(April 26, 2018 / Embassy of Israel in Washington, D.C.) Herman (“Hank”) Greenspun, born in 1909 in Brooklyn, N.Y., initially followed a common path for young Jews at the time. The son of Jewish immigrants, he earned a law degree in 1934 and joined a well-known New York law firm upon graduation. His path would shift dramatically after enlisting in the U.S. army in 1941. Decorated for his bravery in combat, Greenspun returned home after the war looking for something new.
Moving to Las Vegas, Greenspun began a number of newspaper-publishing ventures while also serving as a publicity agent for the Flamingo Hotel, run by the Jewish gangster “Bugsy” Siegel. After Siegel was murdered in 1947, Greenspun quit his publicity job to concentrate on newspapers. He wrote major muckraking articles on public figures of the day, such as the virulently anti-Communist Sen. Joe McCarthy.
Greenspun played a pivotal role in the creation of the State of Israel. In 1947, war loomed dangerously over the horizon for the Jews of Palestine. As the bloodthirsty rhetoric of the surrounding Arab leaders escalated, many American Jews feared a second Holocaust and realized that the Jewish defense forces must win at any cost.
Determined to aid in the war effort as much as possible, Greenspun devised an elaborate and illegal scheme to ship weapons to the Haganah (the main military wing of the yishuv, which would become the Israel Defense Forces after statehood). He would buy parts for machine guns and airplanes in Hawaii, and ship them to Israel via Mexico.
He worked together in this endeavor with Al Schwimmer, who would later become one of the founders of Israel’s world-class aeronautics industry. Schwimmer described Greenspun as absolutely fearless. Once, upon testing a possible new powerful explosive for the Haganah, the device failed to detonate. Greenspun immediately volunteered to inspect the bomb by hand, an incredibly dangerous act.
Greenspun was eventually caught by the FBI and put on trial in Los Angeles for smuggling, in violation of the Neutrality Act. He was found guilty and fined the significant sum of $10,000, however avoided serving any prison time. He called his conviction one of the proudest moments of his life, and said that he was honored to have been able to contribute to the founding of Israel. Greenspun was granted a pardon from President John F. Kennedy in 1961.
Upon his death in Las Vegas in 1989, Israeli leaders celebrated Hank Greenspun as a hero of the struggle for Israel. It is perhaps not an exaggeration to say that without Hank Greenspun’s weapons, Israel’s War of Independence may not have been won.