Louis vs. Schmeling 1938

By Norman Marcus on February 5, 2015
Louis vs. Schmeling 1938
Marlene Dietrich was seated behind Schmeling, hurling political epithets at him in German.

Schmeling went back to Germany quietly this time. No parades, no bands and no title. The only one who called and stuck with him was Albert Speer…

“Let the Germans do their worst and we shall do our best…”—Winston Churchill

It had only been two years since Max Schmeling had given Joe Louis a real boxing lesson in 1936. He had knocked him out that night in the 12th round. But things had changed a lot in the world in that short time. Max felt it immediately as he debarked from the German ocean liner Bremen in New York Harbor. No smiling, joking press waiting at the gangplank. Instead, there were now signs and posters the proclaimed, “Boycott Nazi Schmeling” and “Aryan Show Horse.”

After being whisked off by New York’s finest, it was no different at his hotel. Cries of “master race” and “Hitler’s Champion” filled the air. The harassment continued everyday on the street as Max walked to a restaurant or to buy a newspaper.

He tried to explain to these Americans that he wasn’t political. Why he even had a Jewish manager, Joe Jacobs, and Max’s darling wife Anny wasn’t even German but Czech! (The Nazis considered the Czechs to be inferior to the Germans.)

But the public didn’t want to hear any of it. Adolf Hitler was ready to gobble up too much land in Europe. There were too many photos of the Nazi leader and his favorite boxer together.

The whole world was ready for this second meeting in New York City.

“Why don’t you defect Max? Come and live here in America? How can you stay there with what the government is doing to the Jews in Germany?” Schmeling tried to reason with the small groups on the street but Max had become a symbol of the policies they despised. He loved Germany and the life he led as a superstar. It was hard to walk away and let the Nazi government seize his home and bank account. Many of his friends had been forced to leave the fatherland but so far the Nazis had left him alone—even after he refused Goebbels’ offer to join the Nazi Party in 1936. He was still loved by the German people.

Schmeling worried about what might happen to him back in Germany if he won this second fight. He might be forced to join the Nazi party for real this time. Why Hitler might even give him a medal. If Germany lost the coming war, he could wind up being tried as a war criminal! Who would win and who would lose was a question always on his mind. He was walking a tightrope and didn’t want to fall off.

Joe Louis was also under pressure of a different kind in 1938. The Brown Bomber was the darling of the press. “A credit to his race” was the term used in the papers. He stayed out of trouble and was great with kids. Most important was the fact that he had never gotten romantically involved with a white woman. People remembered the other black champ Jack Johnson. Promoter Mike Jacobs had warned him that such actions were bad for business. Joe always listened to Uncle Mike. The heavyweight champion was now a world figure. Joe was invited to the White House by the president. FDR was a fight fan and told him, “Joe, we need muscles like yours to beat Germany.” The whole world was aware of this upcoming fight. Louis had watched the film of his first fight with Schmeling a hundred times by now. Jack Blackburn had finally trained Joe to never drop his left hand, when he threw his right. There would be no opening for Schmeling’s big right in 1938. Joe Louis had something to prove to the world.

For months now, small boys had been coming up to the Brown Bomber on the streets of Harlem. He would bend down and they would whisper in his ear, “Max Schmeling, Max Schmeling.” Louis didn’t know whether it was a hope or a taunt. Soon all this pressure would be over.

Schmeling had also trained carefully for this second fight. He was in excellent condition for a thirty-three-year-old boxer. Louis however was only twenty-four years old. This was probably Max’s last chance at the heavyweight title before the coming world war and father time. Schmeling had one good weapon, his right hand. Sportswriters often said that Max’s left hand was only good for holding dinner forks! The German had a strong chin and would stalk his opponent waiting to throw that straight right.

Louis, by contrast, had an arsenal of weapons at his disposal. A powerful left jab, big right hand, hooks, uppercuts and more. Joe was the whole package.

The fight took place on the night of June 22, 1938, Yankee Stadium, Bronx, New York. It was another million dollar gate. Seventy thousand people came to see who was really the superman. Three former heavyweight champions entered the ring and were introduced to the crowd. Sharkey, Braddock and Baer each took a bow. They were all greeted with the Bronx cheer!

Roosevelt’s sons James and Franklin Jr. sat at ringside that night. Also seated there were FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover, the German Ambassador Heinrich Dieckhoff, and Postmaster General Jim Farley. Exiled German movie star Marlene Dietrich was seated behind Schmeling, hurling political epithets at him in German.

The fight would end in the first round. Max came out jabbing from long range. He used an orthodox stance, as most European boxers did. Schmeling liked to use the early rounds to gage his opponents. He would not have that luxury this night. Louis came forward and quickly connected on five left hooks and a blow to the German’s left side. It produced a piercing scream from Schmeling. Some claim it was a kidney punch. The rules gave Referee Donovan two options. Option one was to give Max some time to recover, up to five minutes. Donovan’s other option was to disqualify Louis on a foul. That was something no American wanted him to do. It was the ref’s call. Schmeling’s trainer Max Machon screamed the punch was to his fighter’s kidney but Donovan would have none of it. (Joe Jacobs, Schmeling’s Jewish manager, had been banned from Max’s corner by the New York State Athletic Commission. It had something to do with one of Jacobs’ other fighters, Tony Galento. It seems that Jacobs had allowed Tony to be photographed in the ring sitting on a barrel of beer, hence the suspension by the commission. Schmeling felt very alone without his friend Joe there.) Donovan quickly let the action resume. Louis then landed a right hook to Schmeling’s face and he went down for a count of three. He then proceeded with a couple of shots to Max’s jaw for another knockdown for a count of two. Schmeling was completely helpless now. The American continued the attack and dropped the German for a count of eight. Donovan waved Louis off. The fight was over. Schmeling was later taken to the hospital with cracked vertebrae in his back. It had all ended before some fans had even taken their seats!

The fight had lasted just one minute and four seconds of round 1. The next morning the German Ambassador also claimed that Schmeling had been hit early on with an illegal kidney punch. That was to be the Nazi propaganda line back in Germany. The Germans appealed the TKO1 loss, but the NYSAC refused the appeal.

Schmeling went back to Germany quietly this time. No parades, no bands and no title. The only one who called and stuck with him was Albert Speer, Hitler’s favorite architect. Max still walked that tightrope. He slowly regained his popularity in Germany. In later months, he was featured in a Hitler Youth Magazine as a role model for young Germans. He also attended the next two Nazi Party rallies in Munich and was warmly received.

Max was a complicated character and managed to emerge from the war as a German hero. But outside of Germany he got mixed reviews. He became a multimillionaire selling Coca-Cola in West Germany. Schmeling not only survived Hitler and his gang but outlived all the boxers of his day. He died at home in Hollenstadt, Germany, in 2005. He was ninety-nine years of age.

Joe Louis died in Las Vegas, Nevada, in 1981. He was just sixty-six years old. Joe didn’t fare as well financially as Max Schmeling. Uncle Sam took all of Joe’s money for back taxes. The one thing he did hold onto was his glory in the ring. Unlike Schmeling and his money, when Louis died, Joe was able to take his glory with him.

Sources: Max Schmeling- Autobiography, New York Times/Sports Section, 6/23/38

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  1. Beaujack 08:56pm, 02/07/2015

    Norman, I too recall looking in the front window of Jack Dempsey’s restaurant on Bwy, seeing Jack Dempsey sitting inside by the window table
    smiling at the crowd. Those days in the 1940s Jack Dempsey was like a God to the public, unlike today when many boxing revisionists have him just a shade above Butterbean, So sad and so foolish for Dempsey in his day was the greatest boxing attraction of alltime and a helluva fighter.
    I also remember vividly passing Abe Attell’s bar a few blocks North of Dempsey’s and seeing in the window a giant color reproduction of the
    Attell vs Harlem Tommy Murphy battle where both were covered with blood as in a slaughterhouse.

  2. norm marcus 06:54am, 02/07/2015

    Beaujack: My mouth is still watering for the Boston Baked Beans and Salisbury Steaks at the H&H!
    The best part to me though, was walking past Jack Dempsey’s Restaurant and seeing the champ sitting in his favorite booth by a back window. Still get goose bumps when I think of it.

  3. Beaujack 09:24pm, 02/06/2015

    Clarence, you brought up my fondness for nostalgia, when you mentioned Schrafft’s, right across the street from the defunct Commodore Hotel. And a block or two away On E42st, there was
    my dad and my favorite hangout before the Friday night bouts in MSG,
    Horn and Hardart’s Cafeteria. What great java and apple pie !. Oh, for those long departed days !

  4. Clarence George 04:41am, 02/06/2015

    Permit me to agree with you, Norm.  The ‘30s, in particular, was the sport’s Golden Age.  Today…why, it’s comparing Lupe Velez to Kim Kardashian, Schrafft’s to McDonald’s, a fedora to a backwards baseball cap, a Nedick’s hot dog to a turkey frank (whatever the hell that is).  We have lost our “splendid mirage,” as F. Scott Fitzgerald would put it.  “Come back, come back, O glittering and white!”

  5. Norm Marcus 09:38pm, 02/05/2015

    Yo Guys: Lets all take a deep breath! These arguments back and forth are what makes boxing.com special.
    The times and boxers of the 20s and 30s are my favorites. The depression, the Nazis, Tojo and Pearl Harbor etc. all combine with Dempsey, Tunney, Louis, Galento, Baer and dozens more to make the action outside the ring as exciting as what happened inside the ring. Even the managers and trainers were interesting characters in those days.
    Today the fighters are so boring in comparison. Whats the story now? Who bought a new Benz? Who has a new girl friend? Did he really beat her up? A big new gold watch?
    The fighters of yesteryear spilled over into politics, role models, American Icons etc.
    Boxings Golden Age. 

  6. Clarence George 06:32pm, 02/05/2015

    By the way, is that a towel being tossed into the ring?  It looks like a merciful angel in a graceful swan dive, in preparation for a perfect three-point landing.  A most appropriate image.

  7. Eric 06:15pm, 02/05/2015

    Clarence…Tanks for the 411. I’m definitely not a “writer” here or anywhere else.

  8. peter 06:08pm, 02/05/2015

    Norman, you breathed fresh air into this old classic. It was a joy to read. Thank you.

  9. Clarence George 06:01pm, 02/05/2015

    Eric:  I don’t want there to be any unnecessary tension between you and “Skippy.”  That schoolmarmish finger wasn’t being wagged in your face, at least not primarily.  In the famous last words of Barbara Graham, “Good people are always so sure they’re right.”

  10. Eric 03:57pm, 02/05/2015

    Calm down, Skippy. No one is praising anyone. What I said about Hitler and Jesse Owens & the ‘36 Olympics ties in perfectly to this story. I really think the global or political aspect of the whole Louis vs. Schmeling II fight has been blown out of proportion. Just as the the Hitler snubbing Owens and Germans doing poorly in the ‘36 games has become a myth. Of course I wasn’t alive back in ‘38, but I really can’t see a boxing match having that much influence either way. And with Obama, once it again it ties into the story. Schmeling was seen as a Nazi, although it was peculiar that he had a Jewish manager, while Obama is seen as a pro-Muslim sympathizer who has had a lot of Jewish backing. I believe 80% of Jewish Americans voted for Obama in this last election. Praising “fascist dictators?” Whoa there Skippy, take a chill pill.

  11. FrankinDallas 03:27pm, 02/05/2015

    This site is drawing some seriously crazed individuals. Used
    to be respectable, but I find it going to the dogs. There is one
    writer/poster in particular whose articles I won’t read and whose
    posts I won’t respond to after his praising certain fascist dictators.
    It’s too bad but there are extremists everywhere nowadays. It’s just too bad they have to post here rather on blogs with the other whackos who
    have the same nutty ideas.

  12. Clarence George 02:33pm, 02/05/2015

    The United States’ Middle East policy has been too long too pro-Israel.  A more balanced approach would be welcome (though it’s probably too late for that now), but Obama has gone too far in the opposite direction.  I can’t say that he’s necessarily anti-Semitic, but I haven’t the slightest doubt that he’s at least an Islamophile, if not actually a Muslim, with little love for the Jewish state.

  13. Eric 02:18pm, 02/05/2015

    Just googled Abner Mikva and got the quote, “Barack Obama will go down in history as America’s first Jewish president.” Like I say, maybe it was a Slick Willie thingy. I always thought it was a writer for the Chicago Tribune that stated that line.

  14. Eric 02:12pm, 02/05/2015

    Norman Marcus..Don’t know if the guy was a writer or not but the person who made that claim was Abner Mikva in a Chicago Tribune article. Mikva was a former member of the Clinton White House council. Since Obama can’t really make the claim of being the first black president, we all know that was Slick Willie, maybe since Obama had so many Jewish ties, Mr. Mikva was going for the first Jewish POTUS ties. I thought it was a writer for the Chicago Tribune but so far it looks like Mikva is the one who came up with the tag.

  15. Norm Marcus 01:31pm, 02/05/2015

    Eric: Always enjoy your observations on my stories. But today you have me stumped.“Obama, the first Jewish Potus” by a writer?” Would sure like to know the name of that writer. Wasn’t Davis Duke was it? The reason I say this is simple. While Obama has had a lot of help and staff who are Jewish, so have many modern presidents. Besides, Obama has been very tough on Israel for these last 6 years. Put a lot of pressure on them to halt their offensive against Hamas in the Gaza strip just as they were ready to finish them off last year. Netanyahu and the President don’t like each other much. White House staff refers to the Prime Minister as “Chicken Shit” according to many press sources.
    Also many other presidents have appointed Jews to the Supreme Court. Justices Brandeis, Cardozo, Frankfurter, Goldberg, Fortas, Ginsburg, Breyer and Kagan. By Presidents Wilson, Hoover, Roosevelt, Johnson, Clinton and Obama. Both Presidents Johnson and Clinton each appointed two Jews to the court. Does that make them Jewish presidents too?
    I think most successful executives try to get the best and smartest to work for them, no matter what their religion. Otherwise I don’t think they would be too successful.
    Don’t forget Obama sat in a racist church for 20 years and claims he never heard any racist remarks from his Rev. Wright. Yet Wright was good friends with Louis Farrakhan. A black Muslim who has made very anti semitic remarks over the years. I judge a man by the friends he keeps- enough said.
    I don’t know what yard stick you used to describe Obama as pro Jew/Zionist but the frosty feelings over the past 6 years between the 2 countries speak otherwise.
    The far left is very anti- Israel and pro Palestinian. They are a big part of Obama’s base. So your reasoning doesn’t make sense to me. In my opinion Barack is the most unfriendly president Israel has had to work with since 1948.
    Still like hearing from you though.
    No boxing site like this one. We can talk about anything and keep it cool. Thats what America is all about!

  16. ch. 12:10pm, 02/05/2015

    Enjoyed this story very much. I think that this fight was the greatest and most important sporting event in history. The whole world saw the war coming. This was played out as a dress rehearsal for it. The African-American Louis had “virtually” the full support of the whole nation (North + South, Black + White) and was presented as all that was good and strong and righteous about America against the “evil” (white) Nazi (Max S.) antagonist…. Joe Louis’ role in social change in this country has been vastly underestimated by the modern mainstream-who are slow to give credit to anything that concerns boxing-and long before the Jackie Robinson breakthrough in elitist baseball. And Joe represented all the hopes and dreams of all the downtrodden and impoverished Black Americans. I.E.- over 40 songs were recorded by musical artists of jazz, blues, popular, famous and not so famous, regaling and extolling the exploits of this extraordinary man.

  17. Eric 11:32am, 02/05/2015

    Wonder why FDR snubbed Jesse Owens?

  18. Clarence George 11:24am, 02/05/2015

    Just as well for Schmeling’s reputation that he didn’t join the Nazi Party.  Even if he had, however, it would have been insufficient cause for him to be charged with war crimes.  He always struck me as a very good sort.  He had no ill feelings toward Louis (racial or professional), and helped him out financially.  I think, in fact, that he paid for his former rival’s funeral.

    By the way, Louis was involved with any number of white women, most notably Sonja Henie.  “We had a nice thing going,” said Joe, “but she was a smart woman and so we kept everything ‘undercover.’”  Jack Johnson had the IQ of a doorknob when it came to that sort of thing…the Bomber was smarter.

  19. Eric 10:53am, 02/05/2015

    POPULUAR MYTHS that were debunked by Jesse Owens in his own words. Hitler sent a signed cabinet photograph to Jesse Owens congratulating him on his accomplishments. Jesse Owens said that FDR “snubbed” him and didn’t even send him a telegram, much less invite him to the White House. POPULAR MYTHS that Hitler was embarrassed by his athletes being dominated in the ‘36 Olympics. Germany won more medals than any other country and totally dominated the Summer Games of ‘36. Germany won a total of 89 medals, America was in second place with 56. Obama, kind of reminds me of Schmeling, while Obama has a Muslim name and has been identified as a Muslim sympathizer, he’s has been called our first Jewish POTUS by a writer. Groomed by George Soros, who is Jewish, he chose as his Chief of Staff, Rahm Emanuel, a dual citizen of Israel & America, David Axelrod was his campaign organizer, and he appointed Elena Kagan to the Supreme Court.

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