THE Second World War was a defining moment in British history. For very many years afterwards, the phrases ‘pre-war’ and ‘post-war’ resonated strongly with the general population. The war ended nearly 80 years ago and so, with the passage of time, these terms seem a little old-fashioned. A good number of quality fighters died in the conflict, fighting for their country, but other unspeakable horrors occurred in the concentration camps.
I owe it to a good friend of mine, Rex Topping, for making me aware of the fate that befell Johann Trollmann, a long-forgotten German fighter of the 1930s. His story reminded me of Victor Perez of Tunisia, the world flyweight champion during 1931 and 1932. Both men campaigned extensively and successfully as professionals, and both met the same end, at the hands of Nazi guards in the awful concentration camps inside Eastern Europe.
Trollmann is the lesser known of the two. He was a ‘Sinti’, a group of Romani people, originally from India, who settled in Germany during the Middle Ages. He turned professional in 1929 and quickly established himself as a leading light in the light-heavyweight division. For a while, he was allowed to play an active part in the sport and work his way towards the top.
When Adolf Hitler assumed control in 1933, however, things changed dramatically. Trollmann won most of his contests before this date and was locked in a triangle of bouts between himself, Adolf Witt and Hein Domgoergen for supremacy at the top of the tree for the German title, and he was holding his own.
Within three months of Hitler taking over, Trollmann was matched with Witt in a contest for the German light-heavyweight title. He was well on the way to a clear victory over his opponent when Nazi officials intervened and demanded that the contest be declared a No-Contest. They were not happy to see a Romani fighter demonstrating clear dominance over an Aryan opponent. The two men boxed through the remaining rounds with no winner being declared. From then on, Trollmann’s career was beset by problems, all of which caused by the political regime, and his career petered out. By 1934, he’d had enough, and he packed in for good, finishing with 31 wins and 19 losses in a 64-bout career.
At the outbreak of the war, Trollmann signed to fight for the Wehrmacht and, after serving for three years the rules changed, and he suddenly found himself to be an alien. Because of his Romani background he was arrested and thrown into the Neuengamme concentration camp, where he was forced to box against all and sundry for the entertainment of the guards. After beating one of them in a fair fight he was beaten to death with a shovel, becoming one of the six million victims of the Holocaust. In 2003, the German boxing federation finally recognised him as the German light-heavyweight champion due to his 1933 victory over Witt.
Perez was a far more notable fighter. He made his name fighting in and around Paris during the late 1920s, and in 1931 he knocked out the American, Frankie Genaro, in two rounds at the Palais des Sports, Paris, to win the world flyweight title.
He was a sensation, and a hero in the Parisian suburbs, where Tunisians, Algerians and Moroccans celebrated him becoming one of the first African world champions. He is well-remembered in this country for his loss to Mickey McGuire, a Geordie who knocked him out in two rounds inside Newcastle’s New St James Hall in 1932, in a match made at two pounds above the flyweight limit. The week before, Perez had lost his world title to Jackie Brown of Manchester. In January 1945 he was shot by the Nazis while on a death march from Auschwitz concentration camp after he was seen trying to distribute bread to fellow prisoners.
It may have been a long time ago, but we should never forget.