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Indiana University Bloomington
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Course Description

The Jewish Underworld (3 cr)
L. Burko
JSTU-J 303 Arts & Humanities Topics in Jewish Studies(37508)
MW 4:00-6:30 (ED 1002)
2nd 8 weeks

From the start of Jewish mass migration from Eastern Europe in the 1880s and until World War II, an unprecedented number of Jews joined the criminal underworld. They worked as thieves, pickpockets, gangsters, thugs, hitmen, pimps, madams, prostitutes, bootleggers, drug smugglers, burglars, safecrackers, gamblers, swindlers, money launderers, crooked lawyers and politicians, card sharps, extortionists, and accountants. Hundreds of Yiddish words entered criminal slang both in Europe and the Americas, while Jewish criminals developed their own lingo and even their own oral literature: songs of life on the lam, behind bars, or walking the streets.

This course will explore the history and culture of Jewish crooks. Some were so infamous that they have since become stars of the silver screen: Bugsy Siegel, who created modern Las Vegas; Meyer Lansky, known as the "Mob's Accountant;" and Arnold Rothstein, called "The Brain," who fixed the 1919 World Series. We will read some of rich literature about the Jewish underworld as well as original works written by crooks—many never read in English before.