49 Flames: Jewish Athletes and the Holocaust
Salo Landau was a Polish born Dutch chess player who won the 10th Dutch National championship in 1936. Landau was one of the top chess players and competed internationally for many years. In September 1942, Landau tried to escape the Nazis by fleeing to Switzerland with his family. They were caught near the border with Belgium and sent to Westerbork transit camp. Landau was sent to a concentration camp in Gräditz, Silesia in November 1943, where he died sometime between December 1943 and March 1944.
Roman Józef Kantor was a Polish Jewish Olympic épée fencer. Kantor was born in Poland, and after finishing local primary school, he left for Paris in 1924 to continue his education. Kantor also played tennis and was captain of the school football team. In 1934, Kantor returned to Łódź and joined the fencing section of the Army Sport Club, twice winning the team title of City Champion. In 1935 he contributed to the Polish victory over Germany. His achievements included a second place at the Open Championship of Lvov and being nominated to be a member of the delegation for the Olympic Games in Berlin in 1936. Kantor also won the Nordic countries championship in 1938. When the Germans invaded Poland, Kantor managed to escape to Lvov. In 1942, Kantor was arrested and transported to the Majdanek concentration camp and killing center, where he later died.
Dr. Otto Herschmann was an Austrian Jewish swimmer, fencer, lawyer, and sports official. He won a silver medal in the initial modern Olympic Games in 1896 for the men’s 100-meter freestyle and another in the 1912 Summer Olympics in fencing. Herschmann is one of just a few athletes to have won Olympic medals in more than one sport.
Herschmann was one of Europe's top sports authorities and served as the President of the Austrian Olympic Committee and the Austrian Swimming Federation.
He was persecuted for being Jewish by the Nazis and in 1942 was arrested and deported to the Sobibór extermination camp, and then to the Izbica concentration camp, where he was killed.
Lilli Henoch was a German Jewish track and field athlete who set 4 world records and won 10 German national championships, in four different disciplines.
Henoch had developed a passion for sport during her childhood, particularly track field and team sports. This was comparatively rare for a woman in the 1920s, when track and field sports were considered unwomanly. Women’s track and field athletics were accepted into the Olympics only in 1928.
Henoch joined the Berlin Sports Club shortly after WW1 and soon became its best athlete. In the 1920s she was the captain of the BSC’s women’s handball team. In addition, she was a member of the club’s hockey team, which won the Berlin championship in 1925. In shot put and discus, she was not only the best performer in Germany, but among the best in the world. In 1924 she also became the German long-jump champion and in 1926 she and her teammates achieved a world record in the 4x100 meter relay race.
In 1933 she was forced to give up her membership in the BSC due to the new race laws introduced by the Nazi party. Like many other Jewish athletes she joined a Jewish sports club, the Jüdischen Turn-und Sportclub 1905 (JTSC). Here Henoch continued to be active in track and field sports but especially as a handball player. Her team won the Berlin Championship of Jewish Handball Players in both 1935 and 1936.
On September 5, 1942, Henoch and her mother were deported to Riga where they were both murdered.
Oscar Gerde was a Hungarian Jewish sabre fencer who won team gold medals at the 1908 and 1912 Olympics. After finishing his active career, he judged international fencing competitions and worked as a medical doctor. He was deported from Hungary in 1944 and killed that same year at the Mauthausen-Gusen Concentration Camp in Austria. In 1989, Gerde was inducted into the International Jewish Sports Hall of Fame.
LION VAN MINDEN
Lion van Minden was a Dutch Jewish Olympic épée fencer. Van Minden was born in Amsterdam and started his fencing career in the club Koninklijke Officiers Schermbond, in Den Haag. He competed in saber in the 1908 Summer Olympics in London, England, at 27 years of age. Van Minden was killed in the Auschwitz concentration camp in 1944.
Kleinova was a three-time world champion table tennis player, winning the women's team world championship twice, and the world mixed doubles once. Kleinova was a member of the Czech national table tennis team that won the 1935 and 1936 Women's World Table Tennis Championships and has been written into the International Jewish Sports Hall of Fame. Kleinova, her husband and coach were all deported by the Nazis to the Theresienstadt concentration camp and eventually sent to Auschwitz. Kleinova survived the horrors of Auschwitz and immigrated to the U.S. after the war.
Attila Petschauer was a Hungarian Olympic champion fencer. He was born in Budapest and won four Hungarian National Youth Championships. He was a member of the Hungarian fencing team in the 1928 and 1932 Olympics. Petschauer was a winner of three Olympic fencing medals including two golds. Throughout the late 1920's and early 1930's, Petschauer was considered one of the world's top fencers. According to legend, Petschauer was arrested by the Nazis in 1943 and sent to a forced labor camp in Davidovka, Ukraine. Petschauer was inducted to the International Jewish Sports Hall of Fame in 1985.
Bronisław "Bronek" Czech was a Polish sportsman and artist born on 25 July 1908. A gifted skier, he won titles in Poland 24 times in various skiing disciplines, including Alpine skiing, Nordic skiing and ski jumping. A member of the Polish national team at three consecutive Winter Olympics, he was also one of the pioneers of mountain rescue in the Tatra Mountains and a glider instructor.
He competed in 5 European Championships and in the Winter Olympics of 1928, 1932 and 1936. During the Second World War he was a soldier in the anti-German resistance movement of the Polish Underground (Home Army) and courier from occupied Poland to the West. He was arrested by the Nazis in May 1940 and imprisoned before being transported and murdered in the concentration camp Auschwitz.
Some of his paintings are preserved in the concentration camp's museum, including “Crocuses”, painted in 1943 which are presented in “Face to Face. Art in Auschwitz” exhibition at the National Museu, in Cracow.
ANNA DRESDEN -POLAK & JUDIKJE 'JUD' SIMONS
Anna Dresden-Polak and Judikje Simons were Dutch Jewish gymnasts who competed on the same team during the 1928 Summer Olympics. They were two of five Jewish members of the team. All Jewish team members were killed during the Holocaust.
Anna Dresden-Polak won a gold medal at the 1928 Summer Olympics. Dresden-Polak was taken to Westerbork concentration camp and then deported to Sobibór, where she was murdered on 23 July 1943 together with her six-year-old daughter Eva. Her husband, Barend Dresden was killed a few months later in 1944 in Auschwitz concentration camp.
Judikje Simons won a gold medal at the 1928 Summer Olympics. After her Olympics career she married and, with her husband, ran an orphanage in Utrecht, housing and caring for more than 80 children. As the Nazis rounded up Dutch Jews and sent them to concentration camps, Simons and her husband refused to abandon the orphans who depended on them. The Nazis captured her and her family, all of whom were deported to the Sobibor extermination camp and gassed on 3 March 1943.
Antal Vágó was a Hungarian Jewish international footballer who played as a midfielder. Vágó played club football for MTK for twelve seasons, winning the league nine times. Vágó also played for Fővárosi TC and represented the Hungarian national team at international level, earning 17 caps between 1908 and 1917. Vágó was killed during the Holocaust, some claim that he was shot and his body thrown into the river Danube in late 1944 along with thousands of other Budapest Jews.
Hungary contributed with more Jewish players and coaches than any other country, a reality reflected in the number of Hungarian Jewish internationals murdered in the Holocaust. Five MTK stars to represent Hungary were murdered during the Holocaust.
ALFRED & GUSTAV FLATOW
Gustav Felix Flatow was a German Jewish gymnast. He competed at the 1896 Summer Olympics in Athens and at the 1900 Summer Olympics in Paris. Gustav competed in the parallel bars, horizontal bar, vault, pommel horse, and rings individual events. After the Nazis took power in Germany in 1933, he fled to the Netherlands. In 1943 he was jailed, and in February 1944 he was deported to Theresienstadt concentration camp, where his cousin had already died in 1942. Gustav died in 1945 due to starvation, at the age of 70.
Alfred Flatow was a German Jewish gymnast and competed at the 1896 Summer Olympics in Athens where he won three gold medals and a silver at the first modern Olympiad. He won the parallel bars, was the runner-up in the horizontal bar, and was a member of the German team that took gold in both the parallel bars and the horizontal bar team events. He also competed in the vault, pommel horseand rings competitions. In 1903, Alfred assisted the founding of the Judische Turnerschaft, the historic and pioneering Jewish sports organization in Europe. He also served as a gymnastics teacher and wrote books about his sport. Alfred emigrated from Germany to the Netherlands in 1938 and two years later the country was invaded by the Nazis. On 3 October 1942, Alfred was deported to Theresienstadt concentration camp in spite of appeals by the highly placed gymnastics official Christian Busch. There, Alfred died of starvation at the age of 73.
In 1997, the city of Berlin honoured Alfred and Gustav Flatow by renaming a lane near the Olympic Stadium as Flatowallee (Flatow-avenue). There is also the Flatow-Sporthalle (sports hall) at Berlin-Kreuzberg with a commemorative plaque for both. A stamp honouring the Flatows was among a set of four issued by The Deutsche Post to celebrate the 100thanniversary of the modern Olympic Games.
András Székely was a Hungarian Jewish swimmer who won a European title in the 4 × 200 m freestyle relay in 1931 and then went on to win bronze in the same sport at the 1932 Summer Olympics. He was killed by the Nazis in 1943 at a forced labour camp in Chernihiv, Ukraine.
Victor "Young" Perez was a Tunisian Jewish boxer, who became the World Flyweight Champion in 1931 and 1932, fighting under his ring name "Young Perez".
He started training as a boxer at age 14, towards the end of 1928, after competing against the best of the local boxing talent in Tunis. At 17, Perez travelled to Paris, to pursue his dream of becoming a world boxing champion. Perez won the French Flyweight title in Paris on June 4, 1931 and on October 24, 1931, he won the International Boxing Union and National Boxing Association (NBA) World Flyweight crown at Paris's famed Palais de Sports.
Perez subsequently became the youngest French citizen to win a world boxing title. He retired from boxing in December 1938 with a record of 92 wins (28 of them knockouts), 26 losses, and 15 draws.
On September 21, 1943, Perez was arrested in Paris by the Milice Francaise, a French collaborationist paramilitary force of the Vichy Regime. He was detained in the Drancy internment camp before being transported to the German extermination camp of Auschwitz where he was assigned to the Monowitz subcamp to serve as a slave laborer.
During his internment, he was forced to participate in boxing matches for the amusement of the German guards and officers.
On January 18, 1945, Perez was one of the prisoners on the death march from Monowitz in Poland, 37 miles or 62 kilometres northwest of the Gleiwitz concentration camp near the Czech border. Perez was reported to have been killed three days later on January 21. According to eye witness testimony he was shot to death by a guard while attempting to distribute bread he had found in Gleiwitz's kitchen to other starving prisoners.
Eddy Hamel was an American Jewish footballer for Dutch club AFC Ajax.
Hamel was born in New York. His parents Moses and Eva Hamel had moved to New York from Holland the year before Hamel was born.
He moved to Amsterdam in his teenage years where he married Johanna Wijnberg, and in 1938 they had twin boys, Paul and Robert.
Hamel played for AFC Ajax from 1922 until 1930 appearing in 125 matches as a right winger, scoring eight goals. He was the first Jewish player (as well as the first American) to play for first team Ajax. Hamel was a favourite of the fans, and was cited by pre-World War II club legend Wim Anderiesen as part of the strongest line-up he ever played with. He had his own fan club in the 1920s, which would line up on his side of the field at the beginning of every game, and then switch sides to be on his side of the field in the second half. After his retirement as a player, Hamel managed Alcmaria Victrix for three years and continued to play in an Ajax veteran squad.
Despite his American citizenship, in late 1942 Hamel and his family were detained by the Nazis. He spent four months doing hard labour at Auschwitz-Birkenau concentration camp after which he was sent to the gas chambers and killed.
Julius Hirsch was a German Jewish international footballer who played for the clubs SpVgg Greuther Fürth and Karlsruher FV for most of his career. He was the first Jewish player to represent the German national team and played seven international matches for Germany between 1911 and 1913.
He retired from football in 1923 and continued working as a youth coach for his club KFV. Hirsch was deported to Auschwitz concentration camp on 1 March 1943. His exact date of death is unknown.
Árpád Weisz was a Hungarian Jewish football player and manager who played for Törekvés SE in his native Hungary, in Czechoslovakia for Makabi Brno and in Italy for Alessandria and Inter Milan. Weisz was a member of the Hungarian squad at the 1924 Summer Olympics in Paris. After retiring as a player in 1926, Weisz settled in Italy and became an assistant coach for Alessandria before moving to Inter Milan.
Weisz and his family were forced to flee Italy following the enactment of the Italian Racial Laws. They found refuge in the Netherlands where Weisz got a coaching job with Dordrecht. In 1942, Weisz and his family were deported to Auschwitz. Weisz’s wife Elena and his children Roberto and Clara were murdered by the Nazis on arrival. Weisz was kept alive and exploited as a worker for 18 months, before his death in January 1944.
Ron Jones, known as the Goalkeeper of Auschwitz, was a British prisoner of war (POW) who was sent to E715 Wehrmacht British POW camp, part of the Auschwitz complex, in 1942. Jones was part of the Auschwitz Football League and was appointed goalkeeper of the Welsh team.
In 1945, Jones was forced to join the 'death march' of prisoners across Europe. Together with 230 other Allied prisoners he marched 900 miles from Poland into Czechoslovakia, and finally to Austria, where they were liberated by the Americans. Less than 150 men survived the death march. Jones returned to Newport after the war and was a volunteer for the Poppy Appeal for over 30 years, up until his death at the age of 102 in 2019.