February 4, 2005 9:42 AM   Subscribe

Heavyweight champion Max Schmeling, dead at 99. Against his wishes, Schmeling was held up by Hitler as a shining example of Aryan supremacy for years until he became unpopular among the Nazis after losing a rematch against Joe Louis. Due to "the embarrassing loss to the black man," he was not used anymore in Nazi propaganda, which was a relief to him. In truth, Max Schmeling was not just a sportsman, he was a hero.
posted by miss lynnster (25 comments total)
I heard on the radio this morning that Louis and Schmeling eventually became friends ... and Schmeling paid for Louis' funeral.

Clearly there's more to this story than I'd ever thought.
posted by pmurray63 at 9:45 AM on February 4, 2005

I saw a good portion of the movie Joe and Max about the relationship that developed between the two men. Max, for all appearances was a gracious and good man and I'm sure it sucked majorly to be used as a Nazi propaganda tool.

Makes you wonder if he lost the second fight on purpose to make the Nazis leave him alone?
posted by fenriq at 9:47 AM on February 4, 2005

I checked out the link to the Joe & Max movie, & it looks like poor Max still gets a bad rap. From the synopsis: "Schmeling, a member of the Nazi party, survives WWII, hears of the hard times that Louis has fallen on, and seeks out his former sparring partner to help him."

According to the Auschwitz website, however, "Hitler never forgave Schmeling for refusing to join the Nazi party, so he had him drafted into the Paratroops and sent him on suicide missions." Now that? Would suck.
posted by miss lynnster at 10:06 AM on February 4, 2005

the juxtaposition of lindbergh and schmeling on the front page is amusing.

american hero who later leaned nazi, and nazi hero who later leaned american.

i'm sure someone other than me could put it more eloquently & accurately
posted by flaterik at 10:13 AM on February 4, 2005

excellent post.
posted by Steve_at_Linnwood at 10:20 AM on February 4, 2005

How about "you can't tell a book by its cover"?

If Schmeling did indeed throw the second Louis fight, he was way more courageous than I could have been.
posted by tommasz at 10:20 AM on February 4, 2005

Also of note: Coley Wallace (1928-2005), who knocked out Rocky Marciano in 1948 and played Joe Louis in Raging Bull.
posted by grabbingsand at 10:22 AM on February 4, 2005

miss lynnster, if I recall the movie, its much better than the cover. Its also alot more touching and, I think, shows a little bit of the kind of man he was. Maybe I'm confusing movies though and I've got the wrong one?
posted by fenriq at 10:23 AM on February 4, 2005

This is good. Thanks.
posted by adamrice at 10:24 AM on February 4, 2005

Great post. Thanks specially for the last link. I did not know that.
posted by arse_hat at 10:31 AM on February 4, 2005

Fenriq, I've no doubt you're right. That movie was an HBO release & I've heard that it was well done & captured their relationship beautifully. It just struck me as a bummer that they still labeled him a Nazi after all he went through to avoid being one...
posted by miss lynnster at 10:43 AM on February 4, 2005

This is a great post, thanks. I found this most interesting: 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.

Along those lines is an interesting article about Joe Louis' financial troubles. (Details Louis' own admirable generosity, though the point of the article is pro-tax cuts). It must have been nice when boxers were also good people.
posted by tweak at 10:53 AM on February 4, 2005

Fascinating post -- thanks Miss Lynnster!
posted by scody at 11:10 AM on February 4, 2005

miss lynnster, don't feel too bad, its a bit of marketing. Its bad marketing and untrue but it probably helped them sell 7.4% more copies or something.

Look at the labels people apply to Bush when he's gone out of his to be the worst president in the history of the world. History will hopefully shine the light of truth on both.
posted by fenriq at 11:16 AM on February 4, 2005

From the AP obit:

"I had a happy marriage and a nice wife," Schmeling said in 1985. "I accomplished everything you can. What more can you want?"

posted by pmurray63 at 11:58 AM on February 4, 2005

What an extraordinary story. That man really is a hero.
posted by Kifer85 at 12:05 PM on February 4, 2005

Coincidentally, another German athlete, Andreas Heckmair, died this week as well. Heckmair, part of the team that first successfully climbed the north face of the Eiger, is worth an FPP of his own.
posted by Slothrup at 12:16 PM on February 4, 2005

Schmeling and Louis are interesting as individual stories and in the way their lives intertwined. There's a lot worth pursuing about them. Because of it's political and racial undertones, the fight in question is (arguably) the most important sporting event of the 20th century.

It's unlikely, however, that Schmeling threw the fight. If you watch the film footage, you will see that Lewis hit him with a severe body blow (to the kidney, I believe) which rendered Schmeling weak (temporarily almost paralyzed) and unable to continue effectively. Schmeling was knocked out later in the round.

It's also worth noting how good a boxer Louis was by the time this second fight was held. He didn't need assistance. This is not to take anything from Schmeling who, in my opinion was a high-quality boxer and human being. RIP.
posted by a_day_late at 12:54 PM on February 4, 2005

(roughly translated from this article):

By the end of the eighties, the hotel owner Henri Lewin told a story that tells much about the person behind Max Schmeling. During the "Reichskristallnacht" Schmeling hid him and his brother inside his apartment. "If we had been discovered, I would not be here tonight - and Max would not have been either."

The fact that Schmeling kept this story to himself for all the years for sure says a lot about himself and the heart of a boxer.

posted by tcp at 2:00 PM on February 4, 2005

I know Hitler was a maniac but he's pretty intoxicating.

I watched Blindspot and was pretty enraptured just listening to the personal stories.
posted by five dollars worth of thank you cake at 2:01 PM on February 4, 2005

I doubt he threw it, but I get the impression he felt profoundly thankful for the loss in retrospect. Here's a quote from the AP Obit:
"Looking back, I'm almost happy I lost; Schmeling said in 1975. "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."
posted by miss lynnster at 2:06 PM on February 4, 2005

The liver shot Schmeling took from Lewis during their infamous rematch has been debated in boxing circles for years - was it as hard as schmeling claimed? Many people claimed he threw the fight to get the Nazi's off his back. For years after people who attended the fight swore they could hear Schmeling scream after the shot from four of five rows back - over the roaring crowd. It made people look away, they said.

I've seen the film footage and it's a clear hard body shot - you can see Schmeling's veins bulge and his eyes betray shear agony.

The last of the greats are fading. With that in mind I will be going to the boxing gym tomorrow morning with a heavy heart.

Schmeling was good an honorable man.
posted by tkchrist at 4:17 PM on February 4, 2005

spike lee has been trying for years to make a movie about the louis / schmeling fights. hopefully, if it ever gets made, he'll include the less obvious aspects of schmeling's life.
posted by Silky Slim at 4:31 PM on February 4, 2005

Our PBS station just showed an episode of American Experience about Joe Louis and Schmeling a week or so ago. Having just watched that, it was odd to hear that he had died.
posted by stefnet at 5:12 PM on February 4, 2005

I believe Schmeling was one of the first boxers to analyse footage of his opponent, and in the first fight took advantage of the fact that Louis dropped his left when he made a right hook (IIRC). In the second fight, Louis no longer made that mistake, so Schmeling had lost his advantage whatever your take on the liver shot.

Thanks for the great post, miss lynnster, I only had a vague idea of Schmeling's history. Very enlightening.
posted by stuporJIX at 4:40 AM on February 6, 2005

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