Schmeling, 'Aryan' champ, savior of Jews
Only until recently, and then only a few knew little about a greater percentage of Jewish refugees that fled from the Nazis after Kristallnacht from Europe to Shanghai. Among those, approximately 18,000 were two young boys whose story about their experience during that time belongs to the annals of WWII history. Referring only by their first names, Werner and Henry who were in their early teens had their life spared during the pogroms in 1938 by a renowned Aryan and German boxing champ, Max Schmeling. A commemorative stamp from Austria (Scott 1988) honoring Schmeling, and another stamp from Germany (Scott 2354) commemorating his 100th Anniversary, are illustrated in Figure one.
Perhaps best remembered in the ring for his two fights with Joe Louis in 1936 and 1938, Schmeling, one of Germany’s biggest sports idols and Adolph Hitler’s propaganda tool to demonstrate Aryan supremacy, remained unjustly associated with Nazi Germany, and was for a time unfairly considered an offensive person in the United States. Only later it was learned that the story of the boxer is a story of a hero and humanitarian who kept by request from his Jewish friend his two sons in his suite at a hotel in Berlin while Nazi gangs during Kristallnacht roamed the streets destroying Jewish property, burning synagogues and assaulting innocent German Jewish citizens. Two of the many synagogues that were burning and destroyed that evening are depicted on an Israel Joint Issue with Germany (Scott 999 and Scott 1565 respectively) commemorating the ~ Anniversary of Kristallnacht. A First Day Cover is illustrated in Figure two. Later when the rage had slightly diminished, Schmeling took Werner, then 15 and Henry, 14 out from his suite and escorted them first to his house in another section of town and then to their parent’s apartment. It was only shortly after when the boys with their parents escaped to a safe haven, Shanghai, China where they were later confined by the Japanese to a ghetto with close to twenty-thousand other Jewish refugees.
A photograph of the two boys taken in Germany just prior to the pogrom is shown in Figure three.
After the war in 1947, the boys then in their early twenties left Shanghai and settled in San Francisco with very limited funds. They lost no time in assimilating in their new country and started to work immediately at the bottom of the ladder at the famous Fairmont Hotel. In a short time they were promoted to the top of the ladder and joined the Hilton Hotels Corporation in 1964 as chief executives in management.
On November 9, 1968, “The Thirty Year Anniversary of the Kristallnacht”, City of Hope bestowed the “San Francisco Men of the Year Award” to the boys, then gentleman in their mid twenties. A special presentation folder marking this event is shown in Figure four.
It was seventy years ago when the two brothers were among hundreds of Jewish refugees sailing with their parents on the high seas to Shanghai. Seventy years later in April 2008, Werner, now in his 80’s will again be on the high seas with a large group of Jews that fled from the Nazis around 1938, only this time on a reunion pleasure cruise in the Caribbean marking the 70th Anniversary of “Escape to Shanghai”
Born on September 28, 1905 in Brandenburg, Germany, Schmeling’s professional career stretched from 1924 to 1948. He compiled a career record of fifty-six wins, ten losses, and four ties that include the two most talked about and best remembered bouts with Joe Louis. He steadfastly refused to join the Nazi party and also refused Nazi demands that he fire his Jewish manager, Joe Jacobs. A decent man in conflict with the Nazis and racial policies of Hitler’s Third Reich, he demonstrated generosity, righteousness and humanitarianism.
At a Las Vegas dinner in 1989 honoring Max Schmeling, Henry, the younger brother has publicly told this tale of Kristallnacht. Schmeling cried and said that he did not like being “glorified. “Max was a man of the highest quality,” he said. If they had caught him hiding us, they would have shot him. Allow me to say: “If I had been Max Schmeling in Germany in 1938, I would not have done it.”
The International Raoul Wallenberg Foundation
Sports Illustrated, December 3, 2001