Baer vs. Schmeling

By Jeffrey Sussman on February 17, 2015
Baer vs. Schmeling
“I always thought that Baer and Louis were the preface to America winning the war.”

“Since you’re a Jew, you’re going to like this. It’ll be a fight between Max Baer and Max Schmeling, a favorite of Hitler…”

In June of 1933, my father was district manager for Land of Lakes, and his boss asked if he would like a pair of tickets to the Baer-Schmeling fight.

“Since you’re a Jew, you’re going to like this. It’ll be a fight between Max Baer and Max Schmeling, a favorite of Hitler. I thought it would have special meaning for you.”

“So tell me about the fight,” I asked my father many years later when I had first developed an interest in boxing.

“Well, first of all, I had reservations about Max Baer. He had killed a guy in the ring, and some people just said he was a mean son of a bitch. But, it was 1933, Hitler had come to power in Germany, and the Nazis wanted to get rid of the Jews. We hated everything the Nazis stood for, especially their propaganda about the Jews. We were looking for a Jewish hero, someone who could take on a Nazi strongman and beat him. Schmeling seemed like just such a target. We didn’t know he had a Jewish manager. We just knew that he was Hitler’s favorite boxer, and he was a champ in Germany. So Jews all over New York rallied to Max Baer, who was only half Jewish. As far as I was concerned, he had Jewish fists that could pummel Schmeling. That was enough for me and for lots of others. When my boss gave me two tickets to go to Yankee Stadium to see the fight, I was excited. I asked your mother if she wanted to go, but she didn’t like the fights, so I took a friend, Bob Potash. Like most people we took the subway up to the Bronx. The stadium was packed. Out of 60,000 attendees, there must have been 30,000 Jews. You know, it was the Depression, and a lot of people wouldn’t pay to go to a fight, but this was special. The Jewish fans yelled their lungs out for Baer, especially after he took off his robe and we saw a Jewish star on his trunks. There were also some German Bund types who cheered for Schmeling, but that was expected. There was a large German community up in Yorkville, and the German Bund had some sort of club up there.

“As soon as the fight began, Baer came out punching. He must have landed five punches in round one for every one that Schmeling landed. Baer had this technique, which I never saw in the ring before, of grabbing his opponent by the back of the neck, then punching his head with his other hand. Sometimes he would just grab Schmeling by the neck and push him away. When Baer got hit, he would laugh at Schmeling, as if to say, ‘you can’t hurt me’.” In the 9th round, Baer was well ahead of Schmeling, but in the 10th Baer came out of his corner like a tiger. He hit Schmeling punch after punch. Schmeling went down, and the crowd erupted with a spontaneous cheer. I thought it was over, but Schmeling managed to get up. A big mistake, because Baer pummeled him so hard and so fiercely that the referee had to stop the fight. We cheered and felt great. Everybody I knew was excited. Baer was in all the papers, the News, the Mirror, the Journal American, the Post. He was our hero. Afterward, the gossip columnists reported that he had an affair with Greta Garbo. He even starred in a movie, The Prizefighter and The Lady. Not a bad picture. His later fights were not very impressive. He beat Primo Carnera, who nobody thought was any good. He lost to Jimmy Braddock and then later to Joe Louis, as did my pal Abe Simon. But that one fight with Schmeling was a highlight. It made Jews feel good. He was the only Jewish heavyweight champion, but we only needed one at that time. Later, we rooted for Joe Louis against Max Schmeling, and though Louis lost the first fight, he came back like a tiger in the second. I always thought that Baer and Louis were the preface to America winning the war.”

Jeffrey Sussman is the author of ten books and has a marketing/PR company,

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  1. Tex Hassler 01:49pm, 02/21/2015

    This was probably Max Baer at his peak. He appeared to be an unbeatable fighter in this fight. Max was physically and mentally up for this fight.

  2. Norm Marcus 08:09am, 02/20/2015

    ch. You are correct. Baer only fought Loughran once. My mistake. I was confusing the Tommys… It was Tommy Farr who beat Max in London in 1937 but a year later in 1938, Baer returned the favor and took the decision from Tommy Farr at MSG in a UD15.
    Loughran and Baer became good friends after their fight. Tommy even sent Max to meet Jack Dempsey to show him the finer points of short punching. The two men became fast friends for life.
    Always interesting to talk boxing with people. Its a life long education.

  3. NYIrish 07:08am, 02/19/2015

    If we had a boxing ring time machine I’d love to see Max and Ali have a go.

  4. ch. 08:53pm, 02/18/2015

    Norman, I don’t want to belabor this point but Max Baer never met Tommy Loughran in a rematch. One fight, one loss for Max.

  5. peter 07:10pm, 02/18/2015

    “Where is the kneeling Indian?” Google “Land Of Lakes Butter”. On the package, look how the Indian squaw’s breasts and knees align themselves. If you strategically fold the wrapper twice, (like in Mad Magazine), her knees become naked breasts. For a seven year old kid, it’s pretty cool.

  6. jeffrey sussman 06:59pm, 02/18/2015

    Max was not only a good actor, but a good dancer too. I was pleasantly surprised by the dance numbers in The Prizefighter and The Lady. He was a talented guy, a nice guy, who got miserably portrayed in The Cinderella Man. That movie did a lot to tarnish Max’s reputation amongst people who never saw him fight. Max was the guy who donated the money from six fights to the widow of Frankie Campbell and then paid the college tuitions for Campbell’s kids.

  7. Norm Marcus 06:39pm, 02/18/2015

    The point I was making was that Baer beat the few fighters he lost to (and there weren’t many) except for Lou Nova. Who seemed to have his number. It happens like that sometimes. He beat Tommy Loughran also in a rematch. Ironically he destroyed Tony Galento but Galento make quick work of Nova. Almost blinding him in one eye. Lou was in the hospital for a year!
    Remember what Jimmy Braddock said about Max- “MaxBaer was the nicest guy. But if he got made like guys can do in a fight, he could knock you out into the third row. He was a harder puncher than Louis. Louis threw more kinds of punches than Baer. But Baer was a guy who could hurt you. He had killed a couple of guys in the ring and I think this was on his mind. I always said Max should have been an actor not a fighter.”

  8. Jeffrey sussman 05:02pm, 02/18/2015

    Thanks Ch

  9. ch. 10:34am, 02/18/2015

    Norman Marcus, I gotta stick up for my Philly boys. Tommy Loughran outclassed Max Baer in ‘31 giving him a “boxing lesson.” Lou Nova went 2 and 0 with Baer…..Jeffrey Sussman, Thanks for the piece, Your Dad’s memoirs on boxing are very enjoyable, as are your own reminiscences.

  10. jeffrey sussman 09:16am, 02/18/2015

    Thank you Norman. I agree that Max Baer was one of the great under-appreciated boxers of the 1930s. I recently watched his film debut, The Prizefighter and The Lady, and enjoyed it immensely. It was voted one the top ten best movies of the year by none other than The NY Times. I think that Baer’s victory over Schmeling was not appreciated as much as it should have been because there was a great deal of anti-Semitism in the country at the time. By the time Louis fought Schmeling, the country was on the verge of war and and so there was a strong appetite for a symbolic win over Germany. Baer was not only a great boxer, but a wonderfully colorful figure in and out of the ring. I look forward to reading your book.

  11. NORMAN MARCUS 05:22am, 02/18/2015

    JEFF: Great take on THE SCHMELING/BAER fight.
    I wrote a book on Baer’s career in the 30s and I highlighted that 1933 fight. It was the Ring magazine’s fight of the year. We both write for this website so you might be interested in my stories on Maxie Baer. To me he is a forgotten icon of the 1930s. You know that the Baer brothers went to the White House after WW!! to meet Harry Truman. At the end of the meeting, Harry asked for Max and Buddy’s autograph!
    Louis gets all the credit for knocking out the German superman yet Baer did it 5 years earlier and is forgotten. Drives me crazy1
    Jeff, if you look at Baer’s boxing record he you will see that Baer did beat all the major contenders available in the 1930s. He beat Galento, Farr, Carnera, Schmeling, Schaff, Levinsky, Heeney, Risko, Uczudun, Campbell, Cobb, Loughran, The few he did lose to he usually beat in a rematch. He fought Louis with a broken hand and lost. But Mike Jacobs wouldn’t let Louis fight him again healthy!  In 1940 Max was the #1 contender but couldn’t get a promised rematch done with Joe. Chased him for 5 years and finally just retired.
    Again great story. Really enjoyed it!

  12. jeffrey sussman 06:06pm, 02/17/2015

    Thanks Peter. Where’s the kneeling Indian?

  13. peter 04:56pm, 02/17/2015

    Thank you for this gem-of-a-story and the accompanying film footage of an America gone by. ...Land Of Lakes triggered a distant memory. As a kid, my older cousin showed me the secret of folding the Land of Lakes butter package, (with the kneeling Indian squaw), to create a very entertaining x-rated picture—entertaining, at least for an 8-year-old kid.

  14. jeffrey sussman 03:14pm, 02/17/2015

    My father and his brother were friends with Abe Simon when they were all in high school. Abe played on the football team. Years later, a cousin-in-law was a close friend of Abe’s daughter, Cathy, when they lived in Bayside.

  15. beaujack 02:49pm, 02/17/2015

    Jeffrey, a deceased friend of mine Morty Haber was a close neighbor of The Abe Simon family when they lived near Jamaica Ave, Queens. Did your family know of him perchance ?

  16. Jeffrey Sussman 09:43am, 02/17/2015

    Thanks Beaujack. I heard that Abe Simon suffered headaches all his life from his last fight with Louis. He was a tough guy, but like all tough guys he had his vulnerabilities.

  17. beaujack 09:35am, 02/17/2015

    Great article Jeffrey…The terrible beating Max Baer gave Schmeling in the last round when Der Mox was out on his feet, and the ko at the hands of a vengeful Joe Louis in their second fight makes me wonder how Max Schmeling lived to the ripe old age of 99 ?
    One other thing,  many moons ago while driving my car on Flatbush Ave., in B;‘klyn, who pulls along side of me but a taxicab with Abe Simon at the wheel . How low the mighty have fallen I thought to myself…

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