My great-grandfather, Erich Levi, was the playboy son of a wealthy German Jewish businessman, and an amateur heavyweight boxing champion who, according to my Oma, once beat Max Schmeling in the ring. My Oma and Opa met in Cologne, where Ilse was staying because of her mother’s hospitalization due to a bite from a lederhosen-wearing monkey at a cabaret (seriously). Ten years her senior, Erich opened a sausage factory in Paris to be near my Oma while she was finishing school at the Sorbonne. After he proposed, Ilse’s parents took her on a hastily arranged holiday cruise to try and convince her not to marry him, but he showed up at every port of call.
Although generally known to be an affable and charming guy out of the ring, Erich was not shy about his political opinions. He and his brother Kent often went to try and break up local Nazi Party meetings, loudly commenting from the back row until their heckling escalated into confrontations. At one such meeting, Kent and my Opa started a fight that cleared the place out, however, on particular sallow-faced officer engaged with extreme fury and Erich Levi the boxer took his gloves off (metaphorically). The Nazi officer that got the shit kicked out of him that day turned out to be Joseph Goebbels, who never forgot him as he rose to become the propaganda leader for the Nazi Party. It became dangerous for Erich to stay in Germany, and he and my Oma left for Antwerp, Belgium, where they were married on December 19th, 1935 and had two children before the Nazis invaded in 1940.