1920s-1940s were Jewish gangsters’ heyday

As a young “boychik” growing up in the Bronx in the ’40s, one of my fondest memories was attending the movies, especially enjoying western and gangster movies, followed by war movies during World War II.
Little did I realize at that time that many of the real gangsters, especially those in the New York City area, were Jewish like myself, my friends and my neighbors.
It seems that thievery and corruption knew no bounds. Each immigrant group — Irish, Italian, Chinese, Jewish and others — had their “no-goodnicks” and thieves.
Formed into organized gangs, they often found themselves competing and fighting for control of ever-expanding territory of all sorts of illegal activities within their own ethnic group and sometimes across ethnic neighborhoods.
There have been primarily four or five phases of Jewish organized crime in the United States.
With the large influx of Jewish immigrants from Eastern Europe in the early 20th century, there also arrived mobsters who formed gangs in New York’s Lower East Side. Organized crime activity included “protection,” prostitution, tax evasion and gambling.
During the period known as prohibition (1920-1933), when alcoholic beverages were illegal to produce, bottle, transport and sell, Jewish gangsters such as Arnold Rothstein, Meyer Lansky, Bugsy Siegel, Abe Bernstein, Dutch Schultz, Moe Dalitz, Kid Cann, Charles “King” Solomon and Abner “Longy” Zwillman all became wealthy.
An unusual “twist” in the traditional relationship between the “feds” and the mobs occurred after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor.
Fear of possible infiltration through American ports by German and Italian agents led U.S. Naval Intelligence to gather information from the many Italian-American dockworkers and fishermen in the New York-New Jersey area.
Little success resulted from Naval Intelligence’s efforts, because the dockworkers were reluctant to work with government agents. The agents became more successful by switching tactics.
Enlisting the aid of Lansky, a known Jewish mobster who hated the Nazis, Naval Intelligence was able to negotiate with the top mobster of organized crime at the time, Salvatore “Lucky” Luciano.
Luciano, who was serving 30-50 years in prison, was open to an arrangement that might prevent him from spending the remainder of his life behind bars.
Lucky’s deal with Naval Intelligence resulted in full cooperation by the dockworkers and fishermen, but more significant was the gathering of intelligence concerning the Sicilian coastline in preparation for the Allied 1943 invasion known as “Operation Husky.”
In Israel’s 1948 War for Independence, Lansky and other Jewish gangsters took an active role in the collection and shipping of weapons during the arms embargo in which shipment of arms to either side was prohibited.
Other than Italian-American criminal elements, Irish-Americans and Jewish- Americans in organized crime have somewhat faded into obscurity.
Since the decline of the former Soviet Union, Mafia types have emigrated to Israel, some posing as Jews seeking asylum. Various Russian and Israeli Mafia groups include the Mogilevich, Fainberg and Abergil crime families.
In more recent years, beginning in the 1970s, Jewish-American organized crime has formed primarily in the Brighton Beach area of Brooklyn, where many former Soviet immigrants have settled, including criminal elements.
Hopefully, the New York City Police Department and the FBI, with their long history of having to deal with organized crime, will continue to be up to the challenge that these groups present.
While gangster movies might make for good entertainment, in real life, too many good people are hurt by organized crime and Jewish organized crime is a shameful situation.

Leave a Reply