Who Will Punch the Nazis?
And how hard should we root for them?
I’ve been reviewing books on and off for the last few months, and it’s been a real pleasure. Having had my own books reviewed, I concentrate less on critiquing and more on what the book means in the bigger picture.
This week I wrote about Gangsters Versus Nazis, the story of how the Jewish mob stifled the Nazi menace in 1930s America. As satisfying a book as it was, it appealed to my inner fascist and that’s a guy I like to keep quiet. Still, I can’t stop thinking about it.
If Gangsters Versus Nazis has a protagonist, it’s a N.Y. judge who, like most other American Jews had a much better sense of what was going on in pre-war Europe than non-Jewish Americans. Seeing no legal way of stopping the Nazis from building training camps and recruiting children, he reached out to some of the era’s most notorious mobsters and prestigious rabbis for help.
An alternate description of the book could be: a judge recruits thugs and religious leaders to silence a political minority.
I gotta be clear: they did the right thing. The judge found the Nazis and provided a legal buffer, the participating rabbis enforced the judge’s “no killing” clause, and the mobsters showed up at Nazi rallies and started cracking skulls. Often literally.
We would all like to think that the Nazis would have faded after Pearl Harbor, but there’s not a lot of evidence for that. The Nazis got continually brazen here in the 1920s and 30s and very well may have become a political force by the end of the decade.
Officially and on paper we’re supposed to be a country of laws. Only barbarians solve problems with their fists, right? What’s tough it that zealotry doesn’t recognize the legal process for nonbelievers. Freedom of speech, association, and religion are a one way street for them.
They have every right to work within the law to make the things they don’t like illegal. By the time they turn violent, they’re already in power. That’s what makes them sniveling cowards.
I don’t think we should have organized crime, which (as you may or may not know) was a direct result of the government choosing to ignore immigrant rights. I do worry about what zealots can do without them, though. It’s bothersome that ideology seems to be more important to all of us than equity.
Most of all, though, I worry how much sense it makes to cross the line, to accept one’s role in the anti-zealot movement, to embrace this idea of otherness when thinking about our neighbors. As I mentioned last week, everyone is the villain in their enemy’s story.
I don’t know that I’m equipped for a world where we give up on consensus and decide that might makes right. As I rooted for Meyer Lansky and thrilled at the stories of members of the German American Bund being beaten with baseball bats and brass knuckles, I felt a stirring.
I wondered whether I would even notice if it came to that today. I want so desperately to believe in the power of conversation and connection. It’s one of my few articles of faith and it’s being tested. I have no choice but to keep believing. Even though I love the idea of hospitalizing Nazis, I’m confident there’s a better way forward.
Keep the Faith,
Instead of pumping the brakes on social media, I’m going to work on cultivating who I’m following. There are so many cool people who find stories worth reading. I mostly have to make an effort to find them.
It drives me bananas that Twitter and Facebook go to such lengths to keep linked stories from showing up in our feeds, but I don’t know of a better place to get recommendations.
Someone on Twitter pointed me to this, and I think you’ll appreciate it. A lot of it is similar to what I’ve written before (so I’m biased) but maybe if a thousand of us writing monkeys write a thousand articles it will get through to the people who need it.
I haven’t mentioned the Day Drinking on Delmarva podcast in a bit, but last week we found out we were among the (non-oppressed) minority of podcasts under production for 10 years or more. We’ll keep making them whether or not you relent and listen. Why not make it easy on everyone involved?
I’m trying to read and review more nonfiction and would be happy for suggestions. Ideally, it would be something recently-published or forthcoming, but I’m also open to reading smaller books that I might have missed.
Here are some of my other book reviews, if you’re interested.
Finally, I got some big news this week that I hope to share in the next newsletter. If you get a kick out of this and know someone else who might, please forward it to them. If you haven’t subscribed yet, go ahead and make with that button.