Joe Louis vs. Max Schmeling, and a World on the Brink

Ian Buruma reviews Beyond Glory by David Margolick, in the New York Review of Books:

Joe_louis_max_schmeling_1936Even after Schmeling was adopted by the new regime after 1933 and turned (with his own cooperation) into a Nazi poster boy, he never lost his glamour for the old Weimar bohemians. One of the fascinating bits of information provided by Margolick’s account of the legendary fights between Schmeling and Joe Louis is the list of people who congratulated him on his first victory against the Brown Bomber in 1936. Even as almost all black people, Jews, white liberals, and also some nonliberals in America were in deep sorrow over Louis’s defeat, even as the Nazi press was crowing over this great racial triumph over the Negro Untermensch, Schmeling received congratulatory telegrams from the Führer himself, naturally, but also from George Grosz, Marlene Dietrich, and Ernst Lubitsch, all of whom were living in the US at the time.

But then Schmeling was a very canny operator. While hobnobbing in Berlin with the Nazi elite—he and his wife, Ondra, were frequent guests at the homes of Joseph and Magda Goebbels —Schmeling made sure he retained his Jewish manager in New York, the indefatigable, cigar-chomping Joe “Yussel” Jacobs. As long as Schmeling won his fights and brought in enough foreign currency for the Fatherland, the Nazis were prepared to overlook this indiscretion.

More here.  [For Alan Koenig.]