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Al is a bootblack, a small-time shoeshiner in the 1930s. Having been born in the United States, he considers himself a true American, despising all immigrants and anyone who wasn’t born and bred on American soil. His parents, however, are German-Jewish, and named him Altenburg—after their hometown—to remind him of his origins.
He starts a little gang with Joe, Shiny, and Buster. Buster’s got an older sister called Maggie, whom Al is in love with. He dreams of taking her out on a date to Coney Island, but Maggie doesn’t think he’s good enough for her. This is when he decides to pull himself out of poverty by working for the local mafia to earn extra cash.
His new job gets him locked up in prison for 10 years. When he gets released, Maggie is married to a rich man. Distraught, Al joins the army, and leaves for Germany…