Johann „Rukeli“ Trollmann

(born 1907 in Wilsche near Gifhorn – murdered in 1944 in the Wittenberge subcamp near Hamburg)

"The audience can't believe their eyes. 'Gypsy' Trollmann has become a blond Hans. He has dyed his black hair and completely altered his fighting style. Trollmann no longer taps and dances, but stands firmly rooted like a 'German oak', satirising the racist cliché."*

Johann Wilhelm “Rukeli” Trollmann demonstrated against the Nazi regime in his final bout as a boxer and was ultimately murdered as member of a Sinto family. Trollmann was a German boxer and grew up as the son of Sinto-German parents in Hanover. The name “Rukeli” is derived from Romani and means “tree”. From as early as eight, he began training in boxing, soon winning numerous championships in the amateur ranks and finally becoming a professional in the heavyweight division. His distinctive boxing style, accompanied by a fast “dancing” footwork, made him highly popular with audiences. In the sports press, he was branded with the nickname “Gypsy”, and his fighting style was considered “un-German” by the National Socialists. That the Sinto Johann Wilhelm Trollmann emerged victorious in the 1933 German Championship against the supposedly “racially superior” Adolf Witt was deemed a scandalous humiliation by the National Socialists, and his title was revoked shortly afterwards. His next match, which saw him step into the ring against Gustav Eder, became an instrumentalised show in which Trollmann could only lose. In protest against racial discrimination, he appeared with dyed blond hair and a white powdered face. By requirement and under threat of withdrawing his boxing license, he was forbidden his typical filigree fighting style. Offering little resistance in this, his last public fight, he was knocked out after five rounds. In 1935, Trollmann was forcibly sterilised by the Nazis; four years later, he was drafted by the Wehrmacht (armed forces of Nazi Germany). In 1942, he was deported by the Nazis to the Neuengamme concentration camp for forced labour. His boxing career being well known, he was often challenged to fight by concentration camp guards—and was beaten to death in a subcamp in Wittenberge in 1944. “Rukeli” Trollmann is one of up to 500,000 European Sinti and Romani victims of the National Socialist genocide.

*Krausnick, M., Wo sind sie hingekommen? Der unterschlagene Völkermord an den
Sinti und Roma (Where Did They Go? The Withheld Genocide of the Sinti und
Romani), Gerlingen 1995.

Hans Firzlaff, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons