L a - b e a u t é - s a u v e r a - l e - m o n d e ~ D o s t o ï e v s k i

L a - b e a u t é - s a u v e r a - l e - m o n d e  ~  D o s t o ï e v s k i

Sunday, December 29, 2013

The young boxer, Max Schmeling

Maximillian Adolph Otto Siegfried "Max" Schmeling (September 28, 1905, Klein Luckow – February 2, 2005, Wenzendorf), German boxer who was heavyweight champion of the world between 1930 and 1932.  His fights with Joe Louis in 1936 and 1938 garnered worldwide attention because of the nations they represented, the United States of the Depression years and Nazi Germany.  When he returned to Germany after winning the first fight, Schmeling was seen as a hero and became the darling of the Nazi propaganda machine, seeming to exemplify Germanic strength and prowess.  The government held parades and rallies in his honor but, having already angered the authorities for refusing to join the Party or fire his Jewish-American manager, after his loss to Louis in 1938 he was shunned by the Nazis.  In later years he expressed gratitude for this turn of events:  "Looking back, I'm almost happy I lost that fight.  Just imagine if I would have come back to Germany with a victory.  I had nothing to do with the Nazis, but they would have given me a medal.  After the war I might have been considered a war criminal."

(Actually, Schmeling had often done what he could to help German Jews, though little of it was known about, then or later.  One such brave act:  Several months after his loss to Louis, on the night of November 9-10, 1938 - the night of the infamous nation-wide pogrom known as Kristallnacht - and for several days after, Schmeling hid two Jewish boys, sons of his friend David Lewin, in his suite at the Excelsior Hotel in Berlin, telling the staff he was ill and not to be disturbed.  He later helped them to escape the country.  This only came to light in 1989, when he was publicly thanked by San Francisco hotelier Henri Lewin, one of the brothers, a man whose life he had almost certainly saved.) 

In 1940 he was drafted into the military, severely wounded and, at the end of the war, was nearly destitute.  Coming out of retirement in 1947-8, he took on five more fights, using the proceeds to buy a Coca-Cola franchise - which made him a very wealthy man.  He also became known as one of Germany's great philanthropists.  In later years, he and Joe Louis became close friends, Schmeling helping his old rival financially; when Louis died in 1981, he paid for his funeral.  Schmeling outlived his wife of fifty-four years and died at the age of ninety-nine.


I admit I often have a fondness for the wounded beauty of the young boxer, le jeune pugiliste.  The actual idea of boxing is fairly incomprehensible, but there's something about the broken, flattened nose, the thickened brow, combined with an almost childlike innocence that I frequently find quite attractive.  And there's a stirring contrast between the intent of the sport and the physical and psychological vulnerability of the young man.  He stands there in his corner in the seconds before the start of the bout, nearly naked, gathering rage in his muscles and tendons, in his blood.  But so often, beneath the warrior mask, one can clearly see the young boy, tenderness and uncertainty flashing in his eyes.


  1. Wow, I love what you say about the particular physicality of the boxer and how it makes you feel. This might sound strange, but your description of the warrior mask coupled with the young boy vulnerability gave me tears in my eyes.