July 6, 2018
- Gangsters vs. Nazis – Robert Rockaway
Emboldened by Hitler’s rise to power in Germany in 1933, and fueled by the Great Depression, over 100 anti-Semitic organizations sprang up throughout the U.S. Protected by the First Amendment, they held public rallies, paraded through the streets in their uniforms carrying Nazi flags, and openly flaunted their hatred for Jews.
One group of American Jews who had no compunctions about meeting the anti-Semites head-on were Jewish gangsters. Not bound by conventional rules and constitutional legalities, they took direct and violent action against the Jew haters. For example, in 1935, Meyer Lansky, a leading organized crime figure, rounded up some of his associates and went around New York disrupting Nazi meetings. Young Jews not connected to him or the rackets also volunteered to help.
After a series of attacks, the Nazi Bundists protested having their meetings violently broken up and asked Mayor Fiorello La Guardia for protection. La Guardia agreed under certain conditions. The Bundists could not wear their uniforms, sing their songs, display the swastika and Nazi flag, and could not march to beating drums. He confined their parades to the German neighborhood of Yorkville and assigned Jewish and African-American policemen to patrol the route. The writer is professor emeritus at Tel Aviv University, and the author of But He Was Good to His Mother: The Lives and Crimes of Jewish Gangsters. (Tablet)