Max Schmeling – a summary

One of most politically-charged sporting events took place in New York’s Yankee Stadium on 22 June 1938 – a boxing match between the then heavyweight champion of the world, Joe Louis, the ‘Brown Bomber’, and the German, Max Schmeling, the unwilling darling of the Nazi Party.

Born in 1905, Max Schmeling had advanced through the boxing ranks within Germany and Europe and even impressed Jack Dempsey, heavyweight champion, in a friendly fight during the champion’s tour of Europe. But to be a true star of the boxing world, one had to conquer the US. And it was to America, in 1928, the 23–year-old Schmeling travelled.

The Low Blow Champion

It was an astute move, and the young German was soon a sensation winning his initial fights on American soil. In 1930, the reigning heavyweight champion, Gene Tunney, retired and Schmeling was pitted against fellow-contender, Jack Sharkey. Schmeling won the fight but not in a manner that he would have liked – Sharkey had knocked the German to the floor but was disqualified for throwing a punch below the belt, leaving Schmeling floored and clutching his groin. Thus, with Sharkey disqualified, Schmeling had become World Heavyweight champion by default. The press derided Schmeling’s victory, calling him the ‘Low Blow Champion,’ a nickname that must have hurt. Sharkey’s team, feeling grieved, demanded an immediate re-match.

As heavyweight champion, the only German to have been so, Max Schmeling dispatched a boxer called Young Stribling, before facing Sharkey again in 1932. This time the fight went to 15 rounds, and Sharkey, to the astonishment of neutral onlookers, was given the fight on points, stripping Schmeling of his title. ‘We woz robbed,’ screamed Schmeling’s Jewish trainer, Joe ‘Yussel the Muscle’ Jacobs. The newspapers, and even the mayor of New York, agreed.

Hitler’s Boxer

The following year, Hitler came to power as German Chancellor and the persecution against Jews began in earnest. Max Schmeling’s exploits came to the attention of the Nazi Party and they took the young boxer to their breasts as typical of the Aryan ideal. The Nazis enforced a ban on Jews playing any part in boxing, whether as fighter, trainer, promoter or even fan. Schmeling was told to ditch his Jewish trainer, and to Schmeling’s credit, he refused to do so.

New York, with its large Jewish population, associated Schmeling with the new German regime, not helped that Schmeling’s next fight, in June 1933, was against Max Baer. Although himself not a Jew, Baer’s father had been, which, under Nazi classification, made him a Mischlinge. Bauer came into the ring with the Star of David stitched onto his shorts. The fight was seen as good versus evil, with Schmeling cast as Hitler’s representative in the boxing ring. Baer, much to America’s delight, won.

Schmeling v Louis

Despite the loss, Schmeling was offered the chance to fight fellow-contender, Joe Louis (pictured). Louis was not only the role model of African-Americans but of Americans everywhere as the embodiment of a rags to riches tale, a man living the American dream.  Against him, Max Schmeling represented the polar opposite, the land of anti-Semitism and oppression. The Nazis were displeased that Schmeling should deign to fight a Negro but the fight went ahead on 19 June 1936. Schmeling, the underdog, floored Louis twice, knocking him out in the 12th round and winning convincingly. Schmeling was delighted but not overly surprised: ‘I wouldn’t have fought a colored man if I didn’t think I could lick him,’ he told reporters.

Schmeling returned to a hero’s welcome in Germany not by ship but by another symbol of German superiority, the Hindenburg airship. Schmeling’s victory was ‘not only sport’, crowed the Nazi weekly journal Das Schwarze Korps (The Black Corps), ‘it was a question of prestige for our race.’ A new film was released, Schmeling’s Victory: A German Victory, and shown throughout the country. Schmeling was feted as all that was good in Nazi Germany, appearing smiling at the side of Hitler, a fan of boxing, and Hitler’s propaganda minister, Joseph Goebbels. (Indeed, Schmeling’s wife, Anny, listened to the fight on the radio in Goebbels’s living room). When later quizzed about his meetings with Hitler, Schmeling responded by saying, ‘I once went to dinner with Franklin Roosevelt; that did not make me a Democrat’. But Schmeling did attend Nazi rallies at Nuremberg and supported Nazi charities.

Schmeling returned to New York in May 1937 and had been booked onto the Hindenburg but a last minute change of plan meant he travelled instead by sea. Thus, by a quirk of fate, Schmeling missed being on the Hindenburg when, arriving in New Jersey, it exploded into flames, claiming the lives of 36.

In New York, Schmeling became a spokesman for Germany, often quizzed about life under the Nazis. For Schmeling the pressure must have been difficult especially when the pressure came from Hitler himself: ‘When you go to the United States, you’re going to obviously be interviewed by people who are thinking that very bad things are going on in Germany at this moment. And I hope you’ll be able to tell them that the situation isn’t as bleak as they think it is.’ Hence, in one interview, he said, ‘I have seen no Jews suffer… whatever pain they are undergoing they have brought on themselves by circulating anti-Nazi horror stories in New York and elsewhere.’

Schmeling v Louis: the re-match

Having beaten Joe Louis, Schmeling now wanted a chance of regaining the title from the reigning champion James Braddock, but Braddock’s camp feigned injury, not wanting to be involved with the man they considered a Nazi puppet. Instead, Braddock fought Joe Louis and lost. The Brown Bomber was now the heavyweight champion of the world.

The much-anticipated Louis–Schmeling rematch of 22 June 1938 (pictured) was billed as the ‘fight of the century’, with its politically charged rivalry between the land of the free and the land of Aryan racial purity. Among the 70,000 audience were Gary Cooper and Clark Gable. As he approached the ring, Schmeling was greeted with jeers and pelted with rubbish. The fight lasted all of two minutes and four seconds when Schmeling was knocked out. He spent ten days in hospital recovering from his injuries which included a number of broken ribs. Louis had got his revenge and democracy, it seemed, had triumphed over fascism. But ultimately it was about boxing and that on this particular occasion, the American was better than the German.

The German ambassador in America tried to persuade Schmeling to claim foul play against Louis but Schmeling refused. This time, when Schmeling returned to Germany, by humble ship, there was no celebration, no welcome party. Schmeling, now considered a loser, was shunned by the party that had been so keen to embrace him.

Schmeling may have previously appeared as an apologist for the Nazi regime but when faced with its reality, he demonstrated true courage. On the night of 10-11 November 1938, when the Nazis unleashed their battering of Jews and Jewish synagogues and businesses during what became known as Kristallnacht, Schmeling hid two Jewish brothers in his hotel suite for two days, sharing what food he had with them and refusing all visitors, claiming he was ill. Later, Schmeling spirited the boys and family out of Germany. One of them, Henri Lewin, speaking in 1989, paid homage to the boxer, saying that had they been discovered, ‘I would not be here this evening and neither would Max’.

Private Schmeling

With the outbreak of war in 1939, Schmeling was forcibly drafted into the German army as a paratrooper (pictured) and, as a 36-year-old private, saw action during the Battle of Crete in 1941 where he was wounded. Schmeling believed that the particularly perilous assignment had been the Nazi Party’s revenge on him. No doubt they hoped he would be killed and provide them with a new martyr. When ordered by Goebbels to fabricate tales for the press relating to supposed British barbarity against German prisoners, Schmeling refused. He was promptly court-martialed on the personal orders of the Propaganda Minister.

Post-war, Schmeling, living in Germany and in need of money, fought five more matches, his first fights since before the war. He fought and lost his final fight in 1948, as a 43-year-old. He started working for the German branch of Cola-Cola, eventually running his own bottling plant and becoming very rich in the process. Meanwhile, in the US, Joe Louis fell on hard times, unable to pay mounting tax debts. Schmeling visited his former boxing rival in the US and helped him along financially. When Louis died in 1981, Schmeling contributed towards the cost of the funeral.

After 54 years of marriage, Schmeling’s wife, Anny, died in 1987. Anny, a former actress of Polish-Czech descent, had starred in Alfred Hitchcock’s 1929 film, Blackmail, Britain’s first talkie.

Max Schmeling died 2 February 2005, seven months short of his hundredth birthday.

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Adolf Hitler and his women

Hitler was never truly comfortable in the company of women, but women found him strangely attractive. 

Hitler’s First Love

Adolf Hitler‘s first love, in Vienna, was a Jewish girl called Stefanie but, lacking the courage, he never spoke to her. Instead he wrote love poems about her which his youthful friend, the poor August Kubizek, had to endure.

Hitler extolled the virtues of men remaining celibate until the age of 25. He was both repulsed and fascinated by prostitutes and although he preached that only men of inferior races went to prostitutes he obliged Kubizek to accompany him on numerous trips into Vienna’s red light districts. Rumours persisted that Hitler caught syphilis from a Jewish prostitute. In the early 1920s Hitler’s driver spoke of them cruising the Munich nightclubs.

Once he had become a national figure, Hitler’s relations with women were always marred by his belief that he was wedded to his mission. A wife would not only be a distraction; it could damage his popularity in the eyes of his female fans. Evidence of Hitler’s popularity amongst women first surfaced during his trial following the failed Munich Putsch in which daily the courtroom was jammed with female admirers. On the day of sentencing it was festooned with flowers.

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The Munich Putsch – a brief outline

During the early 1920s Adolf Hitler became convinced that the way to power lay in revolution. Revolution had brought power to the Bolsheviks in Russia and had almost done the same for the Communists in Germany during the chaos of the immediate post-First World War period. Hitler watched, with fascination and admiration, as Mussolini took over power in Italy following his March on Rome in October 1922.

And so in Munich, Hitler planned his overthrow, or putsch, of the Bavarian government followed by a ‘March on Berlin’. The date set, Sunday 11 November 1923, was an auspicious anniversary – five years on from Germany’s defeat in the war, and, on a more practical level, being a Sunday, a day when the armed forces and police were on reserve strength. (Pictured is Hitler and his Munich entourage).

A Beer Hall in Munich

But when Hitler learnt about, and indeed was invited to, a public meeting in a Munich beer hall on the evening of 8 November, hosted by government figures such as Gustav Ritter von Kahr, leader of the Bavarian Government, and the Bavarian chiefs of police and army, the opportunity was too perfect to pass by. At his side were Hermann Goring and Rudolf Hess.

The National Revolution Has Begun

As the meeting progressed, Hitler’s armed corps of bodyguards, the SA, silently surrounded the building. With the bulk of his men in place, others noisily barged into the beer hall, interrupting proceedings and shouting ‘Heil Hitler’.

A machine gun was hauled in and the audience, fearing a massacre, cowered and hid beneath their chairs. Hitler took his cue and brandishing a revolver, charged to the front, leapt onto a chair and, firing two shots into the ceiling, declared that he was the new leader of the German government and that the ‘National revolution (had) begun’. He then forced the three men on the stage, Kahr and his chiefs, into a side room, apologised to them for the inconvenience, and promised them prestigious jobs in his new Germany.

Returning to the stage, Hitler delivered a rousing speech, winning over his audience who applauded ecstatically. They applauded with equal enthusiasm when Hitler’s famous co-conspirator, General Erich von Ludendorff, made his appearance. Ludendorff, as the joint head of Germany’s military during the First World War, was well-known and respected, and Hitler hoped that with Ludendorff as his mascot it would win him support. It seemed to be working.

Ludendorff’s task was to persuade Kahr and his chiefs to support the revolution and join the March on Berlin. After some reluctance the three men eventually acquiesced.

Meanwhile, elsewhere in the city, the SA, led by Hitler’s confidant, Ernst Rohm, was successfully securing vital strongpoints. Hitler, his speech done and his audience converted, left the beer hall to check on progress.

The Gullible Old General

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Erwin Rommel – and his forced suicide

‘We have a very daring and skilful opponent against us, and, may I say across the havoc of war, a great general.’

The words were Winston Churchill’s and the great general he was referring to was Erwin Rommel.

The Desert Fox

Born 15 November 1891, Erwin Rommel was, as Churchill suggests, respected as a master tactician, the supreme strategist who, in 1940, helped defeat France and the Low Countries and then found lasting fame when sent by Hitler to North Africa where, commanding the Afrika Korps, he earned the sobriquet, the Desert Fox. Germany, his nation, adored him, his troops loved him, Hitler treasured him and his enemies respected him. His Afrika Korps was never charged with any war crimes and prisoners of war were treated humanely. When his only son, Manfred, proposed joining the Waffen SS, Rommel forbade it.

In June 1944 Rommel was sent to Northern France to help co-ordinate the defence against the Allied Normandy Invasion but was wounded a month later when a RAF plane strafed his car. Rommel returned home to Germany to convalesce.

The July Bomb Plot

Meanwhile, on 20 July 1944, Hitler survived an assassination attempt in his Wolf’s Lair in East Prussia, the July Bomb Plot, perpetuated by Nazi officers who hoped to shorten the war with his removal. Hitler, although shaken, suffered only superficial injury and those responsible were soon rounded up and executed. Rommel, although not involved and actively against any plan to assassinate Hitler, did support the idea of having him removed from power. Once his association with the plotters, however tenuous, came to light, his downfall was inevitable and swift.

On 14 October 1944, Hitler dispatched two generals to Rommel’s home to offer the fallen Field Marshal a bleak choice. Manfred, aged 15, was at home with his mother when the call came. He waited nervously as the three men talked in private, and then as his father went upstairs to speak to his mother. Finally Rommel spoke to his son and told him of Hitler’s deal.

Manfred’s story

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Max Schmeling – the boxer the Nazis tried to claim as their own

One of most politically-charged sporting events took place in New York’s Yankee Stadium on 22 June 1938 – a boxing match between the then heavyweight champion of the world, Joe Louis, the ‘Brown Bomber’, and the German, Max Schmeling, the unwilling darling of the Nazi Party.

Born 28 September 1905, Max Schmeling had advanced through the boxing ranks within Germany and Europe and even impressed Jack Dempsey, heavyweight champion, in a friendly fight during the champion’s tour of Europe. But to be a true star of the boxing world, one had to conquer the US. And it was to America, in 1928, the 23–year-old Schmeling travelled.

The Low Blow Champion

It was an astute move, and the young German was soon a sensation, winning his initial fights on American soil. In 1930, the reigning heavyweight champion, Gene Tunney, retired and Schmeling was pitted against fellow-contender, Jack Sharkey. Schmeling won the fight but not in a manner that he would have liked – Sharkey had knocked the German to the floor but was disqualified for throwing a punch below the belt, leaving Schmeling floored and clutching his groin. Thus, with Sharkey disqualified, Schmeling had become World Heavyweight champion by default. The press derided Schmeling’s victory, calling him the ‘Low Blow Champion,’ a nickname that must have hurt. Sharkey’s team, feeling grieved, demanded an immediate re-match.

As heavyweight champion, the only German to have been so, Max Schmeling dispatched a boxer called Young Stribling, before facing Sharkey again in 1932. This time the fight went to 15 rounds, and Sharkey, to the astonishment of neutral onlookers, was given the fight on points, stripping Schmeling of his title. ‘We woz robbed,’ screamed Schmeling’s Jewish trainer, Joe ‘Yussel the Muscle’ Jacobs. The newspapers, and even the mayor of New York, agreed.

Hitler’s Boxer

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August Kubizek, Hitler’s only friend – a summary

August Kubizek provides the only substantial witness account of Adolf Hitler’s early years in Linz and Vienna between 1907 and 1912. Born within nine months of each other they met in their hometown of Linz where a shared love of art and music, especially the operas of Richard Wagner, brought them together. They became firm friends to the point Hitler became resentful if Kubizek paid too much attention to anyone else. While Hitler dreamt of being a great artist, Kubizek, or ‘Gustl’ to Hitler, dreamt of becoming a famous conductor.

In 1912, Hitler moved to Vienna while August Kubizek remained in Linz to work as an apprentice for his father’s upholstery business which was destined to become his trade. But Hitler somehow managed to persuade Kubizek’s father to allow Gustl to join him in Vienna and be allowed to pursue his musical ambitions.

Vienna

Thus the two friends were reunited and sharing a room in Vienna. But while Kubizek was successful in his application to the Vienna Music Conservatory, Hitler failed twice to get a place at the Vienna Academy of Fine Arts. So ashamed of his failure that for a while Hitler managed to keep it hidden from his friend.

In 1908, Kubizek returned to Vienna after a brief visit back to Linz to find Hitler had moved out and had left no forwarding address. He was not to see Hitler again until thirty years later, in 1938.

Kubizek embarked on what promised to be a successful musical career but cut short by the outbreak of the First World War in 1914. Following the war he became a council official.

The Reunion Continue reading

A Stranger in My Own Country: The 1944 Prison Diary by Hans Fallada – review

During the 1930s and 1940s, Hans Fallada was one of the most famous writers in Germany. In 2009, over sixty years after his death, his reputation was resurrected in the English-speaking world with the first English translation of his bleak anti-Nazi masterpiece, Alone in Berlin. In 1944, following an altercation involving a pistol with his recently-divorced wife, he was sent to prison.

It wasn’t his first experience of German penal hospitality; twice before Fallada, born 21 July 1893, had been locked up on charges of embezzlement. Now, during his three-month spell in a psychiatric institution, he had chance to reflect on his life as a writer, husband and father living under Nazi tyranny, and felt impelled to write it all down. His request for pen and paper, in order, he said, to write a children’s book, was granted. Thus, with 92 sheets of paper at his disposal, he began to write.

It doesn’t hurt so much

Incarcerated in the ‘house of the dead’, as he called it, and sharing a cell with ‘a schizophrenic murderer and a castrated sex offender’, and checked on at regular intervals by the prison guards, Fallada wrote in minuscule letters, full of abbreviations and code words. His project was foolhardy, criticizing the very people holding him captive, and could have ended badly for himself and his friends and family. Nonetheless he pressed on, venting eleven years of ‘anger, bitterness and sometimes fear’ on the regime that had done so much to ruin the ‘unfortunate but blessed nation’ he loved so much. At the end of it, he writes of the cathartic release – ‘the old hatred of the Nazis is still there,’ he writes, ‘but it doesn’t hurt quite so much.’

Other German writers had fled abroad, but not Fallada despite being labelled for a while as an ‘undesirable writer’. Starting his memoir in January 1933, the month Hitler came to power, Fallada, a staunch anti-Nazi, wrote of living under the new, brutal regime. Laced with irony, Fallada begins by mocking the dim-witted Nazis, ‘psychopaths and sadists’, with their absurd obsession for uniforms, rituals and petty rules. But of course, living in Nazi Germany was no joke, and the mocking is soon replaced by expressions of incredulity and mounting anger.

Arrested previously in 1933 and temporarily detained in a filthy cell, Fallada experienced first-hand the Nazi ability to disregard an individual’s rights, and the presumption of guilt based on no more than the say-so of a Nazi informant. The law may have been on his side, but justice was easily trumped by loyalty to the regime.

All-pervading the poisonousness  
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The 20 July Bomb Plot – an outline

The attempt on Hitler’s life on 20 July 1944 was the seventeenth known occasion that someone had tried to kill Hitler. Unlike other attempts however this, the 20 July Bomb Plot, was the most intricate, and involved plans for a new Germany following the successful accomplishment of the mission.

Count Stauffenberg loses faith

A fervent supporter of Hitler, 36-year-old Count Claus von Stauffenberg had fought bravely during the Second World War for the Fuhrer. Fighting in Tunisia in 1943, Stauffenberg was badly wounded, losing his left eye, his right hand and two fingers of his left. Once recovered, Stauffenberg was transferred to the Eastern Front where he witnessed the atrocities firsthand which made him question his loyalty. As it became increasingly apparent that Germany would not win the war, Stauffenberg lost faith in Hitler and the Nazi cause.

At some point in early 1944, Stauffenberg joined a group of German officers intent on bringing the war to a quick end and negotiating a peace with the Allies. Their biggest obstacle was of course Hitler.

But the plotters received a bit of luck when Stauffenberg was appointed onto the staff of the Reserve Army, reporting directly to General Friedrich Fromm, another officer who had lost faith in the Nazi cause. When Stauffenberg was invited to a meeting in Hitler’s Wolf’s Lair in Rastenburg, East Prussia, for 20 July, the opportunity seemed perfect.

The conspirators hatched their plan, codenamed Valkyrie, and crucial to its success was Stauffenberg’s proximity to Hitler.

‘I Am Alive, I Am Alive’ Continue reading

Hitler’s Mein Kampf – a summary

Originally published on 18 July 1925, Adolf Hitler’s semi-autobiographical rant, Mein Kampf, sold moderately at first. A second book, a follow-up written in 1928, was never published. However, by the end of 1933, Hitler’s first year in power, Mein Kampf, the ‘Bible of National Socialism’, had sold over a million copies. By 1939, at the outbreak of war, it was outselling all other titles in Germany with the exception of the Bible. Honeymooning couples were given a copy of Mein Kampf to savour, and no patriotic German home could be seen without a copy taking pride of place on the bookshelves. Although Hitler later claimed he regretted writing it, Mein Kampf made the German dictator a very rich man.

The earlier chapters concerns Hitler’s upbringing, his formative years in Linz, Vienna and Munich, his desire to be an artist and his service during the First World War. Then begins the sledgehammer prose – some 600 pages of it. The book has not seen the light of day in Germany since the end of the Second World War but, contrary to popular belief, it is not banned there. Using the Swastika and the Nazi salute for non-educational purposes are forbidden in Germany but not the purchase or reading of the central ideological tenet of Hitler’s thinking. However the state of Bavaria, which seized the copyright to Mein Kampf after the war, has steadfastly refused to re-publish the book fearing it could fuel racial tensions and be exploited by neo-Nazi groups.

‘My 4½ Year Struggle Against Lies, Stupidity and Cowardice’

Hitler was serving a jail term following his failed attempt to seize power in the 1923 Beer Hall Putsch. He was tried for high treason and could have faced the death penalty but got away with a lenient sentence of five years. In the event, he served less than nine months, being released in December 1924. Although frequently depressed and talked of suicide, Hitler used his time in prison constructively, dictating to his deputy, Rudolph Hess, his autobiographical, ideological tirade. Published in two volumes, the first on 18 July 1925, and the second in 1926, Mein Kampf was originally entitled ‘My 4½ Year Struggle Against Lies, Stupidity and Cowardice‘; the new title being suggested by his publisher.

Much of Mein Kampf is devoted to race; the need for a pure race of German Aryans untainted by the blood of different ethnic groups. The Aryan race was of the highest order, the ‘bearers of culture’; the Jewish race of the lowest. ‘The whole existence (of the Jews) is based on one great single lie… that they are a religious community while actually they are a race – and what a race!’

Hitler’s stated aim was to eliminate the ‘hydra of World Jewry’ from society. Jews are referred to throughout the book by various unpleasant metaphors: parasites, germs, vermin. He expounded at length on the need for Lebensraum, the provision of extra living space for the growth of the German population at the expense of the Slavic races of Eastern Europe. Hitler took Darwin’s concept of the ‘survival of the fittest’, nature’s continual struggle for life or death, and applied it to race. For the Aryan race to survive, not only had it to prove the strongest, but it was necessary to stamp out weaker, inferior races. And of course no ‘race’ was an inferior or as weak as the Jew.

Rupert Colley.

Women on the TrainRupert Colley’s novella, set during World War Two and Paris in 1968, The Woman on the Train, is now available.

Also, gathered together in one collection, 60 of Rupert Colley’s history articles, The Savage Years: Tales From the 20th Century.

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The Night of the Long Knives – a brief outline

The Night of the Long Knives was Adolf Hitler’s great purge, ridding the Nazi Party of those he distrusted, together with anti-Nazi figures within Germany and members of his paramilitary wing, the SA. Its most notorious victim was Ernst Rohm, once his loyal friend and devotee. So what had brought Hitler to such a critical moment so early in his twelve-year reign?

Hitler had come to power in January 1933 and immediately started, piece by piece, tearing up the Weimar constitution, squashing opposition and ridding Germany of democracy.

The End of Democracy

In the last parliamentary elections of the Weimar Republic, in March 1933, the Nazis polled 44% of the vote – not enough for a majority but enough to squash any future political resistance. Within a fortnight Hitler proposed the Enabling Act, a temporary dissolution of the constitution whilst he dealt with the problems facing the nation. The Reichstag passed the proposal by 441 votes to 84. There would be no more elections nor a constitution to keep Hitler in check. The Reichstag had, in effect, voted away its own power.

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