Gangsters vs. Nazis: How Jewish Mobsters Battled Nazis in WW2 Era America Book Review

For the most part, the bad rap that the mafia gets is for a good reason. If what the media says is true, their activities obviously cross moral and legal borders. But what happens when their “work” helps to make the world a better place?

Gangsters vs. Nazis: How Jewish Mobsters Battled Nazis in WW2 Era America, by Michael Benson, was published earlier this year. As the antisemitic temperature rises in Europe in the 1930s and the Nazi‘s vision of the world spread, many Americans remain silent.

The only ones who are not afraid to speak up (and knock a few heads) are members of the Jewish mob. In different cities across the country, they sent the message that the Nazis and their American allies would not be tolerated.

I loved this book. It was a fun read. It came off not as a standard history book, but as a fun ride through an era that was dark and difficult. It has an Inglorious Basterds vibe and an opportunity to live (and fight) vicariously through the narrative.

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Do I recommend it? Absolutely.

Gangsters vs. Nazis: How Jewish Mobsters Battled Nazis in WW2 Era America is available wherever books are sold.

P.S. I am trying to not sound alarmist, but America in 2022 is scarily becoming Germany in 1939. A recent online survey among employers revealed that 25% of hiring managers will set aside certain applicants simply because that person is Jewish.

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Thoughts On the Fiftieth Anniversary of the Munich Massacre

Anniversaries are a funny thing. Whether they are happy or sad, they dredge up memories of what was.

Today is the fiftieth anniversary of the Munich massacre. 11 Israeli athletes were held hostage and murdered simply because they were Jews.

It took half a century for the Olympic committee to publicly recognize and remember those who were killed during the games. During this year’s games in Tokyo, a moment of silence commemorated those whose lives were taken.

The German government, led by President Frank-Walter Steinmeier, apologized for the inaction that led to the slaughter.

“In the name of the Federal Republic of Germany, I ask for forgiveness for insufficient protection of the athletes” German President Frank-Walter Steinmeier

While I appreciate the apology and the memorial to the victims, it’s not enough. What we need to do is to educate ourselves about the lies of antisemitism and shut down those who would make stories about the Jews and Israel for personal/political aims.

May their memories be a blessing. Z”l.

RIP Olivia Newton-John

Every performer is unique in their own way. But there are some who are so iconic that it does not take much to conjure up an image of them.

Olivia Newton-John was one of these performers. She passed away today after a decades-long battle with cancer. She was 73.

Remembered for her singing career and for playing Sandy opposite John Travolta in the 1978 movie musical Grease, she was known for her wholesome image and unique singing voice.

It may be surprising to learn that Newton-John was also Jewish via her mother’s side of the family. Her maternal grandfather, Max Born, was a respected mathematician and physicist. Like his colleague, Albert Einstein, Born and his family fled Germany at the start of World War II. They had no idea that they were escaping certain death.

In the words of our mutual ancestors, may her memory be a blessing. Z”l.

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Should a 101-Year-Old Former Nazi Spend His Final Days in Jail?

There are always opportunities to learn from the past. But, in order to do so, we must be willing to open our eyes to the mistakes made by our forebears.

On Tuesday, a 101-year-old former Nazi in Germany was found guilty of the murders of 3,518 innocent people in the Sachsenhausen concentration camp. He will spend the next five years in jail.

There are two arguments that come from this case. The first is that he is an old man who has breached the century mark. At his age, he might not last five months in prison, much less five years.

The second is that he, like his cohorts, has blood on his hands. Though he was not responsible for everyone who died at Nazi hands, this conviction is still justice served. In my mind, five years is nothing compared to the persecution, starvation, and torture that the victims experienced, it is still something.

This man (whose identity is being kept from the public) was able to live a long and full life. The people he had a hand in killing were denied that opportunity simply because of who they were and what they believed. The message from this conviction is loud and clear. Anyone who participated and is still alive will get their day in court.

Though we cannot go back in time and prevent the death of millions, we can ensure that they are never forgotten and their murderers are seen for what they are.

May their memories be a blessing. Z”L.

X Troop: The Secret Jewish Commandos of World War II Book Review

Behind every fictional war story is a real narrative that is sometimes more interesting than its invented counterpart.

X Troop: The Secret Jewish Commandos of World War II, by Dr. Leah Garrett, was published in 2021.

The book starts in the middle of World War II. It looks like the Allies are fighting a losing battle. In England, a plan is concocted to create a commando of unlikely recruits: young Jewish men who are refugees from Nazi-occupied Europe. None of them have had any previous military training. Most have been classified as “enemy aliens” due to being born in either Germany or Austria. In addition to being suspected of possibly spying for the other side, these young men have lost everything: their families, their homes, and everything/everyone they held near and dear.

Known as the X Troop, they take on new identities, are trained in secret, and have one goal: to defeat the Nazis. For these soldiers: the fight is personal. They are fighting for their homeland, fighting for the ones they love, and for justice.

The best way to describe the narrative is sort of real-life Inglorious Basterds. It was an amazing book. Dr. Garrett writes in a way that is accessible, readable, and, most importantly, a history lesson we should all learn. It reinforces the idea that European Jews were not just lambs to the slaughter. They fought in whatever capacity they could. From a personal stance, it gives me hope that there are good people out there, even in the midst of antisemitism, hate, and prejudice.

Do I recommend it? Absolutely.

X Troop: The Secret Jewish Commandos of World War II is available wherever books are sold.

P.S. Today is Memorial Day in the States. May the men and women who gave their lives for this nation (even with its imperfections) forever be a blessing. Z”L

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A Girl During the War: A Novel Book Review

It’s hard to lose a parent. It is ten times harder to lose that parent during war, when death and destruction are the new normal.

Anita Abriel‘s new novel, A Girl During the War: A Novel, takes place in Italy during World War II. Marina Tozzi is a young lady living in Rome with her widowed father in 1943. After he is killed for sheltering a Jewish artist, she escapes to a villa in Florence owned by a family friend. The city has become known for a homegrown rebellion against its German occupiers. Trained in art history, Marina uses her skills to help the partisans save her country and protect/hide artistic works from being taken to Germany. She also falls for Carlos, who lives next door to her.

When he disappears, she believes that their future life together was just a dream. Believing him to be dead, Marina moves halfway around the world once peace has been declared. Then she runs into Carlos and everything she knew turns upside down once more.

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I loved this book. Abriel, as she did with her previous novels, takes both the readers and the characters on a heart-pounding journey. I was immediately drawn into this world and taken by the hand into a story of a young woman who comes of age in a time that would test the toughest of souls. In a sense, her survival and her fight are ours as well. It is a reminder that we can fight against fascism and hate. We just need to heart, the brains, and the balls to do so.

Do I recommend it? Absolutely.

A Girl During the War: A Novel is available wherever books are sold.

The Rose Code Book Review

War is not always fought in the battlefield. For every soldier with a weapon in their hand, someone is working equally hard behind the scenes to ensure victory.

The Rose Code, by Kate Quinn, was published in March. In England in 1940, as World War II is about to explode, three women join the war effort. Accepting jobs as code breakers at Blectchley Park, they are responsible for cracking the codes that have been intercepted from Germany.

Osla is the debutant who wants to be known for more than her status in society. She is also dating Prince Philip, who was still a few years away from marrying the future Queen Elizabeth. Mab climbed her way out of her poverty driven childhood in the East End of London. While she works furiously to save lives, she is looking for a husband to give her the life she did not have when she was young. Some might say that Beth is shy, but those who know her will say that she is incredibly intelligent and eager to see what the world has to offer. The war brings these women together before tearing them apart.

Seven years later, the country has united under happier events: the royal wedding. Osla, Beth, and Mab have not spoken to each other since the end of the war. When two of them receive an encrypted letter, the unspoken lie comes to the surface and they must work together to catch a traitor.

I loved this book. It is one of the best that I have read this year. The story is a thrilling rollercoaster of friendship, the sacrifices that war demands, and three women whose lives are turned upside down. It was half spy novel and half coming of age narrative with an undercurrent of early 20th century feminism that is sometimes forgotten.

Do I recommend it? Absolutely.

The Aftermath Book Review

War, by the nature of the beast, is messy and complicated. So is the aftermath of war.

Rhidian Brook’s 2014 novel, The Aftermath, is set in Hamburg, Germany in 1946. Rachael Morgan’s husband, Lewis is a Colonel in the British army. His job is to rebuild the city was destroyed during the war. Rachael’s reunion with Lewis looks to be a happy one, especially for their surviving son, Edmund.

Their new home is a shocker for Rachael, a mansion that belongs to Stephan Lubert, a widower with a teenage daughter. Instead of sending father and daughter away, Lewis has offered to let them stay in the house. As tensions outside of the house flare up, tensions within the house threaten to burn up all involved.

Before I go any further, I have to state that I saw the movie before I read the book. As with many books when they are made into films, there are changes to narrative and/or characters.

As with the movie, I wanted to like the book. I wanted to get sucked into the story and the drama. Unfortunately, I found the book to be dull at points and was nearly ready to throw in the towel part way in.

Do I recommend it? Not really.

Immigration Is Not A Black And White Issue: Thoughts On The Accused Killer Of Mollie Tibbetts And The Deportation Of Jakiw Palij

The myth about America pertains to the thorny issue of immigration. While Emma Lazarus‘s immortal poem, The New Colossus has greeted new American immigrants along with The Statue Of Liberty for generations, the immigrant experience has never been an easy one.

In 2018, the complications have become magnified, thanks to you know who.

Last month, college student Mollie Tibbetts went missing. This week, her body was found. Cristhian Bahena Rivera, who authorities have identified as an illegal immigrant originally from Mexico was accused of her murder.

My heart breaks for those who knew her and loved her. May her memory be a blessing.

It didn’t take long for certain political factions in this country to use this girl’s murder as a reason to paint all illegal immigrants with broad brush. Most, if not all immigrants, regardless of their status, did not come to America to become criminals. They came to this country for the freedoms and opportunities that for many immigrants are not available in the countries of their birth.

This case also bring to light two scourges on our global cultural landscape: sexism and racism. Some of the news reports stated that Mr. Rivera approached Miss Tibbetts.  When she rebuffed him, he didn’t understand that no means no. Racism comes into the picture because this case amplifies the myth that all men of color are predators when it comes to white women. Therefore, white woman need to be protected by white men from the men of color who might have less than honorable or harmless intentions.

The other news story that  brings into light the shades of grey when it comes to immigration is the case of Jakiw Palij.

In 1949, he came to America, claiming to be a farmhand and factory worker. Since then, he has lived in Queens, New York. According to news reports, Mr. Palij was actually a Nazi labor camp guard at Trawniki concentration camp and lied on his immigration paperwork. He is being deported back to Germany.

While I understand that he is 95 years old, justice must be served. From my perspective, when an immigrant is deported, the government must have a solid reason to send him or her back to their country of origin. In this case, I cannot disagree with his deportation. While it would be impossible in 2018 to prosecute every member of the Nazi party who stood by while their Jewish friends and neighbors were being murdered, the prosecution of Mr. Palij must proceed. The message must be heard loudly and clearly: those who had a hand in murdering Jews and other minorities during World War II will be judged and prosecuted for their actions.

Despite the promise of America, immigration will never be a black and white issue. It is my opinion that unfortunately, it’s taken Americans over 200 years to realize that fact.

Thoughts On Charlottesville, One Year Later

In 2018, many of us think that we live in post racial society. Last year’s rally in Charlottesville proved otherwise.

On one hand, one could argue that we are on the way to a post racial society. The counter protesters were made of Americans all backgrounds, colors and creeds who represent the idealistic American society where every citizen regardless of labels has the same rights and privileges. But, on the other hand, the white nationalists who started the protest prove that discrimination, prejudice and racial barriers are still alive and well in America.

A year later the statement “Jews will not replace us” still sends a chill down my spine. One should be able to say that this particular statement is relegated to newsreels of Germany in the early 1930’s. But the reality is that this statement was spoken by Americans in the early 21st century.

My hope (as faint as it is) is that the Charlottesville Rally is a turning point for American. The rose-colored glasses have been knocked off our faces and our eyes are opened. Heather Heyer did not die in vain. She gave as much to her country as any soldier fighting overseas.

Only time will tell how future Americans will judge our current generation. The only thing I know is that the events in Charlottesville one year ago will never be forgotten.

 

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