Alfred und Gustav Felix Flatow

Gymnasts

Alfred Flatow:

  • born October 3, 1869 in Danzig – killed December 28, 1942 in the Theresienstadt concentration camp
  • Olympic Champion on Parallel Bars (Individual) in Athens 1896
  • Olympic Champion on Parallel Bars and High Bar (Team Event) in Athens 1896
  • Olympic Silver Medalist on High Bar (Individual) in Athens 1896
  • Gymnastics Champion 1898

Gustav Felix Flatow:

born January 7, 1875 in Berent (West Prussia)  –  killed January 29, 1945 in the Theresienstadt concentration camp

  • Olympic Champion on Parallel Bars and High Bar (Team Event) in Athens 1896

Cousins Alfred and Gustav Felix Flatow are among the first celebrated Olympic heroes in the history of German sports. In 1896 at the first Olympic games of the modern era, the German gymnastics squad faced no equal competition. The team dominated the parallel bars and the high bar with no competitors at all. In the individual competitions Alfred Flatow was proclaimed the winner after his outstanding performance on the parallel bars. The team was granted a particularly special honor when they were invited to dine with the Greek royal family. The Flatow cousins were, of course, included in the three-hour long celebratory feast, which consisted of a five-course meal at which all of the Greek princes were in attendance. Back in Germany, the story of the German gymnastics team’s success was kept silent. The nationalist association leaders disapproved of participation in international tournaments, including the Olympic games.

By the turn of the century, Alfred Flatow was one of the most well known German gymnasts. At the young age of eight he joined the Danziger gymnastics club. When he was eighteen he came to Berlin and immediately became a member of the Berlin Gymnastics Federation. It was the strongest German gymnastics club at the time, and it was for the Berlin club that Alfred Flatow achieved his greatest success. Perhaps his most outstanding triumph was his victory in six events at the Hamburg Gymnastics Festival in 1898. After retiring from competition, Alfred Flatow took over as assistant supervisor of gymnastics and published several writings on gymnastic training methods. He was deeply aggrieved when, at the beginning of 1933, he was banned from his club after 46 years. Alfred Flatow remained living in Berlin despite rising backlash against Jewish citizens. At 71 years old he came under the machinery of the “Final Solution”. In 1942 he was deported to the Theresienstadt concentration camp where he was killed.

Gustav Felix Flatow joined the Berliner Gymnastics Club of 1850, and remained a member until he retired in 1904. Alfred Flatow’s cousin had multiple interests: he took part in bike races and in the 1920s he regularly visited boxing competitions of the Jewish boxing club Maccabi, for which his son competed. At the beginning of 1933, Gustav Felix Flatow fled to Rotterdam. There the merchant was the co-owner of a company that specialized in manufacturing children’s clothing. Following the German occupation of the Netherlands the family was no longer safe, and was therefore forced to go into hiding. Authorities were informed of the family’s hiding place and, like Alfred, were deported to the Theresienstadt concentration camp. Gustav Felix Flatow died of starvation at the camp in 1945, just weeks before it was liberated.

It took a long time before the German gymnastics movement remembered their first Jewish German Olympic winners. Starting in 1996, the German Gymnastics Association has awarded the Flatow-Medal in “Remembrance of the Persecution of Jews in the German Federation of Gymnasts from 1933 to 1945”. One year later the city of Berlin renamed the Reichssportfeldstraße at the Olympic sports complex to Flatowalle. In 2012 in Berlin-Schöneberg and Berlin-Charlottenburg, Stolpersteine or stumbling stones (to commemorate victims of the Holocaust), were laid in front of the former residence of the Flatows and their families.

Berno Bahro

References