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Between success and persecution: Jewish Athletes in Germany

Hans Joachim Teichler

In 1986 at the first Olympic Games of the Modern era in Athens, German gymnasts celebrated an unexpected victory. As a team they won both the parallel bars and the high bar; Berliner Alfred Flatow was the winner in individual competition on the parallel bars, making for a total of three times Olympic Champion. His cousin Gustav Felix Flatow became Olympic Champion twice. The latter sent a postcard in which he recalls an invitation from the King of Greece:

„As I have already told you, the King invited us to dinner and we dined with him for three hours and were served a five course meal, it was incredible; afterwards we were all introduced to the King and he was very excited and spoke with each one of us; the crown prince was also in attendance with several other princes, etc., etc.“

The Berlin gymnasts were the first Jewish Olympic Champions for Germany. Similar to the majority of Jewish Germans at the time, they were part of a public gymnastics club that paid no attention to the religion of its members — that is until 1933. In comparison the Academic Gymnastics Federation rejected all Jewish applicants. This eventually led to the founding of the Jewish gymnastics club Bar Kochba in 1898At the time it was uncommon for the Jewish community to establish clubs exclusively for Jews, as this would instigate their own exclusion from German society; the Jewish gymnastics club was the exception.

As the sports movement of the early 20th century began to expand, so did opportunities for Jews to participate in German club life. Modern sports recruited many of its followers from the urban middle class, to which a disproportionate number of Jews belonged. Membership in a sports club made social integration possible, something that was denied in many other areas of everyday life. As an athlete, German Jews experienced “the effects of equality more than in any other cultural sector.” Jewish athletes were also successful in competitive sports, especially in jiu-jitsu, boxing, wrestling, fencing, tennis, hockey, and track and field.

In the world of football, Jews belonged to the most important group of pioneers: Walther Bensemann organized the first international football match for the German national team in 1893, he co-founded the German Football Association (DFB), and in 1920 the Kicker football magazine. Many Jews took part in the establishment of football clubs; in 1911 Julius Hirsch and Gottfried Fuchs were selected to join the DFB team. Football existed as acculturation. Through “play” Jews could achieve prestige and recognition, which in many state and social spheres was otherwise very difficult.

It was at the middle-class Offenburger Fencing Club at which 17-year-old Helene Mayer trained; she went on to become the youngest German athlete to capture the gold medal at the 1928 Olympics in Amsterdam. Nationalist political circles fashioned the blonde-haired Helene as the poster child of Germanic physical performance. The Jewish press reacted in protest making it clear that she was, in fact, the daughter of a well-known Jewish physician. The Jewish community did its best to combat the racial fanaticism. This type of public proclamation at the time, however, was the exception. In Germany, collaboration and cohabitation between Jews and Germans in the field of athletics and sport sciences was, with little exception, the norm. In Austria at the time, however, anti-Semitism was widespread within sport and alpine clubs. Many German Jews involved in sports clubs converted to Christianity, including the president of the German Reich Committee for Physical Exercise Theodor Lewald. Nazis, however, still recognized converts as Jewish, but not based on their religious confession. According to Nazi race ideology, those recognized as Jewish had at least three Jewish grandparents; those with two Jewish grandparents were labeled a “half-Jew”, and one Jewish grandparent resulted in a “quarter-Jew”. For the vast majority of the 550,000 German Jews in 1925, there existed no difference between being Jewish and being German.

Of the 502,799 German residents who identified themselves as Jewish in 1933, 144,000 lived in Berlin and approximately 50,000 resided in the Berlin Charlottenburg-Wilmersdorf district. Assuming that an average of ten percent of those 50,000 were involved in sport clubs, then one can presume that roughly 5,000 Jews actively took part in sports in Charlottenburg. Many were members of the well-known Berliner Sport-Club (BSC) and the Sport-Club Charlottenburg (SCC): both clubs were despised among nationalist political circles for their high percentage of Jewish athletes. After establishing an amendment to the club rules stipulating that only Aryans could be members, the SCC lost almost two-thirds of its female members. A photo from the Berliner Illustrierte Zeitung (1925, Nr. 44) picturing the eight “Biggest Female German Athletes” demonstrates the degree to which Jewish female athletes were integrated in Germany. Both modern and emancipated, they embodied the sports boom of the 1920s in which women represented more than ten percent of membership in sport clubs. For our context, the two Jewish athletes in the middle of the group are of particular interest; track and field athlete Lilli Henoch and tennis player Nelly Neppach. Both experienced enormous success in their fields: Lilli Henoch had, at that time, captured seven German championship titles in various track and field events, and Nelly Neppach was the 1925 tennis champion. Both were Jewish and both started and played for clubs that were so-called “equal” or “public”, meaning they were neither political nor religious oriented clubs. Henoch and Neppach were therefore, and as the photo illustrates, entirely integrated in the sports community of the 1920s. This applied to the majority of German Jewish athletes and sport fans. Which is how it came to be that Jewish sprinters Kurt Lewin, Alex Natan and Fritz Gerber ran next to championship sprinter Helmut Körnig for SC Charlottenburg in the 4 x 100-meter relay. Clubs such as the German Sports Club of Berlin, which banned Jewish citizens from becoming members even before 1933, were the exception.

Jewish sport groups such as the patriotic Reich Federation of Jewish Front-Line Soldiers (RjF), the German Zionistic oriented Makkabi-Kreis, and the neutral Vintus – were rejected by many either as a “voluntary Ghetto” or an “obstacle of cultural and social assimilation”.

Excursion: The Jewish Sports Movement in the Weimar Republic – Makkabi, Schild und Vintus

The origin of the Jewish sports movement began with the founding of the Jewish gymnastics club Bar Kochba Berlin and the Jewish Gymnastics established in 1903. At the First Zionist Congress in Basel, the clubs sought to implement Max Nordau’s request for “muscular Judaism”, meaning the physical strengthening of Jewish people against both the resisters of Orthodox Judaism and the liberal branches of Judaism. Makkabi was founded during the XII. Zionist Convention in Karlsbad (Karlovy Vary) in August of 1921 as a club for Jewish athletes. The name of the Zionist international club stems from the Maccabees (Hebrew Maqabim). The general guiding principles of Makkabi was “power” (Hakoach) and ancient Jewish heroism (Bar Kochba, Hagibor). The club headquarters were initially based in Berlin, but moved to Vienna and then Brno, returning back to Berlin in 1929 (until 1932). Under President Leweler, the club focused primarily on the establishment of a Jewish state in “Erez Israel” (Palestine). Following the example of the German combat games (national Olympic Games), and as a symbol of Jewish solidarity, Maccabiah Games (Jewish Olympics) were planned and took place in 1932. In 1929 there were 53 Zionist clubs in Prussia with a total of 7,375 members. Bar Kochba Berlin was the biggest club with a total of 1,300 members. Clubs with more than 200 members existed in Breslau, Hannover, Kassel and Frankfurt (Main). Within the sports system of the Weimar Republic, the Makkabi clubs were integrated into the professional organizations to the same degree as the religious oriented clubs – such as Eichenkreuz (Evangelical) and German Youth Strength (Catholic). 

Leaders of the German Reich Federation of Jewish Frontline Soldiers (RjF) prompted the creation of a sports club in 1924, and one year later the club registered under the name Gymnastics and Sports Club Schild. In western Germany there were more than 20 Vintus clubs, but the exact number of members is unknown. They regarded themselves as a neutral club between the German nationalist RjF and the Zionist Makkabi.

Self-protection und Success

The achievements of Jewish athletes during the last years of the Weimar Republic gained increasing interest from the Jewish press. The success of the Berlin Jewish Boxing Club’s jiu-jitsu team, who won a total of eleven championships between 1926 and 1932, the moderate successes of the track and field team of the Zionist club Bar Kochba, and the performance of Jewish tennis player Daniel Prenn in the Davis Cup also spiked interest in the press. Increasing interest in the achievements of Jewish athletes was a result of anti-Semitism, which existed both prior to and during the years of the Weimar Republic, though moderate right and left wing politicians condemned it. The extreme anti-Semitic violence and looting that took place in the Berlin Scheunenviertel in 1923, triggered a plea from the RjF to clubs for “German-Jewish young athletes to both promote and establish new sport clubs”. The notion of self-protection helps explain the popularity of duel sports (such as boxing) within both Schild and Makkabi. The meaning and the prestige of athletic achievements increased, as Jewish athletes not only received attention from fellow athletes and sports fans, but also from non-Jewish society. More importantly, the increasing athletic achievement among Jews contradicted the propagated belief that they were physically inferior. These stereotypes were not only maintained within anti-Semitic circles, but also evolved into an establishing theme of the Zionistic Jewish gymnastics group in 1903. The general fear of physical degeneration, especially among big city residents, was a major topic of general sport discourse. Jewish clubs closely based the organization, festival presentation, as well as competition procedure, awards and overall style, attitude and symbolism on other “religious or politically oriented” or “neutral” clubs — all this despite publicly distancing themselves from such organizations. The increasing appeal and international participation in sports, made it possible for athletes to cooperate and interact, despite differing political or religious orientation. 

Enthusiasm for sports in the 1920s took hold in Jewish as well as non-Jewish communities, and led to a ten-fold increase in organized sports. Everyone was enchanted by the “world religion of the 20thcentury”. Only a small percentage of active Jewish athletes trained with the RjF or the German Makkabi-Kreis. The majority were members of a neutral club. Just short of 10,000 members, the Makkabi and Schild organizations made up only a small percentage of the more than six million members of the German Federation for Physical Exercise (DRA). The subordinate role of the clubs fundamentally changed in early 1933, when almost all clubs and associations voluntarily suspended their Jewish members. Thus, Makkabi and Schild became proverbial collecting ponds for displaced Jewish athletes.

The Jewish Sports Movement in National Socialist Germany

On April 28, 1933, before the naming of a Reichs sports commissioner and without any legal foundation, several civic sports clubs and associations followed the example of the “Civil Service Law” in favor of the newly elected Nazi leaders, and banned Jewish club members. The leader of the German Gymnastics AssociationEdmund Neuendorff, was especially zealous as he “wore a steel helmet and marched side by side with the SA (assault division) to join the Third Reich” and announced an amendment for a pure Aryan state. As a result the Berlin Gymnasts Corporation demanded that Alfred Flatlow leave the club. After leaving his Berlin club, the 46-year-old did not attempt join any other sports club. His cousin Gustav Felix emigrated to the Netherlands. 

The boycott against Jewish businesses on April 1, 1933 further stimulated the already existing anti-Semitism. Gymnasts, however, were not the only ones affected by the boycott. The Association of Brandenburg Athletics Clubs, which was responsible for Berlin track and field, the German Federation for Amateur Boxers, the German Swimming Association, the German Rowing Association, the German Canoe Association and the German Ski Association all participated in the very public anti-Semitic movement. Leaders of the German Boxing Association were particularly zealous in their implementation of the boycott; not only did they ban Jewish club members, but they also forbid professional boxers to engage with Jewish managers or to seek medical care from Jewish physicians. As a result, the number of professional boxing matches in Berlin was reduced by two thirds. If a sports association did not implement the boycott in their guidelines, then clubs took it upon themselves to adopt the rules of the “Aryan paragraph”. Some clubs took advantage of the conditional anti-Semitic rules put forth by sport associations in anticipation of the 1936 Berlin Olympics. The Frankfurter sports club Eintracht Frankfurt banned the last of their remaining Jewish members in 1937. The German Makkabi-Kreis reacted by putting out a public call to all Jewish athletes in Germany:

„The exclusion of Jewish athletes from German clubs and associations presents us with a new task. For more than thirty years the German clubs of the Makkabi World Union have been advocating for the physical regeneration of the Jewish people […]. Between the renaissance of our people and the construction of Palestine, our efforts not only have a purpose, but have also turned our athletes into upstanding Jewish people. 

Today our ranks have opened up to all Jewish athletes who have lost their homes. The German Makkabi circle calls upon those who have thus considered their Judaism, to join the Makkabi and the BarKochba Associations of Germany, and fight with us for a beautiful and hopeful Jewish future.“

The German patriotic Reich Federation of Jewish Front Soldiers (RjF) reinforced its role as well. On May 13, 1933 it challenged its groups to incorporate those athletes who no longer belonged to a sports club. On May 30, 1933 they founded their own sports association in order to continue their “influence on Jewish youth in the spirit of the German Fatherland”. In 1934 the leader of the RjF Leo Löwenstein boasted that the organization now maintained 83 clubs with a total of over 7,000 members. His achievement, however, demonstrates the clear ideological divide between the RjF and the Makkabi-Circle.

„We want to build a bridge out of the present, a bridge that ushers in and honorably incorporates a Jewish generation into our current national and social German nation, in which we positively identify ourselves as old soldiers - this generation is in our sense German minded, well-fortified, rooted in the fate of our forefathers.“

Without further engaging in the inter-Jewish competition between the Zionist and German patriotic organizations, it remains clear that both organizations created a new home for those Jewish athletes banned from their clubs; thus making it possible for them to continue their training and participation in communal life. In 1933 Makkabi and Schild registered approximately 15,000 new members. Schild’s sports supervisor Paul Yogi Mayer reported that the decision concerning which club to join had less to do with world views or religious confession but rather pragmatic factors (such as friends, location, facilities, club reputation) held more weight in the decision making process. At the end of 1933 Schildboasted more than 7,000 members. In 1934 the number of members more than doubled to a total of 17,000, and in 1936 the club boasted a total of 21,000 members. The number of clubs within the RjF association grew from 90 in 1933 to a total of 216 in 1936. The biggest clubs were the Jewish Sports Alliance 1933 Berlin with more than 1,800 members, Schild Frankfurt am Main with 1,400 members and the Breslau Sports Group with 1,000 registered members. At the end of 1934 Makkabi had a total of 21,500 members within 134 clubs. Therefore, by the middle of the 1930s more than 50,000 Jews were officially registered with a sports organization. In 1935 at the Makkabiah Games in Tel Aviv the German team won 17 medals in track and field, thus clinching first place. 

The many photos taken after 1933 by Martin Dzubas, Abraham Pisarek, Herbert Sonnenfeld, and various other Jewish sport photographers, prove that the athletic tournaments were carried out with abandonment and eagerness. Time and again, stories about the physical inferiority of Jews were disproven and self-confidence was formed. Jewish sport clubs and athletic facilities served frequently as meeting places, foremost for children and youth, where one could briefly forget the dismal new reality that they faced.

Bans and Harassment

Jewish athletes had various responses, not only to the loss of their sport homes, but to the shame and oppression that followed. The racist anti-Semitism in the first months of 1933 were expressed through assault, bans, and looting. Sport bans and the dissolution of clubs such as in Munich, where segregation was implemented at sporting locations – especially in swimming pools – came in phases unhindered within Jewish establishments. The Berlin Jewish community filed a complaint with the Berlin state commissioner on May 29, 1933 concerning the refusal to admit Jewish school children and youth clubs at the swimming pool on Gartenstraße and other public athletic facilities.

Following the increase in social exclusion, the number of those who fled jumped to 37,000 in the year 1933. One such expat was Daniel Prenn, a top German tennis player since 1928, and Ilse Friedleben, a six-time women’s tennis titleholder since 1920. Prenn lead the German Davis-Cup-Team to defeat England in the European group in a spectacular five set victory in 1932. His opponent at the time wrote an open letter that was published in the Times, in which he protested the disqualification of Prenn from the German Davis-Cup-Team. Shortly before departing Germany, Prenn took part in an honorary match – out of protest – against King Gustav V. of Sweden. 

The expulsion of Jewish clubs from their respective athletic associations and likewise Jewish athletes from their clubs marked the end of the otherwise good relationships between Jewish and non-Jewish athletes. Those relationships were further strained following the boycott on April 1, 1933; the abuse and harassment of the boycott reinforced feelings of isolation and resignation.

Many Jewish gymnasts were appalled when the German Gymnastics Association further extended the stipulations of the “Aryan paragraph” to disqualify German Jewish soldiers and the children of those soldiers who lost their lives fighting for Germany in World War I (both groups were previously spared on behalf of their sacrifices for the “Fatherland”). Thus, the association surpassed the extremism of the Civil Service Law. After being ruthlessly ostracized, Jewish athlete Nelly Neppach worried about the reputation of her “aryan” husband, and gymnast Fritz Rosenfeld was deeply hurt that his honor as a gymnast and a German was no longer recognized — both committed suicide. A letter of protest from the conservative members of the Berlin Gymnasts Corporation claimed that not all Jewish members had resigned and/or given up fighting for their rights.

The Reich sports commissioner Hans von Tschammer und Osten’s reaction can best be described as two-faced. Internally, on May 24, 1933 he announced, “when a club refuses to remove Jews, then the knife will be sharpened”. Only three weeks later he said publicly “that the difficult foreign policy situation of our Fatherland presents us with a particular challenge when facing diplomatic negotiations.”

At the IOC conference in Vienna the German Olympic Committee clarified in writing that Jewish athletes would be able to qualify for the German national team, thus indirectly giving a green light to Jewish athletes. The Jewish press was, however, skeptical — and rightly so given the fate of Gretel Bergmann. She competed for Schild Stuttgart and in 1936 after tying the German record for the high jump was still refused a spot on the German Olympic team.

Official regulation concerning Jewish athletes was highly anticipated in 1933, as it did not take place immediately. The hesitation further intensified uncertainty and increased resentment between the rivaling Jewish sport clubs, which sough to monopolize the field. On July 1, 1933 the Reich sports commissioner Tschammer clarified with the RjF, that it could continue to take part in sport activities “until further notice”. It was not until November 17, 1933 that Makkabi also received the same guarantee. In keeping with the regulations of the IOC, the seemingly tolerant regulations of July 18, 1934 even allowed Jewish athletes to associate with non-Jewish clubs of the League of the Reich for Physical Exercise (DRL): “There are no misgivings about allowing competitions and tournaments between clubs of the League of the Reich for Physical Exercise and the above mentioned clubs.” While in theory it remained possible for interactions between Jewish and non-Jewish clubs to take place after 1933, in actuality such an event rarely happened. In 1934 the Jewish Review only reported on three football matches against DFB club teams in Berlin. In contrast, leading up to the Olympics the number of matches between Jewish and non-Jewish teams in the first half of 1935 increased. 

Although contact between DRL and Jewish clubs was officially allowed, the Berlin championship match between the Jewish handball team and the handball players of the Berlin Police Sports Club(PSV) still caused quite a stir. While the Jewish press reported strictly on the match, while the radical Nazi papers The Striker and The Black Corps called the match a scandal. Otherwise lacking a full roster, the PSV team competed with two guest players from Bar Kochba, something that the Nazi newspapers found to be particularly reprehensible. Before 1933 inviting guest players — Jewish or otherwise— to join the roster for a friendly game was accepted practice. When Tschammer (since July 1933 called Reichssportführer) learned of what had taken place, the custom was put to a stop and the participating PSV players were banned from the club. Further games between Jewish and “Aryan” teams were no longer permitted. To his international colleagues, Tschammer assured the opposite: “Interaction between Jewish clubs amongst one another is in no way restricted, and interaction with non-Jewish clubs is not officially forbidden.” 

Technically this was true, as no such law existed, but it was an undeniable deception; the DRL had already put a ban into place. Likewise the same approach was used concerning public sport facilities — Jewish clubs and athletes were allowed to use them as long as another (non-Jewish) athlete or club did not need the fields or gymnasiums at some undetermined time in the foreseeable future. Under pressure from international sport leaders, the Reich sports commissioner authorized regulations on September 15, 1934 adding that “further complications […] will be avoided”. 

Despite bans and harassment, there was a rise in Jewish sport activities after 1933. Even tournaments were allowed to take place, albeit with complicated stipulations. Handball players from the RjF Bonn sports club had to travel to Krefeld and Düsseldorf to find fellow players. The Berlin Jewish community profited from possessing their own athletic grounds. In 1932 and 1933, following several setbacks, the facility was finished and became the center of athletic activities for the Berlin Jewish sports community. Athletic success and community experiences provided a distraction and distance from economic hardship, social exclusion, and increasing isolation. Children and teenagers suffered in particular from discrimination in their direct surroundings, and from their bigoted peers. The memories of Inge Deutschkron, who was born in Finsterwalde and grew up in Berlin, reflected on the childhood joy and hardships of the time: 

“There [at the athletic field in Grunewald] is where our field days took place, in which every school competed for the prize. Those events captured our full attention and were highly anticipated. Perhaps it was the time at the Sportplatz Grunewald that exists as the single pleasant memory of my school days. All of the burdens we carried at school went away once we arrived. However, when we entered the train to go home, the carefree atmosphere once again disappeared.”

The anticipated Olympic Games inspired leaders to demonstrate equality, therefore giving Jewish competitive sports a considerable boost. “Makkabi had high hopes for runner Franz Orgler and sprinter Werner Schattmann, and Schild [likewise] for high jumper Gretel Bergmann and field athlete Max Seeligmann.”

In order to quiet protestors in the USA, the Reichssportführer organized Olympic preparation courses for Jewish athletes, which functioned as an alibi only to be revealed later.

The delayed effects of the 1936 Olympics on the anti-Jewish politics of the Nazis is generally well known: Following the murder of the Swiss Nazi national committee leader Wilhelm Gustloff while the Winter Olympics were taking place in Garmisch-Partenkirchen, anti-Semitic protests were stopped. Particularly, in consideration of the Olympians, the public swimming ban for Jews ceased to exist. The removal of anti-Jewish signs in the area of Olympic tournaments location did not go unnoticed by the international community. Other forms of discrimination either remained or intensified: which is why Jewish school children were banned from taking part in swimming class, although it was part of the required curriculum. 

Many of the tolerance ordinances put into place for Jewish sport associations before the Olympics were accepted by radical political groups due to a clause stating that “a general regulation of Jewish sports […] will be put into place following the Olympics.” Thus, the Olympics Games represented both hope and fear for many Jewish athletes. The slogan “When the Games come to a stop – we’ll beat the Jews to a pulp!” was apparently popular among circles of the SA. Dresden author Viktor Klemperer feared that ghettos would be instated after the Olympic Games. We now know that while the radical worsening of anti-Jewish politics did not immediately take place, the anticipated peace associated with the Olympics failed to take hold in everyday life. Nazi censorship laws prevented the German press from publishing stories on blatant anti-Semitism. Thus, one had the impression that the situation of German Jews had indeed improved. This, however, was not the case.

Acceptance, Harassment, and Ban

After the Olympics, the treacherous interplay between arbitrary violence and temporary mitigation, which distinguished Nazi anti-Jewish politics till the November pogrom in 1938, continued. Many were aware, that the step-by-step liquidation of Judaism in Germany was upon them, and therefore decided to leave. Systematic career retraining was supposed to support those determined to flee. In contrast to Makkabi, the RjF club Sportbund Schild publicly came out against those who left Germany, but the situation had to be accounted for: “Thousands of our fellow athletes have left and seek a new home in a foreign land.” On October 14, 1938 under the headline “Fellow Athletes Roam the World” the sports newspaper published a list containing the names of those athletes who turned their backs on Germany. Supervisor of Schild Paul Yogi Mayer, stated that available sports facilities began to decrease, that many small clubs disappeared including club leadership, but that work to maintain the clubs carried on despite the loss. The Nazi persecution of Jewish athletes did not desist with the Jewish front-line soldiers of WWI. Jewish sports came to an end in Germany when the day of the Kristallnacht on November 9/10, 1938 arrived: leaders were arrested, clubs and associations – with little exception – were forced to liquidate. 

Fritz A. Lewinson, the chair of Hakoah Cologne (1933-1936) and the Makkabi district of western Germany, described the “Process of Liquidation” with the following words:

„Following the Olympics in Berlin, public authorities began to present problems for the activities of Makkabi. The backlash of the authorities was different at every location. Sometimes there was a Gestapo officer with a fairly liberal attitude who tolerated the fixed regulations for Jewish sports. But Nazi authorities often overreached their powers. Therefore, at many locations training was prohibited and put to an indefinite halt. On the other hand, the large number of people who fled Germany also contributed to the liquidation of the club. As such, many clubs lack the people to fill functionary rolls of the organization. 

In the summer of 1938 a conference for the delegation of the German Makkabi-Circle in Berlin took place. Liquidation was already imminent. Most of the personalities that led Makkabi through a heroic era had already left Germany. Their movements had an impact, and a community, that were connected through personal experience and collective ideals. The majority left for Palestine. It is there that according to their respective Zionist ideals in Kibbutzim that they will integrate themselves in other forms of a community settlement, in cities, and towns, as diplomats, university professors, freelancers, as businessmen and craftsmen, in political life, in the military or the police force. 

Through the forced liquidation of all Jewish clubs on Kristallnach 1938, the German Makkabi met its fate. Officials and leading members were deported to concentration camps, from which few returned. The personal property and wealth of the Makkabi was seized.“


In 1933, within a few short months, the Nazis excluded Jews from almost all areas of public life. Isolation and fear, the will to survive and the will to build a new Jewish identity, accompanied the boom in Jewish sport club life. Athletics in general profited, as the Olympics were accompanied by a period of grace and a specious prosperity. Both rivals within Jewish sports, the Zionist German Makkabi-Kreis and the Sportbund Schild of the RjF, were unable to find common ground especially in regards to the question of emigration, but this did not prevent engagement in athletic competitions between the two organizations. After November 9, 1938 they met the same fate. Sports were irrelevant in the fight for one’s life. 

While many – especially young – athletes had the opportunity to emigrate, many older ones like Lilli Henoch, Julius Hirsch, brothers Julius and Hermann Baruch lost their lives in the Holocaust. The Olympic champions from 1896, the Flatow cousins starved to death in the Theresienstadt concentration camp. Their memory is kept alive in the German Gymnastics Association by way of the Flatow-Medal, which has been awarded to selected athletes since 1987. The German Football Federation has awards the Julius-Hirsch-Prize in memory of the first Jewish national team player for Germany. 

In 1965, the same year that diplomatic relations between Israel and West Germany began, the German Makkabi-Kreis was revived. Today, Makkabi Deutschland boasts more than 4,300 members in a total of 37 clubs.



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