Meyer Lansky, an acknowledged financial wizard and one-time reputed czar of organized crime in the U.S. and many points overseas, was buried here yesterday in a simple Orthodox service attended by family and friends. He died of lung cancer at Mt. Sinai Hospital Saturday. His age was given as 81.
Rabbi Semaryahu Swirsky, who conducted the 15-minute service in Hebrew and English at Har Nebo Cemetery, eulogized Lansky as a man whose “heart beat for everybody.” Although he was said to have amassed a fortune of between $100-$400 million, Lansky lived his last years in relative modesty in a condominium on Collins Ave., a boulevard of long-faded elegance on this island resort which has become a refuge for elderly Jews.
According to federal authorities and other law enforcement agencies, Lansky master-minded the finances of the vast, legendary underworld network known collectively as the Mafia. He was associated, during his long life with such convicted racketeers as Charles “Lucky” Luciano and Benjamin “Bugsy” Siegel, both boyhood chums, “Dutch” Schultz, Al Capone and Louis “Lepke” Buchalter, the “hit man” of the notorious “Murder Inc.”
But although linked to illicit gambling and other forms of vice, Lansky was never convicted of a serious crime. He went to jail only once — a two-month sentence in 1953 on a gambling conviction in Saratoga, N.Y.
He became an international cause celebre when his retirement in Israel in 1970 touched off a 26-month legal battle. Lansky claimed that as a Jew, under the Law of Return, he was entitled to citizenship and a permanent haven in the Jewish State. The Israeli Supreme Court thought otherwise, ruling that he was not entitled to citizenship because he was a “danger to public safety.” The Israelis apparently did not want the onus of harboring an alleged international criminal.
He was arrested on his return to the United States on charges of tax evasion but a judge ruled, on the basis of medical evidence, that he was too ill to stand trial.
Lansky was born Maier Suchawljansky in Grodno, Russia and was brought to the United States by his parents in 1911. Reportedly, they could not remember his birth date. An immigration official on Ellis Island listed his birth as July 4, 1902.
Lansky grew up on Manhattan’s Lower East Side which produced its share of solid citizens, geniuses and criminals. Although a high school drop-out, Lansky was recognized early on as a financial genius. Allegedly, he turned to crime instead of legitimate business. Law enforcement officials who spent decades in futile attempts to obtain convictions, expressed grudging admiration for the alleged racketeer. “He could have been president of General Motors,” one FBI agent was quoted as saying.
The Archive of the Jewish Telegraphic Agency includes articles published from 1923 to 2008. Archive stories reflect the journalistic standards and practices of the time they were published.