Monday, February 07, 2005

Max Schmeling

The American Spectator has an interesting article on Max Schmeling, who died recently at age 99. Link. When he beat Joe Louis for the heavyweight championship in 1936, the only German ever to have won that title, Hitler displayed him prominently as an example of Aryan superiority. This convinced many that he was a Nazi sympathizer, although he never joined the Nazi Party. I was glad to read that that common misperception was far off the mark.
The most powerful evidence of Schmeling's decency only became public in 1989, when Henri Lewin, then president of the Sands Hotel in Las Vegas, gave a dinner in Schmeling's honor. Lewin told his guests that in 1938, during Kristallnacht, the infamous Nazi pogrom, Schmeling had harbored him and his brother in his hotel suite as the Nazis rampaged in the streets below. Eventually, Schmeling helped them get out of the country. If the Nazis had found them, Lewin said at the dinner, "I would not be here this evening and neither would Max." (...)

Perhaps the most remarkable thing about Schmeling and Kristallnacht is that for over 50 years he never mentioned it. Try to imagine that today, when the slightest accusation about someone brings a public counterattack, if not a lawsuit. It says a lot about a man, accused of complicity with Hitler, who can keep such a thing to himself, and we can read into his silence what we will. Inherent modesty is one interpretation. Penance for his own less heroic moments is another.

Whether it was penance or the filial bond boxers often share, Schmeling became quite a friend to Joe Louis, whose later life was fraught with difficulty. When Louis needed financial help, Schmeling came through with assistance. And when Louis died in 1981, Schmeling paid for the funeral.


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