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.
See also Manuel Trollmann's website about his great-uncle (in German).