Mafia at War

The Mafia at War reveals the truth behind the secret collaboration between the Mafia and the Allies in World War Two.

As I researched and wrote this book, many of the stories I had assumed to be true about the Mafia and its murky involvement with the Allies in World War II proved not to be quite as they had been reported. But what was even more startling was that many of the great accounts of the Mafia from this period—my touchstones for writing such a book—were also not only misleading in their interpretation of events, but were, in fact, I discovered—fakes!

Norman Lewis' The Honoured Society is highly regarded as one of the great studies of the Mafia in Sicily. It regularly features in lists of the best Mafia books ever written. And yet, The Honoured Society is false history plundered from another author.

The Honoured Society was first published in London in 1964. Many of its best stories, including the classic tale of US gangster Charles 'Lucky' Luciano giving instructions to the Mafiosi of Villalba to help the advancing American allies, were stolen from the work of the Sicilian anti-Mafia campaigner Michele Pantaleone, whose book containing this story and others purloined by Lewis first appeared as Mafia e Politica, published in Turin in 1962. When Pantaleone’s book was later published in translation, historian Denis Mack Smith, in his preface, stopped short of accusations of plagiarism, but felt compelled to say that Lewis 'though he does not say so, clearly drew very substantially on Pantaleone for his book The Honoured Society.'

But my expose of The Honoured Society goes further. Not only were many of its stories taken from Pantaleone's accounts, but they are false too. As I reveal in this book, based on wartime OSS reports, Pantaleone had his own reasons for falsifying his account of Don Calo of Villalba and seems to have made up completely the classic Luciano tale. By uncovering a book of memoirs in a Palermo library, I tell what really happened on those days in Villalba in 1943 as the Allies rumbled through western Sicily in their tanks.