Today, Matt sat down with Walter Shapiro, columnist for Roll Call and fellow at the Brennan Center for Justice, to discuss how Shapiro unearthed a story that the sands of time had hidden in history.
“Hustling Hitler: The Jewish Vaudevillian Who Fooled the Führer” is Shapiro’s new book that tells the true story of how his Jewish great-uncle hoodwinked history’s most-hated villain; Adolf Hitler.
Shapiro’s great-uncle, con-man Freeman Bernstein cheated Hitler and the German army out of the modern equivalent of a $2 million dollar nickel deal. Nickel was used to line guns to reduce friction.
“My entire family was here in the 19th century, so we did not have close relatives who died in the Holocaust,” said Shapiro “As a consequence, it was not as if I ever thought that we had any direct connection with stopping Hitler.”
“So when I first heard this stories from my father, I thought it was to some extent Jewish wish-fulfillment — that we had someone in our family who did our part against Hitler. So it was really amazing to note that they pulled it off.”
As if the story weren’t interesting enough, Shapiro’s talk also intersects with the lives of several celebrities of the day. The star-studded cast, including famous actresses like, Lana Turner and Mae West, featured in the tale made the fact that it was true “impressive but implausible,” for Shapiro.
“I’m growing up in the 1950s in suburban Connecticut. My father is going to zoning board hearings in the evening, he’s a city planner,” said Shapiro, “We’re not talking about living large. So the idea that I’m related to someone like this — it was like my father taking me aside and saying ‘son you’re a direct descendant of Sitting Bull.’ Impressive, but implausible.”
The story was first passed down to a young Shapiro from his dad. After intensive research in his adulthood, Shapiro found his dad’s claims to be true.
“My father unfortunately died in 2004. So in a sense, ‘Hustling Hitler’ is a boy saying to his father ‘you know dad, you were right,'” said Shapiro. “But like so much about fathers and sons, I am saying it too late.”
Stream the full podcast with Walter Shapiro here to learn exactly how Bernstein hustled Hitler, buy the book here and download the latest from Matt Lewis and the News on iTunes.