The Arty Semite

German Jewish Athletes Belatedly Recognized

By Benjamin Ivry

  • Print
  • Share Share

As summer approaches, sports fans may worry about the progress of the Mets’ rookie first baseman Isaac Benjamin “Ike” Davis, of Lithuanian Jewish ancestry, and use Sandy Koufax’s recent White House visit to remind everyone that the “only Jewish left-hander not named Sandy Koufax to toss two no-hitters” was Ken Holtzman.

The overpowering passion for Yiddishe sports has also struck Europe in the form of a book from the Göttingen publisher Verlag Die Werkstatt: “Jewish Sports and Sporting Jews in Germany: An Annotated Bibliography.” The book astutely traces what happened to Jews in Germany’s sports world before, during, and after the Nazi period.

This is essential and timely subject matter. After all, the German Jewish high jumper Gretel Bergmann, now 96, only received the national record due her last year. The German Athletics Federation was reportedly swayed to do so by the release of “Berlin 36,” a German film that, as the London Times reported, “tells how Nazis replaced Jewish woman athlete for man in drag.”

For all her achievements and belated recognition, Gretel Bergmann is far from the only Jewish athlete with a fascinating story (although possibly the only one with a Nazi drag queen rival). Also discussed in “Jewish Sports and Sporting Jews in Germany” is Zishe Breitbart, born Siegmund Breitbart to an Orthodox Jewish family of blacksmiths in Łódź, Poland.

Like Bergmann, Breitbart has attracted on-screen attention with Werner Herzog’s 2001 fictionalized biopic “Invincible.” Despite the film’s title, Breitbart, who sought to transform physically slack ghetto Jews into athletes, was himself vanquished by blood poisoning at the early age of 42.

Other German Jewish athletic greats have not benefited from movie fame, however, like the gymnast Alfred Flatow, a gold medalist at the 1896 Athens Summer Olympics. Flatow and his cousin Gustav, also an accomplished gymnast, were both murdered in their 70s in Theresienstadt. Honored in modern Germany with a 1996 postage stamp, the Flatows have been relatively little commemorated outside their homeland.

Nor is the Hungarian Jewish soccer player and coach Béla Guttmann a household name outside central Europe, despite his association, starting in 1922, with the renowned Sport Club Hakoah Wien, an all-star, all-Jewish soccer team which thrived until the 1938 Anschluss. Their adventures are described in “Star of David and Leather Ball: the Story of Jews in German and International Soccer,” another title from Werkstatt. German Jewish athletes, forerunners of today’s Maccabiah Games, take your places!

Watch Gretel Bergmann, who for many years has gone by the name of Margaret Lambert, describe her 1936 Berlin Olympics experience:


Permalink | | Share | Email | Print | Filed under: Sports, Germany, Jewish Athletes

The Jewish Daily Forward welcomes reader comments in order to promote thoughtful discussion on issues of importance to the Jewish community. In the interest of maintaining a civil forum, The Jewish Daily Forwardrequires that all commenters be appropriately respectful toward our writers, other commenters and the subjects of the articles. Vigorous debate and reasoned critique are welcome; name-calling and personal invective are not. While we generally do not seek to edit or actively moderate comments, our spam filter prevents most links and certain key words from being posted and The Jewish Daily Forward reserves the right to remove comments for any reason.




Find us on Facebook!
  • Is pot kosher for Passover. The rabbis say no, especially for Ashkenazi Jews. And it doesn't matter if its the unofficial Pot Day of April 20.
  • A Ukrainian rabbi says he thinks the leaflets ordering Jews in restive Donetsk to 'register' were a hoax. But the disturbing story still won't die.
  • Some snacks to help you get through the second half of Passover.
  • You wouldn't think that a Soviet-Jewish immigrant would find much in common with Gabriel Garcia Marquez. But the famed novelist once helped one man find his first love. http://jd.fo/f3JiS
  • Can you relate?
  • The Forverts' "Bintel Brief" advice column ran for more than 65 years. Now it's getting a second life — as a cartoon.
  • Half of this Hillel's members believe Jesus was the Messiah.
  • Vinyl isn't just for hipsters and hippies. Israeli photographer Eilan Paz documents the most astonishing record collections from around the world:http://jd.fo/g3IyM
  • Could Spider-Man be Jewish? Andrew Garfield thinks so.
  • Most tasteless video ever? A new video shows Jesus Christ dying at Auschwitz.
  • "It’s the smell that hits me first — musty, almost sweet, emanating from the green felt that cradles each piece of silver cutlery in its own place." Only one week left to submit! Tell us the story of your family's Jewish heirloom.
  • Mazel tov to Chelsea Clinton and Marc Mezvinsky!
  • If it's true, it's pretty terrifying news.
  • “My mom went to cook at the White House and all I got was this tiny piece of leftover raspberry ganache."
  • from-cache

Would you like to receive updates about new stories?




















We will not share your e-mail address or other personal information.

Already subscribed? Manage your subscription.