America viewed Schmeling as “Hitler’s German,” and de la Peña refers to him as such. Limited in A Nation's Hope by the story’s focus and by picture book length and style, de la Peña couldn’t say much about Schmeling, who was forced to be a propagandist for Nazi Germany.
As one Holocaust remembrance site notes, Schmeling eventually reported being happy that he lost to Louis, because it saved him from being lauded by the Nazis and being labeled a war criminal.
Hitler was so angered by Schmeling’s refusal to join the Nazi party that he drafted the boxer as a paratrooper. During this dangerous service, Schmeling risked helping two Jewish teenagers escape to America. The Raoul Wallenberg Foundation says Schmeling never told anyone about it.
Similar to Schmeling, Louis was a modest man. As de la Peña writes:
“in victory Joe didn’t raise his gloves and gloat,
he helped opponents to their feet
and shook their hands.”
When the war was over, Louis and Schmeling became good friends. In time, Schmeling helped pay for his friend’s funeral. Theirs is a story of commonalities as well as differences.
A Nation’s Hope is the kind of book that leaves children, parents and teachers wanting more information about historical events and figures. That’s good, because the Louis-Schmeling story is deep and representative of many aspects of twentieth century history. It can lead to discussions about persistence, tolerance, racism, right versus wrong, good sportsmanship and looking beyond surface appearances.
Here are some resources for further reading:
• Encyclopedia of World Biography: Joe Louis Biography?
• Black History Heroes: Joe Louis — The “Brown Bomber” World Heavyweight Boxing Champion
• PBS: American Experience: The Fight – Max Schmeling (1905-2005)
• Auschwitz.DK: The Holocaust: Max Schmeling, the Story of a Hero
• The International Raoul Wallenberg Foundation: Max Schmeling; Aryan Champ, Savior of Jews