Jeffrey Sussman and the Holocaust Boxers
This episode is a little different because we don’t deal with organized crime but with our friend Jeffrey Sussman on boxers who fought for the Auschwitz Concentration Camp guards and other Jewish fighters and the Nazis. One more thing, I am experimenting with placing a transcript of the show in the show notes. Let me know if you like or dislike this in the show note.
Gary Jenkins 1:33
Welcome, all you Wiretappers Gangland Wire is back here in the studio. We’re talking with our good friend Jeffrey Sussman back in New York City. Welcome Jeffrey, great to have you back.
Jeffrey Sussman 1:44
Thank you, Gary. It’s a pleasure to be back.
Gary Jenkins 1:47
Guys. Jeffrey’s working on a book on Las Vegas. And he just interviewed me a little bit about what I remembered about the skim and that era of Las Vegas asked me a lot of detailed questions is going to be an overall view of Las Vegas, I would say right.
Jeffrey Sussman Speaker 2:02
It’s going to be a view of how the mob first came to Vegas in the late 1940s. And then how corporate America kind of took it over in the 1980s 90s.
Gary Jenkins 2:12
Interesting. There’s a guy kind of working on a documentary about this overall view of the mob from Los Angeles to Las Vegas. And then the mob got involved in the casino business. I did a little bit of research working with him on it. And it’s interesting how back then, the Los Angeles Police was more like the mafia. And then they move up to Las Vegas one of them did and start one of the early casinos and then the Italian Mafia kind of moved in behind this Los Angeles vice commander. I heard about you have another book that came out recently called Holocaust Fighters, Boxers Resisters and an Avengers I’m sorry, folks, I’ll send I couldn’t read my own writing down here. These guys that used to be I, you know, I’m not the slickest podcast host in the world, but we have a good time here. But Jeff, I’m really interested in this topic. I know you have a long-standing interest in boxing for can’t really remember the reason now your father took you to boxing a lot when you were a kid and you knew some boxers.
Jeffrey Sussman 3:17
Well, my father was an amateur boxer. He gave me boxing lessons when I was 12 years old. And then after that, he knew a man named Lou Stillman, who had a famous boxing gym in New York called stillness. And he took me there and Lou Stillman arranged for a middle way. He gave me ten boxing lessons. And this was in the late 1950s. And the unbelievable price for the 10 boxing lessons was $100. And when I finished like a Stillman gym t-shirt, and I asked this guy the middleweight if I could get in the ring and box with someone, and I was a little skinny kid said to me, don’t be an idiot. You’re never gonna get out of the room. You’re gonna be killed.
Gary Jenkins 3:59
You were in Stillman gym in the 1950s era right in the middle of lot of mobsters.
Jeffrey Sussman 4:07
There were a lot of mobsters. And that’s where the subject of one of my books Rocky Graziano used to train. And as a matter of fact, the only film that I think is available of Stillman is in the movie Somebody Up There Likes Me, which is a film of that Rocky Graziano and part of it was filmed in that gym. I think it was torn down in the early 1960s. And there’s an apartment building.
Gary Jenkins 4:27
Interesting. I just met a guy named Fratto, from Des Moines and he said his uncle was in the plane when Rocky Graziano went down.
Jeffrey Sussman 4:37
That was Rocky Marciano.
Gary Jenkins 4:38
I mean, oh, that was Rocky Marciano. That’s right. I got my Rockys mixed up.
Jeffrey Sussman 4:42
A lot of people do.
Gary Jenkins 4:44
Okay, so let’s talk about the Holocaust fighters. How’d you get interested and find out about this interesting topic?
Jeffrey Sussman 4:52
My Interest in boxing led me into this because I came across a fighter named Harry Haft and I read a book about him and I became fascinated. He had been a fighter in Europe in the 1930s. He was arrested as a young man and taken to Auschwitz where he was forced to have 76 boxing matches the one old 76 of them. And his opponents were often dragged off to gas chambers and killed and then their bodies were later incinerated. And what I learned about him, it was very sad. He came out of Auschwitz, he survived him to the United States. He wanted a career as a professional boxer. It was either 1949 or 1950. He was scheduled to have a fight with Rocky Marciano, who wasn’t well known yet. He wasn’t a champion, and it was in the boxing Arena in Westchester, New York. And just before the fight to mob guys came into Harry Haft’s dressing room, and they told him that if he didn’t go down, they would kill him. And it’s proof of what they meant. Two weeks earlier, they had killed another boxer. So Harry Haft who had survived 76 boxing matches, but the entertainment of sadistic SS guards, all of a sudden was put out of business by two mob bosses. And it absolutely destroyed him. He was just an angry, unhappy man for the rest of his life. And his son told me you know how badly his father treated people what a bad temper he had bit when the Son mature, the sun realized why his father was that way of the terrible things that he had gone through. And he was able to forgive his father for the way he behaved. And he sent a very touching letter that he wrote to his father, in which you forgive him for his bad temper and so forth. But learning about Harry Hatton led me into finding out about other boxes. So there was a boxer from Tunisia, a Jewish boxer named Victor Perez, who became a French boxing champion in the Featherweight division. In fact, he became the youngest European champion in the Featherweight division, I think it was 20 or 21 years old. He was small, guy was featherweight, sorry, maybe weighed 119 pounds, he was very handsome, and women liked him very much. And he had an affair with one of the most popular French movie stars of the euro. And she was beautiful, and he was handsome, and they got a lot of press together. However, when the Nazis conquered France, she decided that her future lay with the Nazis rather than with this boxer. And so she started to pair up with a captain in the German army and to show her goodwill towards the Nazis, she betrayed her former lover. And he was arrested and also sent to Auschwitz, where he had a number of fights. And as the allies were closing in on Germany, from the West, and the Russians were closing in on them from the east Nazis wanted to evacuate the death camps, so there wouldn’t be evidence of what they had done. And they had what was called a death march. And Perez was on this death march. And he saw several slices of bread off to the side of the road. And he went to pick them up to get them to himself and to some of his friends because they were starving, and an SSH guard saw him and shot him twice in the back of the head and killed him. Then there was another fellow named Nathan Shapow whose son I also interviewed. Nathan had 200 fights in Auschwitz which was extraordinary. And he had a different attitude than Harry had. He was just happy to be alive. He just wanted to enjoy life. And after he was freed from the concentration camps, we went to what was then Palestine before it became Israel. And he joined the Israel Defense Forces in Florida in the Revolutionary War, I guess you would call it where Israel became a country. And then he emigrated to the United States and opened a trucking company in Los Angeles. And his son told me that his father was just the happiest person in the world. He was happy to survive, happy to have children happy to be married, happy that you felt blessed in many ways. And then there was another guy named salvo rouge, who was from Greece and had been a middleweight boxing champion of Greece. And he was arrested and also had probably 100 fights, but they make him fight when he was over starving to death, where he got the will to fight what was extraordinary that he was able to muster the strength, you know, on a diet of one slice of bread and a cup of soup a day to fight and he went to all these fights, and he survived. And he also went to Israel after the war. There was another man who wasn’t Jewish, he was gypsy. His name was Johan Trohman. There are two kinds of gypsies in Europe. One is called aromas, and one is called the synergize. He was a Sentai. And he was I think it was a light heavyweight boxing champion of Germany. But if the Germans hated him, because he wasn’t an area, and after he won the light heavyweight boxing championship, they took the title away from him, because it should be a Nazi who won. So he had another fight after that, and they told me better lose the fight, otherwise, they would kill him. And to kind of make fun of the Nazis. He was a very swampy-looking guy, black hair, he dyed his hair blonde, and he put white baking powder over his entire body and came into the ring looking like an ersatz Nazi. He was very quick on his feet, which the Nazis hated. The German-style of boxing was to stand toe to toe and trade punches and now this gypsy is dancing around the ring landing one punch after another, and the Nazis swinging at the air and not connected, and yet they wanted to Nazi win that fight. Yeah, they drafted him into the German army as an infantryman. And he was wounded and then sent home to recover from his wounds. And then they said to him, Well, you’re no use to us anymore because you can’t fight. So we will send you to Auschwitz. Here he had a number of fights, and there was a capo in Auschwitz, which was someone who was a prisoner, but we’ve made like a guard. He was a trusted guard, even though and he was forced to fight this guy, he beat the guy. And so the guy was furious at him and put him on a severe work detail. And while Trohman was picking up garbage on this work detail one day, the capo came up behind him and battered him to death with a shovel and killed him. So these were the five boxers. And then I wrote about two guys who managed to escape from Auschwitz. I didn’t know until I did my research. 900 attempted escapes, and 155 of them were successful.
Gary Jenkins 11:01
So my question is Jeff, about this Auschwitz boxing program? I mean, that was, what did you learn about that? I’m just like thinking, Well, what does it deal here?
Jeffrey Sussman 11:12
Oddly enough, when I was doing the research on this, I read Hitler’s Mien Kaumpf. And Hitler has a lot of information in there about boxing, about how he thinks all the Germans should learn to box because it will make them strong fighters when it comes time for war. And all the young kids and the Hitler Youth Movement had to learn to box. They weren’t very good boxes, but they had to learn to box. So boxing was a very popular sport in Germany in the 1930s. Max Schmeling, who had been the heavyweight boxing champion of Germany was probably the most popular athlete in the entire country because he was such a good boxer. So when the Nazis started operating the death camps, the SS guards wanted entertainment for themselves. And initially, they would have an SS gored by a Jewish boxer, but the SS guards kept losing. So they didn’t want to put any more SS coffins into the ring with the Jewish boxers. So they made sure that the Jewish boxers would fight other inmates instead. And they would bet not on the outcome because they knew who yet but they would bet on how many rounds it would take for the loser to lose. These became so popular that they were bringing in high-ranking officers from Berlin to watch the fights and sometimes a high-ranking officer would bring in a ringer, who is supposed to be an important heavyweight boxer. And this happened once where a Major General brought in this big hulking boxer, I think it was to fight with Harry Haftar or Nathan Shapow, I don’t remember which one. And initially, the Chapo or half was losing. But they were very good technicians. And they saw that the guy who’s much bigger and stronger than they had really no strategy but had a win. So they developed a strategy. And they defeated him, they beat him, the Major General was so upset about this, he had his ringer taken off to the gas chambers and killed. Extraordinary plus that he had to pay the guards the money that he lost on his bet.
Gary Jenkins 13:07
I bet he was unhappy about that.
Jeffrey Sussman 13:09
They were like Roman gladiators. Really it was like, that’s what it was like it was you know, they send these two guys out to kill each other and see who survived based on the result. That’s, well that’s, I mean, it was some bad stuff going on. But that’s like, it’s almost even worse. It’s unbelievable. And at the end, you know, after the war, there were these trials. And a lot of these guys who oversaw the boxing matches were tried, it’s war criminals. And, you know, depending on the judge, and so forth, some of the sentences were fairly lenient, and some of them are more stringent.
Gary Jenkins 13:25 You mentioned Nazi Resistance boxers. What was the story with that?
Jeffrey Sussman 13:50
Well, there was this one guy who was fascinating. Witold Pilecki was a Polish Catholic man who had been in the Polish Home Army, which fought against the Nazis, and he heard about what was going on at Auschwitz. He put himself in a position of being arrested and taken to Auschwitz. I mean, in fact, he volunteered to be a prisoner at Auschwitz. And he stayed there for two and a half years and secretly operated a shortwave radio sending information about Auschwitz to Polish exiles in London. And after two and a half years, he escaped and went back to Warsaw issued this incredible report that what was going on because nobody really knew about the atrocities. And he fought in the Polish Home Army against the Nazis until the end of the war. And then Soviets came in and took over Poland after the war because he was not only an anti-fascist, he was an anti-communist. And so the Russians arrested him. They tortured him into giving a confession that he was an anti-Stalinist. And the torture was really severe with them taking out his fingernails and stuff like and then they executed him for being a traitor to the Soviets. And it wasn’t until the 1980s that a statute and was finally erected in war. So as a holocaust hero and as a patriot, but his name had been wiped out of the history books. Up until that time, he was an amazing man. And then there was another guy named Rudy Verba, who is a biochemist original. And he was dragged off one of the terrible things that he said that he saw, he was put on this detail of having to take bodies out of the gas chambers and stick them into the ovens. And he took out this one body and the guy was still alive. And yes, God said, I don’t care if he’s still alive, put them in the oven, and put this guy in the oven and incinerate him. And he said, stayed with him for the rest of his life when he heard you know, the guy is the claims Gulf, this guy heard him scream, and then just stop. This guy was such a brilliant doctor, that he went on to become a very famous research scientist, first in London, and then in Canada, and who’s even knighted by the Queen for his medical research. And then finally, deal with the group of Avengers. They were fascinating. They organized 1000 to fight against the Nazis and were underground for the last couple of years of the war. And then three years after the war, they hunted down Nazi war criminals, and they wound up killing 1500 Nazi war criminals. And one of the ways they would do it after the war is they would dress as British soldiers and they would go to the home of a wanton Nazi war criminal. And they would say, we need you for questioning, would you please come with us, and they put them in the car, it looked like a British military car, and they drove to the woods. And they take them out into the woods, and they said, you know, you’re guilty of all these war crimes. And now it’s time for us to take our revenge that shoots him in the head and leaves them there. Koechner eventually became the oddly enough. It’s strange that such a military man, he became the poet laureate of Israel, in Israel. So I can go with this stuff. Fascinating. Yeah. You know, talking to the sons of these two boxers. It’s just fascinating. The stories they told me about what they heard from the fathers.
Gary Jenkins 17:00
Lets go back to Auschwitz.
Jeffrey Sussman 17:05
It was amazing. These guys had to fight once or twice a week, every week, and every half to nap and make them chap. How, because they wanted them to fight. They gave them a little extra food, like an extra slice of bread, or extra cup of soup. It’s just amazing. And, you know, Nathan chap, when he got there, he probably weighed about 200 pounds. When he left, if he weighed 100 pounds, it was amazing. And same Greek boxer. He was a big Husky guy, but very muscular. He looked like a skinny kid.
Gary Jenkins 17:31
And imagine Yeah, it’s seen we’ve all seen those images of American troops came in and the first images of people in the concentration camps, it’s beyond belief. I can’t believe that we did that. You know, anybody and Germans. I mean, God, they were just to be there just like me. They just happen to live in Germany. I mean, that just, you know, they organized and it wasn’t like they were a tribe of barbarians doing shit like this. They were, it was the most civilized country in Europe, and organized and successful. In many ways. It was just I don’t, they’re scientists. They’re writers, a lot of famous geniuses come out of Germany, and that it could be taken over by this madman is just unbelievable.
Gary Jenkins 18:16
All right. Jeffrey, Jeffrey Sussmann, author of Holocaust Fighters, Boxers, Resisters, and Avengers. Really interesting stories. Interesting stuff. You’ve got several other books you want to tell our folks about them.
Jeffrey Sussman 18:33
My first boxing book was called Max Baer and Barney Ross: Jewish heroes of boxing. I’m very happy to report that someone bought the movie rights, now that they want to make a movie primarily about Max Baer, especially because we felt that the “Cinderella” movie was very dishonest. And then my next book was a biography of Rocky Graziano, who is one of my boxing heroes when I was growing up as a teenager who I got to meet once, and was just a very nice guy. I really liked him very much. And then after that, I wrote a book called \Boxing and the Mob, about how the mob-controlled boxing much of the 20th century and the early part of the 21st century. And then after that, I wrote a book called Big Apple Gangsters: the Rise and Decline Of the Mob in New York. this book started with prohibition and continued into the beginning of the 21st century and ended with the arrest of these two mafia cops who were on the payroll of the Colombo family, and they committed a number of murders on behalf of the Colombo family, and then my Holocaust fighters book which was just published, and then I’m working on a book about plus Vegas, which will come out in 2022.
Gary Jenkins 19:44
Jeffrey, you’re talking about having 30,000 more words, right. I did that once, but I did a couple of shorter books. I’ve looked at maybe doing it a nonfiction but and maybe blurring the lines a little bit about my own experiences during this Civella – Spero mob war which I did my last documentary about titled Brothers against Brothers. You know, I started writing and what I do is I just sit down and just write and write and write, and then I quit. I’m not trying to make it look like anything. I will get maybe 10 to 15,000 words and then I’m going to take a look. Because it’s hard. You know. How do you write?
Jeffrey Sussman 20:27
I do a chapter-by-chapter outline. And then I figure out how many words I need each chapter to have the full amount of words for the entire book. And then I try to map it out so that I have the right number of words in each chapter and so that each chapter will also be pretty much the same way. If I want to try doing it without a chapter by chapter outline. I get lost.
Gary Jenkins 20:50
Interesting. All right. Let you get on about your business. I will get on about mine. It’s really great to talk to you again.
Jeffrey Sussman 20:58
I enjoyed this very much caring. Okay, take care, Gary. Bye-bye.
Gary Jenkins 21:02
I hope all you guys enjoyed this most recent episode of gangland wire, you know, I’ve been doing this for over six years now. It’ll be seven years next year, I have close to 2 million downloads, I will have my probably when you hear this, I’ll be going over 2 million downloads. That’s pretty good. Starting from maybe 10 or so my friends that first week or two and scroll little by little. As you know, I don’t really interrupt you with advertisements like some of the others do. So don’t forget to help me out with a cup of coffee or shot in a beer even a good cigar at Venmo at gangland wire, or hit me up on my PayPal, but on the donate page on the website. Now I really enjoy researching and composing these stories. I like talking to the former cops and agents and mobsters and others that contributed so much to my education and your education and our enjoyment. We try to do this in an enjoyable manner. So I appreciate everything you do and also appreciated if you just listen because I like to see all the downloads down there. I like to get this up to a million downloads for every episode. Thanks, folks. Music provided by our good friend and superfan from Portland, Oregon. Casey McBride.
Show notes by Gary Jenkins
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