Max Schmeling After the War (1945-1954)

By Norman Marcus on April 23, 2014
Max Schmeling After the War (1945-1954)
The former champion knew his ring smarts were still there. He just had to get strong again.

Max asked Hitler if he could find a hotel room for his Jewish manager. The Fuhrer’s eyes just glazed over and he turned to look out of the window…

The old heavyweight champion had to start all over again in 1945. The advancing Red Army had destroyed his farm in German Pomerania. All of his money was in now worthless Nazi Reich Marks.

In that same year, Schmeling’s old friend, Heidelberg boxing promoter Heinz Schuble, asked him if he would be interested in a part-time job as a boxing referee. Max jumped at the chance to support himself and his wife, Czech actress Anny Ondra.

In 1946 Max returned to Berlin and looked up his old German manager and trainer, Max Machon. The sport of boxing was again very popular in the western sectors of Germany. Some of his former opponents, such as Walter Neusel and Gustav Eder were still active boxers. Machon was worried about Schmeling trying a comeback. He felt his career was over and that he should stay retired, but his old friend was desperate. “Machon, I have no choice,” Schmeling said. “I don’t know what else to do. Tell me what we’re supposed to live on!”

Machon still wanted nothing to do with Schmeling. Max had hurt his back as a paratrooper during the German invasion of Crete. During the war years he endured countless surgeries in an attempt to fix it. Plus Max hadn’t had a pro fight in eight years! He was hopelessly out of shape and his legs were weak. But Schmeling knew his ring smarts were still there. He just had to get strong again.

Schmeling wrote, “Three days later I drove to Friedrichsruth in Sachsenwald. I trained harder than I ever had before. It was clear to me that everything depended on my legs. I had never logged so many miles as I did in those weeks…one day I knew that my legs were back.” Schmeling called his old friend in Berlin and asked him to come and see him. Machon’s trained eyes looked Max over. He was slim, trim and was back to his old fighting weight. He seemed to move well inside the ring too. He decided he would take a chance on the ex-champ. Perhaps there really was one Übermensch (superman) left in Germany in 1947. The clock was ticking on Schmeling’s career. If he was to make some real money before his time ran out, Max would have to follow Machon’s blitzkrieg strategy to the letter. (A blitzkrieg is a lightning quick attack, where all your firepower is up front.) A half dozen quick fights based on speed and surprise, with his right hand pounding away, was his only chance. If anything was still there, it would be in that right hand.

His first opponent was a youngster named Werner Vollmer. He was just twenty-six years old compared to Schmeling’s forty-two. The fight took place on September 28, 1947, at Frankfurt’s Waldstadion Stadium. Over forty thousand people showed up to see if Max had anything left. The fight was scheduled for 10 rounds. Vollmer was full of the energy of youth but he didn’t have the experience of the old champ. The kid was a puncher, who liked to bore in on his opponent. He was like a new Volkswagen competing against a vintage Mercedes. In round 1 Max caught him with his right hand and Vollmer hit the canvas. When Vollmer got up, he appeared to be on “queer street” but managed to last out the round. This quieted the American GIs in the audience. They had cruelly sung “Happy Birthday” to the aging Schmeling, as he had entered the ring that night. The crowd now suspected that they were looking at a flash from the past. After all, Max’s right hand had knocked out Johnny Risko, Paolino Uzcudun, Young Stribling, Mickey Walker, and finally Joe Louis in 1936!

Young Werner went on the attack. Schmeling later wrote, “In every round he came back at me, but I continued to penetrate his cover and drive him around the ring. He went down a total of seven times.” The right hand again caught Vollmer in the 7th round and he was floored for the count.

Suddenly, old man Schmeling was a press favorite again. He was invited by the new German elite to party with them. John F. Kennedy once said, “Victory has many fathers. Defeat is an orphan.” Max enjoyed the renewed interest in him as a celebrity. But there was something troubling that only Max knew. He had lost a half step in reaction time. His mind and body no longer moved as one. You couldn’t see it but he could feel it. If Schmeling could keep it secret for a few more bouts, he would have enough money saved to buy a small estate somewhere and start a new life with Anny.

Alfred Eggert, a boxing expert of those times wrote, “Max Schmeling’s comeback has succeeded, mostly because he learned everything he could from his 1927 loss to Gypsy Daniels and never looked back. He methodically wore down his opponent, and for all Vollmer’s courage, he wouldn’t have lasted beyond the second round if Schmeling had been motivated to go all out. But he wasn’t… Now we know: Max still has endurance, his sharp eye, and fluidity of movement. What has improved is his left jab, which hits his mark consistently… Vollmer could never escape that left, and the right, still as effective as ever, completed the package.”

Schmeling fought just five times after the war. Winning three bouts by KO and losing two by decision. He ended his ring career in 1948. For this last fight, he earned the equivalent of $40,000 in new government Deutsche Marks. He went straight out and bought a piece of land in Hollenstedt, just outside of Hamburg. Max Schmeling had a home again.

It’s all who you know sometimes. Jim Farley was a former Postmaster General under Franklin Roosevelt. He was a longtime political kingmaker in the Democratic Party. The man also happened to have been a New York State Boxing Commissioner. He knew Max Schmeling very well in the 1930s. In 1948 Farley headed the Coca Cola Bottling Company. Since Schmeling’s ring career was finally over, Farley thought that Max would be the perfect PR man to handle the soft drink business in Hamburg, Germany. The franchise was offered and Max bought it. He soon became a multimillionaire.

In 1954 Schmeling flew to New York. He had some friends to see in America. The first was his Jewish American manager Joe Jacobs. Sadly Max found Joe buried in a Jewish Cemetery. Max stood by the grave and thought back to all the good times the two had shared together. He thought about their 1936 win over Joe Louis in New York. A short time later he and Jacobs had flown to Berlin on business. The hotels were all full. Max went to see Hitler at the chancellery for lunch. The Fuhrer asked Schmeling, “What can I do for you champ?” Max asked Hitler if he could find a hotel room for Joe, his Jewish manager! The Fuhrer’s eyes just glazed over and he turned to look out of the window. He then began rambling on about the weather. Schmeling suddenly realized the request had been a bad idea. He quickly left without finishing his coffee. Joe Jacobs had to sleep on Max’s sofa for that entire week!

The second man he wanted to see in America now lived in Chicago. Max got on another plane and went to surprise Joe Louis at his home. Schmeling waited in Joe’s living room for his old friend to return from a round of golf. “Max! How good to see you again!” Joe said. They talked for hours. The 1930s seemed so long ago. Louis didn’t look good to Max. The Brown Bomber now had a new opponent, the Internal Revenue Service. The Feds were hitting him up for every nickel in his pocket to pay his tax bill. It showed in Joe’s face. The two men promised to stay in touch.

An article was later published by Joe Louis’s promoter Mike Jacobs, in the Spanish boxing daily Marca. It admitted that the hand injury to Jimmy Braddock in 1937 was a sham. Made up to void a signed contract by Braddock, to meet Schmeling for the title. Uncle Mike wanted to give that shot to his fighter Joe Louis. Schmeling was too risky. He might have beaten Jimmy! Where would that have left Mike and Joe? Jacobs wrote, “Everyone who knew Max Schmeling as a man and a sportsman was sorry.”

Schmeling went on to live another fifty years. In the 1990s he became the friend and mentor to Vitali and Wladimir Klitschko. He guided their early boxing careers in Hamburg, Germany. In 2005, he died in the little town of Wenzendorf. He was ninety-nine years old. Vitali later named his firstborn son Max, after his old friend. But that is another story.


Sources: Max Schmeling an Autobiography, The Boxing Record, Buddy Baer Autobiography, The New York Times.

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  1. Eric 07:16am, 04/24/2014

    A lot of people know Schmeling more from being the only heavyweight champ to win the title on a foul, or being knocked out by Louis in one round. I would say he was the best heavyweight champion during the period between Tunney and Louis, this is often thought of as a bleak period in heavyweight history, a period where men like Braddock and Carnera were crowned champions. I would still rank Schmeling as a superior fighter than the wild swinging Max Baer, despite the beating he suffered at the hands of Baer, styles make fights, if the crude Baer even had a style. Many thought Schmeling won his rematch with Sharkey also, and Schmeling probably would have been the first to regain the title had it been Schmeling and not Louis who faced Braddock. Definitely would rank Schmeling in the top 20 all time champs. Schmeling was the only fighter to ever beat a prime Joe Louis.

  2. Bob 04:35am, 04/24/2014

    Fantastic article on a very interesting champ & man. Really enjoyed the article.

  3. Mohummad Humza Elahi 01:20am, 04/24/2014

    Great article.  It’s always interesting to read these types of pieces by those who have a lot more experience in the fight game; it moves like a proper story and not straight reporting or a fact checking exercise.  And when the subject is someone of Max’s stature, it makes a damn good piece.

  4. Norm Marcus 12:18am, 04/24/2014

    Thanks Paul-
    Welcome to the neighborhood by the way.
    Schmeling was a complicated character. He wasn’t pro Nazi nor pro ally. He was pro Max. Just wanted to wind up on the winning side. The press gave him a free pass because he never joined the Nazi Party. Smart move but he did fight in the German army but then again so did Pope Benedict the XVI.
    Like I said a complicated character.
    Some people however didn’t forget. Once saw Max introduced in the ring before a fight in Miami Beach in the 1960s. No applause- the crowd was all Jews! They weren’t fooled. They all rememkbered Hitler’s champion!

  5. Matt McGrain 11:58pm, 04/23/2014

    Good stuff Norm.

  6. Paul Gallender 11:26pm, 04/23/2014

    Excellent article, Norm. What an interesting life Max lived. Had Braddock defended his title against Schmeling, the history of the heavyweights could very well have been much different. Jimmy certainly made a very good business decision by fighting Louis.

  7. peter 05:55pm, 04/23/2014

    Thank you for this enlightening article which is filled with interesting pieces of information.

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