Judge Meyer Perlman & Murder Inc. : Nazi Hunters
Nathan Perlman was born in Prisice, Poland in 1887. He was four when his family immigrated to America. Perlman was accepted to NYU Law School in 1907. At the age of 25, Perlman was appointed Special Deputy Attorney General in the State of New York. Perlman also served as the chairman of the Jewish American Congress. He was described as a barrel-chested man, bald with a comb over and a double chin.
It was in 1938 when Perlman began taking the problem of Nazi sympathizers in America more seriously and saw where it could lead. They had marched in storm trooper uniforms in Manhattan, they had interrupted National Maritime Association Memorials and taunted the American Legion in New York.
It was at that point, Perlman said, “What the Nazis need is a good ass whopping!” He decided he not only need an army, but specifically a Jewish Army. He decided to pick up the phone and call Meyer Lansky, a Jewish gangster who led a well know crime syndicate for Murder, Inc., a notorious organized crime group in New York City.
Lansky immigrated to America with his parents in 1911 from Brondo, Belarus. He was not only the child of immigrants but one himself, who witnessed the horrors of rising Nazism in Europe. He saw the burning of towns, raping of women and the looting programs that devasted his village. Meyer was best known for his intelligence and toughness. So, when it came time to use more than brains, Lansky had no problem handling issues with his fists.
Many Jewish gangsters at this time were bullied as children and believed that Jews had to stand up and fight for themselves. Lansky, Bugsy Seigel and Louis Lepke had grown up watching Irish, Italian and Polish gangs beat up “yeshiva bochers”, or Jewish men. Seigel and Meyer formed a gang of their own as teenagers and recruited others to show that Jewish people where neither timid nor weak.
When prohibition began in 1920, organized crime was involved in bootlegging, the illegal sale of alcohol. Lansky became very rich during this time and even afterward. Once prohibition had ended, he became involved in illegal gambling. In the world of thieves, he was considered an honest man. He was always honest in business transactions, even if they were illegal.
This is the man who answered the phone call from Judge Perlman. The judge insisted on a face-to face meeting and invited, well known, Rabbi Stephen Wise to help push Lansky in assistance. On the phone call Perlman told Lansky, “These Nazi sympathizers are becoming bolder with their shenanigans. They march in the street, they are antisemitic , and they think we’re soft, Meyer.” Lansky agreed with disdain for the once again, timid and weak view of Jewish people in the city.
(Rabbi Stephen Wise)
He told Perlman and the Rabbi that he would do more than use brute force against these Nazis, he would murder them. Both Perlman and Rabbi Wise expressed that they did not condone the killing of these people. Lansky understood they wished for anything but murder so she he said who knew just the crew in Brownsville who could handle it, they were called “ Murder, Inc.”.
Judge Perlman offered to pay these professionals. However, Lansky let him know that there was no need to pay. He was Jewish himself and felt pain for his brothers suffering in Europe and being terrorized at home. He vowed to let these sympathizers know that being a Nazi is dangerous.
After that conversation they all shook’s hands and said “Mazel”.
Once this arrangement had been made the heavy hand began to come down upon these American Nazis. There was a casino in Yorkville and it was a social center for German immigrants. At one event a squad of invaders led by Lansky, Seigel, Pep Strauss and Mendy Weiss simply sat amongst the “enemy”. Another crew stood outside the doors. A third group climbed the fire escape and waited at an upstairs window.
As Lansky sat among these people he was overcome with rage. Afterall, the decorum of the event was a stage decorated with photos of Hitler, celebrating his birthday. There were large swastika banners around the ballroom with a man giving a speech in German that sounded much like Hitler, himself.
Before the speech could be finished, the crew dropped from the windows and an emergency evacuation of Nazis began. The men at door kept them from leaving , as Murder, Inc. overpowered them in numbers. There were about fifteen fistfights at once and the Nazi’s panicked. The crowd thinned out, leaving through the front door, bleeding and assaulted and returned to their homes in the East Eighties.
Some of the Nazi’s stayed to fight, however it turned out not to be the best idea. Nazis were left where they had been beaten, some unconscious from blows to the head and grotesque screaming could be heard from those with broken bones. Believe it or not, this fight only lasted about fifteen minutes.
These events continued for months, until the soul of Nazism had been dimmed in the city. It was not until much later in history, did we discover the work of Judge Nathan Perlman with Murder, Inc.
Further down the road, at the New York state election, 1936, Nathan Perlman ran on the Republican ticket for New York Attorney General but was defeated by the incumbent John J. Bennett, Jr. He was then appointed as a justice of the Court of Special Sessions of the City of New York on November 26, 1936, and was re-appointed on July 1, 1945.
Perlman was a senior official of the American Jewish Congress and, in 1945, consulted with and provided assistance to U.S. Supreme Court Justice Robert H. Jackson, President Truman's appointee to serve as chief U.S. prosecutor of Nazi war criminals.
Perlman died at Beth Israel Hospital in New York City, and was buried at Mount Hebron Cemetery in Queens. It is quite fascinating that Judge Perlman rests with and some members of his Nazi Hunters here, such as Buchalter, Lepsky and Seigel.
The story of how the law intermingled with the criminal elements in New York is a true testament to the solidarity of the Jewish people during this horrific time in history. May the memory of Judge Nathan Perlman not only be one of law and order but also of perseverance against Nazi forces attempting to infiltrate their sick ideology into our great city.
Benson, M. (2022). Gangsters vs. Nazis: How jewish mobsters battled Nazis in Wartime America. Kensington Publishing Corporation.
Wikimedia Foundation. (2022, July 4). Nathan D. Perlman. Wikipedia. Retrieved July 29, 2022, from https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nathan_D._Perlman
~Blog Written by Deirdre Poulos