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.

Eli Roth Brad Pitt Gif GIF - Find & Share on GIPHY

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.

Advertisement

Exile Podcast Review

It is easy to assume that the world is saved by Generals and Presidents. While it is true that they have a hand in restoring normalcy, we should never forget that one ordinary person can make a difference.

The new podcast, Exile, started airing earlier this month. it is sponsored by the Leo Baeck Institute and hosted by Mandy Patinkin. Each episode tells the story of a person of German Jewish descent who fought against fascism during World War II. Using archived letters, stories, and first-hand accounts, each subject is given their due as a hero or heroine in their own right.

As I listened to the episodes that have been released, I can’t help but think that history is one more repeating itself. Around the world, democracy is slowly being replaced by other forms of government that do not respect the rights of the average citizen. The lessons are there, if we are willing to stop and listen.

Do I recommend it? Absolutely.

New episodes of Exile are released every Tuesday.

Kristallnacht: The Canary in the Coal Mine

Looking back on history, there are moments in which we should have seen what was coming. Instead, we looked away and in doing so, opened the door to death and destruction.

Kristallnacht is one of those moments. The 84th anniversary was this past Wednesday and Thursday.

It takes something deep and powerful inside of us to go through something like the Holocaust and still thrive. I would love to say that we all have learned from the past. But being that antisemitism is once more rearing its ugly head.

It should have been the veritable canary in the coal mine. I can’t help but wonder how many millions of lives might have been saved had the world not turned its back.

But we will never know how a war might have been prevented and an entire generation lost to hate.

Cradles of the Reich: A Novel Book Review

Just when we think we have been told every story there is to tell about World War II, another narrative reveals itself.

The new novel, Cradles of the Reich: A Novel, by Jennifer Coburn, was published last month.

One of the mostly unknown aspects of the Nazi propaganda machine was the Lebensborn project. In order to bring about and raise “racially fit” children, unwed mothers of appropriate backgrounds were sent to homes to prepare for when their babies would enter the world. After the birth, the newborns would then be given to other families to raise as their own.

The tale focuses on three women. Gundi is a university student who is both pregnant and a member of the resistance. The father of Hilde’s child is married, a generation ahead of her, and high up in the government. She is only 18 and has fully immersed herself in the regime’s ideals. Irma is a nurse whose job is to take care of the girls and their babies. After dealing with a deeply personal loss, she needs a new opportunity.

Each will soon learn that not everything is as rosy as it seems to be.

Wow. As I got further along, I kept getting flashes of The Handmaid’s Tale. In both worlds, the next generation is not a cherished member of the family. They are commodities to be used to further the government’s agenda.

I loved it. It is engaging, powerful, and instantly pulled me in. It is a reminder of how quickly we can forget our humanity and the journey that we must go on to reclaim it.

Do I recommend it? Absolutely. In fact, it is one of the best books I have read this year.

Cradles of the Reich: A Novel is available wherever books are sold.

Kanye West’s Anti-Semitic Comment Should Disturb All of Us

The Holocaust did not start with concentration camps, gas chambers, ghettos, and mass killings. It started with words, lies, and false accusations.

Kanye West is one of the most respected rappers/musicians in the industry. I’m not a fan, but he is considered by many to be a genius wordsmith.

He is also an anti-semite. A few days ago, West stated that he would go on “Death Con 3” on Jews. His excuse was the following:

 “The funny thing is that I actually can’t be antisemitic because black people are actually Jew[s]”

He also wore a shirt to a fashion event that said “White Lives Matter”.

And as expected, the cherry on top is the usual response from the right.

I don’t know if this is due to his mental health issues or if this is his way of grabbing the spotlight. If it is due to mental illness, then he should seek out help if he has not already done so. If he just wants attention, this is not the way to go about it.

While promoting her new film, Halloween Ends, actress Jamie Lee Curtis (whose father is the late Jewish actor Tony Curtis), responded to West’s comments on The Today Show.

The fact is that words matter. They can hurt and they can kill. Perhaps West should consider that before opening his mouth.

Doctor Who Television GIF by BBC America - Find & Share on GIPHY

P.S. If West thinks that pretending to be a right-wing nut will save him from the racists, he has another thing coming.

The Daughter of Auschwitz: My Story of Resilience Survival and Hope Book Review

As the years pass, the number of Holocaust survivors who lived to tell their first-hand stories dwindles. At this point, it is only the child survivors who are still alive to speak their truth.

Tova Friedman is one of these child survivors. Her new memoir, The Daughter of Auschwitz: My Story of Resilience, Survival and Hope, co-written with Malcolm Brabant and with a foreword by Ben Kingsley, was published earlier this month. Born in 1938, her earliest years were defined by antisemitism, poverty, violence, and destruction. She saw things that no child should ever see.

By age four, Tova and her mother were sent to Auschwitz II-Birkenau. Her father was sent to Dachau. What she experienced in the camp was imminently worse than anything she had seen previously. Though she and both of her parents could have been murdered any number of times, all three of them were liberated and found one another.

Now in her early 80’s, Tova is a wife, mother, grandmother, and lecturer. Her mission is to educate about the Holocaust, to make sure that it never happens again.

What makes this book so powerful is her memories. Though the events are nearly a century old, the images are as potent and brutal as if it were yesterday. It is a reminder that this happened in many people’s lifetimes.

Included in the book are pictures. Among them is an image of one of her aunts. Her aunt was liberated from the camps only to be murdered in a pogrom a year later. It is hard to see, but an important reminder of what prejudice can do to us.

Do I recommend it? Absolutely.

The Daughter of Auschwitz: My Story of Resilience, Survival and Hope is available wherever books are sold.

The US and the Holocaust Review

There is a famous quote about history. As cliche as it sounds, it is the truth

If we don’t learn from the past, we are doomed to repeat it.

The new PBS three-part documentary series, The US and the Holocaust premiered this past weekend. Co-created and co-directed by Ken Burns, Lynn Novick, and Sarah Botstein, actor Peter Coyote narrates the story of the near destruction of European Jewry from 1939 to 1945.

Within the film, there are interviews with historians, survivors, and readings from respected actors such as Meryl Steep, Paul Giamatti, and Liam Neeson. It does more than share what the events in our history books have already told us. It takes the viewer back in time to show what led the Shoah and repeats what most of us (hopefully) know. Though it’s been nearly a century since World War II, it is clear to me that we have not learned from the experiences of that generation.

The thing that hit me immediately is that there are far too many parallels to what is happening now both in the United States and around the world. Xenophobia and hatred have once again become the norm. We have a former President who has authoritarian tendencies, refuses to accept the results of the previous Presidential election, and has convinced many that he is the victim.

What made me angry was the spoken and unspoken complicity of a majority of Americans at the time. Though this country is supposed to be the land of immigrants and freedom. Instead, it became a land of isolation and hypocrisy. That hypocrisy was clear in the first episode when the connection was made between the Nazi’s racial laws and Jim Crow.

Do I recommend it? Absolutely. In fact, I would say that it is required viewing for every American.

The first two episodes are available for streaming on the PBS website. The third will air tomorrow night at 8PM.

P.S. After I watch or read anything about the Holocaust, I can’t help but think of what the victims or the descendants might have given to the world. The late performer Olivia Newton-John was Jewish on her mother’s side. Her maternal grandparents got out while it was still possible to do so. If they hadn’t, it is very likely that she would have never been born and therefore, not entertained multiple generations of audiences.

I Have Mixed Feelings About the NY Times Article on Hasidic Education

One of the many rights that a parent has is to determine how their child should be educated. That being said, if the young person is not able to function as an adult because their academic experience was lacking, then something must be done to fix it.

Last Sunday, the New York Times released a rather scathing report on the status of education in the Hasidic Jewish community. Written by Eliza Shapiro and Brian M. Rosenthal, the article accused many schools (boys schools to be specific) of taking state funds and not using them to ensure that the students receive at the very least, basic secular learning.

Both The Brian Lehrer Show and Unorthodox (start at 15:46) addressed the findings. Before I go any further, I have to advise on two points:

  1. I am not an alumnus of any of these institutions. I was sent to public school during the day and attended Hebrew school in the afternoon. Obviously, I cannot speak from personal experience.
  2. In the Hasidic world, men are expected to become religious scholars. It is the women who earn traditional degrees and later a paycheck while taking care of the family.

    I understand the purpose of educating the next generation in a faith-based setting (particularly when that faith is a minority). It is important to know the language, traditions, and history of one’s family. I also know that public education in this country is not up to par.

    However, the accusations made can be seen as antisemitic. It does not matter that the reporters could be of the same religion as the subjects of the story. Even if the state and the city were lax in doing their own follow-up, the idea that these communities were using the money improperly only adds to lies about my co-religionists and the hate-based crimes. On top of that, the Times does not exactly have a history of having journalistic integrity when it comes to my religion.

    Regardless of one’s perspective, this topic is bound to be controversial. I just wish that the truth, whatever it is, comes to a conclusion that allows young people to receive the classroom experience they deserve.

    The Similarities Between the Violence Against the Rohingya and the Holocaust are Too Scary to Ignore

    Since the beginning of our species, humanity has evolved in ways that our ancestors could have never dreamed of. But there is one aspect that is unchanged: hate.

    In Myanmar, the official policy against the Rohingya people, a Muslim minority has been discrimination and violence. On a recent episode of the WNYC show, The Takeaway, the subject was the brutal treatment of this specific group, which has escalated in the last five years.

    The similarities to the Holocaust are too scary to not ignore.

    1. Spreading lies and slowly dehumanizing a specific minority.
    2. Enacting laws that strip them of their rights as citizens and human beings.
    3. Removing access to educational and professional opportunities for both children and adults.
    4. While the world looks away, those in power continue on their path, knowing that nothing and no one is standing in their way.
    5. Destroying homes and taking material possessions at will.
    6. Forcing many to become refugees and ramping up the persecution of those who stay.
    7. Outright murder.

    While I was listening to this story, I could feel and hear the cries of the six million murdered. Their souls reach through time and space, asking why it is happening again. I wish I could answer them. But I cannot.

    Maybe this time, the rest of the world will pick their head out of their asses and stop this madness. But knowing what has happened in the not too distant past, I highly doubt it will happen.

    May the memories of everyone who has been killed by hate be a blessing. Z”L.

    P.S. In the English city of Norwich, human remains were recently found in a well. Tests revealed that the victims (three of whom were young girls) were all murdered in a medieval pogrom simply because they were Jews.

    Same Shit GIF - Find & Share on GIPHY

    How Many More Anti-Jewish Crimes Will be Committed Before Something is Done?

    Antisemitism is a very real thing. Nearly a century after the Holocaust, the same lies and hatred that killed 6 million Jews have once more found new life.

    On August 20th, Eyal Haddad, a French Jew of Tunisian descent, was murdered with an axe by a Muslim neighbor. His body was burned and mutilated. Just like Sarah Halimi in 2017, the only reason why he was killed was that he was a member of the Jewish faith.

    Yesterday, an Orthodox Jewish man in the Williamsburg neighborhood of Brooklyn was hit over a parking spot. The young man who hit him threatened to find his victim again and repeat his actions.

    I find both events to be extremely frustrating. In regards to the murder of Mr. Haddad, the authorities are already stating that he was not killed because of his faith. It does not take a brainiac to figure out why Mr. Haddad is no longer alive. When it came to the assault in Brooklyn today, no one stood up to this punk kid. They just stood around and let it happen. The person who was behind the camera I find especially culpable. They decided that it was more important to keep filming.

    What I am bothered by is the double standard. When Israel (and the Jews by extension) defends herself against verbal and physical attacks from her neighbors, the accusations are fast and brutal. But when we try to call out the antisemitic lies, no one listens.

    %d bloggers like this: