I don’t like boxing. I have difficulty with a “sport” which has as its primary goal hurting another person. But recently I came across a story about a boxer that I find inspirational and very instructive. In 1936, the German boxer Max Schmeling knocked out Joe Lewis in the 12th round. The Nazi propaganda machine hailed him as a symbol of Aryan supremacy. Two years later with World War II looming, a rematch was billed as a titanic struggle between good and evil. Schmeling was cast as the Nazi warrior; Louis as the defender of American ideals. President Roosevelt even summoned Louis to the White House to exhort him to defeat the German. Of course, Louis won to the dismay of Hitler and his cohorts. But the reality of Max Schmeling was never what was believed about him. In fact, Schmeling was not a Nazi. He refused to join the Nazi party, an act of defiance
that angered Hitler who responded by drafting him into the paratroopers and sending him on a suicide mission during which he was severely wounded and forced to spend several months in the
hospital. Schmeling also refused to divorce his Czech wife in the name of Aryan purity. But even more importantly, Schmeling befriended Joe Louis and when he learned that Louis was in desperate financial need, he sent him gifts of money and paid for his medical bills. Schmeling paid for his funeral and served as one of the pallbearers when Louis died in 1981. In 1989, Henry Lewin, the owner of the Sands Hotel in Las Vegas told another story about Schmeling. Lewin was a German Jew who lost most of his family in the holocaust. He himself survived because Schmeling hid him in his house for seven days until he could be smuggled out of the country. In 1993 Schmeling confessed his one anxiety. “I don’t want anyone to say I was a good athlete, but worth nothing as a human being - I couldn’t bear that.” What an example of courage and love for all of us - and from a man many thought of as an enemy.