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.