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Max Schmeling (1905-2005)

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The German Boxer Max Schmeling

1948 Buch Max Schmeling was a German boxer and a good human being. He is most famous for his two encounters with the American boxer Joe Louis. Less well known are his philanthropic efforts and his refusal to join the Nazi party.

Max Schmeling was born in the small northern German town of Klein-Luckow in the state of Brandenburg on September 28, 1905. His father, also named Max Schmeling, was a helmsman who moved to Hamburg with his wife Amanda (nee Fuchs) and son Max soon after his son's birth.

Around 1921 Max became interested in boxing after seeing a boxing film. Over the next few years he trained as a boxer in Germany's Rhineland (Rheinland). In 1924 he won both his first amateur and professional light-heavyweight boxing titles. He moved to Berlin in 1926. Two years later he had become heavier and fought for titles in the heavyweight division. On 4 April 1928 he became the German heavyweight champion.

Taking time out from his rapidly advancing pugilistic career, Max married the movie star Anny Ondra in 1933. Ondra was born in Tarnow, Austria-Hungary (now Poland), but she grew up in Prague. By all accounts, the two had a very happy marriage until Ondra's death (by stroke) in 1987. She continued to make films in Germany until 1951.

On June 19, 1936 Max Schmeling and Joe Louis met for their first boxing match in New York. Although Louis was favored going into the bout, it was Schmeling who knocked out his opponent in round 12. Schmeling went home a hero, and the Nazis turned the event into a propaganda blow for Aryan supremacy.

DVD: "Joe and Max" > Compare prices

In the 1930s Schmeling was often seen with Hitler and other prominent Nazis. The Third Reich also persuaded Schmeling to help convince the US Olympic Committee not to boycott the 1936 Berlin Olympics, something that Schmeling later claimed was extreme naivete on his part. But Schmeling also resisted considerable pressure on him to join the Nazi party, which he never did. He also rejected demands that he drop his American manager, Joe Jacobs, who was Jewish. Schmeling refused, stating that he had to remain loyal to the man who had made it possible for him to become the world heavyweight champion.

By 1938 Joe Louis was anxious for a chance to redeem himself. On June 22 it took only 124 seconds for him to knock out the older Schmeling, who had also fallen out of shape. Poor Schmeling was hospitalized before he returned home to the Fatherland, only to be shunned by the Nazis and most German sports fans. It is a tribute to his character that he never held his defeat against Louis. In fact, in later years, when Schmeling was leading a prosperous life as the owner of the Coca-Cola franchise in Germany, and Louis was down and out, he visited the black boxer in Chicago and helped him financially.

Before Joe Louis' death in 1981, Schmeling and Louis saw each other about a dozen times. Were they really close friends, as the story goes? There can be no doubt that Schmeling was generous to his former opponent, helping him out financially after Louis' boxing career was over and he had been hounded by the IRS. At the time of his death, Louis was working as a casino greeter in Las Vegas (a fate he shared with Johnny "Tarzan" Weissmuller). In the PBS TV show "The American Experience," writer David Margolick makes this comment:

"It has become convenient to say that Joe Louis and Max Schmeling ended up as great friends. I don't think they were great friends. They barely knew each other. They spent only forty minutes together in the ring. History brought them together and in history they will always be together." - NEH/PBS

On February 2, 2005, Max Schmeling died, less than a year away from his expressed goal of living to be a hundred. For more details about his life, see the "Key Dates" below.

Key Dates in Max Schmeling's Life:

  • 1905 - Max Schmeling is born on 28 September in Klein-Luckow, Germany.
  • 1906 - The family moves to Hamburg, where Max's father works as a helmsman/navigator for the Hamburg-Amerika Linie (shipping line).
  • 1914 - Future boxer Joe Louis Barrow is born in Lafayette, Alabama on May 13.
  • 1922 - Schmeling moves to the Rhineland, Germany's boxing center, to begin serious training as a boxer.
  • 1924 - Schmeling is the surprise winner of an amateur bout at Easter in Chemnitz. In August in his first professional bout, Max defeats Kurt Czapp with a TKO in six rounds in Düsseldorf.
  • 1927 - On June 19 Schmeling becomes the European light-heavyweight champion by defeating Belgian Fernand Delarge.
  • 1928 - On 4 April he wins the German heavyweight champion.
  • More: - Key Dates - Part 2

NEXT > Max Schmeling - Part 2 (More dates, books, Web links)

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