Jewish Gangsters

Jewish gangsters rode organized crime out of the ghetto to a life of violence and crime.

Print this page Print this page

In 1934 Buchalter helped to organize the Syndicate. Its creation converted the scattered, unconnected mobs in New York, Chicago, Kansas City, and other cities into a smooth-working, tightly-bound business. On the early board of directors of this confederation of crime bosses were Lepke, Johnny Torrio, Frank Costello, Lucky Luciano, Joe Adonis, "Bugsy" Siegel, and Abner Zwillman. They decided that this would be a loose working confederation, with each boss having his own territory and with the regional chiefs sifting together on a board of directors. The board would dictate policy and handle all negotiations on the inter-mob level.

It was Lepke who campaigned for a special enforcement group to keep the peace and insure that the Syndicate's decisions were carried out. Sometimes referred to as Murder Incorporated, this crack corps of killers was made up primarily of Jews from Brownsville, East New York, and Ocean Hill. They became the "official" execution squad for the Syndicate....

In 1941 Lepke was indicted for the killing of Joseph Rosen, a garment trucker whom Lepke had driven out of business. Buchalter was the only top underworld figure of his generation to be tried, convicted, and executed for murder. He did at Sing Sing Prison on March 4, 1944.

"Bugsy" Siegel's mug shot

Meyer Lansky

Meyer Lansky (Suchowljansky) (1902-1983) was frequently mentioned by law enforcement officials as being one of the kingpins of organized crime in the United States. Since the 1920s he was linked with names like Bugsy Siegel, Longie Zwillman, Lucky Luciano, Johnny Torrio, and Frank Costello. His alleged gambling empire was at one time said to encompass Florida, the Caribbean Islands, and Las Vegas. Although he had been indicted numerous times, Lansky was only convicted once in 1953 on a gambling charge, and he served three months in jail.

In 1971 Lansky applied for Israeli citizenship. His application was rejected on the grounds that "he was a person with a criminal past, likely to endanger the public welfare." Lansky had long been associated with Jewish causes, and despite this rebuff, he remained a strong supporter of Israel and of Jewish philanthropies.

Arnold "The Brain" Rothstein

Arnold "The Brain" Rothstein (1882-1928) was the pioneer big businessman of crime in the United States. Rothstein was born in New York City, the son of a respected, middle-class Jewish merchant The elder Rothstein was versed in religious and Hebrew classical literature, was something of a philanthropist, and was chairman of the board of New York's Beth Israel Hospital. Arnold never achieved the kind of respectability his family hoped he would, but he did exceed their expectations in another area: By the time he died he had amassed a fortune estimated to be in the millions of dollars.

Did you like this article?  MyJewishLearning is a not-for-profit organization.

Please consider making a donation today.