A month after the Davis Cup match, Von Cramm and Henkel left on a world tour. They won the U.S. doubles championship at the Longwood Cricket Club in Boston. Then the baron lost to Budge in another five-set match for the U.S. singles title at Forest Hills. From there the German players traveled to Chicago and then on to Los Angeles for the Pacific Southwest tournament.
There, a potentially ugly incident was narrowly averted. Apparently unaware of Von Cramm's steadfast opposition to Hitler's persecution of Jews—the baron's first wife, the former Lisa von Dobeneck, was part Jewish—a contingent of nearly 200 members of the movie colony, including Groucho Marx, had planned an anti-Nazi demonstration at the tournament. The demonstrators intended to stand up as one and walk out of the arena the minute Von Cramm walked onto the court. Yet when the baron appeared, the protesters stayed rooted to their scats. It was as if Von Cramm's mere presence held them fast. Afterward Groucho himself admitted that upon seeing Von Cramm, "I felt ashamed of what I had planned to do."
From Los Angeles, Von Cramm and Henkel sailed aboard the Japanese ship Tayo Maro for the Far East. When the baron was asked to give a speech in Tokyo, he pointedly did not mention Hitler. And in Australia, where Von Cramm played Budge in exhibitions in Sydney and Melbourne, he spoke critically of his government. "He was an honest man," says Budge, "and he offered what he thought was constructive criticism."
There is no such thing, of course, to a totalitarian regime. Word of Von Cramm's betrayal reached Berlin, possibly through Henkel, who was by then an ardent Nazi. The players returned to Germany on March 4, 1938, and were told that a reception in their honor had been canceled. Von Cramm instead went to visit his mother at the family castle in Brüggen. The next evening a servant reported that "two gentlemen from the government" were at the door and wished to speak to the baron.
The "two gentlemen" were Gestapo agents. The baron was under arrest. He was taken to the Moabit Prison in Berlin and charged with "sex irregularities," specifically with having had a homosexual relationship with one Manasse Herbst, a Jew who had fled Germany for Palestine two years earlier. Additionally, Von Cramm was charged with sending money out of the country to Herbst.
Neither the once considerable influence of the Von Cramm family nor even the intervention of Göring could stay the course of Nazi "justice," and after the baron signed a confession, he was sentenced on May 18 to serve a year in the Lehrterstrasse Prison in Berlin. There was no mention of Von Cramm's arrest in the Nazi-controlled German newspapers, but The New York Times printed the story, and it soon spread worldwide. Budge immediately organized a protest, and 25 U.S. athletes, including Joe DiMaggio, signed a petition urging the baron's release. It, too, had no effect. Gottfried von Cramm, international tennis star, was to be jailed as a homosexual.
Homosexuality was not then, nor is it now, alien to the tennis community or to international society. And it was certainly not uncommon in the Nazi party. Hitler's close comrade from the days of the failed Beer Hall Putsch in Munich in 1923 had been the homosexual Ernst Röhm. But in 1934, when the Führer was persuaded by Göring and Heinrich Himmler that Röhm, by then the commanding officer of the brutish storm troopers, might try to overthrow him, he ordered Röhm assassinated along with most of his top associates. Afterward Hitler announced that the party had been cleansed of traitorous perverts.
The charges against Von Cramm may have been trumped up and politically motivated, but there seems little doubt that he did, in fact, have an affair with Herbst, an actor he had met in a Berlin nightclub. It was commonly accepted by his tennis colleagues that, like Tilden, Von Cramm was homosexual. However, unlike Tilden, Von Cramm was always discreet. "We were all aware that the baron was homosexual," says Fred Kovaleski, an American tour player of the '50s, "but I do not recall a single untoward gesture from him."
"Gottfried was a very private man," says 83-year-old Ladislav Hecht, who first played Von Cramm when they were juniors in 1929. "We knew he was homosexual. He always seemed to have an entourage of young men around him. But none of us ever gave it much thought. Gottfried was such a kind man, a gentleman in every sense."
Von Cramm was, in fact, such a private man that Wolfgang Hofer, a friend for 40 years and the baron's successor as president of the Rot-Weiss club, had no inkling of his sexual preferences. "I first met him when I was 12, and he never gave me the slightest inclination that he was homosexual," says Hofer. "Later I heard the talk, and he did have men around him, but women also. He was a great friend of my wife's. He was my daughter Marian's godfather."