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August 15, 1980 - Image 13

Resource type:
The Detroit Jewish News, 1980-08-15

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Friday, August 15, 1980 13

Era of Existence of a Jewish Underworld
Defined in Prof. Fried's 'Jewish Gangster'


In The Rise and Fall of
the Jewish Gangster in
America" (Holt, Rinehart
and Winston), Albert Fried,
a professor of history at the
State University of New
York, makes an interesting
study of the era when
Jewish criminals were in-
volved in many sordid occu-
It was especially during
the prohibition years that
Jews were among the
gamblers, when there were
Jewish pimps and whores.
As the title of his book indi-
cates, there was a decline.
As Fried states in his intro-
"I continued to follow the
careers of these gangster,
capitalists, Jewish and
non-Jewish, as they passed
from early manhood to mid-
dle and old age, as they went
on to market other illicit
goods and services (primar-
ily gambling) after Prohibi-
tion ended, as they kept im-
proving their system of
mutual cooperation and
self-goverance and assumed
more and more the aspect of
modern business
meanwhile, were growing
less visible. There were
fewer and fewer of them,
and those who remained
tended increasingly to oc-
cupy the strictly commer-
cial and financial stratum of
the criminal hierarchy. So
that by now, entering the
1980s, all that is left is the
intimation of a Jewish un-
derworld, the residue of an
obliterated past."
Fried read a great deal
and studied the problem.
He was moved into the
project upon reading
Michael Golds' "Jews
Without Money." The
crime wave subsided, as
Fried states in his intro-
"What I found out in the
course of desultory reading
over the next several years
fairly astonished me. I dis-
covered that an enormously
complex, richly endowed
culture of vice and criminal-
ity, made up mainly of
young people, thrived on the
Lower East Side, that most
outsiders regarded it as a
running sore of corruption
and mayhem, and, not acci-
dentally, as Tammany
Hall's bastion of power, that
the Jews themselves even-
tually came to look upon it
as an insufferable burden of
shame and embarrassment,
and that this underworld
culture, finally, did not
begin to decline until World
War I and then only because
lower east siders were es-
caping to better neighbor-
hoods thanks to the bur-
geoning prosperity, espe-
cially in the garment
Fried began his study
with Meyer Lansky, whose
role is defined in this vol-
ume. Finding it too limited,
the author of this thorough
study turned to the many
communities in the land,
including Detroit, to trace


the era of the Jewish gangs-
Traced here is the "evolu-
tion of the Jewish under-
world in its various social,
economic and political set-
tings, moving from the
early Eastern European
immigrant settlements to
the present-day era of
multi-national corporations
and high finance epitomized
by Meyer Lansky."
The reader of Fried's
expose will learn anew
about Louis (Lepke)
Buchhalter, about Jacob
Shapiro Gura; about the
New York gangsters,
about Monk Eastman,
Kid Twist, Gyp the Blood,
Big Jack Zelig, Yosky
Nigger, Dopey Benny,
Arnold Rothstein, the
Lepke Case' — the
famous New York trial
which resulted in electric
chair convictions.
Thomas E. Dewey gained
popularity in the Lepke
case. So did William
O'Dwyer. That's how some
men rose in politics, by pro-
secuting the gangsters.
The several cities' gang
riles are eleborated in the
Fried volume.
Of interest to Detroiters
is the Purple Gang's his-
tory, to which Prof. Fried
has this reference:
"Detroit's Hastings
Street quarter, "Little
Jerusalem," spawned a far-
rago of teen-age Jewish
street gangs before the
`Great War.' None com-
pared to the gang which the
Fleishers, Harry and Louis
and the Bernsteins, Joseph
and Benjamin, presided
over. How they acquired the
name that would one day
make them nationally
famous — the Purples — is a
matter of some dispute.
"One writer contends that
the folks in Little
Jerusalem, storeowners
especially, called them
`tainted,' off-color,' in a
word, 'purple,' the epithet
that was invoked whenever
they showed up.
"Another writer traces its
origin to an early leader,
Samuel 'Sammy Purple'
Cohen. And a third traces it
to a new member, Eddie
Fletcher, who wore a purple
jersey while working out at
the local gym, the others
soon following suit.
"In any event, when Pro-
hibition arrived the Purples
had the rudiments of an
organization, a pre-
established network. From
their original base in the
downtown ghetto they
radiated out in a steadily
widening arc of appropria-
tion and control. And like
every bootlegging street
gang they went on to ac-
quire whatever illicit opera-
tions lay within reach."
Prof. Fried makes this
important comment on his
studies researched in "Rise
and Fall of the Jewish
Gangster in America":
"It is no secret that
Jewish crimhials did what
others did before them and
have continued to do, that

they all have used crime as
another way of moving up-
ward and onward in the
American manner. First the
Irish (and to a much lesser
extent the Germans); then
the Jews and the Italians;
and now, presumably, the
Blacks and the Hispanics
and the Chinese too have
successively climbed the
same 'queer ladder.' True
enough. But in itself the
point remains a stale

generalization, a platitude.
"The significant question
is what kind of underworld
each ethnic group estab-
lished in response to the
unique experiences it
encountered, who its un-
derworld dramatis personae
were, and what, specifi-
cally, they accomplished.
This book attempts to ad-
dress and answer that very
question: to show in detail
how some Jews followed an


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