Berlin Boxing Club by Robert Sharenow
“Today you had a very important lesson on taking punches. A lot of people will tell you that the first thing you have to learn is how to take a punch. But I believe the first thing you should know is that you can take one and survive. A punch won’t kill you. Conquering your fear is the first step to becoming a powerful fighter.”
Berlin Boxing Club is a nice work of historical fiction, a book to get those reluctant teen boy readers to read. The story follows a young teenager named Karl Stern, a non-practicing Jew living in Germany at the start of the Nazi takeover. Luckily for Karl he does not possess the typical physical characteristics of a Jewish person and escapes most of the ridicule and abuse other Jews including his little sister face on a daily basis. Eventually his secret is exposed and when his fellow classmates bully and beat him at school Karl becomes ashamed at his inability to defend himself.
Fortunately for Karl his life takes a dramatic change of course one evening while helping his father in his art gallery. Max Schmeling, champion boxer and German national hero, who is on friendly terms with Karl’s dad, asks about a special painting that he wants, but is not for sell. In order to get Karl’s dad to give up the painting he offers to train his son. Karl’s dad reluctantly agrees and Karl starts to see himself in a completely different light and grasps with both hands the chance to reinvent himself.
Over time Karl becomes a strong, self-reliant young man and with the help of the greatest boxer in his country a well-respected amateur fighter, but Schmeling and the other boxers he trains with does not know Karl’s family history. And as Nazism takes hold in Germany and Nazi violence against Jews escalates Karl finds himself struggling with his rising fame as a boxer and keeping his secret safe.
I really enjoyed reading the Berlin Boxing Club and thought that this was the perfect book to get some of my reluctant students reading. I enjoyed the internal struggle that Karl faces with standing up for his Jewish faith while at the same time realizing that letting people know that he is Jewish could jeopardize every relationship that he has. Telling the story from that point of view I thought was very creative and original way to look at Jewish experience in pre-World War II Germany. I give the Berlin Boxing Club by Robert Sharenow 4 shells out of 5.