Podcast Episode 297: A Sinto Boxer in Nazi Germany


In the 1930s, Sinto boxer Johann Trollmann was reaching the peak of his career when the Nazis declared his ethnic inferiority. In this week’s episode of the Futility Closet podcast we’ll describe Trollmann’s stand against an intolerant ideology and the price he paid for his fame.

We’ll also consider a British concentration camp and puzzle over some mysterious towers.


In 1872 Edward Lear offered a recipe for “Gosky Patties.”

In 1927, engineer Edward R. Armstrong proposed a string of floating airports to link Europe and America.

Sources for our feature on Johann Trollmann:

Jud Nirenberg, Johann Trollmann and Romani Resistance to the Nazis, 2016.

Andrea Pitzer, One Long Night: A Global History of Concentration Camps, 2017.

Susan Tebbutt, “Piecing Together the Jigsaw: The History of the Sinti and Roma in Germany,” in Susan Tebbutt, ed., Sinti and Roma: Gypsies in German-Speaking Society and Literature, 1998.

Theodoros Alexandridis, “Let’s See Action,” Roma Rights Quarterly 4 (2007), 95-97.

Linde Apel, “Stumbling Blocks in Germany,” Rethinking History 18:2 (June 2014), 181-194.

Sybil Milton, “Sinti and Roma in Twentieth-Century Austria and Germany,” German Studies Review 23:2 (May 2000), 317-331.

Paweł Wolski, “Excessive Masculinity: Boxer Narratives in Holocaust Literature,” Teksty Drugie 2 (2017), 209-229.

Michaela Grobbel, “Crossing Borders of Different Kinds: Roma Theater in Vienna,” Journal of Austrian Studies 48:1 (Spring 2015), 1-26.

Rainer Schulze, “Johann ‘Rukeli’ Trollmann,” Holocaust Memorial Day Trust (accessed May 10, 2020).

Christina Newland, “Gypsy in the Ring: The Brave Life of Johann ‘Rukeli’ Trollmann,” Fightland, Vice, July 25, 2016.

Rainer Schulze, “Punching Above Its Weight,” Times Higher Education 2232 (Dec. 3, 2015).

Carol Sanders, “Boxers Have Long History of Fighting for Human Rights,” Winnipeg Free Press, May 25, 2015, A.10.

A.J. Goldmann, “Memorials: Remembering the Resistance,” Wall Street Journal, Aug. 26, 2014, D.5.

Alexandra Hudson, “Germany Finally Commemorates Roma Victims of Holocaust,” Reuters, Oct. 23, 2012.

Von Siobhán Dowling, “Monument Honors Sinti Boxer Murdered by the Nazis,” Spiegel, June 30, 2010.

Trollmann’s professional boxing record.

Listener mail:

Megan Gannon, “‘Forgotten’ Nazi Camp on British Soil Revealed by Archaeologists,” National Geographic, March 30, 2020.

Mindy Weisberger, “Hidden Atrocities of Nazis at Concentration Camp on British Island Finally Come to Light,” Live Science, April 1, 2020.

Amy Brunskill, “Alderney’s Concentration Camp Uncovered,” Current Archaeology, May 12, 2020.

“Only Nazi Concentration Camp on British Soil May Be Protected,” BBC News, March 10, 2015.

Alex Fox, “Archaeologists Reveal the Hidden Horrors of Only Nazi SS Camp on British Soil,” Smithsonian.com, April 1, 2020.

Caroline Sturdy Colls, Janos Kerti, and Kevin Colls, “Tormented Alderney: Archaeological Investigations of the Nazi Labour and Concentration Camp of Sylt,” Antiquity 94:374 (2020), 512-532.

This week’s lateral thinking puzzle was devised by Greg, based on an item in Rebecca Zurier’s 1991 book The Firehouse: An Architectural and Social History.

You can listen using the player above, download this episode directly, or subscribe on Google Podcasts, on Apple Podcasts, or via the RSS feed at https://futilitycloset.libsyn.com/rss.

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Many thanks to Doug Ross for the music in this episode.

If you have any questions or comments you can reach us at podcast@futilitycloset.com. Thanks for listening!

Podcast Episode 295: An Unlikely Attempt on Everest


In 1932, Yorkshireman Maurice Wilson chose a startling way to promote his mystical beliefs: He would fly to Mount Everest and climb it alone. In this week’s episode of the Futility Closet podcast we’ll follow Wilson’s misguided adventure, which one writer called “the most incredible story in all the eventful history of Mount Everest.”

Well also explore an enigmatic musician and puzzle over a mighty cola.

See full show notes …

Podcast Episode 294: ‘The Murder Trial of the Century’


In 1957, an English doctor was accused of killing his patients for their money. The courtroom drama that followed was called the “murder trial of the century.” In this week’s episode of the Futility Closet podcast we’ll describe the case of John Bodkin Adams and its significance in British legal history.

We’ll also bomb Calgary and puzzle over a passive policeman.

See full show notes …

Podcast Episode 293: Lennie Gwyther


In 1932, 9-year-old Lennie Gwyther set out to ride a thousand kilometers to see the opening of the Sydney Harbour Bridge. Along the way he became a symbol of Australian grit and determination. In this week’s episode of the Futility Closet podcast we’ll tell the story of Lennie’s journey, and what it meant to a struggling nation.

We’ll also recall a Moscow hostage crisis and puzzle over a surprising attack.

See full show notes …

Podcast Episode 292: Fordlandia

Image: Wikimedia Commons

In 1927, Henry Ford decided to build a plantation in the Amazon to supply rubber for his auto company. The result was Fordlandia, an incongruous Midwestern-style town in the tropical rainforest. In this week’s episode of the Futility Closet podcast we’ll describe the checkered history of Ford’s curious project — and what it revealed about his vision of society.

We’ll also consider some lifesaving seagulls and puzzle over a false alarm.

See full show notes …

Podcast Episode 291: Half-Safe


In 1946, Australian engineer Ben Carlin decided to circle the world in an amphibious jeep. He would spend 10 years in the attempt, which he called an “exercise in technology, masochism, and chance.” In this week’s episode of the Futility Closet podcast we’ll describe Carlin’s unlikely odyssey and the determination that drove him.

We’ll also salute the Kentucky navy and puzzle over some surprising winners.

See full show notes …

Podcast Episode 290: Voss’ Last Stand


In 1917, German pilot Werner Voss had set out for a patrol over the Western Front when he encountered two flights of British fighters, including seven of the best pilots in the Royal Flying Corps. In this week’s episode of the Futility Closet podcast we’ll describe the drama that followed, which has been called “one of the most extraordinary aerial combats of the Great War.”

We’ll also honk at red lights in Mumbai and puzzle over a train passenger’s mistake.

See full show notes …

Podcast Episode 289: The Johnstown Flood

Image: Ron Shawley

In 1889, a dam failed in southwestern Pennsylvania, sending 20 million tons of water down an industrialized valley toward the unsuspecting city of Johnstown. In this week’s episode of the Futility Closet podcast we’ll describe some of the dramatic and harrowing personal stories that unfolded on that historic day.

We’ll also celebrate Christmas with Snoopy and puzzle over a deadly traffic light.

See full show notes …

In a Word

n. a wayfarer; traveler

adj. likely to cause harm or damage

adj. exploding or detonating

adj. in heaps

British director Cecil Hepworth made “How It Feels To Be Run Over” in 1900. The car is on the wrong side of the road. (The intertitle at the end, “Oh! Mother will be pleased,” may have been scratched directly into the celluloid.)

Hepworth followed it up with “Explosion of a Motor Car,” below, later the same year.

Medieval Music

In 2016, after 20 years of research, Cambridge University medieval music specialist Sam Barrett used the rediscovered leaf of an 11th-century manuscript to reconstruct music as it would have been heard a thousand years ago.

Melodies in those days were not recorded as precise pitches but relied on the memory of musicians and on aural traditions that died out in the 12th century. “We know the contours of the melodies and many details about how they were sung, but not the precise pitches that made up the tunes,” Barrett said. The missing leaf, appropriated by a Germanic scholar in 1840, contained vital neumes, or musical symbols, that allowed him and his colleagues to finish their reconstruction of Boethius’ “Songs of Consolation” as it was performed in the Middle Ages.

“There have been times while I’ve been working on this that I have thought I’m in the 11th century, when the music has been so close it was almost touchable,” Barrett said. “And it’s those moments that make the last 20 years of work so worthwhile.”