View Full Version : The lying, cheating jew who conned Hitler

The Bobster
07-16-2016, 02:08 PM

The Jewish carnival barker who conned Hitler
By Larry Getlen
July 16, 2016 | 3:37pm

Freeman Bernstein

On April 8, 1938, vaudeville agent Freeman Bernstein :Anti-Z: stood outside an LA courthouse and did what he did best: regaled the press with exaggerated tales of his greatness.

And this particular tale was a whopper: He had supposedly scammed Adolf Hitler.

Bernstein and several associates :Anti-Z: reportedly tricked the Nazis into paying top dollar for a supply of nickel — which was needed for weapons production — but sent them scrap metal instead. Now, he faced trial.

He told the journalists that when he met with Hitler, the German leader was “on bended knee,” begging him for the hard-to-obtain material, and that “General Goering also did some pretty hard begging.” At the end, he added, “I knew Hitler didn’t have anything on me.”

As it happens, it’s likely neither Hitler nor Hermann Goering had any idea who he was.

“Hustling Hitler” was written by journalist Walter Shapiro:Anti-Z: , who, while growing up, heard tales of his great-uncle Freeman that were so outrageous, he thought they were myth. But in the book, we learn that Bernstein — vaudeville agent, carnival barker, fight manager, raconteur, swindler — was every bit as outrageous as the most incredible tales conveyed.

Born in upstate Troy sometime in the mid-1870s (he always lied about his age), the enterprising Bernstein sold candy and matches; ran a carnival that went bankrupt, leaving angry creditors in its wake; was arrested for theft; promoted fights involving a heavyweight champion; and ran a (temporarily) successful vaudeville theater in Bayonne, NJ, all before turning 30.

Whatever money-making endeavor he attempted, though, he left trouble in his wake.

“Freeman was already adept at kiting checks, doubling unpaid loans, stalling vendors and fleecing the gullible,” Shapiro writes. “He possessed an uncanny ability to summon up ready cash, almost always somebody else’s.”

During a tour he called Bernstein’s Vaudeville Stars, featuring around 20 performers, the box-office receipts in Scranton, Pa., were just enough to cover train tickets home for Bernstein and his brother, Sam, who worked with him. So they took off in the middle of the night, leaving the performers stranded with unpaid hotel bills and no money.

“Over the years, Freeman would abandon vaudeville troupes from Hartford to the Dominican Republic,” Shapiro writes. “Whenever Freeman entered a theater, the first thing he looked for was the exit sign.”

But after a career of countless shows and grifts, vaudeville’s death left Bernstein scrambling.

In 1920, he began taking his trade overseas, obtaining jade from China to sell (mixed with fakes) and proclaiming himself the Jade King. He would smuggle the jewels out of China by feeding them to his 20-pound Sealyham terrier, Benny :rolleyes:, then retrieving them from the other end.

But his most audacious scam was the nickel scam. While in China in 1933 or ’34, he mentioned to an acquaintance with the German embassy that he could secure nickel from jade ore out of Burma, and the bureaucrat’s eyes lit up. He told Bernstein the German government paid top dollar for nickel, as it was essential for weapons construction.

Knowing nickel was available almost exclusively from mines in Sudbury, Ontario — the Germans’ use of it in World War I led the Canadians to make nickel’s export for war materials illegal — Bernstein paired with a Canadian swindler named Meyer Brenner. :Anti-Z: Flush with cash, Brenner agreed to fund a massive nickel scam where they would sell fake nickel, in return for a 50/50 split.

The operation would involve finding a buyer (who would then plan to sell to the Germans) and convince him to sign a purchase order for “scrap metal” instead of nickel, claiming it was the way to get around Canadian laws.

The scam worked splendidly at first, and after Brenner took payment, Bernstein wound up with over $116,000 (about $2 million today).

Bernstein took off for China, but after learning of his wife’s death on arrival, he scurried back to the US. By then, the buyer had filed a complaint, and most of Bernstein’s accomplices had been arrested. Bernstein would soon follow.

While the police trotted their celebrity prisoner out for the press, Bernstein used the attention to exaggerate his own importance, spinning a story that made him sound like Hitler’s best bud.

“I went visiting in Germany about a year ago,” he told the LA Times. “Der Fuhrer was pretty down in the mouth because the iron embargo passed by the United States had hurt ’em badly. He begged me to find some metal.”

After several years in and out of jail and an agreement to inform on Brenner (who had stolen his money), Bernstein had all charges dropped in June 1941.

He died of a heart attack on Dec. 1, 1942, at the age of 69. His end came as he met with William K. Howard :Anti-Z: , a fellow down-and-outer who used to direct films starring Oscar winners but had since been relegated to the B list.

“I like to think that Freeman was there to pitch a screenplay,” writes Shapiro, “[perhaps] the prewar saga of how a Jewish vaudevillian had hustled Hitler.”