The Berlin Boxing Club begins during Hitler’s rise to power. It is the story of what it was like for one individual Jewish high school student, Karl Stern, at the onset of Nazism. The Sterns are not religious and Karl doesn’t look stereotypically Jewish like some members of his family. Nonetheless, Karl is bullied, beaten, and humiliated in school by students and then publicly by the school administration because of his religion. He is given an amazing opportunity to learn how to fight when, instead of paying Karl’s intellectual art-dealing father in cash for a painting, the boxing hero Max Schmeling offers to give Karl boxing lessons. The Sterns need the money but Karl’s father agrees. This story, told in the first person by Karl, includes his diary sketches, helping the reader feel closer to the protagonist. Through the sketches, the reader sees Karl flip-flop from kindly older brother entertaining his younger sister with cartoons, to a mature boxing fan. Training and physically changing to prepare to fight while society turns against him is cathartic but also dangerous as Germans exclude Jews from schools, athletics and business. Karl’s world comes crashing down around him. His family is evicted and terrorized by Kristalnacht. In the end, Karl’s boxing world connections help his family. This heavy-duty book weaves in the topics of German expressionistic art, depression, homosexuality, and bullying. Recommended for ages 10 – 15.
Dina Weinstein is a Richmond, Virginia-based writer.