Max Schmeling

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Max Schmeling


German boxer

Widely vilified as a willing propaganda tool of Adolf Hitler's Third Reich, Max Schmeling was

nevertheless one of Europe's greatest boxers of all time. His professional career stretched from 1924 to 1948, during which time he compiled a career record of fifty-six wins, ten losses, and four ties. World Heavyweight Champion from 1930 to 1932, Schmeling is perhaps best remembered for his two heavyweight bouts with Alabama-born Joe Louis . In 1936 Schmeling, the under-dog, knocked out the previously unbeaten Louis in the 12th round of a match at Yankee Stadium. The tables were turned, however, in the 1938 rematch between Louis and Schmeling. America's "Brown Bomber" exacted his revenge on Schmeling by knocking out the German in the first round. Although the highly visible Schmeling continued for years to be a symbol of Hitler's Nazi regime and the racial policies for which it became known, the boxer was not quite the ogre most Americans imagined. Years after World War II, it was revealed that Schmeling had risked his own position and freedom by sheltering the two teenaged sons of a Jewish friend during the Kristallnacht pogrom of 1938. Despite unrelenting pressure from Hitler and his top aides, Schmeling steadfastly refused to join the Nazi party and also refused Nazi demands that he fire his Jewish manager, Joe Jacobs.

Born in German Village of Uckermark

He was born Maximilian Adolph Otto Siegfried Schmeling in Uckermark, Germany, on September 28, 1905. He began boxing as a boy and by his early teens was competing in amateur bouts throughout his native region of Germany. In 1924, Schmeling turned professional, facing off against Kurt Czapp in Dusseldorf on August 2. He knocked out Czapp in the sixth round to win his first professional bout. For the remainder of 1924, he fought another nine matches, winning eight, six by knockout, and losing only one. On October 10, 1924, Schmeling was knocked out in the fourth round by Max Dieckmann in a match in Berlin.

In 1926, Schmeling squared off twice against Max Dieckmann in Berlin. In their second match of the year on August 24, Schmeling knocked out Dieckmann in the first round to win the German light heavyweight title. The following year, Schmeling won the European light heavyweight championship by knocking out Fernand Delarge in the 14th round of a match in Dortmund, Germany. Later that year, he successfully defended his European light heavyweight title in a match against Hein Domgorgen in Leipzig, Germany, on November 6. On January 6, 1928, Schmeling again successfully defended his European title by knocking out Italian light heavyweight champion Michele Bonaglia in the first round of a match in Berlin. Three months later, boxing as a heavyweight, Schmeling defeated Franz Diener in a 15-rounder in Berlin to capture the German heavyweight title.

Faces Off against U.S. Boxers

In 1929, realizing that the United States was rapidly becoming the center of the international boxing scene, Schmeling came to America to challenge some of the world's leading heavyweight boxers. After a couple of matches against unremarkable contenders, the German heavyweight made his mark internationally by defeating two major heavyweights, Johnny Risko and Paolino Uzcudun, earning him a number-two ranking and a shot at the world heavyweight title. On June 12, 1930, Schmeling and American Jack Sharkey faced off in New York's Yankee Stadium to fight for the vacant world heavyweight title. The German became the first heavyweight champion in history to win the title on a foul when Sharkey was disqualified in the fourth round for a low blow. It was just over a year before Schmeling fought again, successfully defending his heavyweight title by knocking out Young Stribling in the 15th round of a match in Cleveland, Ohio. Just over two years after he'd won the world heavyweight title, Schmeling lost it in a controversial split-decision in a Long Island rematch with Sharkey.

Schmeling's two years as world heavyweight championthe first German ever to hold that titleelevated him to heroic status in his homeland. In the wild and wicked final days of the Weimar Republic, Berlin's café society embraced Schmeling, and Schmeling, poorly educated and never more than a laborer before getting into boxing, loved it. Dark and handsome, he suddenly found himself keeping company with actors, actresses, writers, poets, artists, and dancers. He took to buying the finest tailored suits money could buy, almost all of them bought at David Lewin's justly famous Prince of Wales shop in the German capital. It was in Berlin that Schmeling met Anny Ondra, a Polish-born actress who starred in a number of motion pictures in Austria, Czechoslovakia, Germany, and Great Britain between the late teens and early fifties. Schmeling married the actress in 1933. Childless, their marriage lasted more than half a century and ended only with Anny's death in 1987.


1905 Born in Uckermark, Germany, on September 28
1924 Turns professional on August 2
1933 Marries Polish-born actress Anny Ondra
1938 Shelters teenaged sons of David Levin during Kristallnacht
1940 Drafted into Wehrmacht as a private
1941 Parachutes into war-torn Crete
1947 Returns to boxing
1954 Returns to America, visiting grave of Joe Jacobs in New York
1957 Buys Coca-Cola dealership in Hamburg-Wandsbek
1981 Helps to pay for costs of Joe Louis's funeral

Related Biography: Boxer Jack Sharkey

Jack Sharkey, born Josef Paul Zukauskas in Binghamton, New York, on October 26, 1907, first got into boxing while he was serving in the U.S. Navy. He engaged in more than twenty-five bouts during his military service, becoming champion of the Atlantic Fleet. In 1924, shortly before leaving the service and while stationed in Boston, he changed his name and turned professional. He won his first three professional fights, only to lose his fourth on a poor decision. Although he avenged that loss, he was knocked out by Chilean Quintin Romero-Rojas in his 10th fight. He also lost decisions to Jim Maloney, Charley Weinert, and Bud Gorman, but he beat Maloney twice in rematches and defeated the highly rated Johnny Risko and Jack Renault.

On July 21, 1927, Sharkey was knocked out by Jack Dempsey, but he bounced back from that defeat to score a number of major victories, including defeats of Jack Delaney and Tommy Loughran. He also knocked out British heavyweight champ Phil Scott, earning himself a match on September 26, 1930, with Germany's Max Schmeling for the vacant world heavyweight title. After almost knocking out Schmeling in the third round, Sharkey landed a low blow in the fourth round and was disqualified, giving Schmeling the title.

Sharkey and Schmeling met again in a rematch on June 21, 1932, at the Long Island City Bowl in New York City. It was a close match, although many observers felt that Schmeling definitely had the edge. However, Sharkey won the split decision and took the championship, prompting Joe Jacobs, Schmeling's manager, to shout, "We wuz robbed!"

Sharkey married Dorothy Pike in 1925. The couple had three children. Carefully husbanding his boxing earnings, he retired from the ring in 1936. Living in Boston with his family, he managed a neighborhood bar and refereed local boxing and wrestling matches. Later in life, he and his wife moved to Epping, New Hampshire, where he lived until his death in 1994.

Knocked Out by Max Baer

Three months after losing his heavyweight title to Sharkey, Schmeling battered former welterweight and middleweight champ Mickey Walker into submission in eight rounds. In his only fight in 1933, Schmeling was knocked out by Max Baer in a New York match. Next up was a February 13, 1934, Philadelphia match with Steve Hamas, which Schmeling lost. The following year in Hamburg, Hamas and Schmeling faced off again, and this time Schmeling took the match, knocking out Hamas in the ninth round. On July 7, 1935, Schmeling again defeated Paolino Uzcudun in a twelve-rounder in Berlin.

Schmeling's life through the early 1930s showed no signs of anti-Semitism. In fact, many of the people with whom Schmeling and his wife were closest were Jewish. After Hitler's rise to power, the Fuhrer and his cohorts exerted strong pressure on Schmeling to fire his Jewish manager, Joe Jacobs, who was often known by his Yiddish name, Yussel. Third Reich officials were particularly incensed by an incident that followed Schmeling's victory over Steve Hamas on May 10, 1935, in Hamburg. To honor Schmeling, spectators began to sing the national anthem, raising their arms in the Nazi salute. Jacobs, somewhat playfully, joined in, throwing up his arm as well, even though he clutched a large cigar in his hand. To top it off, Jacobs gave a big stage wink to Schmeling, as if to say, "Hey, look at me." The entire incident was captured on film, infuriating Nazi officials. The head of Hitler's Sports Ministry demanded in writing that Schmeling get rid of Jacobs, but Schmeling refused to do so.

Upsets Brown Bomber in New York

In what was undoubtedly the high point of his boxing career, Schmeling on June 19, 1936, faced off against America's unbeaten heavyweight, Joe Louis, known affectionately as the Brown Bomber. Widely thought to be washed up, Schmeling was an 8-1 underdog. Having scouted his opponent in Louis's fight against Paolini Uzcudun on December 13, 1935, Schmeling later observed: "I noticed somethinga flaw in Louis's defense." In the 12th round of the fight, Schmeling found the opening he was looking for and pounded Louis with a flurry of right-hand punches, knocking him out. Two years later, in one of the briefest fights of all time, Louis knocked out Schmeling in the first round of their Yankee Stadium rematch. Despite their enmity in the boxing ring, Schmeling and Louis were to become close friends. When Louis fell on hard times later in life, struggling with tax problems and drug dependency, Schmeling extended a helping hand. After Louis died in 1981, Schmeling helped to underwrite the cost of the funeral for his one-time opponent.

One of the most revealing incidents in Schmeling's lifeand one about which he modestly prefers not to talkdid not come to light until more than fifty years after the event. In November 1938, during the Nazi-engineered Kristallnacht terrorism of Germany's Jews, Jewish haberdasher David Lewin, a longtime friend of Schmeling, became worried for the safety of his two teenaged sonsHenri and Werner. Lewin told the boys to go to Schmeling's suite in Berlin's Excelsior Hotel and ask him to take them in.

Risks Life to Save Lewin's Sons

For two days, Schmeling hid Lewin's sons in his hotel suite, sharing with them everything he had. Eventually, the entire Lewin family was able to escape Nazi Germany. They fled to a Jewish enclave in Shanghai, where they ended up captives of the Japanese. Finally, they were able to make their way to the United States, where the family settled. Looking back on the incident at a dinner to honor Schmeling in 1989, Henri Lewin recalled: "Max was a man of the highest quality. If they had caught him hiding us, they would have shot him. Let me tell you: If I had been Max Schmeling in Germany in 1938, I wouldn't have done it." Although Schmeling attended the 1989 Las Vegas dinner in his honor, he made it clear that he didn't like being "glorified."

Schmeling in 1939 regained the German heavyweight title by knocking out Adolf Heuser in the first round of their match in Stuttgart. Not long thereafter, Schmeling was forced to pay the price for his long-running refusal to join the Nazi party. In 1940, at the age of thirty-four, he was inducted into Wehrmacht as a private. Assigned to the paratroopers, Schmeling in May 1941 jumped into Crete, where he was knocked unconscious upon landing and captured by British troops. His failure to condemn his treatment by his British captors further infuriated Nazi officials.

Buys Coca-Cola Dealership

After the end of World War II, Schmeling fought a handful of fights in an effort to earn some much needed money. Some of those earnings were used in the 1950s to buy a Coca-Cola dealership in the Hamburg area, where he continues to live today.

Awards and Accomplishments

1924 Won first professional fight, knocking out Kurt Czapp on August 2
1926 German light heavyweight title
1927 European light heavyweight title
1928 German heavyweight titledefeated Franz Diener
1930 World heavyweight titledefeated Jack Sharkey
1936 Upset Joe Louis in match at Yankee Stadium
1938 Defeated by Louis in rematch at Yankee Stadium
1992 Inducted into International Boxing Hall of Fame

A successful businessman in Hamburg for decades, Schmeling also earned a well deserved reputation as a humanitarian, contributing to a wide variety of worthwhile causes. Asked how he would like to be remembered, Schmeling told a reporter: "I would not like to be remembered as someone who amounted to so much as an athlete but who was good for nothing as a person. I couldn't stand that." There's seems little chance that will happen.


(With George B. Von der Lippe) Max Schmeling: An Autobiography, Bonus Books, 1998.



"Max (imilian) Schmeling." Almanac of Famous People, 6th ed. Detroit: Gale Group, 1998.


"Almost a Hero." Sports Illustrated (December 3, 2001): 64.

Cox, James A. "The Day Joe Louis Fired Shots Heard 'Round the World." Smithsonian (November, 1988): 170.

"Max Schmeling." Publishers Weekly (September 7, 1998): 77.

Ward, Nathan. "Max Schmeling: An Autobiography." Library Journal (August, 1998): 101.


"Jack Sharkey." American National Biography Online. (October 25, 2002).

"Max Schmeling." Boxingpress. (October 25, 2002).

"Max Schmeling." IBHOF. (October 25, 2002).

"Max Schmeling. Aryan Champ, Savior of Jews." Raoul Wallenberg Web Site. (October 25, 2002).

"Max Schmeling: The Story of a Hero." (October 25, 2002).

Sketch by Don Amerman

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Max Schmeling (Maximilian Schmeling), 1905–2005, German boxer. He debuted as a professional fighter in 1924 and came to the United States in 1928. Two years later the methodical slugger beat heavyweight champion Jack Sharkey (by a foul) to become Europe's first world champ. He lost the title to James J. Braddock in 1932. In his greatest upset, a 1936 bout, Schmeling knocked out Joe Louis, then an unbeaten 22-year-old contender, and was lauded in Hitler's Germany as an Aryan idol, though he was neither political nor a racist. When they met again in a hugely hyped 1938 match, Louis, by then world's champion, was hailed as America's conquering hero. Louis knocked out Schmeling in the first round after 124 seconds. Schmeling had a career total of 70 fights, 56 of which he won, 40 by knockout. He returned to Germany, where after World War II he became a successful businessman and philanthropist.

See his autobiography (1977, tr. 1998); L. A. Erenberg, The Greatest Fight of Our Generation: Louis vs. Schmeling (2005); D. Margolick, Beyond Glory: Joe Louis vs. Max Schmeling, and a World on the Brink (2005).