Dec. 03, 2001
Dec. 03, 2001

Table of Contents
Dec. 3, 2001

Si Adventure


By Frank Deford Special Reporting By Anita Verschoth

At home, the very old man sits by the window and looks out into
the woods. It is another new day, of which he has had more than
35,000. Some 35,000 times the sun has come up for him. He likes
to say, "I was given a life, and I used it."

This is an article from the Dec. 3, 2001 issue

When the very old man and his wife bought the property near
Hamburg in 1949, they left it in its natural state. They built
the house in the middle of the land, so that the deer and the
foxes, the starlings and the woodpeckers, would still feel at
home. The scene is almost Disneyesque, reminiscent of Snow White,
the animals coming up close to the house, looking at the very old
man sitting inside watching them.

It surprises people, how small the house is. After all, the very
old man is Max Schmeling, the former heavyweight champion of the
world, who is both famous and wealthy. He could live in a
mansion. He and Anny never had children, however, and now she is
gone. They were married for 54 years, and she has been dead for
14. "I don't need a big villa," Schmeling has said. There is
plenty of room for her photographs. In her heyday, she was
beautiful. She was Anny Ondra, the movie star. She was beautiful
and he was handsome, and the world they lived in was stunningly

His secretary reports that this is what Schmeling says of the
past: "I have had a very eventful life. I have been shaped by two
world wars, by success and defeat, and by the beautiful times
life has to offer. But"--one can hear him sighing here--"I have
also suffered deprivation." Max Schmeling is not smug. He
presents all the contradictions of Everyman, only in him the
paradoxes are writ much larger because of who he was and what was
going on all around him when he was in his prime.

He has two old, familiar housekeepers, who take turns tending to
him in the cozy house in the middle of the woods. He needs a
nurse at night, too, because, as befits a man who was strong and
independent, he is loath to use a cane, even though he sometimes
gets dizzy and falls. He is frail but well enough, and his
diabetes appears to be under control. The housekeeper who is on
duty on Fridays fixes him potato pancakes. That is the small
pleasure he most enjoys, potato pancakes for dinner on Fridays.
He has had successful cataract surgery on both his eyes, so when
he is not watching the birds frolic, he reads a great deal.
Newspapers are delivered to the house every morning, as well as
magazines about soccer, hunting and boxing.

Most Americans of a certain age know for an absolute fact that,
long ago, Max Schmeling was the dirty rotten Nazi who got lucky
and beat Joe Louis, but then got his comeuppance when our good
Joe demolished him in the rematch--sticking it to Hitler in the
bargain. Schmeling, though, was never a Nazi. He was sometimes
credulous and sometimes weak and often an example of what the
road to hell is paved with.

Schmeling has, however, been candid about his life under Hitler,
baldly admitting to the concessions he made, to his sins of
omission, to expedience in the face of evil. Neither does he deny
that he liked the Fuhrer's attention. Vanity makes a rare thing
of valor. But never has Schmeling revealed his noblest act, which
he performed on Kristallnacht, the Night of the Broken Glass. All
he will say is to protest, "I only was doing the duty of a man."

Even now, after the 35,000 days, when there cannot be many more
sunrises left for him, the response to a question about his part
in Kristallnacht comes back from his secretary: "Mr. Schmeling
says, 'Leave me alone. I can't do that anymore. Everything there
is to say has been said about me. I am tired of repeating
myself.' Mr. Schmeling has been there for the media for 75 years.
He would like to be left in peace."

Indeed, for all his many friends, he permits few visitors. After
all, everyone is younger than he is, and everyone wants to ask
him about those remarkable times when he was a champion and his
wife was a movie queen and the world was breaking apart. Still,
he refuses to talk about that anymore. His memoirs are full and
frank, though, the reports of his friends warm and revealing.
Executives from his company in Hamburg come to the house in the
woods, bringing papers for him to sign. His company bottles and
distributes soft drinks. Max Schmeling, the dirty rotten Nazi of
lore, made his fortune after the war from Coca-Cola. There is
something wonderfully perverse about that, isn't there? It's,
well, it's very American.

With his considerable wealth, Schmeling has become a
philanthropist, so he has his foundation to attend to, giving
millions to the poor. Also, each New Year's Day, he sends
greetings to the hundreds of people he knows, and on his
friends' birthdays the men get telegrams and the women flowers.
But, really, he has nothing more to say about the 20th century.
His final statement was that with which he concluded a new
epilogue, three years ago, to his 1977 memoirs, Max Schmeling:
An Autobiography: "I was always there--I'm still there. My life
is that of a German in the 20th century; or perhaps more
precisely, it was a German-American life. It was, in any case, a
fulfilled life which was never boring and of which, I must
admit, I am somewhat proud."

Somewhat. It's a funny word for a man to choose to place in his
own valedictory, isn't it? However, it is such an honest,
tempered word. It signals to us, more than anything, that you
had to have been present when the Third Reich was aborning and
then thriving and then crumbling. Then you never would be so
sure again. There would always be a somewhat in your life.

Whatever he was before and whatever he's been since, Schmeling
will be defined in America as the villain who went to New York
City in June 1938 to take Joe Louis's championship back to
Hitler. Schmeling was a man of the world, himself the
heavyweight champion at the start of the decade. He had spent so
much time in the U.S.--rarely fighting anywhere else from 1929
till the war--that as a spiritual German-American he viewed New
York as a "second home." Attractive and congenial, Schmeling had
many American friends and was quite well received here. In 1936,
when he handed Louis his first defeat, knocking him out in the
12th round of a nontitle bout, much of the crowd in Yankee
Stadium had even swung round to the German's side.

Ah, but that was the crux of it. In 1936 the rest of the world
was not altogether sure about Hitler, and Schmeling was a
German. By 1938, what the Third Reich stood for was clear.
Schmeling was no longer a German. He must be a Nazi. When his
liner, Bremen, docked in New York more than a month before the
fight, pickets lined the shore. Schmeling had to be escorted off
and sneaked up side streets to his hotel.

He was everywhere reviled, cursed to his face, with mocking Heil
Hitler salutes thrown before him. When he did not cooperate by
delivering pro-Nazi statements, inflammatory quotes were
attributed to him. Yankee Stadium would be packed to the facade
for the rematch, and in a nation of 130 million, 70 million
listened on the radio. When Louis pulverized Schmeling in barely
two minutes, America rejoiced. And Schmeling was left forever as
the carcass on the canvas, vilified in our history.

Schmeling had known so well the other extreme. He was a hero to
Germany before Hitler--he was the first great German boxer, the
first German to win a world championship. That was in 1930, when
he upset Jack Sharkey at Yankee Stadium before a crowd of
80,000. The same desperate longing for pride that Hitler would
so cunningly exploit in a defeated, ashamed people could be seen
first, in a much smaller way, in the adoration of Schmeling.
Curiously, too, in counterpoint to what would soon come, Germany
was never so free and open as it was in the 1920s. Berlin was,
we know, a cabaret. When Schmeling went there from Hamburg, he
was astonished--"a city of enormous energy," he would write,
with "a hectic lust for life."

As he succeeded in the fight game, the cafe society of the
capital welcomed him. Although barely schooled, never more than
a laborer before he found the ring, Schmeling was no pug. His
new friends were actors and artists, dancers and writers. He
wore the finest tailored suits, bought at David Lewin's Prince
of Wales shop in Berlin; he appeared evenings in black tie, or
even in white tie and tails. He took out movie stars. He starred
in movies. When sound came in, he even sang in movies.

Art, sports and sex merged in Berlin, and suddenly, repressions
cast aside, the human body was worshiped. Schmeling, dark and
broodingly handsome (he was a dead ringer for the smaller Jack
Dempsey), possessed a classically gorgeous male form, so he was
more than the nation's preeminent athlete. He was a matinee idol,
an Aryan god, in demand to pose nude for sculpture. He was very
much a part of this new, liberated Germany, this avant-garde
clique that thumbed its nose at hidebound Teutonic stiffness.

Schmeling's friend, the dancer Anita Berber, was chastised for
dancing too brazenly onstage. Her response to the critics was to
dance even more erotically. Then, convoyed by two elegant young
escorts, Berber dramatically sashayed into the dining room of
the exquisite Hotel Adlon to order three bottles of Veuve
Clicquot. As soon as the waiter poured, Berber arose, unclasped
the diamond broach on her expensive fur coat and let the coat
fall to the floor, revealing that she wore nothing whatsoever
beneath. Then, standing there naked in the middle of a room
aghast, she calmly raised her glass, toasting her companions.

That was Berlin before Hitler, the city where Schmeling shifted
about in the most cosmopolitan, most daring circles, where he
returned from New York a world champion, where he fell in love
with Anny and married her. In this elite artistic environment, a
number of people were Jewish. So were many of Anny's associates
in her film company. In New York, Schmeling remembers, "almost
all my friends were Jews."

Foremost was his manager, Joe Jacobs, a little American who
mangled the English language, most famously lamenting, "I
shoulda stood in bed." Jacobs was often known by his Yiddish
name, Yussel, so that in acknowledgment of his power in the
fight game he was called Yussel the Muscle. The Nazis were not
amused. They became downright furious in 1935 when Jacobs came
into the ring in Hamburg after Schmeling's victory in one of his
rare bouts in Germany. The crowd, in Schmeling's honor, began to
sing the national anthem, raising its arms in the Nazi salute,
and Jacobs, somewhat bemused, threw up his arm as well, even as
it held a huge cigar. Then the little Jew gave a big stage wink
to Schmeling. All this was caught on film. The head of the Reich
Ministry of Sports wrote a letter to Schmeling demanding that he
get rid of his Jewish manager, but Max Schmeling would not give
up Yussel Jacobs.

So long as Schmeling was champion and Hitler was only ascendant,
the fighter was safe. Even after Sharkey had beaten him to
regain the title in New York back in '32, Schmeling had remained
popular because the decision had been an outrageous home-country
fraud. Twenty-three of the 25 U.S. writers polled at ringside
thought Schmeling had won. "We wuz robbed!" Jacobs bellowed. The
raw deal made Schmeling a sympathetic figure in the U.S. But the
next year, 1933, Max Baer (who wore a Star of David on his
trunks) knocked out Schmeling, and his comet began to plummet.
He was almost 28, and he seemed to be washed up. Hitler, by
then, was in control.

Not long before, Schmeling had turned to Hitler for help in a
sticky little matter involving a currency transaction. The
Fuhrer had taken care of things. Now, when the Reich minister of
sports demanded again that Schmeling sever relations with
Jacobs, the fighter again went directly to Hitler. How quickly
things had changed, how naive he was. "In retrospect," Schmeling
wrote later, his action was "comical and almost insane." Hitler
spent the whole interview flirting with Anny. Schmeling finally
forced the issue of Joe Jacobs upon him, but Hitler ignored the
subject. When, at last, Schmeling almost wailed, "Loyalty is a
German virtue," Hitler grew angry, staring away. Moments later,
a young SS officer led the Schmelings off.

His friends at the Roxy Bar on Joachimstaler Strasse in Berlin
commiserated with Schmeling. That was his favorite hangout. He
and his buddies called it the Missing Persons Bureau because if
one of them could not be found at home, then surely he would be
at the Roxy. Soon, though, the bar's nickname took on more
sinister overtones. The persons, many of whom were Jewish, were
not simply missing from home but were missing from
Germany--fleeing the regime, even being sent to camps, which
were called KZ in savoir faire company. Oh, yes, Schmeling
admits, they knew the names.

What is so sadly fascinating about Schmeling is that he never
revised the history of his actions during the early years of the
Third Reich. He is honest, even as his admissions stain him.
Many Germans who looked back on that time made Hitler out to be
a bumbling fool. I saw through him, they wanted you to know.
Schmeling, however, wrote matter-of-factly in his memoirs that
he at first found the Fuhrer "relaxed...charming...confident."
He was seduced. He kept an autographed photograph of Hitler on
the wall in his study.

It is so easy for us to think that had we been there then, we
would have known, we would have stood up, we would have done
something. But, as the old comic vaudeville line went, "Vas you
dere, Charlie?" Schmeling and his pals were there, drinking at
the Roxy, even as other old friends left Germany or were sent to
a KZ (or even committed suicide). Yet they just ordered another
schnapps and abided--"impressed," Schmeling wrote, "by the new
optimism in Germany as well as by the successes of the new
regime." Life was truly somewhat, and they were all frogs in the
pot, pretending not to notice that the water around them was
slowly approaching a boil. How could they not see? Why did they
not act?

Although Schmeling has never spared himself, he does not really
explain. "After the war," he wrote in An Autobiography, "many,
perhaps hoping to fool themselves, claimed to have had no
knowledge of what went on. In truth, we all knew. It was no
secret that there were camps in Germany; it was openly discussed
in the Roxy Bar."

Still, the boxer and others who knew did nothing. Most German
Christians were too afraid to act. Schmeling, though, was
different. He was like so many athletes, strong and confident,
certain he could play with the devil's fire. He was Germany's
champion, was he not? "They tried to use me, and I used the Nazis
to help others," he said not long ago to his friend Gunnar

Meinhardt, a former East German weightlifter, is a journalist
with the German press agency DPA. He is the only one in his
profession whom Schmeling allows to visit, for Meinhardt has
become, it seems, the son--the grandson--Schmeling never had.
Schmeling loves him. They sit by the window that looks out on
the living things of the forest. "I feel I am in harmony with
life, with myself," Schmeling has told him.

So, how would you like to be remembered, Max? "I would not like
to be remembered as someone who amounted to so much as an athlete
but who was good for nothing as a person. I couldn't stand that."

Are you religious? "To me, religion means to give, to do good. I
live my life as if there were a God." Do you believe in life
after death? "No. There is no other life. We live on solely as
someone who is being remembered, someone who is talked about."

He visits Anny's grave and thinks of the old times, good and bad,
when they were together, because there will not be any more time
for them in the beyond. He simply accepts his great age as "a
present from heaven." Who could ever imagine that an old boxer,
with 70 professional bouts and many more in the amateurs, whose
head was pummeled by Joe Louis, would still be alive, in his 97th
year, alert and sentient and still full of wonder? On the other
hand, nothing is absolute; everything is somewhat. "I would never
have thought it possible," the very old man tells Meinhardt.

Hitler didn't care that much for sports. When Schmeling refused
to accept the Nazi Dagger of Honor, an award that had gone only
to the most prominent dignitaries--and that would have made
Schmeling an honorary commander in the SA, the storm
troopers--the Fuhrer didn't seem disturbed, even though other
top Nazis were appalled at Schmeling's audacious rudeness.
Hitler did play up the 1936 Berlin Olympics for all they were
worth, but as pageantry more than competition. It was Josef
Goebbels, the propaganda minister, who was more concerned about
the impression sports might make on the larger world. Probably
because Goebbels prompted him, Hitler didn't want Schmeling, who
by then had had 60 fights and seven losses and looked like a
washed-up palooka, to take on the magnificent, young,
undefeated--and black--Louis at Yankee Stadium on June 19, 1936.

Then again, nobody else gave Schmeling much of a chance, either;
he was fodder for the Brown Bomber, an 8-1 underdog.
Nevertheless, while some of Louis's opponents entered the ring
scared stiff, Schmeling was not the least bit frightened. A
foolish man he might be, but a brave one. That made him a more
attractive underdog; so while a few U.S. newspapers called him
"the Heil Hitler hero," others tagged him "the terrific Teuton."

Once Schmeling knocked Louis down in the fourth round and took
command of the fight, the crowd's latent racism began to
surface. Before Schmeling finally knocked out Louis, he could
hear ringside cries of "Kill him! Kill him!" Neither was it lost
on the German how quickly, in the aftermath, white America
displayed its suppressed racial meanness. O.B. Keeler, one of
America's most renowned (and beloved) sportswriters, called
Louis "the pet Pickaninny."

In the long run, though, Schmeling would pay, because victory
made him a Nazi talisman. Hitler greeted Schmeling--along with
his wife and mother--when he returned the hero, having crossed
the Atlantic in style in the Hindenburg zeppelin. This was only
weeks before the Olympics. It was the German summer of the
century, before the covers came off the guns, when panoply could
still blind casual witnesses to hatred. The Games would be a
huge success in putting Nazi glamour and organization on
display, while German athletes would dominate the medal count.
The only fly in the ointment would be the showing of Jesse Owens
and other African-American athletes, so Schmeling's knockout
victory over another, even more famous black man took on much
more meaning as the summer passed.

Ironically, had Schmeling not come to New York the previous
December to scout Louis in his fight against Uzcudun Paolino,
the U.S. might have boycotted the Berlin Games. Schmeling had
agreed to his government's "request" that he meet with Avery
Brundage, the American Olympic Committee president, a few days
before the committee voted on whether to participate in Berlin.
Claiming to speak on behalf of "German athletes," Schmeling
assured Brundage that American Jews and blacks would not be
discriminated against. Schmeling would come to regret making
such a blanket promise, but in any event, because the committee
rejected a boycott by only 2 1/2 votes, it is possible that
Schmeling's "guarantee" carried the day. Hitler was thrilled by
the news: The U.S. would come to his party.

Victories, however, are not always what they seem. Owens would
rise above Hitler at the Olympics, a symbol to the world.
Likewise, those close to Louis would eventually understand that
his defeat at the hands of Schmeling might have been a blessing
in disguise. The Brown Bomber had come to think of himself as
invincible. He had been slothful in training, cocky going into
the ring. Schmeling taught him a lesson. What's more, Schmeling
would come to appreciate that his defeat in the return bout
saved him from becoming, as he wrote, "forever the 'Aryan Show
Horse' of the Third Reich."

By 1938 he was not only a fighter but also a swastika in trunks.
Almost no one in the U.S. spared him rebuke. Indeed, in a
January 1993 article in the journal History Today, authors
Robert Weisbord and Norbert Hedderich point out that even in the
Pittsburgh Courier, an African-American newspaper, Schmeling was
paid off in the currency of stereotype so familiar to blacks.
"The Nazi-man who would be king" read one caption, and Schmeling
was quoted as snarling, "I am going to stop this black
domination by regaining the crown." Rumors persisted that his
German trainer kept a Nazi uniform in his closet and that Hitler
would appoint Schmeling Reich minister of sports should he win.

Meanwhile, Louis, the black champion who couldn't walk into a
restaurant and get a meal in much of the country, was transformed
into an all-American symbol, guardian of our precious liberty and
equality, while Owens raced against horses at state fairs and
tried to get a nine-to-five job. Although Schmeling persisted in
asserting what he believed--that this should be nothing more than
a fight between two men--Louis was moved to rage by all the Nazi
propaganda attributed to his opponent. Probably, he never fought
so viciously. Probably, too, Schmeling was scared this time. His
favorite cornerman, fearful for his life, refused to work the
bout, and as Schmeling moved through the crowd toward the ring,
he had to cover his head to protect it from the debris that
rained down on him. A cordon of New York's finest was needed to
shield him from further barrage. The hate was palpable.

Louis's son, Joe Louis Barrow Jr., says, "The parallels between
my father and Max were quite considerable. Max had never really
experienced prejudice till he came back over here in '38 and had
pickets and felt hatred. Then he realized what so many whites
never do--exactly what it is blacks have to go through."

Back home, the Nuremberg laws of 1935 had made it increasingly
difficult for Jews. Henri Lewin would go on to become a prominent
U.S. hotel executive; in the '30s, he was the adolescent son of
David Lewin, who ran the Prince of Wales haberdashery and other
carriage-trade businesses. Henri remembers that friends and
customers who had known his father for years--"people who had
kissed my father"--would ignore him. Anny Ondry had to fold her
film company; there were too many Jewish colleagues to replace.
The Nazis were especially infuriated that Schmeling would not
fire Yussel Jacobs.

Indeed, Schmeling recalls that when he encountered Goebbels one
day, the propaganda minister paused only to snarl, "What are you
thinking, Herr Schmeling? You just go ahead and do whatever you
please. You don't concern yourself with laws. You come to the
Fuhrer, you come to me, and still you continue to socialize with

So when Louis clobbered him in the rematch, rendering him bloody
and unconscious, Schmeling lost his entree to power. He tossed
away whatever chance he had to salvage respect from the Nazis
when the German ambassador to the U.S. visited him in the
hospital and tried to get him to claim that Louis had fouled him.
Schmeling refused, and with that, he was effectively dismissed as
a German.

Less than two years later, in 1940, when young men of 20 or so
were being drafted, Schmeling, 34, was inducted into the
Wehrmacht as a private. The minister of sports had obtained
Hitler's blessing to draft the ungrateful boxer. He was assigned
to the paratroopers, and in May 1941 he jumped into withering
English fire over Crete and was knocked unconscious by the
landing. Later he was hospitalized with dysentery in Athens,
where a U.S. reporter interviewed him. When he failed to accuse
the English army of cruelty in Crete and declared anew that "I
have always seen America as my second home," Goebbels was so
angry that he ordered Schmeling's name never to be printed again
down through all the millennia of the Third Reich.

Of course, had the Nazis known what Schmeling had been up to in
November 1938 he would have suffered a far worse fate than being
drafted. On Kristallnacht--when Nazi gangs roamed the streets of
Berlin and other cities destroying Jewish property, burning
synagogues and assaulting and killing Jews--David Lewin,
desperate, told his sons, 15-year-old Werner and 14-year-old
Henri, to go to the Excelsior Hotel, where Schmeling had a
suite, find David's old gentile friend and tell him of their

There was no house phone, so the two boys waited nervously in
the lobby. At last Schmeling appeared, and as soon as the young
Lewins explained the situation, Schmeling spirited them up to
his room, where he hid them for two days. "He risked everything
for us," Henri recalls. "We hid from the housekeepers, waiters,
other friends of Max's. He told the front desk he was sick and
not to let anyone come up."

The boys cowered, Schmeling sharing with them what food he had,
while, outside, the Nazi thugs ran amok. Finally, after two
days, as the pillaging and bloodletting abated, Schmeling took
Werner and Henri out of his suite, escorting them first to his
house in another section of town and then to the Lewin family
apartment. Eventually, the boys and their parents escaped to a
Jewish enclave in Shanghai, where--frying pan to the fire--they
would end up as captives of the Japanese. The family finally
made its way to the U.S., though, and both Henri and Werner
became successful hoteliers. Today the brothers are nearing 80.

Henri Lewin has publicly told this tale of Kristallnacht only
once, at a Las Vegas dinner in 1989 at which Schmeling was
honored. Schmeling cried, but he said he didn't like being
"glorified." Even now, even with Schmeling's faxed permission to
talk about him, Lewin speaks reluctantly of the awful events
surrounding Kristallnacht. "Max was a man of the highest
quality," he says. "If they had caught him hiding us, they would
have shot him. Let me tell you: If I had been Max Schmeling in
Germany in 1938, I wouldn't have done it."

Mike Tyson was at that dinner in Las Vegas, sitting next to
Schmeling. Lewin remembers that Iron Mike talked to Schmeling
for a long time. Finally, Tyson told him, "I don't like fight
people, but I like you."

Schmeling replied, "I like everybody."

After the Louis rematch, Schmeling did not return to the U.S.
for 16 years. By then, he and Anny were back on their feet.
Schmeling had, in desperation, returned to the ring for five
bouts, in 1947 and '48, when he was in his early 40s. That
provided him with the nest egg to buy the homestead where he
lives in the woods near Hamburg.

When he finally returned to America, in 1954, his first stop was
at a Jewish cemetery in New York, where Joe Jacobs was buried.
Schmeling then went to Chicago and, unannounced, visited Louis.
The two former foes chewed the fat until three in the morning.

Louis was already on hard times, struggling to climb out of a
tax hole that grew deeper with each year. Fame fades; interest
compounds. Louis, who had saved the honor of Uncle Sam by
beating the dirty rotten Nazi to a pulp, had fallen into arrears
to IRS, so he would spend the rest of his life broke, troubled,
scrambling for dignity and a buck. "America's guest," people
would snicker at Louis. Meanwhile, Schmeling, like his defeated
nation, prospered. The economy was already becoming global.
Coca-Cola is a global taste.

Over the years Schmeling would quietly send Louis money, and when
the Brown Bomber died, in 1981, Schmeling asked Henri Lewin to go
to the funeral, with a substantial gift for the widow. That was a
sweet closing of the circle, wasn't it? The German Jewish boy
whom Schmeling had saved was now a rich American carrying a
present to the family of the black man who, by thrashing
Schmeling years before, had saved him the injustice of any longer
being the Fatherland's pride and joy. "Oh," says Joe Barrow Jr.,
"there were always tears in Max's eyes when he talked of my
father's death."

So the very old man sits yet by the window. It is best that we
cannot visit him, frail and worn, the better only to visualize
him there, with the morning papers on his lap, still peering from
under those heavy eyebrows at the wildlife that pokes about,
peeking back at him. Schmeling may be silent before us, but he is
merely tired of talking about the past. He still recalls so much
that he did and saw--and what he did not do and chose not to see.
For all our goodness and all our shame, most of the somewhat of
our lives is constructed of what we failed to do, what we
avoided, what might have been.

It is late in the day. The sun must dance through the trees now
to play across the very old man sitting by the window. Dinnertime
nears. If this is Friday, it will be potato pancakes.

B/W PHOTO: TIMEPIX REICH RITE Hitler greeted Schmeling and his wife, Anny Ondra, a week after Schmeling's 1936 defeat of Joe Louis. [T of C]COLOR PHOTO ILLUSTRATION: PHOTO ILLUSTRATION BY TERRY MIURA; OPENING SPREAD PHOTO CREDITS, TIMEPIX (FLAGS); CORBIS (6) On the upswing Schmeling became a national icon, then wooed and married a movie star, Ondra (inset), during the Fuhrer's rise to power.B/W PHOTO: CORBIS (6) [See caption above]B/W PHOTO: BETTMANN/CORBIS Wunderbar! Fans in Yorkville, New York City's German-American enclave, exulted in Schmeling's '36 upset of the Brown Bomber.B/W PHOTO: AP (FIGHT) [See caption above]B/W PHOTO: BETTMANN/CORBIS Sweet revenge Patrons at a Harlem bar gathered around a radio for the broadcast of Louis's knockout victory over Schmeling in '38.B/W PHOTO: AP (FIGHT) [See caption above]B/W PHOTO: BETTMANN/CORBIS Blow by blow At a luncheon in '36 with Hitler, Ondra (in white) and Goebbels (far left, reading paper), Schmeling (opposite Hitler) recounted his dramatic victory over Louis.B/W PHOTO: COURTESY OF HENRI LEWIN Schmeling's list Henri (far left) and Werner Lewin (with their father and grandfather) were saved from the Nazis by the boxer.COLOR PHOTO: GUNNAR MEINHARDT The fighter at peace Schmeling, here last year at 95, says he long ago came to terms with his past and his human frailty.