Feature Articles

November, 2010
Lucky in Nazi Germany

      By Tim Newark

In his new biography of the legendary mobster, "Lucky Luciano: the Real and the Fake Gangster" (St Martin's Press), Tim Newark uses primary sources in US and European archives to reveal new truths about the gangster and puncture old myths. In this extract, he exposes for the first time Luciano's trip to Nazi Germany.
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Diamonds & Luciano Who is this?

     Jack Diamond, 34-years-old, successful owner of the Hotsy Totsy Club on Broadway in New York City, rested comfortably in the plush surroundings of a 1st Class passenger car on the Ostend-Vienna Express on the evening of September 1st, 1930. He'd had a wine-fuelled dinner and was chatting away to four other gentlemen attired in elegant suits. The next day they would be in Germany but at midnight the express shuddered to a halt on the frontier at Aix-la-Chapelle. German police-armed with Luger 9mm Parabellum pistols-clattered through the coaches and asked the Irish-American Diamond to accompany them. As he stepped on to the platform, Diamond glanced up at a poster-it showed a man in uniform with a Charlie Chaplin-style moustache and a swastika in the background. The German police had little interest in Diamond's companions-at least three of whom were Italian-Americans-and let them continue on their journey to Cologne. They took the New York club owner to the local police station and questioned him. They asked him why he was in Germany. He explained that he was on holiday with his companions and because he suffered from stomach ailments he was going to visit one of their famous German spa towns. They asked him if he was the same Jack "Legs" Diamond, the notorious New York gangster. He said no. They then presented him with a set of fingerprints obtained from Berlin police headquarters belonging to the mobster. Even though they matched, Diamond insisted it was all a case of mistaken identity. The police checked his passport and saw that it was in order, including a stamped visa for entry to Germany.

     Having arrested an American citizen, the German police were then unsure what to do next. The American Embassy in Berlin said they had merely informed the German authorities of Diamond's presence on their territory but did not request his arrest or return to their country. Sensing the German police had little on him, Diamond began to get ratty and demanded to see the American consul in Cologne. After a second police interview, a local journalist was allowed to talk to him.

     "It's all lies," he snarled at the reporter, clutching his abdomen. "The New York Police pester me all the time. They arrested me 22 times in the last few years and always had to let me go for lack of evidence. I came to Europe to seek quiet. I want to go to Vichy and Wiesbaden to take the cure. My stomach is bothering me."

     Unable to charge him or pass him onto another country because his visa was for Germany only, the police handed over the matter to their alien division. Doctors checked Diamond for any symptoms that required treatment at a German spa but could find nothing genuinely wrong with him. Deemed an undesirable by the Prussian Minister of the Interior, Diamond was accompanied by two detectives and put in a 2nd Class compartment on a night express to Hamburg in northern Germany.

     On September 6th, Diamond was escorted on to the freighter Hannover. As a crowd of 200 gathered on the dockside to see off the steamer, one man asked him how he liked Germany. "I hate it," he growled. The ship had no passenger cabins, but one of the officers gave up his room for him. He would eat at the Captain's mess. At the last moment, a German lawyer from Hamburg rushed on board. Calling himself Dr Stork, he said he had been sent by Diamond's friends in the US, but Diamond ignored him until he pronounced a special code word cabled to him by his New York lawyer. Stork told him to go a particular hotel in Philadelphia when the ship docked and there he would find messages for him. Diamond instructed Stork to start an official complaint against the Prussian Minister of the Interior. As Diamond settled down to his 16-day voyage, he discovered he was to be accompanied by a cargo of several thousand canaries. The irony was not lost on him. Someone had certainly squawked about his mission to Germany.

     When Diamond walked down the gangplank in Philadelphia, he was served with a warrant charging him with being a suspicious character. He was photographed and fingerprinted. "I wanted to go to Germany for my health," he insisted. "I've got a very bad stomach. But what happens? The newspapers up and hint I'm going to Europe to kill somebody." He wasn't concerned about facing the police, but feared the reaction of his wife to a story printed in a German newspaper linking him to a blond German singer. He told customs officials that a Hamburg caf´┐Ż had offered him $1800 a month to perform in a cabaret for them. "It wasn't enough," he said.

     So, if Diamond wasn't really going to Germany for his health or a cabaret job, what was he doing there in September 1930? An answer came just a month later. By then, Diamond had been shot while staying at the Hotel Monticello. He was relaxing in a luxury suite with his mistress, showgirl Kiki Roberts, when two gunmen burst in and shot him four times. Miraculously, he survived the assault, but in the following police investigation, an associate of Diamond, a bookmaker called Robert V Miller, known as "Count Duval", admitted he had been sent by Diamond to Germany on a mission for him.

     Miller was supposed to buy a consignment of rye whisky for Diamond's nightclub and was to get five percent on the deal. Given travelling expenses of $500, he sailed on a separate ship than Diamond and when he heard his boss had been arrested in Germany, he aborted the trip. In Paris, he received a telegram from Diamond telling him to collect money owed him in London. Prohibition was still in force in New York and illicit liquor was at a premium, but it seemed a long way to go for a few crates of whisky.


     A stronger clue to the true purpose behind Diamond's ill-fated journey to Weimar Germany comes in the identity of his fellow travellers. Before the New York mobster had reached continental Europe, his White Star liner Baltic had docked at Queenstown harbor in Ireland. An enterprising local reporter checked the list of passengers on board and found that Diamond was accompanied by four friends. One was Charles Green, formerly known as Entratta, the other three were called Treager, Aricidiaco, and Lucania. That fourth man was Charles Lucania-a rising gangster who, just a few years later, would become infamous as Charles "Lucky" Luciano, boss of bosses of New York's underworld. Confirmation of Luciano's presence on this voyage came five years later when an FBI memorandum referred to "Charles Luciana" accompanying Jack Diamond to "Europe in the summer of 1930". The arrest of Diamond and the resulting publicity subsequently disrupted their plans, said the report, or did it?

     In December 1931, an Italian-American drug-dealer called August Del Grazio was arrested by German police in Hamburg. In his possession was an invoice for a shipment of 1,430 pounds of narcotics, but when they raced to the pier to wrench open the suspicious crates, they found nothing inside. The frustrated police feared the drugs were already on a ship bound for New York. The raid came as a result of their investigation into a drug smuggler called "Afghan Moses". When the police searched Afghan Moses' home, they found receipts that led them to locate 550 pounds of narcotics hidden on a ship from Turkey. Del Grazio had been arrested as soon as he stepped off the Simplon Express from Venice via Cologne and southern Germany. When he was searched, papers linked him to Afghan Moses and an international narcotics smuggling ring.

     When German detectives spoke to their colleagues in New York, they discovered that Del Grazio was from Manhattan's Lower East Side where he was known as "Little Augie the Wop". He had been under observation ever since three tons of narcotics had been seized at Pier 84 at West 54th Street, disguised in a shipment of woollen clothing.

     Del Grazio was a long-time criminal who knew Lucky Luciano well enough to offer him help 19 years later when the mobster was in prison. Federal Narcotics Agent George White testified to the Kefauver Senate Committee enquiry that Del Grazio approached him on behalf of gangster mastermind Frank Costello with a deal to get Luciano out of jail.

     In 1931, it seems likely that Del Grazio was completing a narcotics deal that had been set up by Luciano in Germany a year earlier. The Bureau of Narcotics report, quoted by the FBI, said "a conspiracy existed to smuggle narcotics from Europe into the United States" and had subsequently failed because of Diamond's arrest, but this was only partly right. Diamond's arrest had thrown his own personal part of the deal into disarray, but Luciano must have completed the deal in the shadows. Otherwise, why would Del Grazio-known well to Luciano and his associates-still be there a year later?

     It seems remarkable that Charles "Lucky" Luciano should be walking the streets of Weimar Germany in 1930. At the same time, Adolf Hitler and his Nazi party were campaigning hard to win national elections and on September 14th they won over six million votes, making them the second largest political party in the country.

     Luciano would have seen their election posters and anti-Semitic slogans everywhere. He might even have seen Nazi Brown Shirts bullying Jewish citizens. He had grown up in a heavily Jewish populated district of New York and many of his closest friends and business partners were Jewish. Seeing German Nazis at close quarters gave him a bitter dislike for Hitler and his racist cause that would endure into World War Two.

     It is important to note that Luciano's business trip to Nazi-infested Germany has not been mentioned before in any of the studies of the mobster and his career. It is not mentioned at all in The Last Testament of Lucky Luciano, the book that controversially claimed to be based on the first-hand recollections of his life. Even when Meyer Lansky, his closest life-long criminal associate, related his memoirs to an Israeli journalist, he failed to mention Diamond and Luciano's journey to Germany. The reason for this is not altogether surprising. In later life, Luciano and Lansky were happy to talk about their profiteering during Prohibition and their shoot-outs with other gangsters, but they were certainly not going to admit to being at the heart of an international drug-smuggling network.

Diamonds & Luciano
1. Police photograph of (from left to right) Ed Diamond, Jack "Legs" Diamond, Thomas "Fatty" Walsh, and Charles Lucania (aka Luciano), taken when Luciano was making a name for himself as a bootlegger and gunman.
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