Thursday, 9 August 2012

Benny Siegel and Hermann Goering

One of the best stories about the American gangsters of the interwar period concerns Benjamin "Bugsy" Siegel, a notorious killer on the New York crime scene, and Hermann Goering, Hitler's right-hand-man in Nazi Germany. There are several slightly different versions of the story, but my favourite one runs like this:-
Siegel was staying in Rome with one of his mistresses, the Countess di Frasso (actually Dorothy Taylor, who had married an Italian Count) and discovered that Hermann Goering was at the same hotel. As a good Jewish boy, Siegel naturally hated all Nazis; so he carefully stalked Goering and then contacted his friends back in New York to ask, "Should I rub him out?" The other gang leaders, presumably slightly shocked, replied, "You can't shoot Hermann Goering!"
"Why not?" Siegel responded, "It's an easy hit!"
In the end nothing happened and Siegel came home. As one modern commentator puts it, they had lost the chance of killing a far greater gangster. On the other hand, we must wonder how Hitler would have reacted to Goering's murder. When in 1938 an obscure German diplomat, Vom Rath, who was not even a Nazi Party member, was shot in Paris by a Jew, the result was "Crystal Night", when all over Germany synagogues were torched, Jewish property trashed and thousands of Jews arrested. What would have happened if Hitler had realized that his most important follower had been killed by a Jewish gangster?

(For more on Siegel and others, see my various entries on the American gangsters)

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