Joe Louis and Max Schmeling

Not many people know of the great friendship between Joe Louis and Max Schmeling, at their time the world’s greatest boxers.

June 19, 1936. In famed Yankee Stadium in the Bronx. The American Joe Louis versus the German Max Schmeling. Their first of two fights. Louis undefeated 24-0 and never knocked down, hits the canvas in the twelfth round. The fight is over.

Round 12 starts at 27:27. At 29:27 Louis is defenseless. He goes down. The referee ends the fight. Schmeling rushes over to help Joe Louis. Schmeling stays with Louis all the way over to his corner of the ring. Schmeling’s people have to literally pull him away from Joe Louis.

Among the attendees of the fight was Langston Hughes, a major figure in the Harlem Renaissance and a noted literary figure. Hughes described the national reaction to Louis’ defeat in these terms:

“I walked down Seventh Avenue and saw grown men weeping like children, and women sitting in the curbs with their head in their hands. All across the country that night when the news came that Joe was knocked out, people cried.”

Poet and author Maya Angelou, recounted her recollection. A young Angelou had listened to the fight over the radio in her uncle’s country store in rural Arkansas. While Louis was on the ropes,

“My race groaned. It was our people falling. It was another lynching, yet another black man hanging on a tree …. this might be the end of the world. If Joe lost we were back in slavery and beyond help. It would all be true, the accusations that we were lower types of human beings. Only a little higher than the apes.”

June 22, 1938 – one year from the day Louis had won the world heavyweight title – the fighters meet once again in a sold-out Yankee Stadium in New York City.

Louis defeats Schmeling in the very first round. Knowing what a true and loyal friend Schmeling was to become to Joe Louis at the end of Louis’ life, it breaks your heart to see how helpless Max Schmeling was in the final seconds of this first round.

After retiring from the ring, Schmeling purchased a Coca- Cola bottling and distribution franchise in Hamburg in 1948, the first in Germany after World War II.

Schmeling reached out and developed a friendship with Louis after their boxing careers ended and provided financial assistance to his former foe in the 1950s. He also paid for part of the funeral arrangements when Louis died in 1981. Max Schmeling was one of the pallbearers.

“It wasn’t until after World War II that I saw him again,” Louis said in his autobiography. “We hugged each other and we’re real friendly and kept in touch by phone.”

The battles between Louis, a black man, and Schmeling came to symbolize for some the coming struggle between Hitler’s Third Reich and the Allies in World War II. Although Hitler had praised Schmeling after the first fight, Schmeling was not an admirer of the German leader and refused to join the Nazi party.

Schmeling, who served as a German paratrooper in World War II, later received an award from the International Raoul Wallenberg Foundation for risking his life to hide two Jewish brothers during the Kristallnacht on November 9, 1938, when Jewish homes, businesses and synagogues were attacked and destroyed by Nazis.

The boys, Henri and Werner Lewin, made their way to the U.S., where Henri became a hotel owner. Schmeling kept his act of courage secret. Henri Lewin revealed it at a dinner honoring the former champion in 1989:

“He risked his life for us. Our lives weren’t worth a penny,” Lewin said in a 2002 interview with the Jewish Bulletin of Northern California. “I said, ‘If this is a Nazi, he’s a good Nazi. But I want you to know one thing: I wouldn’t be sitting here today if it wasn’t for this Nazi.'”

Max Schmeling never joined the Nazi Party.

August 9, 1973. Legendary boxers and great friends, Max Schmeling and Joe Louis meet in New York, as Schmeling arrives for visit.

This History Channel documentary is well worth watching.

More Rules of Moderation

The Germans believe that moderation can succeed only if it makes clear to all parties involved that there will be no naming a winner and a loser.

Naming one side the loser is a guaranty that the conflict resolution will not hold, that the losing party will seek to roll back, revise, reject the resolution. True acceptance, real stability, can be achieved only if both parties come away accepting a compromise.

Akzeptieren. Latin acceptare, to accept, take on, allow, approve, recognize; to come to agreement with someone; to accept an apology, a recommendation, an idea.

More Rules of Moderation

The Germans believe that moderation can succeed only if it makes clear to all parties involved that there will be no naming a winner and a loser.

Naming one side the loser is a guaranty that the conflict resolution will not hold, that the „losing party“ will seek to roll back, revise, reject the resolution. True acceptance, real stability, can be achieved only if both parties come away accepting a compromise.

Akzeptieren. Latin acceptare, to accept, take on, allow, approve, recognize; to come to agreement with someone; to accept an apology, a recommendation, an idea.

Erbfeindschaft

The Germans have very low tolerance for conflict resolutions which declare clear winners and losers. Do Germans do their best to avoid open confrontation because the one or the other side wants to avoid being the loser, or because their sense of humility forbids them from being the declared winner?

A look into recent history might help us to understand why Germans avoid zero-sum mentality, preferring instead win-win situations.

The so-called German-French Erbfeindschaft – loosely translated as traditional or hereditary enmity or hostility – was a term used to define the wars between the two peoples going back to King Louis the XIV up until and including the Second World War. 

The Germans won the Franco-Prussian War of 1870-71. The annexation of Elsass-Lothringen by Germany led to French desire for revenge.

The French are then on the winning side of the First World War. The Treaty of Versailles punishes Germany very harshly, making a lasting peace almost impossible. The Germans see it as political and military humiliation, which the National Socialists use to their advantage in the 1930s.

Then the Second World War. The Germans defeat and occupy France. But the Germans lose that war. But this time both sides have learned their lesson. They decide to integrate economically in order to end once and for all the so-called Erbfeindschaft. They choose cooperation over confrontation.

The Germans believe that a conflict is not resolved when one side loses and the other wins. A conflict is resolved when both sides accept the resolution.

Revanchism

Revanchism, from French revanche or revenge, is a term used since the 1870s to describe the desire to reverse territorial losses by a country after losing a war. Revanchist politics rely on the identification of a nation, of a people, with a nation-state. This mobilizes ethnic nationalism, claiming territories outside of the state where members of the ethnic group live.

See the strong desire during the French Third Republic to regain Alsace-Lorraine from Germany after defeat in the Franco-Prussian War of 1870-71. French Emperor Napoleon III had declared and lost the war. In the Treaty of Frankfurt, France lost Alsace-Lorraine, which France under King Louis XIV had previously annexed from Germany in the 17th century.

French revanchism was one of the forces behind the Treaty of Versailles, which ended World War I. Alsace-Lorraine went back to France. Blame for the outbreak of the the Great War was pinned solely on Germany. Huge reparations were extracted from the Germans.

The United States Congress rejected the Versailles Treaty, citing its harsh, unfair and one-sided punishment of Germany, and warning against the inevitable development of German revanchism.

Alsace-Lorraine. Just one piece of territory in dispute between two neighbors. One of many examples in European history. Their experience as a people, their historical consciousness, has taught the Germans to seek lasting resolutions to conflicts. Acceptance, freely chosen, is the foundation.

“No!” to top-down

Although Germans are known to follow written laws and directives, they reject almost instinctively any and all top-down decisions, directives or commands where management has not involved them in their formulation.

Especially when it involves the details of their daily work, Germans are very sensitive to outside influences which limit their freedom of decision making and action. Germans at all levels reject top-down decisions, based on hierarchical authority and not on persuasive arguments.

No Agreement

Germans seldom reach agreement when the demands of the conflict parties are in stark opposition to each other and the negotiations have become confrontational. An agreement is made when both parties take a cooperative approach. One-sided demands work against that.

If one party to the conflict is clearly stronger than the other and attempts to take advantage of the weaker party, the German conflict resolution approach will try to compensate for the imbalance.

Etwas vom Tisch fegen. Literally to brush something off of the table; to ignore something; to treat someone or something as unimportant, irrelevant; to push to the side; to conceal.

Fauler Kompromiss

Fauler Kompromiss. False or rotten compromise. Germans believe that there can be no lasting resolution unless the parties compromise. This is the case in coalition governments, in negotiations between employers and labor, in person relationships.

Often, however, the media and the public speculate whether certain resolutions to a conflict were true compromises or faul, fake or rotten. They wonder if one party got the better of the other and that an imbalance is being covered up.

Isn’t that what management is paid for?

Americans and Germans have very different expectations about how to manage interpersonal conflicts when they arise, which can lead to huge misunderstandings. As part of an ongoing series of articles, an American consultant living in Germany offers some advice.

When Germans and American collaborate, there will be conflict. This is normal. However, their respective approaches to conflict resolution differ. These differences, if not understood and properly balanced, can hinder just and lasting conflict resolution. And unresolved conflict threatens collaboration and success.

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