A symbol of “Aryan supremacy”

Max Schmeling died Wednesday at his home in Hollenstedt, Germany. He was 99. Good for Max.

I don’t remember him “a symbol of Nazi Germany” but only as a boxer whose name came up often when my father and uncles would argue about who was the greatest fighter of all time. This was back in the days when Mohammed Ali was a boy named Cassius Clay, growing up in Louisville, and I was a boy named “little Pat,” growing up in Milwaukee.

Joe Louis, who was always mentioned as one of the top 2 or 3 fighters, was then in his forties, not yet completely down on his luck, but headed that way. My father always considered Joe Lewis the best, so I did too. You had to qualify it, of course, by saying, “Joe Lewis in his prime,” which meant pretty much the day he knocked out Max Schmeling in the first round at Yankee Stadium in 1938. Like so many events that happened shortly before my birth, it has special significance, because it was a recent memory for my father and mother. (Interestingly, my father was born the year after Joe Lewis; I was born the year after Cassius Clay.)

Other fighters who would be mentioned during these discussions of pugilistic prowess were, Jack Dempsey, Ezzard Charles, Gene Tunney, Jack Johnson, and Suger Ray Robinson, always with the caveate, “Pound for pound,” because he was a middleweight among heavyweights. If you took off the gloves and went “bare-fisted” then of course, John L. Sullivan would immediately take first place. (Look him up and see how many times he fought Billy Madden.) But then Jim Corbett, the little, fast, finesse boxer who beat him would enter the discussion. Also, someone had to always mention Archie Moore, whose toughness and amazing longevity was truly remarkable. I think Floyd Patterson was soon to become the heavyweight champ, but he was a little light (something like 185 pounds) and not savage enough to compete virtually with the other greats. I know I’m missing some important names, and I can’t for the life of me remember who was the champ during these formative years, but I do remember how important boxing was in those days before professional football became the standard for measuring manhood.

Those were the days of friday night fights, when men would gather in front of the TV (which didn’t have so many other offerings, and no reruns) and the women would gather in the kitchen and do some cooking. I was a “tweener” in those days, not yet a man, but getting there. My uncle Frenchie had been a fighter in his younger days, where he got the nickname “The Frenchman” because he favored my maternal grandmother’s side of the family. He was always “Uncle Frenchie” to me, and to everyone else in the family. I don’t remember when I found out his given name was Everett (it took me a while to remember it today) and that his nickname harkened back to his boxing days, but I was well into my teenage years.

My father was a boxer too, and a good one from what I heard from uncle Jim. However, his eyesight started to go even earlier than mine did, and contact lenses hadn’t been invented yet. So dad had to give up his boxing “career” early. I think he always remembered he was tough, though. And strong. Able to “take care of himself” which was a prerequisite for being a man in those days.

So I’m glad Max Schmeling had such a long and successful life. And I’m glad he wasn’t a Nazi. And I’m glad I was able to mark his death with this reflection about the way things were.

DadMemories02/05/05 2 comments


David • 02/10/05 11:16 PM:

That does it Dad! Hop on a flight out here - you’re going to join in with me for some boxing lessons. I’ve been thinking about taking a boxing class for a while now. Mainly because I think it would be cool to know how to box. Plus, it’s great for conditioning and fitness. I must admit, I’m not interested in getting punched in the face. Or anywhere for that matter. I mostly want the training and the know-how. (Nobody I know wants to join with me. They’re all bums).

Thanks Dad for the great story you told in this entry. I’m happy to read it and learn more about you and Grandpa and your childhood. Mom, you’re next. I would like for both of you to do more of this.

I had no idea grandpa was a boxer. Awesome. How about you, Dad?

Dad • 02/11/05 10:15 AM:

Yes, David, I was a boxer too. But I think the story should be told in an entry rather than a comment. Stay tuned.

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