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 F�hrer, you come to me, and still you continue to socialize with Jews."
So when Louis clobbered him in the rematch, rendering him bloody and unconscious, Schmeling lost his entr�e 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 Hider'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 plight.
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."