Thursday, July 1, 2010
By Siobhán Dowling
It seems an odd place for a boxing ring -- nestled beneath a canopy of trees in a quiet corner of Viktoria Park in Berlin's Kreuzberg district. The structure is made of concrete, its base slopes steeply in one direction and a dozen concrete spherical objects resembling boxing gloves cling to the ropes. But what's it doing here?
Nearby, a plaque bearing a photograph of a handsome young man in boxing gloves clears up any confusion. The ring amid the trees is a temporary memorial dedicated to Johann Trollmann, a boxer who was stripped of his light-heavyweight title by the Nazis in 1933 after winning a fight just a stone's throw away on Fidicin Strasse. There was no place for a champion like Trollmann in the Third Reich -- he was a Sinti. And like half a million other Roma and Sinti, he would fall victim to the Nazis' racial policy of annihilation, dying in a concentration camp in 1944.
The steep slope of the sculpture, says Alekos Hofstetter, a member of Bewegung Nurr, the group of artists who designed the boxing ring memorial, depicts "the abyss that Trollmann was dragged into."
Snubbed over Skin Color
Banned from the Sport
The Nazi takeover had an immediate effect on the boxing world, with party members taking up positions as top officials in the federation and Jews were immediately banned from the sport. A ban on Roma and Sinti would soon follow.
"In the end, it was because the Nazis saw boxing as noble that Rukeli lost his title," he argues. That title fight on June 9 was both the highlight of Trollmann's career and the turning point.
"This was an audience that knew about boxing and could see that the match was being manipulated for political ends," Sophia Schmitz, a historian of boxing in this period, explains. "The crowd was definitely not prepared to take part in this kind of manipulation based on racism." Fearing for their safety, the jury relented and Trollmann, weeping with frustration at almost having had victory snatched from him, was triumphantly awarded the title belt.
His victory would be short lived. A few days later he was notified that his title was being withdrawn because of his "unsatisfactory performance."
Fighting for Dignity
What followed was both a farce and, in some ways, a moral victory for Trollmann. He was forced to fight another big match on July 21, against Gustav Eder. But this time he was ordered to fight in the "German style," which meant standing still and trading blows. Trollmann knew that he was sure to lose if he had to forego his lightfootedness, so he decided to make his mark in another way. He powdered his body white with flour and dyed his hair blond -- becoming the caricature of an Aryan. When he entered the ring that night he wasn't fighting to win, but to maintain his dignity.
He tried to keep a low profile, but the camp commandant had been a boxing official before the war and recognized Trollmann. He forced the fighter, terribly weakened by the punishing work and lack of food, to train the SS men at night. His very survival was at stake.
Something to Be Proud Of
Peritore explains that young people are particularly interested in Trollmann's biography when they come to the documentation center on school trips. "He embodied the sporting spirit and he was a brave person." They respect the way he stood up to the Nazis and "can identify with him."
Artist Hofstetter says that the Trollmann memorial is important for making the connection with discrimination today and for creating a positive image of Roma and Sinti people. "We are showing that this is a part of German culture. Trollmann was a champion and young Roma and Sinti can be proud of that."
Posted by Morgan at 5:53 PM