board of directors to be executed by his own. ABNER "LONGIE" ZWILLMAN (1904- 1959) was called the "Al Capone of New Jersey." He was one of the biggest bootleggers of the Prohibition era. By the 1930's he was the acknowledged leader of the New Jersey underworld and an associate of Dutch Schultz, Lepke Buchalter, Lucky Luciano, and Frank Costello. In 1934 Zwillman played an important role in the formation of the East Coast crime syndicate, and he sat on its board of directors. Following the murder of Dutch Schultz in 1935, Zwillman was designated as "Public Enemy Number One of New Jersey." Despite his reputed criminal activities, Zwillman and his wife were respected by their neighbors and the Jewish community of Newark for their charitable work. Over a thousand people attended his funeral with the service being conducted by Dr. Joachim Prinz, rabbi of Temple B'nai Abraham of Newark and president of the American Jewish Congress. DETROIT'S PURPLE GANG was a local Jewish gang. The "Purple Gang," which operated during the 1920's and 1930's, had its beginnings in the Jewish section of Detroit's East Side. Originally formed around Samuel "Sammie Purple" Cohen, the leadership of this group of petty criminals was initially assumed by the three Bernstein brothers--Abe, Isadore, and Ray---who had emigrated to Detroit from New York. Beginning with shoplifting and extortion, the gang moved up into the distilling and brewing business. At the same time, another gang was also emerging on the East Side, known as the "Oakland Sugar House Gang." Several of this gang's members had gone to the same school and had begun associating together as adolescents. After school they would engage in petty crimes that often included stealing fruit, candy, and other small items from Jewish merchants. Later they graduated to rolling drunks and shaking down Jewish shopkeepers for money. Eventually the boys went into business for themselves, manufacturing alcohol for bootleg liquor out of their base of operation, the Oakland Sugar House located on Oakland St. The original members of this gang were Harry Fleisher. Henry Shore. Eddie Fletcher, Irving Milberg. Harry Altman, Harry Keywell, and Morris and Phil Raider. In time, instead of competing, the two groups joined forces as "The Purple Gang" under the leadership of Abe Bernstein. They branched out into the business of importing liquor across the Detroit River from Canada. The Purple Gang was loosely organized, and instead of concentrating on a single racket, the individual members of the gang were generally for hire, going wherever the price was highest. As a result, they were often overextended. They were also careless in selecting jobs, slipshod in carrying out the work, and indiscreet in whom they double-crossed. This negligence in the end contributed to their disappearance. For several years, however, the Purples managed the prosperous business of supplying Canadian whisky---Old Log Cabin---to the Capone organization in Chicago. Despite its relatively high price, this brand could be sold easily because of its well-known quality. It was the hijacking of a shipment of Purple Gang Old Log Cabin whisky by the Bugs Moran gang of Chicago that led to the St. Valentine's Day Massacre of seven Moran gangsters in 1929. Although their major source of income was bootlegging whisky, the Purples branched out into other fields in order to earn additional money. They hijacked prizefight films and forced movie theaters to show them for a high fee; they defrauded insurance companies by staging fake accidents; they kidnaped people; and they accepted contracts for killing the enemies of various hoods who did not want to do the job themselves.
Because they were flamboyant and well-known in the city's night spots, and because many of them liked to dress well, be seen in public, and live in fine houses; a romantic aura surrounded the Purples that distinguished them from other gangs in Detroit. The gang was destroyed from two directions: The police moved against them when gang members left behind too much evidence of their crimes, and a rival Sicilian gang, tired of competing with the Purples, decided to eliminate them. One by one, the Purples were murdered until most of them were either dead or afraid to remain in the Detroit area. So stealthy was the Sicilian move that neither the Purples nor the public realized what was going on. In July 1929 four members of the Purple Gang---Eddie Fletcher, Harry Sutton, Abe Axler, and Irving Milberg---were sentenced to twenty-two months in Leavenworth Penitentiary for conspiracy to violate the prohibition laws. In 1930 Morris Raider was sentenced to twelve-to-fifteen years in Jackson State Prison for shooting a boy he suspected of spying on members of the gang who were cutting whisky. And in 1931 Ray Bernstein, Irving Milberg, and Harry Keywell were found guilty of first degree murder and sentenced to life imprisonment for the ambush-slaying of three members of a rival gang. Remaining leaders of the Purple Gang were systematically and mysteriously executed. In July 1929 Irving Shapiro was taken for a ride and slain. In November 1933 the bodies of Abe Axler and Eddie Fletcher were found in a car on an isolated country road. Each man had been shot numerous times in the face from close range. The murder of Harry Millman in November 1937 signaled the end of the Purple Gang in organized crime in Detroit

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