born July 15, 1909 in Bromberg (Pommerania) – died January 19, 1984 in Atlantic City (USA)
- German Middleweight Champion since November 12, 1931
- German Light Heavyweight Champion since February 26, 1933
In the beginning of the 1930s, Erich, aka Ete, Seelig was at the start of a great boxing career. Within a year and a half, he secured both the German middleweight and light heavyweight championship titles. Seelig was originally born in Pommerania, but shortly after World War I, him and his family moved to Berlin. In the big city, his brothers brought him along when they went boxing. In a short amount of time, Ete became the newest rising star for the newly founded boxing division of Tennis Borussia Berlin. When he was 14 years old, the club newspaper began celebrating his athleticism: “He is quick, unlike any other German boxer in his [weight] class before him.”
Together with his Borussia teammates known by their club nickname “the Violets” – young Seelig won the Berlin-Brandenburg championship three consecutive times in 1929, 1930, and 1931. At the age of 19, he qualified for the final round of the German championship in 1929, in which he barely lost. Seelig felt confident to further his career, and in the beginning of 1931 – he became a professional. Even at that level he continued forward with his picture perfect career: in November of 1931, following eight consecutive victories, he went on to win the German middleweight championship in a match against Herbert Seifried at the Berliner Circus Busch. Fourteen months later, he stepped into the ring with Helmut Hartkopp who outweighed him by six kilograms, and clinched the German middleweight championship. In the beginning of March 1933, sports news outlets celebrated Seelig as “Germany’s youngest champion” and attested to his “master performance”.
Under normal circumstances, this would have been just the beginning of a long and successful career in German boxing. Yet, in the beginning of 1933, only a few weeks after the Nazis came into power, the Association for German Combat Sports (VdF) became one of the first organizations to suspend its Jewish members. The day of the decision – April 4, 1933 – the VdF forbade Jews from even entering the premises of the federation. Four days prior, Seelig had to cancel his upcoming championship match due to death threats made against him. On April 11th, the VdF stripped him of his titles.
Erich Seelig recognized that, given the circumstances, he had no chance of continuing his career in Germany. In May 1933, he fled to Paris where he lost in a close match against the defending world champion Marcel Thiel. The match made it possible, however, for him to further finance his escape, and after traveling through London and Cuba, he finally reached the USA in 1935.
In his new homeland, Seelig revealed his fighting spirit once again: as a newcomer he won some matches against renowned boxers, and became the number six ranked boxer in the unofficial rankings of Ring Magazine. Furthermore, he joined in protests with fellow athletes to boycott 1936 Summer Olympics in Berlin – which ultimately failed.
In 1940, the year that marked the end of his career, Seelig married his girlfriend Greta Meinstein, a Jewish track and field athlete who fled from her home in Bavaria. Together they moved to Atlantic City. There, Seelig opened a boxing school where he remained actively involved in the sport until his death in 1984.
In Germany, memory of the success and persecution of one of its championship boxers was suppressed long after the downfall of the Nazi regime. The World Sports Encyclopedia, published in Essen in 1956 wrote the following of Erich Seelig: “In March of 1933, he relinquished his title due to weight gain.”
Video Erich Seelig, 1:48 min (© EYE Filmmuseum, the Netherlands)