Tuesday, 27 January 2015

Queer Achievement : Gottfried von Cramm

[Achievement – the name given in heraldry to the full pictorial representation of a coat of arms.

Generally, today’s Holocaust Memorial Day is about remembering the Jewish victims of Nazi Germany. As we now know there were other groups of society who were persecuted. Several days ago I wrote about Otto Rahn, a historian who was forced to serve as a guard in Dachau concentration camp when his own homosexuality was suspected. It’s a subject I’ll return to in the next “Around the World in 80 Gays” article, when I’ll write about the persecution of German gay athlete. As a kind of prelude to that this article features another German gay sportsman who was persecuted because of his sexuality – Baron Gottfried von Cramm (1909-1976).

Before I look at his coat of arms lets learn a little about his life. Gottfried was one of the world’s top tennis champions. He was ranked number 1 in the world in 1937, he was Wimbledon finalist for three consecutive years (losing twice to Fred Perry, and once to Don Budge), and his 1937 Davis Cup match against Budge is considered as the greatest in tennis history.

Throughout his playing career Gottfried opposed all attempts by the Nazis to use his typical Aryan looks in their propaganda. Despite being married Gottfried was arrested in 1938 for homosexual activity in an admitted relationship with a gay Jew. He was imprisoned for a year, though because of his hero status among the German people and to avert popular protest he wasn’t sent to a concentration camp like so many others were.

On his early release Gottfried was subjected to anti-German abuse on the international tennis circuit. When World War II broke out he was forced to serve on the Eastern Front. The harsh conditions killed most of his division and he was one of the few who made it back to Germany. He was discharged in 1942 and returned to tennis. He died in a car accident near Cairo in 1976.

The von Cramm family is one of the oldest in Germany. Their origins are shrouded in the mists of history and the first reliable records of the family appear in the 12th century as a knightly family in Saxony. Throughout the centuries the family married heiresses of other dynasties and added their coat of arms to their own. This was common in Germany, so that by the 19th century some German noble families had dozens of coats of arms on their shield. Even if there were a hundred of arms on one shield they were all called quarters. To avoid unnecessary complications I have painted only the von Cramm arms in Gottfried’s achievement shown here.
The symbolism of the fleur-de-lys, as also seen in its most famous example in the arms of the royal Bourbon dynasty of France, goes back to the medieval legends of the Feast of the Annunciation. This is the event in the Bible when the asexual/intersexual Archangel Gabriel appeared to the Virgin Mary to inform her of her divine pregnancy. The early von Cramms were devout Catholics. At another time I may go into Gottfried’s family tree in more detail, but for now all I need to say is that the family later became friends and followers of Martin Luther and turned to Protestantism.

The helmets I’ve used are those assigned to German barons. Even though Gottfried was born with a title, all titles were abolished in Germany in 1919. As with the other nobility and royalty Gottfried’s title became part of his surname. Before 1919 he was Freiherr (German for Baron) Gottfried von Cramm, and after 1919 he was Gottfried Freiherr von Cramm. All coats of arms were also stripped of their noble trappings, so the painting I’ve produced depicts Gottfried’s coat of arms from his birth until 1919. After that the only change would have been different styles of helmet.

The reason I’ve shown two helmets is because the family seems to have had two crests. This is not unusual in German heraldry, and there are examples in the 19th century of depictions of some German nobles who, as well as showing dozens of quarters on the shield, have up to 5 helmets and crests above it. The crests shown are those used by the von Cramms at various periods by various branches of the family. Gottfried would have been entitled to use either. The two stylised eagle’s wings on the left is a common device in German heraldry and may be derived from the coat of arms of the German-based Holy Roman Empire, whose emblem was an eagle. They are coloured in the von Cramm’s livery colours.

It is often stated in biographical accounts of Gottfried’s life that he received the Iron Cross for bravery from the Nazis. I’ve looked in official databases and records and can’t find any record to this. His brother received one, but there’s nothing to show Gottfried did. On reflection, if he did officially receive the Iron Cross it would not really be appropriate to show such an iconic symbol of Nazi power in Gottfried’s coat of arms on this day.

The von Cramms had no motto so I can’t do what I usually do and indicate Gottfried’s sexuality by colouring the back of the motto scroll in rainbow Pride colours. As I’ve done once before in this case I’ve put the colours on the helmet wreaths.

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