David Randall: All good family men at heart, those widow-making mobsters

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The Independent Online

In the end, virtually all history's villains are recruited by showbusiness, whether it's Jack the Ripper, Fred West, Attila the Hun, the Marquis de Sade, or the Ipswich prostitute killer (now featuring in a musical at the Cottesloe Theatre on London's South Bank). By the time the movie industry, stage producers and other merry-makers have finished with them, these monsters have understandable motives, love lives, and little children whose heads they can pat.

So too is is with America's mobsters, long a staple of screenwriters, famously fond of their old mums, and now commandeered by a company called Eagle Group Holdings, which has just opened a fun-packed attraction in Las Vegas called The Mob Experience.

The activities of these criminals have now been turned into an hour or two of interactive fun where visitors are assigned a mob nickname and get to play a hoodlum, hit man, victim or informant.

The Mob Experience also seeks, in a spokesman's words, "to expose the human side of these men. Siegel was a great father. Same thing with Spilotro. They were good family men."

It is, to say the least, an original take on "Bugsy" Siegel, racketeer and hit man; and on Tony "The Ant" Spilotro, a charmer who once squeezed a man's head so hard his eyes popped out. For good family men, they sure created a lot of widows.

* News from Italy of a horrifying new trend. Mothers in the south are so doting they are cooking meals for their twenty- and thirty-something offspring working in far-flung cities – and paying a courier to deliver them.

One regularly knocks up aubergine parmigiana which is then trucked to her 33-year-old daughter in Rome, a round trip of 1,000 miles. The driver, according to The Wall Street Journal, now has 3,000 such motherly customers.

* A British soldier who says he twice sneaked into a Nazi concentration camp to see for himself if the terrors he'd been told about were true, has written a book about his experiences.

The central claim of Denis Avey's The Man Who Broke Into Auschwitz is hotly disputed by some who say he could not have got into the death camp, but, whatever the truth of that, it does reveal a little-known side of the war. Mr Avey, now 92, says he entered the camp by bribing guards, and swapping uniforms with a Dutch Jew. The man was one of the inmates who worked at the IG Farben plant alongside Mr Avey, a prisoner of war (PoW) sent to a labour camp.

Few people – and I was not one – knew that British prisoners were put to work in this way in the same places as Auschwitz inmates, known to them as "stripees" due to their uniforms. After the war, several ex-PoWs gave evidence at Nuremberg or to the British authorities.

Mr Avey was one of the latter, but, for 60 years thereafter, kept secret what he'd seen. When it comes to war (or almost anything, really), fact beats any fiction.

* The arrival by boat, in just a few weeks, of thousands of North Africans on the small island of Lampedusa off Sicily presents a concentrated version of the issues raised by economic migrancy.

For centuries, it has been, for the receiving country, a source of new blood and initiative, and, for the immigrants, a means to a better life. But our acceptance of them also performs a service to the deadbeat regimes they leave behind.

By providing an alternative to agitating for better conditions in their own land, we also facilitate a safety valve for repressive, corrupt and exploitative governments. After all, had the Zimbabwean middle classes not left in such numbers, would Robert Mugabe have got away with his nonsense?

If Afghans and Iraqis of spirit and enterprise had no alternative but to stay put, would the politics of those states be as they are now?

Economic migrancy is nearly always seen as a right-wing issue, where the crux is the impact on the destination country. But what about the impact on the country of departure?