chapter  3
22 Pages

Political somatics: Fascism, physical culture, and the sporting body

Max Schmeling, the world heavyweight boxing champion of the 1930s, died on 2 February 2005, just a few months short of his hundredth birthday. For many people, Schmeling will be forever associated with the Nazi regime. It was in 1936, despite being past his physical prime, that Schmeling defied his advancing years and his rank outsider status to beat the formidable and much younger Joe Louis, in New York. As a result, Schmeling was held up by the Nazi regime in Germany as an ‘Aryan Superman’. Louis may have been stronger, a more accomplished boxer maybe, but for the Nazis, Schmeling had demonstrated a deeper and more enduring power – ‘a triumph of the will’. Propaganda Minister Goebbels immediately sent his congratulations, ‘I know you fought for Germany; that it was a German victory. We are proud of you. Heil Hitler!’ (Mandell 1972: 120). Recognizing the propaganda value of this unexpected victory, Goebbels sanctioned the making of Max Schmeling’s Victory – a German Victory, a film that was shown to packed cinemas (Lewis 2005). Soon after returning to Berlin, Schmeling was feted by Adolf Hitler in the Reich Chancellery (Mandell 1972: 121). For his part, Schmeling played the role of a reliable ambassador for Germany at a time of increasing international hostility. He never publicly criticized Hitler even when the persecution of Germany’s Jews became clear (Margolick 2005). But the story does not end there, for Max Schmeling was not a Nazi.