Totalitarian states usually need to destroy, reinvent, rewrite, in an attempt to support their distorted views and right to exist. A recent example is IS and a less recent one is Nazi Germany.
Stephanie Bart’s novel “Der Deutsche Meister” is based on historic events. It describes how the Nazis nearly got away with obliterating all traces of a sporting match. In 1933, Johann Wilhelm Trollmann won his country’s middle weight boxing title and became “Deutsche Meister” – boxing champion.
In 1933, the Nazis were already so powerful, they were able to manipulate and control practically everything and everybody. Trollmann was a Sinto. To Nazis it was of course unthinkable that a non-Aryan won sporting matches and titles. It did not fit their values, ideas, ideology.
Once you’ve read this book, which only records part of the 1933 events, you’ll be aware this is an example of incidents which took place and are still taking place under regimes throughout the world. The human suffering caused by such self-aggrandisement, ruthless egoism and opportunism, manipulation and justifications of distorted ideas, opinions and views – is of course immense.
This is not Stephanie Bart‘s first novel. In 2009, “Goodbye Bismarck” appeared. A year later, so ms Bart told her audience during a “meet the author”- event, she read three sentences about a temporary memorial. The topic lodged itself firmly in her brain.
She explained she usually needs at least a year to mull over a book topic. This is followed by extensive research. In this case: trying to find people to talk to, gather information, learn about boxing, taking up boxing, watching a great many boxing matches. All this turned ms Bart from a totally non-boxing fan into a firm admirer of this ancient sport.
Writing the novel took her another two years. “Der Deutsche Meister” appeared in 2014. It was awarded the Rheingau Literatur Preis 2014.
The novel records events just before and after Trollmann wins his match against the Nazi favourite in 1933. It shows how Nazi supporters tried to block him being awarded the title. The novel ends just before another Nazi-fixed match will take place, which Trollmann is supposed to lose.
Stephanie Bart did go shortly into what happened to Trollman afterwards. He divorced his wife, to try to give her and his daughter a chance to survive the war. They and a few other family members did.
Trollmann himself was drafted into the German army, arrested in 1942, and – as is so often the case under totalitarian regimes – interned under a false name so he could be declared dead. In 1944, an SS-Kapo actually beat him to dead.
During this “meet the author” event, ms Bart read from her book. It contains humorous and highly entertaining scenes. The description of the boxing match is of course fabulous. The scenes which erupt when it becomes clear the Nazi supporters did not want to award the title to Trollmann, show violence by present-day football hooligans is not new.
What was interesting was to learn that we still consider Sinti, Ziganes, Travellers and others as having no fixed abode. Ms Bart righted this presumption and explaining how some groups only travel a few weeks a year. So like we do during our summer holidays. It is revealing that even now, our summer holiday camping does not brand us as outcasts – yet ensures other members of our countries are still stigmatised for doing exactly the same.
Another thing I found upsetting was discovering that the 2010 Trollmann memorial was a temporary one. After all these years, it’s apparently still problematic to have a more permanent memento. Fortunately, what happened in 1933 to a German boxing champion, is now commemorated by Stephanie Bart’s novel.
“Der Deutsche Meister”, Stephanie Bart, 2014. No English translation available yet.
German CD, Kindle, Ebook versions available.