Saturday, 5 July 2008

Johann Trollmann, 1933 German master in light-heavyweight boxing

Johann Trollmann (above left), called "Rukeli" among his friends, grew up in the poorer quarters of Hannover. With his featherlight, acrobatic style of boxing he was ahead of the times - this style would become popular with Sugar Ray Robinson and not least Muhammad Ali much later on in boxing history. Trollmann went on to win the German boxing championships in 1933, when the Nazis were already in power.

His charisma and flamboyant looks, dark locks and "romantic gaze" made him very popular among the ladies. Among some of the gents he was much less popular, and his fighting style was scoffed at as being "unmanly", "a circus attraction", and (by the NSDAP party organ Völkischer Beobachter) "not German".

In the increasingly racist climate in Germany, Trollmann's ethnic background was held against him. He belonged to the Sinti minority (a subgroup of Roma), and "the fact that a sportsman from a despised minority - 1933 there were approximately 15,000 Sinti and Roma living in Germany - would make "Aryan" athletes look like fools in the martial sport boxing, of all things, and thus rebut the supposed superiority of the Nordic race, was terribly annoying to the Nazi ideologists", as der Spiegel writes.

Trollmann fought for the German light-heavyweight title on June 9th, 1933. The German boxing federation was at the time already infested with Nazis, and although he clearly led by points over his opponent, the fight was judged "no result". The audience rebelled, and the Nazi officials were forced to acknowledge Trollmann as the victor. Still, eight days later his title was taken from him due to "pathetic behaviour", perhaps referring to his tears of joy when his title was finally announced.

On July 21st, Trollmann was scheduled for the next fight. He was threatened that he would lose his boxing licence if he would continue "dancing around in the ring". Trollmann entered the fight with his hair bleached blond and his skin powdered white with flour. He stood still and took his opponent Gustav Eder's blows without countering or fighting back for five rounds until he collapsed.

When the war began, German Roma (unlike German Jews) were drafted into the army, and Johann Trollmann was wounded while serving on the eastern front. But in December 1942, Himmler enacted the "Auschwitz decree", which declared Roma to be on the same level as Jews.

Trollmann was arrested and brought to the concentration camp Neuengamme, where he was repeatedly forced to fight with SS officers. He has been thought to have died under unclear circumstances in 1943; the research of Roger Repplinger (author of a double biography of Trollmann and footballer Tull Harder, who became an SS officer and served in Neuengamme) points to him dying in 1944 at a smaller camp in Wittenberge.

It was only in 1993 that Trollmann got recognition and was posthumously taken into "the ranks of German masters" as German champion in light-heavyweight boxing. In 2003, seventy years after his victory, Trollmann's surviving relatives received his championship belt from the German professional boxing federation. A small street in the old town of Hannover was named after him.

Photos from Leg dich, Zigeuner - Die Geschichte von Johann Trollmann und Tull Harder by Roger Repplinger, via der Spiegel.

Update, July 2010: A temporary memorial has been designed for Johann Trollman by Bewegung NURR. Check the website to see where it is currently being shown.


ainur said...

Strange how a sport that seems to be completely "pure", only concerning bodily strength and action, becomes infused with all kinds of cultural and racial stereotypes... Whatever "the other" does, it is wrong in the eyes of the supposedly "superior" race or people, either "unmanly" or "inhuman"...

The 1910's African-American boxer champion Jack Johnson was controversial because he didn't rely on brute force; he "teased" his opponents, held back and gave a very relaxed but controlled impression in the ring. He was also criticised because of his fighting style; the white press called him "cowardly and devious". White men using similar techniques were praised for their "cleverness". Johnson didn't fit into the "primitive" stereotype - he had to be forced back into it. Only barbarians can be both primitive and devious at the same time. And barbarians are always the enemy.

Masculinity is supposedly all about controlling your emotions and achieving a higher level through hard work. But if the "wrong kind of man" does this, technical skills are seen as "theatrical" and connected to unmanly emotion, although being "theatrical" is all about controlling your emotions. (Now, where does "male logic" fit in here?)

Just today, I saw a video on YouTube, the latest version of a minor Finnish internet meme. A young Kale guy is dancing for fun, and a friend is filming the performance with a camera phone. This video clip has spread on the net, and people are mixing it with different cheesy disco hits. Just the fact that the guy is Kale, seems to attract special attention. If a non-Kale Finnish guy would dance similarly, he would probably get a few joking comments (of course it is not PC for a regular Finnish guy to dance like that either) but now everybody is focused on the guy's ethnicity. He is just a "Manne" or a "Romani" - or perhaps THE.

Why is the dancing Gypsy a threat - and an obsession?

Tinet said...

Maybe it's because (a) he is much more attractive than the average Finnish guy, and a lot of women like goofy, funny guys (especially when they are used to stiff Finnish guys).

And (b) this also applies to men - Finnish men with their heavily suppressed homoerotic feelings don't like feeling attracted to another man, but they can't help it when he's funny and good-looking.

So for these reasons Finnish men feel the urge to distance "the dancing Gypsy" from themselves and ridicule him - ?!

ainur said...

So they try to emphasize that he is "off-limits" by focusing on his ethnicity?

By the way, here's the reason why Trollmann went looking for opponents in heavier weight classes: Middleweight champion Erich Seelig, refugee in 1933.

On a completely different note, "Trollmann" must be one of the cutest German names I have ever seen. When looking for more information about Sinti, I found some historical hints that they served in the military in various German principalities in the early modern age. Maybe this Austro-Hungarian Trollmann shared some ancestry with Johann?

Tinet said...

He he ... if only they would have worn their shorts a bit lower back then.