Schmeling. Aryan champ, savior of Jews.
Perhaps best remembered in the ring
for his two fights with Joe Louis, heavyweight champion
Max Schmeling remains unjustly associated with Nazi Germany
and was unfairly depicted as a villain in the United States.
His title and image were used as a propaganda tool by
Adolf Hitler to demonstrate Aryan supremacy. But by all
accounts, Schmeling conducted himself as a gentleman and
In fact, many years later, it was revealed
that Schmeling risked his own life by hiding Jewish children
in his hotel room and helping them escape Germany.
Schmeling turned pro in Germany at
the age of nineteen in 1924 and won the German light heavyweight
title in 1926. He had also won the European 175-pound title
and German heavyweight crown before coming to the United
States to fight. In New York, in 1929, Schmeling left
his mark by defeating a pair of top heavyweights: Johnny
Risko and Paolino Uzcudun. Those victories earned him
a number-two ranking and a shot at the heavyweight title.
The liberal-minded Schmeling who had
a Jewish manager, Max Jacobs, found himself unwittingly
turned into a symbol of Nordic-Germanic race superiority
following his sensational victory on June 19th. 1936 over
the black American heavyweight fighter Joe Brown
Bomber Louis, considered by many to be the greatest boxer
at his weight in ring history. In Nazi Germany, this triumph
to Schmelings dismay- was presented in racial
terms as a victory that proved racial inferiority.
The return bout at the Yankee Stadium,
held before a crowd of over 70,000 spectators on June
22nd. 1938, was more politically and racially charged than any
previous encounter in heavyweight boxing history. Joe
Louis was determined to vindicate not only himself but
also the pride of America and the black people. Within
two minutes and four seconds of the first round Schmeling
had been knocked out after facing an onslaught of unrelenting
savagery from the black American champion.
However, history will remember him
for what he achieved outside rather than inside the ring.
The story of Max Schmeling is the story of a hero, who
during the Kristallnacht pogrom of November 1938, saved
the lives of two young Jewish brothers named Lewin. A
decent man in conflict with the Nazi regime and racial
policies of Hitler's Third Reich, and a man who demonstrated
extraordinary generosity, righteousness and humanitarianism.
Yet Schmeling never once revealed his heroism.
In an article, published in History
Today, two professors at the University of Rhode Island,
Robert Wiesbord and Norbert Heterich, tell how Schmeling
agreed to hide the two teenage sons of a Jewish friend
of his, David Lewin, during the awful time of Kristallnacht,
November 1938 when Nazi pogroms against the Jews reached
He kept the Lewin boys, Henry and Werner,
in his apartment at the Excelsior Hotel in Berlin, leaving
word at the desk that he was ill and no one was to visit
him. Later, when the rage of hate died down a little bit,
did Schmeling helped them flee the country to safety. They
escaped and came to the United States where one of them,
Henri Lewin, became a prominent hotel owner. This episode
remained under shrouds until 1989, when Henry Lewin invited
Schmeling to Las Vegas to thank him for saving his life.
To this day, Henri Lewin believes that he and his brother
owe their lives to Max Schmeling and he is convinced that
Schmeling himself could have died for his humanitarian
After World War II -Hitler never forgave
his refusal to join the Nazi party, had him drafted into
the Paratroops and sent him on suicide missions- Schmeling
fought five times and never made the top 10 again. He
won a few fights but in May 1948 was beaten by another
veteran, Walter Neusel, at Hamburg. His boxing career
over -Schmeling won fifty-six and drew four of his seventy
fights- the former German and world champion remained
a popular and much respected figure not only in Germany
but also in America. Awarded the Golden Ribbon of the
German Sports Press Society, Schmeling became an honorary
citizen of Los Angeles and in 1967 received the American
Sports Oscar. During the same year he published his autobiography,
Ich Boxte mich durchs Leben. In 1957 the ex champion purchased
a Coca-Cola dealership in Hamburg-Wandsbek. He is known
as one of the most generous philanthropists in Germany
Schmeling treasured camaraderie and
friendship and, somehow, each of his ring opponents became
his friend. He regularly and quietly gave the down-and-out
Joe Louis gifts of money, and the friendship continued
after death: Schmeling paid for the funeral.
New York, November 2001