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Between success and persecution: Jewish Stars in German Sports till 1933 and beyond

This exhibition displays prominent German Jewish athletes. Whether they were distinguished national team members, world, European, and Olympic champions, or record holders – all of the athletes were celebrated heroes of their time. This display recognizes their incredible accomplishments and contributions to modern sports in Germany, and documents the persecution that they suffered under the Nazi regime. Some of them were practicing Jews, while others had no self-concept of being Jewish, but learned of their origins when the Nazis began persecuting Jews in 1933. Nazi authorities even exploited a few of the Jewish athletes in order to prevent the threatened boycott of the 1936 Summer Olympics in Berlin. One thing is certain; the Nazi dictatorship disrupted the lives and career paths of all the athletes. They were ostracized, disenfranchised, persecuted, forced to leave their homes, or murdered. 

The biographies of soccer pioneer Walther Bensemann, ten-time German athletics champion Lilli Henoch, national soccer player Julius Hirsch, Israeli and later German national basketball coach Ralph Klein, Olympic fencing champion Helene Mayer, world chess champion Emanuel Lasker, boxing champion Erich Seelig, German tennis champion Nelly Neppach, German javelin throwing champion Martha Jacob, track and field athlete Gretel Bergmann, Olympic gymnastics champions Alfred and Gustav Felix Flatow, European weightlifting and wrestling champions Julius and Hermann Baruch, ice hockey player Rudi Ball and German national soccer player Gottfried Fuchs. With the story of swimmer Sarah Poewe, the exhibition offers some perspective on present day sports in Germany. At the 2004 Summer Olympics in Athens, she became the first Jewish athlete to win an Olympic medal for Germany since the end of World War II.


The exhibition was developed and presented on the occasion of the European Maccabi Games in Berlin, which were held in Germany for the first time in 2015. The idea and concept were created by Norbert Niclauss (BKM) and Olliver Tietz (DFB Cultural Foundation). The authors and curators are: Dr. Berno Bahro, Prof. Dr. Hans Joachim Teichler (both Potsdam), Prof. Dr. Lorenz Peiffer (Hanover), Dr. Henry Wahlig (Dortmund). Since then, the exhibition has been shown in numerous German cities.