www.dailykos.com /stories/2022/9/3/2120588/-One-Man-Played-for-His-Country-The-Other-Hounded-by-the-Gestapo-Played-for-His-Life-Part-1

One Man Played for His Country. The Other, Hounded by the Gestapo, Played for His Life. (Part 1)

JekyllnHyde 40-51 minutes


A two-time winner of the French Open Tennis Championships and ranked as the #2 player in the world during much of the 1930s, Baron Gottfried von Cramm was beloved in Germany. The most popular player in the world, he was widely respected by international opponents for impeccable sportsmanship and on-court behavior. He also despised the Nazis and once referred to Adolf Hitler as "nothing more than a house painter."

Link to Part 2 of This Diary — One Man Played for His Country. The Other, Hounded by the Gestapo, Played for His Life. (Part 2)

Sometimes you need more than 280 characters to tell a good story.

This diary was mostly written over five years ago but I only now finished it a few days ago.  Before you read any further, you should know that by design, this is a very long, two-part diary as it is a complicated, wide-ranging, and interesting story that covers a great deal of historical ground.  It deals with some painful issues which are briefly referenced to provide context and background. To say that I’ve spent a fair bit of time researching and writing it is to state the obvious.   

Frequently and, at times, relentlessly, we obsess with the “here and now” of politics on this blog — often communicating and recording our thoughts by using as few characters as possible.  In the Age of Twitter, seeking instant gratification and a reaffirmation of our political views seems to be the preferred norm.  However, every now and then, it is useful to delve back into history with some effort to search for hidden lessons; hence, this diary.As a suggestion — and particularly if you are pressed for time — use the social sciences method of reading books and long articles, i.e., read the first paragraph or two, skim through the middle, and read the conclusion of this diary.  If you think you might like it, feel free to recommend it.  Come back and read the rest of the diary at a leisurely pace.  I hope you enjoy doing so.  Thanks.


The final and fourth major Grand Slam tennis event of the year, the 142nd edition of the 2022 US Open, is being played this week at the USTA Billie Jean King National Tennis Center in Queens, New York.  This is my second, two-part major diary about professional tennis in the past year, although it is much more than that.  The first one was about the 1973 Billie Jean King-Bobby Riggs “Battle of the Sexes” tennis match and can be found here — “The Male is King, the Male is Supreme, and Women Should Know That.” — Part I and Part II.  

On occasion, sports and politics collide with the consequences sometimes being deadly.  Set against the backdrop of a world on the brink of war, this diary is the chilling story of a tennis champion caught between his desire to excel in international tennis and the demands of loyalty made upon him by his country’s Fascist and rabidly anti-Semitic regime — one which detested people like him.  


Uncivilized Behavior

The perversion of religion under Fascism. Filmmaker Leni Riefenstahl’s 1935 Nazi propaganda documentary "The Triumph of the Will" is full of twisted religious imagery. Notably, it portrays Adolf Hitler in the opening scene as a messiah descending from the heavens to save the Fatherland and restore Germany’s lost glory.

If alien spaceships from Mars had landed in Western Europe late in the year 1899, the Martians might have pointed toward Germany as a country largely inhabited by enlightened people.

At the dawn of a new century, it had the second-largest economy in the world, an educated workforce, and a high level of achievement in architecture, science, philosophy, literature, and music, and offered social welfare programs to its citizens when virtually none existed in other developed countries.  And yet, a little over three decades later, the same country morphed into Fascist Nazi Germany.  

How could something like this possibly happen?  Isn't possessing high culture, on the one hand, somewhat of an indicator and guarantor that the same country would, on the other hand, practice civilized behavior?

Not necessarily, and particularly if you tighten repressive screws over vulnerable groups in German society with a largely acquiescent populace looking on — one to whom you promised revitalization of lost glory and restoration of the country’s “proper place” in the international order.

We all have within us the capabilities to behave and act like monsters.

Picture the all-seeing eye looking down on the crucial third match of the 1937 Davis Cup with the two best players of the world, Don Budge and Baron Gottfried von Cramm playing, with the greatest of all time, Bill Tilden, in the stands rooting for his beloved German student, along with Barbara Hutton the Woolworth heiress, deeply in love with Gottfried and showing it at every shot as her second husband gets more and more furious, as Europe prepares for war, Germany recovering from hyperinflation, homosexuals and Jews gradually being stripped of their property and lives, and fighting for their lives on and off the court.  

Pressured by the Führer to “win...or else,” Gottfried von Cramm was literally playing for his life.

It's two all in matches, extra games, and von Cramm has volleyed a sharp angle 10 feet wide to Budge's weak forehand on the Wimbledon grass with the Queen's interlocutor in the royal box trying to restrain his enthusiasm for the German royal's victory, and stock market volume is way down because they're all following the match on the radio with

Al Laney from the New York Herald Tribune broadcasting.  "Take a rest," Tilden had told his very good friend. "I can't," von Cramm answered. "I'm fighting for my life."  As the players walked to the court, von Cramm had been called back to take a call from the Führer.  "We're counting on you to win…or else."

Victor Niederhoffer, “A Terrible Splendor,” Daily Speculations, December 17, 2009.  The title of this diary comes from a book seller's promo of A Terrible Splendor: Three Extraordinary Men, a World Poised for War, and the Greatest Tennis Match Ever Played (New York, 2009) by Marshall Jon Fisher.  Fisher played varsity tennis for Brandeis University.  The title of Fisher's book comes from a critique of German poet Friedrich Schiller's works. It was written by controversial Scottish philosopher, historian, and essayist Thomas Carlyle, "Fate [which] envelopes and overshadows...[against which] human will appears but like flashes [of] a brief and terrible splendor, and are lost forever in the darkness."  The above cartoon is by British political cartoonist Philip Zec. The son of Russian immigrant Jews, he relentlessly attacked Hitler and the Nazis and became known as the “People’s Cartoonist.”

A two-time winner of the French Tennis Open Championships and ranked among the top tennis players in the world during the 1930s as well as being very popular in Germany, Baron Gottfried von Cramm despised the Nazis and refused to either join their party or act as their propaganda tool while competing in international tennis events.  He was pressured for months by Herman Goering to officially join the Nazi Party and Cramm kept declining such offers.  When offered by Goering to cancel Cramm’s financial debts (some held by Jewish bankers) resulting in greater financial flexibility and freedom, Cramm’s refusal to do so puzzled and, even, irked many in the Nazi hierarchy.  

Given his popularity among the public, the Nazis also couldn’t afford to alienate Cramm.  And Cramm was painfully aware that he had to tread carefully for these Nazis were a different breed of people, hell-bent on eradicating the Jewish race.  Cramm's wife, Lisa, was one-fourth Jewish and the granddaughter of a prominent banker, Louis Hagen.  After the Nuremberg anti-Semitic laws were enacted in 1935, all Jews were systematically stripped of their civil rights and properties.  Citizens were turned into outcasts.  

It would only get worse in the years to come.  Much, much worse.

Baron Gottfried Alexander Maximilian Walter Kurt von Cramm traced his lineage to 12th-century Germany.  Unpretentious and gracious in defeat or victory, he often introduced himself simply as Gottfried Cramm.  For that reason, unless I quote from books or articles, I mostly refer to him as Cramm, and not von Cramm.  Favored to win the men’s singles title, he was banned and excluded from the 1939 Wimbledon Championships.  American Bobby Riggs — one of the two subjects of my previous tennis diary in 2021 — would become the Wimbledon champion.  Cramm had easily defeated Riggs in the finals of the 1939 Queens Club tournament the week before Wimbledon. 


A World on the Brink of Disaster

Among other “undesirables,” if you happened to be Jewish or homosexual in mid-to-late 1930s Nazi Germany, chances were that your luck was about to run out.

A couple of years before much of the world descended into the madness of World War II, it was having a very serious nervous breakdown.  With the Great Depression had come severe challenges to the existing political order and the winds of war were blowing fast and furious.  The League of Nations — with the United States as a notable non-member — had either been largely ignored or had proved to be ineffective.  For those caught up in the middle of these historical currents, life was about to take a nasty turn.

In Nazi Germany, society had been transformed under the murderous Fascist policies of Adolf Hitler with several groups targeted for harassment, persecution, and eventual extermination.  In Republican Spain, General Francisco Franco’s Nationalists, supported by the Nazi war machine and Benito Mussolini’s thugs, were in full revolt against the country’s democratically-elected government and its friends in the international brigades.  Over 40,000 volunteers from 50 countries had defied the supposed “neutrality” of their countries and the travel ban imposed by their own governments by sneaking into Spain to help fight Fascism.  Stalinist Soviet Union had turned counter-revolutionary, suppressed all dissent, and brutally purged all enemies of the state.  It was in the midst of building “socialism in one country” — an experiment that had no resemblance to real socialism and one which would cost millions of lives.  Great Britain and France were feeling the economic strain of precariously clinging to vast empires, with their hold becoming ever more tenuous as the years went by.  Not unlike the Soviet Union, neither Britain nor France wanted war and were woefully unprepared to counter the growing Fascist military threat.  In the summer of 1937, the Second Sino-Japanese War would erupt in Northeast China and lead to millions being killed in the years to come.  Buffered by vast two oceans, the United States was in full political isolationist mode, though it had made some economic gains since the Stock Market Crash of 1929.  Most Americans followed these events with a mixture of bewilderment and apprehension.  Fought a couple of decades earlier — and sold as the “war to end all wars” by President Woodrow Wilson — World War I would come to be seen as the warm-up act to an even more horrific conflict.

If you happened to be Jewish, homosexual, mentally ill, physically disabled, Socialist, Communist, Jehovah's Witness, or a member of a minority group in Nazi Germany that didn't measure up to Hitler's notion of a superior Aryan race, chances were that you were an "undesirable" and your luck was about to run out.  Ordinary Germans — young and old, friend or foe of the regime, and whether or not they were diehard Nazis — were caught up in the fervor unleashed by Hitler's promise of a Third Reich lasting a thousand years.  Dissent was strictly forbidden, total conformity was expected of all Germans, and opposition of any kind was ruthlessly suppressed.  The one-party state reigned supreme, and that was that.  Toe the party line, or suffer the consequences.  Step out of line and no one, it seemed, was safe from incurring the wrath of and escaping the long arm of the Gestapo.

To learn more about international volunteers during the 1936-39 Spanish Civil War, particularly the Abraham Lincoln Brigades, see my two-part essay: Condemned as "Premature Anti-Fascists." Is There Ever a Bad Time to Oppose Fascism? - Part I and Part II.  "The Holocaust Explained: Nazi treatment of non-Jewish minorities," The Weiner Library for the Study of the Holocaust and Genocide (UK).


The Four Men at the Center of This Remarkable Story

A Jewish emigre from the Russian Empire, Daniel Prenn (with a young Gottfried von Cramm in the background) was the #1 ranked German tennis player. After the Nazis came to power in 1933, Prenn was no longer allowed to represent Germany. Word came from the top that they were "happier to lose with Aryans than to win with Prenn.”

Decades before several tennis rivalries — Borg vs McEnroe, Evert vs Navratilova, Federer vs Nadal (pictured left), King vs Smith, and Sampras vs Agassi — would usher in the modern era of tennis, a tennis match took place in London two weeks after the 1937 Wimbledon Championships.  It was the semifinal team match between the United States and Germany in the Davis Cup. Amidst this fluid international situation marked by uncertainty and fear of an impending global war, and pitting the #1 players of both teams in the singles competition, it was widely regarded as the “greatest tennis match ever played.”  It involved four remarkably accomplished tennis players — two Americans, a German, and a Jewish engineer by the name of Daniel Prenn who had fled the 1917 Bolshevik Revolution as a teenager.  At the time, two of the men harbored secrets that could either land them in prison or, worse, prove to be deadly.  For them, fear was a great motivator to succeed on the tennis court.

Long before the Super Bowl, World Series, World Cup, NBA Championships, and Stanley Cup Finals became “must watch” events around much of the world, one of the more closely followed competitions was the Davis Cup in amateur tennis.  Not unlike Babe Ruth in Baseball, Joe Louis in Boxing, and Jesse Owens in Track and Field, tennis stars like Fred Perry, Donald Budge, Henri Cochet, Suzanne Lenglen, “Big Bill” Tilden, Rene Lacoste, Ellsworth Vines, Jean Borotra, Alice Marble, and Gottfried Van Cramm were household names and received a great deal of international media coverage.  In fact, one can argue that Bill Tilden, unlike Ruth, was enormously popular not only among American sports fans but equally revered by international tennis enthusiasts.  In the pre-television age, amateur exploits in sports had a hold on the public’s imagination that is hard to comprehend in the present-day era of rampant commercialism and self-promotion in professional sports.

Donald Budge

The two Americans, Donald Budge (on the right) and Bill Tilden, had personalities that made them each other’s polar opposites. They never really competed against one another for by the time Budge rose to prominence, Tilden had turned professional and was barred from competitive amateur play.  They resided in separate social worlds and their backgrounds defined the very different paths they chartered to reach the top of the tennis world. Brash, opinionated, and brimming with a sense of entitlement, Tilden came from a privileged family in Philadelphia’s high society. His affluence meant membership in exclusive tennis clubs like the historic Germantown Cricket Club, from which he grew up only a block away.  An unremarkable athlete in high school, he enrolled in the Wharton School of Business at the University of Pennsylvania just to please his father.  Few classmates remembered him years later during the brief period he attended UPenn.  A late bloomer and one who worked diligently at teaching himself the nuances of tennis, he didn’t win his first major title until he was twenty-seven years old in 1920.  The first American to win Wimbledon, he would not lose a consequential tennis match for the next six years.  

Not unlike Billie Jean King in the late 1950s and the Willams Sisters in the 1990s, the unassuming, soft-spoken, good-natured Budge, son of a Scottish immigrant and truck driver from Oakland, California, had mastered his craft decades earlier on public tennis courts in California.  Only two weeks before this historic match, he had won the Men's Singles title at Wimbledon.  A tenacious competitor, who would come to redefine the game of tennis with his devastating backhand and return of serve, he first made the US Davis Cup team when he was only nineteen years old.  Growing up in a small house in Oakland — unlike Tilden's privileged background in Philadelphia — he excelled at baseball and basketball, with tennis as his third sport.  When he was fifteen, his father challenged him to win the California State fifteen-and-under tennis title.  Remarkably, Budge did just that.  He was on his way to becoming an elite tennis player.  By the summer of 1937, at twenty-two years old, he was the top-ranked tennis player in the world.

“Big Bill” Tilden (left) and Gottfried von Cramm.

Baron Gottfried von Cramm (pictured on the left with Bill Tilden) came from German nobility, with his family tracing its roots in that country for hundreds of years since the Middle Ages.  Considered to be a perfect gentleman, he epitomized the sport’s long tradition of good sportsmanship and even more so than Tilden, had grown up in an aristocratic environment and an atmosphere of affluence. Cramm's family epitomized societal prestige and "old money."  It was a world of private tutors, gardeners, maids, cooks, summer estates, horse riding, playrooms, acres of farmland and playing fields, tennis courts, golf courses, ponds, and opulence.  World War I had little to no effect on the insular and idyllic life of the von Cramm Family.  Central to their years of growing up was a distinct element of British culture, one Brughard von Cramm (Gottfried's father) had become familiar with while a law student in England. English manners, customs, and in particular, love of sports dominated their existence.

In 1928, when Cramm was only 19 years old, he would meet the most famous tennis player in the world at that time, Bill Tilden.  He promised himself that day that he, too, would become a part of the competitive world of international tennis.

Frank DeFord, Big Bill Tilden: The Triumphs and the Tragedy (New York, 1976), pp 199-201.  DeFord recounts Tilden's freshman year at the University of Pennsylvania in 1911 when his mother passed away.  Tilden was despondent and decided to take a "year off from college; it stretched into two, three, four years."  In 1915, his father died.  Tilden would never graduate from college.

Baroness Elisabeth “Lisa” von Dobeneck (left) with her husband

By the mid-1930s, Cramm was a two-time winner of the French Open and among the top-ranked tennis players in the world.  After the Nazis came into power in 1933, many of his friends started disappearing into concentration camps.  Realistically, what were his choices? Get out of Germany, where his family had lived for over 800 years, or refuse to play for the German national tennis team.  His refusal would endanger his wife’s life as she was one-fourth Jewish.

Baroness Elisabeth “Lisa” von Dobeneck, a granddaughter of Jewish banker Louis Hagen, was a childhood friend of Cramm's and they had married in 1930.  The glamorous couple was soon the toast of Berlin and at least superficially, their marriage appeared to be a happy one.

In addition to being a superb tennis player, Cramm's integrity on the court was beyond reproach and his impeccable manners impressed all who competed against him. Given his privileged background, there was no hint of arrogance or feeling of superiority about him; more than a few opponents would notice his humility and fairmindedness. Budge would say this about his friend in a book written many years later by tennis historian and sportswriter, Bud Collins.

Being an anti-Nazi was not a comfortable position to be in 1930s Germany. It could easily get you and your family members imprisoned or killed.

War talk was everywhere.  Hitler was doing everything he could to stir up Germany. The atmosphere was filled with tension although von Cramm was a known anti-Nazi and remained one of the finest gentlemen and most popular players on the circuit.

The competition was played at Wimbledon before a rapt audience that included Queen Mary and Jack Benny, to name two.  Just before Budge and von Cramm took to Center Court with the series tied at 2-2, von Cramm received a “supportive” telephone call from Adolf Hitler.

Robin Finn, "Don Budge, First to Win Tennis's Grand Slam, Dies at 84," New York Times, January 27, 2000.  Fisher, A Terrible Splendor, pp 208-15.  Along with many other celebrities in the Centre Court stands were two Americans who would become much more famous by the late 1940s: Ed Sullivan and Ralph Bunche.  Watching the match and also keeping a close eye on Cramm was the “Reich Sport Leader,” Reichssportführer Hans von Tschammer und Osten.  All Cramm was interested in was how to win the match, stay alive, and remain a relatively free man.


The Sports Scene in 1930s Nazi Germany

The Nazis' ascension to power meant Von Cramm would soon lose a dear friend, teammate, and top-ranked player on the German Davis Cup team.  Daniel Prenn, an immigrant to Germany from the Soviet Union, was Jewish and became a victim of draconian anti-Semitic laws.  

Regardless of their athletic stature and prominence in German society, no Jewish athlete was exempt from persecution.  

Gottfried Von Cramm meeting Adolf Hitler and his goons for the first time in 1933. It wasn't a meeting he looked forward to. He was literally caught between a rock and a hard place.

See The Nazi Olympics: Berlin 1936, "Persecution of Athletes," The United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, for other examples of German athletes expelled from international competition due to "racial reasons."  See this timeline which showed how Jews were systematically excluded from different levels of German sporting activities from 1933-35.

Daniel Prenn (right) with Bill Tilden during the 1932 Davis Cup Finals in Berlin.

Daniel Prenn, representing Berlin's famous Rot-Weiss Tennis Club, had won the German Open Tennis Championships and for four years from 1928-1932, he was ranked as the top player in his adopted country.  He had also had a fair bit of success in other international competitions.  By the early 1930s, Germany had a strong Davis Cup team.  Prenn and the German tennis team had performed admirably against rival teams from France, England, and the United States.  With the arrival of another promising young player, Gottfried von Cramm, the formidable German team had defeated heavily-favored Britain in the 1932 Davis Cup — only to lose the title match against Bill Tilden and the American team in Berlin. It was said that German tennis fans had "quietly allowed their hopes, strong as they were, to die.”

All of this had occurred against the backdrop of intense political and economic turbulence in Germany.  The Weimar Republic had failed to quell internal political turmoil and was, not unlike many other countries, struggling to cope with the economic devastation brought about by the Great Depression.  The memory of Germany's humiliating defeat in World War I had created an unstable environment, and one that the Nazis exploited to their advantage.  Looking for victims to blame for his country's miserable condition, Hitler had stormed into power by early 1933.

As a young man, Prenn had fled the Soviet Union and not unlike many of his countrymen, settled in Berlin.  For well over a decade, he had prospered in Germany and his tennis skills had catapulted him into celebrity status.  

Daniel Prenn (right) and Gottfried von Cramm before leaving Berlin for Italy in 1932. It would be the last time they would play together in the Davis Cup.

Daniel Prenn was as unlikely a candidate to become the hero of German tennis as one could imagine. Born a Jew in the Lithuanian city of Vilnius (then part of Russia) in 1904, he had grown up mostly in St. Petersburg. Czarist Russia was no paradise for Jews.  Even in urbane, progressive St. Petersburg, Jews were subject to extreme restrictions.  There were quotas on how many Jews could practice the law, how many could be admitted to the hospitals, and how many could be buried in the city cemeteries.  They could be expelled from the city at any moment under the slimmest of pretexts.  And in the provinces, millions of Jews perished in intermittent, bloody pogroms between 1821 and 1917.

Then things got worse.  After the Russian Revolution of 1917, it was clear that the Communists were no saviors to the Jews.  Pogroms broke out again during the revolution and ensuing civil war, killing another 70,000 to 250,000 civilian Jews.  Along with the Russian aristocracy, who were being hunted down and executed by the Bolsheviks, many Jews chose to emigrate.  Prenn fled with his family, along with thousands of others, down the well-worn escape route: south to the Crimea, of which the White Army still had control, by ship to the Balkans, and then northwest by rail to Berlin.

Berlin had long had a reputation of tolerance towards political refugees, and in 1920, when the Prenns arrived, it was also a cheap place to live.

Fisher, A Terrible Splendor, p. 55.  Over 500,000 Russians fled the 1917 Russian Revolution to settle in Berlin, where they were an integral part of economic, cultural, and literary life.  Prenn even met Russian novelist and poet Vladimir Nabokov, of Lolita fame, in 1923.  The above two photographs and several others used in this diary come from Fisher's website.  

In April 1933, Prenn's tennis career in Germany came to an abrupt end.  By this time, he had also earned a Ph.D. in Engineering from the Technical University of Charlottenberg.  Moving forward, no non-Aryan was to represent the Third Reich in international sports competitions.  Germany’s reichssportführer (Minister of Sports) issued a statement in which he explicitly stated that "the player Dr. Daniel Prenn (a Jew) will not be selected for the Davis Cup in 1933.”  A few weeks later, King Gustav of Sweden visited Berlin.  A huge tennis fan, he knew Prenn well and played a public doubles tennis match with him at the Rot-Weiss Club to make a point.  It mattered little.

Cramm protested this decision and tried to persuade Hitler to change his mind.  His appeal went nowhere.  That year, the German team was favored to win the Davis Cup.  The Nazi Regime had decided that they were "happier to lose with Aryans than to win with Prenn.”  The Germans would not contend again until 1937.

In addition to a few of Prenn's tennis contemporaries, British tennis players Fred Perry and Henry Wilfred "Bunny" Austin vehemently protested the decision.  Both Perry and Austin had been members of Britain's 1932 Davis Cup team, one which had been improbably upset 3-2 in the semifinals by Prenn, Cramm, and their German teammates.  In the deciding 5th match, Prenn had defeated Perry 3-2 in sets, winning the 5th set 7-5 after being down 2-5 in games and one point away from defeat.

In a letter to the editor published in the Times (London), they reminded everyone of Prenn's exploits against them.

The newspaper clipping is from the St Petersburg Times, April 12, 1933.

“Sir, We have read with considerable dismay the official statement which has appeared in the press that Dr. D.D. Prenn is not to represent Germany in the Davis Cup on the grounds that he is of Jewish origin.  

We cannot but recall the scene when, less than 12 months ago, Dr. Prenn before a large crowd at Berlin won for Germany against Great Britain the semi-final round of the European Zone of the Davis Cup, and was carried from the arena amidst spontaneous and tremendous enthusiasm.  

We view with great misgivings any action which may well undermine all that is most valuable in international competitions.

Yours Faithfully,
H.W. Austin
Fred Perry

Aron Lewin, "Dr Daniel Prenn: A Tennis Career Cut Short by Nazi Germany," The Voice, Jewish Holocaust Centre.

Less than a month after Prenn was banned, another prominent German Jewish tennis player, Nelly Neppach (shown below right), committed suicide at the young age of thirty-four.  She had been the first female German tennis player to gain international recognition.  Suffering from depression and isolation, and with anti-Semitism laws severely restricting her options, she decided to end her life.

The International Lawn Tennis Federation did absolutely nothing about these injustices.  The German Tennis Federation (DTB) issued a brief statement in the May 1933 issue of the DTB’s official tennis publication, Tennis and Golf, stating that her life had come to a "fast end," implying that an ongoing problem had been resolved.

This 2016 exhibition at the German Sports & Olympia Museum in Cologne, Germany explored the fate of 17 prominent Jewish athletes during the Nazi Regime. Outside the museum next to the Rhine River, life-size plexiglass sculptures were displayed for everyone to see.

After seizing power in 1933, the Nazis began to systematically persecute and push out Jews — including Jewish athletes.  They were excluded from their sports clubs, banned from national teams, titles they had won were taken back and they were prohibited from participating in competitions because they were Jewish.  Some were murdered like so many of their fellow Jews...

Before Hitler took power, these athletes were big stars in the wake of a "huge boom in sports in the 1920s in Germany," historian Hans Joachim Teichler told DW.  In 1914, there were about one million gymnasts in Germany and perhaps 100,000 athletes, he said. "In 1933, there were still a million gymnasts — and six million athletes."

Before the persecution of the Jews, religion never played a role in public sports clubs, Teichler argued.  "They were respected, voted on the board and awarded emblems and honors like the Golden Eagle."

But the political and social situation took a drastic turn.

Henry Wahlig, "Between Success and Persecution: Jewish Stars in German Sport Until 1933 and Beyond," Jewish Sports Stars.  Ruben Kalus, "Olympics 1936: How the Nazis Treated Jewish Athletes," Deutsche Welle, August 5, 2016.  

In the 1930s when most of the world was suffering from the debilitating economic effects of the Great Depression, speaking up for and defending victims of Nazi Germany was not a high priority for too many people — including those in most of the "civilized" world.  Political and economic isolationism had shrunk the minds of many people whose major focus in life was just trying to survive and live under harsh economic conditions.


Gay Life in Weimar and Nazi Germany

Decades before anyone had ever heard of the Nazis, Berlin had been one of the more tolerant cities in Europe and became famous for public displays of different types of sexuality.  Noted author Thomas Mann and physicist Albert Einstein were huge supporters and proponents of the rights of gay men and women.  This was the familiar environment known to Cramm and his friends.  Married at the age of twenty-one in 1930, he kept up appearances by hosting cocktail parties and attending dinners at the Rot-Weiss Club, implying that he was enjoying life with his new bride.  At the time, there were over 200,00 homosexuals in Berlin and 600 nightclubs, including 85 clubs just for lesbians.  The local police practiced a tradition of acceptance, so long as people were discreet in their liaisons.  World War I, the bloodiest war to date in history, had engendered a libertine lifestyle and "devil may care" attitude among many young men and women.

Cramm would soon start meeting men he was attracted to.  In Weimar Berlin, you could pretty much do what your heart desired, although there are no credible reports of Von Cramm partying all night or flaunting his discreet monogamous relationships.  

Gay clubs in Weimar Berlin were at the center of the city’s bustling gay and transvestite scene while hosting cabaret artists such as Marlene Dietrich.

[Cramm] had apparently signed a confession admitting to homosexual acts of indecency with a young Jewish actor called Manasse Herbst, and he further admitted sending money to Herbst allegedly when the former had tried to blackmail him about their clandestine relationship.

There is little doubt that Von Cramm had indeed had a relationship with Herbst.  However, the exact status of Von Cramm’s sexuality remains the subject of a little conjecture... What is clear, is that at the time of his first marriage, the night life in Berlin had a very laissez faire and promiscuous tinge to it.  Berlin was awash with gay night clubs, lesbian only night clubs, bisexual night clubs and night clubs where all sorts of sexual partners of both sexes were ten a penny.

Von Cramm kept his private life and whatever sex life he had extremely private and under wraps.  Many believed him to be homosexual, yet many young women fell at his feet too.  The Baron simply said nothing and kept such things to himself.

Fisher, A Terrible Splendor, pp 47-48 and pp 70-72.  Young gay men, like the English writer Christopher Isherwood, had moved to Berlin and said, "Berlin means boys."  His friend, W.H. Auden,  agreed with him.  
"The King, The Baron, The House painter and Boris!," Strandsky Tales and Stories, June 14, 2014. Cramm’s homosexuality was well-known in international tennis cirlcles.

Ernst Röhm (right) with Adolf Hitler.

Under the leadership of Ernst Röhm (pictured on the right with Adolf Hitler), the Sturmabteilung (Storm Troopers; SA), or "Brownshirts" as they were commonly referred to, played a pivotal role in propelling Hitler to power.  Using intimidating tactics against anyone who opposed them, the political violence unleashed by the SA had made them a force to be feared and reckoned with.  The 1919 Treaty of Versailles had limited the German army to 100,000 soldiers; by 1934, however, the SA numbered 3-4 million men.  Röhm wanted to merge the army with his paramilitary force and one that would be under his command.  A later joke referred to the SA as resembling roast beef.  Why?  Because they were brown on the outside (their uniforms) and red inside (socialist beliefs).  Once in power — and rather than have his boss rely upon the army and wealthy industrialists to expand the regime's power and capabilities — Röhm wanted Hitler to implement the "socialist" part of their agenda to redistribute wealth.  The real revolution, he argued, had yet to take place.

A decorated German army officer during World War I, Röhm had known Hitler since the early 1920s and both men were determined to counter the "betrayal" of the German High Command in signing the Versailles Peace Treaty.  High-ranking Nazis had been well aware of Röhm and other homosexuals in the SA.  Ignoring that fact as "immaterial," Hitler repeatedly said that it didn't bother him how  Röhm and his associates conducted themselves in private.

Once in power and seizing upon this opportunity to limit the SA's influence while condemning homosexuality as "deviant behavior," Hitler moved against his old friend and early supporter.  It came to be known as the Night of the Long Knives, or die Nacht der langen Messer, a phrase Hitler himself selected from a popular Nazi song to describe the SA's purge.

David Low’s cartoons would deeply anger Adolf Hitler, who complained vociferously to British Foreign Secretary, Lord Halifax, about it. In the late 1930s, Low would be repeatedly attacked by the conservative British press as being hostile to the idea of Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain's policy of appeasing Hitler.

Between June 30 and July 2, 1934, the Nazi Party leadership, on the order of Nazi Party Leader and Reich Chancellor Adolf Hitler, purged the leadership of the Nazi paramilitary formation, the Sturmabteilungen (Storm Troopers; SA). The Nazi leaders took advantage of the purge to kill other political enemies, primarily on the German nationalist right.  Known as the “Night of the Long Knives” or “Operation Hummingbird,” the murders cemented an agreement between the Nazi regime and the German Army (Reichswehr) that enabled Hitler to proclaim himself Führer of National Socialist Germany and to claim absolute power.

By 1934 Adolf Hitler appeared to have complete control over Nazi Germany, but like most dictators, he constantly feared that he might be ousted by others who wanted his power.  To protect himself from a possible coup, Hitler used the tactic of divide and rule and encouraged other leaders such as Hermann Göring, Joseph Goebbels, Heinrich Himmler and Ernst Röhm to compete with each other for senior positions.

Albert Speer pointed out in his book, Inside the Third Reich (1970): "After 1933 there quickly formed various rival factions that held divergent views, spied on each other, and held each other in contempt.  A mixture of scorn and dislike became the prevailing mood within the party.  Each new dignitary rapidly gathered a circle of intimates around him."

Joseph Goebbels wrote in his diary: "Executions nearly finished.  A few more are necessary.  That is difficult but necessary... It is difficult but is not, however, to be avoided.  There must be peace for ten years.  The whole afternoon with the Führer.  I can't leave him alone.  He suffers greatly but is hard.  The death sentences are received with the greatest seriousness.  All in all about 60."

"The Nazi Party: The Night of the Long Knives,", Jewish Virtual Library.  In 1933, Röhm had made a speech in which he reminded his opponents about the Nazi agenda, "It is in fact high time the national revolution stopped and became the National Socialist one. Whether they like it or not, we will continue our struggle — if they understand at last what it is about — with them; if they are unwilling — without them; and if necessary — against them."  Editorial Cartoonist David Low was appalled when Hitler became Germany's Chancellor and persistently mocked what the Nazis stood for in his editorial cartoons.  He noted in his book Years of Wrath (1949) that Hitler was deeply angered by the above cartoon published one day after the SA purge was announced by Joseph Goebbels, shown above cowering between's Hitler's legs.  Herman Goering is represented by the Hun as a violent god of war.  The cartoon strongly suggested that there was no substantive difference between the murderous Nazis and "uncivilized Huns," a nomadic people who had spread fear and terror in much of 5th century Europe.  "Night of the Long Knives," Spartacus Educational.  


Heinrich Himmler’s Gestapo Thugs and the Persecution of Gays in Nazi Germany

By eliminating Ernst Röhm and others in the SA leadership, Hitler consolidated power and removed a potential threat to his authority.  From then on, he emerged as Germany's Supreme Leader who "had the right to be judge and jury, and had the power to decide whether people lived or died."

This exhibition by the Florida Holocaust Museum examines the Nazi regime’s attempt to eradicate homosexuality, which left thousands dead and shattered the lives of many more.
  • One attempt by the Nazis to purify German society was their condemnation of male homosexuals as "socially aberrant."  Early in the Nazi regime, male homosexual organizations were banned.
  • In 1934, a special Gestapo division was established to create "pink lists" of homosexuals throughout Germany.
  • Between 1933 and 1945, an estimated 100,000 men were arrested, and of these, some 50,000 homosexuals were sentenced.  Most of these men spent time in regular prisons, and an estimated 5,000 to 15,000 were sent to concentration camps.
  • Lesbians were not subjected to systematic persecution. Few women are believed to have been arrested.
  • Those defined as homosexuals were designated by a pink triangle (Jews who were homosexuals were killed because they were Jews)

See this extensive bibliography of resources in English and other languages about the Nazi persecution of gays and lesbians, United States Holocaust Memorial Museum.  Click on this slideshow to learn more about non-Jewish victims of Nazi Germany.

The Nazis were determined to "purge" their country of gays.  The dreaded Gestapo — or Geheime Staatspolizei, Secret State Police — went around rounding up enemies (real or not) and closed down many gay bars.  Berlin, the "homosexual's paradise," was about to undergo drastic changes.  Röhm's archenemy, Reichsführer Heinrich Himmler, ordered the Gestapo that he wanted a complete list of all active homosexuals.  People were bribed to testify against friends and neighbors, with many using this opportunity to settle old scores.

Vowing to protect the "moral fiber" of German society, Himmler's thugs sent tens of thousands of homosexuals to concentration camps, including several of Cramm’s friends.

Badge Classification System in Nazi Concentration Camps

In Nazi Concentration Camps, the colored triangle identified who the prisoner was. It was also meant as a badge of shame. Pink triangles were for homosexuals or those suspected of being one.

The Night of the Long Knives was a huge triumph for Hitler... The purge of the SA was the first great show of violence under Nazi rule.  It would not be the last. Hitler had taken a giant step closer to creating his Master Race.  There was no place for homosexuality with the Master Race.

Röhm had been a very public figure in Germany, and his murder delivered a strong message.  Now that the party had been cleansed, the targets became any men who preferred to have sex with other men.  One such man was Rudolf Brazda...

Like all homosexuals, Rudolf was aware of Paragraph 175, but he and most other homosexuals knew that usually they would be left alone if they were discreet and not seeking relationships with young boys.  However, as all homosexuals were to discover, this world was changing more rapidly than they could imagine...

Fear dominated life for homosexuals.  When interviewed years later, Rudolf said, "We were hunted like animals."

Ken Setterington, "The Gay Life is Over," Branded by the Pink Triangle (Toronto, 2013), pp 25-27.  In 1933, Brazda was a homosexual living with another man in Leipzig at the home of a woman who was a Jehovah's Witness.  The large graphic shows markings of Nazi concentration camp inmates.  It is a translation from the German version posted at the Dachau Concentration Camp and comes from the back cover of The Pink Triangle: The Nazi War Against Homosexuals (New York, 1986) by Richard Plant.  Plant's book is available online in its entirety.


Thanks for reading this far.  The story continues in Part II of this diary — One Man Played for His Country. The Other, Hounded by the Gestapo, Played for His Life. (Part 2).