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Dov-Ber Rasofsky

Barney Ross
Born December 23, 1909(1909-12-23)
New York City, New York
Died January 17, 1967 (aged 57)
Chicago, Illinois
Occupation World Champion Boxer
Spouse(s) Pearl Siegel
Cathy Howlett

Barney Ross, born Dov-Ber Rasofsky (December 23, 1909–January 17, 1967) was a boxer.


Early life

Dov-Ber (or Beryl) Rasofsky was born in New York City to Isidore "Itchik" Rasofsky and Sarah Epstein Rasofsky. His father was a Talmudic scholar who had emigrated to America from his native Brest-Litovsk after barely surviving a pogrom. The family then moved from New York to Chicago. Isidore became a rabbi and owner of a small vegetable shop in Chicago's Maxwell Street neighborhood, a vibrant Jewish ghetto akin to the New York's Lower East Side of the 1920s and '30s.

The young Rasofsky grew up on Chicago's mean streets, ultimately ignoring his father's admonition that Jews do not fight back.

"'Let the atheists be the fighters,'" Ross later recalled being told by his father. "'The trumbeniks, the murderers - we are the scholars.'" Ross's ambition in life was to become a Jewish teacher and a Talmudic scholar, but his life was changed forever when his father was shot dead resisting a robbery at his small grocery. Prostrate from grief, his mother Sarah suffered a nervous breakdown and his younger siblings—Ida, Sam and George—were placed in an orphanage or farmed out to other members of the extended family. Dov and his older brothers Ben and Morrie were left to their own devices.

In the wake of the tragedy, Dov became vindictive towards everything and turned his back on the orthodox religion of his father. He began running around with local toughs (including another wayward Jewish ghetto kid, the future Jack Ruby), developing into a street brawler, thief and money runner; he was even employed by Al Capone. Dov's goal was to earn enough money to buy a home so that he could reunite his family. He saw boxing as that vehicle and began training with his friend Ruby.

After winning amateur bouts, Dov would pawn the awards—like watches—and set the money aside for his family. There is speculation that Al Capone bought up tickets to his early fights, knowing some of that money would be funneled to Dov. Plagued by his father's death and feeling an obligation not to sully his name, Dov Rasofsky took the new name "Barney Ross." The name change was also part of a larger trend by Jews to assimilate in the U.S. by taking American-sounding names. Strong, fast and possessed of a powerful will, Ross was soon a Golden Gloves champion and went on to dominate the lighter divisions as a pro.

At a time—the late 1920s and '30s—when rising Nazi leader Adolf Hitler was using propaganda to spread his virulently anti-Jewish philosophy, Ross was seen by American Jews as one of their greatest advocates. He represented the concept of Jews finally fighting back. Idolized and respected by all Americans, Ross showed that Jews could thrive in their new country. He made his stand against Hitler and Nazi Germany a public one. He knew that by winning boxing matches he was displaying a new kind of strength for Jews. He also understood that Americans loved their sports heroes, and if Jews wanted to be embraced in the U.S. they would have to assume such places in society. So even though Ross had lost faith in religion, he openly embraced his role as a leader of his oppressed people.

Boxing career

Ross occupies the rarifed place as one of boxing's few triple division champions—lightweight, junior welterweight and welterweight. He was never knocked out in 81 fights, and held his title against some of the best competition in the history of the divisions. Ross defeated great Hall of Fame champions like Jimmy McLarnin and Tony Canzoneri in epic battles that drew crowds of more than 50,000.

His first paid fight was on September 1, 1929, when he beat Ramon Lugo by a decision in six rounds. After ten wins in a row, he lost for the first time, to Carlos Garcia, on a decision in ten.

Over the next 35 bouts, his record was 32–1–2, including a win over former world champion Battling Battalino, and one over a boxer named Babe Ruth (though not the baseball player). Another bout included former world champion Cameron Welter. Then, in March 26, 1933, Ross was given his first shot at a world title, when he faced world Lightweight and Jr. Welterweight champion and fellow three divisions world champions club member Tony Canzoneri in Chicago. In only one night, Ross became a two division world champion when he beat Canzoneri by a decision in ten rounds. It should be pointed out that Ross campaigned heavily in the city of Chicago. After two more wins, including a knockout in six over Johnny Farr, Ross and Canzoneri boxed again, and Ross won again by decision, but this time in 15.

Ross was known as a smart fighter with great stamina. He retained his title by decision against Sammy Fuller to finish 1933, and against Peter Nebo to begin 1934. Then he defended against former world champion Frankie Klick, against whom he drew in ten. Then came the first of three bouts versus Jimmy McLarnin. Ross vacated the Jr. Welter title to go after McLarnin's belt and won by a 15 round decision, joining the three division world champions club. However, in a rematch a few weeks later, McLarnin beat Ross by a decision recovering the title, and after that, Ross went back down to the Jr. Weterweights and reclaimed his title in a fight for the belt left vacant by himself, with a 12 round decision over Bobby Pacho. After beating Klick and Henry Woods by decision to retain that title, he went back up in weight for the last fight in his trilogy with McLarnin, and recovered the title by outpointing McLarnin again over 15 rounds. He won 16 bouts in a row after that, including three over future world Middleweight champion Ceferino Garcia, and one against Al Manfredo. His only two defenses, however, on that stretch were against Garcia and against Izzy Jannazzo beaten on points in 15.

In his last fight, Ross defended his title, on May 31, 1938, against the fellow member of the three division world champions' club Henry Armstrong who beat him by a decision in 15. Although Armstrong pounded Ross inexorably, and his trainers begged him to let them stop the fight, Ross absorbed the abuse and refused to stop. And he refused to go down. Barney Ross was never knocked out in his career and was determined to leave the ring on his feet. Some boxing experts view Ross's performance against Armstrong as one of the most courageous in history. Some believe that Ross's will to survive every tough fight on his feet had to do with his understanding of his symbolic nature as a Jew. That is, Jews would not only fight back, but they wouldn't go down.

Ross retired with a record of 72 wins, 4 losses, 3 draws and 2 no-contests, with 22 wins by way of knockout.

Ross was ranked #21 on Ring Magazine's list of the 80 Best Fighters of the Last 80 Years.

U.S. Marine

Barney Ross
Allegiance United States of America
Service/branch United States Marine Corps
Battles/wars World War IIBattle of Guadalcanal
Awards Silver Star

In retirement in his early thirties, Ross decided to fight in World War II and joined the United States Marine Corps. However, the Marines wanted to keep him stateside and use his celebrity status to boost morale. Most of the athletes of the era like heavyweight champion Jack Dempsey had ceremonial roles in the military, but Ross insisted on fighting for his country. Before he was to go overseas, Ross hit another officer who had offended him. He was to have a court martial at the Marine Corps Recruiting Depot, San Diego. Captain Berthol E. Davis, Medical Corps, US Navy Reserve was on the court martial board. The other board members wanted to throw the book at Ross. But, Bert, who was also Jewish and knew of Ross' achievements, convinced the board to allow him to go overseas and not be punished. He was sent to Guadalcanal in the South Pacific, where one night, he and three other comrades were trapped under enemy fire. All three of his fellow Marines were wounded, as was Ross, and he was the only one able to fight. And fight he did. Ross gathered his comrades' rifles and grenades and single-handedly fought nearly two dozen Japanese soldiers over an entire night, killing them all by morning. Two of the Marines with him had died in the battle, but he carried the remaining man on his shoulders to safety; the other man weighed 230 lb (104 kg) compared to Ross' 140 lb (64 kg). Because of his heroism, Ross was awarded America's third highest military honor, the Silver Star as well as a Presidential Citation. As America's greatest "celebrity" war hero he was honored by President Roosevelt in a Rose Garden ceremony.

During his time in Guadalcanal, Ross began a life-long friendship with the famous Father Frederic Gehring, a war-time chaplain who wrote regular correspondences for Reader's Digest magazine. Gehring considered Ross a national treasure who defied logic when it came to bravery and the defense of principle. On Christmas Eve before Barney and his Marines were to go to battle, Gehring asked Ross to take part in what would become one of the most poignant such events of the war. Ross was the only one capable of playing a temperamental organ on the tropical island, so Gehring asked him to learn Silent Night and other Christmas songs for the troops. Barney played these songs and sang with the homesick young men, after which Gehring implored Ross to play a Jewish song. Ross played a melancholy song called "My Yiddishe Momma" about a child's love for his self-sacrificing mother. Many of the Marines knew the melody of the song because Ross always had it played when he entered the ring. But when the Marines heard the heart-rending lyrics, newspaper reports say they were all in tears.

After Ross's single-handed victory in the battle at Guadalcanal, he was viewed as almost superhuman, particularly based on all he had to overcome in his troubled life.

Drug addiction and recovery

During his recovery at the hospital from his wounds suffered in that battle, Ross developed a habit for the morphine administered for pain. Back in the states, the morphine became heroin. This habit became so bad he would sometimes spend $500 a day on the drug. Ross went to a recovery center and beat his addiction. He gave lectures to high school students about the dangers of drug addiction. .

Final days

Ross spent his last days using his celebrity status in promotional work for casinos and other businesses. He remained with his second wife Cathy Howlett, although they never had children. He was happy he reached the two goals he had set: reunite his family and become a world champion in boxing. He wrote an autobiography titled No Man Stands Alone.

He also remained loyal to his friend Jack Ruby and testified as a character witness on Ruby's behalf at his trial for killing Oswald, who had allegedly killed President John F. Kennedy.

Ross died in his hometown Chicago when he was 57 years old. He is a member of the International Boxing Hall Of Fame.

Barney Ross AZA

The Aleph Zadik Aleph chapter located in Chicago's South Suburbs, (primarily in Flossmoor, Homewood, and Olympia Fields), is named in his honor and memory. This chapter is part of the Great Midwest Region.

Halls of Fame

Ross was inducted into the International Boxing Hall of Fame, the World Boxing Hall of Fame, the Chicagoland Sports Hall of Fame, the International Jewish Sports Hall of Fame[1], and the National Jewish Sports Hall of Fame in 1997.[2]

In popular culture

Ross's boxing career, World War II heroics, subsequent drug addiction and recovery are depicted in the film, Monkey on My Back.

See also

Notable Relatives

References/further reading

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