Friday, July 31, 2009


The fact that it pretended to value Olympism,especially prior to and during the Berlin Olympics of 1936, did not prevent the Nazi regime of Germany from killing everyJewish Olympic medalist it could lay its blood-stained hands on during World War II .Among the Nazi victims were three Olympic pioneers, who gained Olympic glory already in the first modern games in Athens,back in 1896.The gymnast Alfred Flatow from Germany,who gained three Olympic gold medals as well as one silver medal in Athens,was destined to perish in the concentration camp of Theresienstadt (Czechoslovakia),after having been declared "an enemy of the Reich". His date of death has been registered as December 28,1942 (Bernett,1987:94-102). Alfred's cousin,Gustav Felix Flatow, himself a winner of two Olympic gold medals in 1896 in Athens,died of starvation,also in Theresienstadt,on January 29,1945. As of 1987 the Deutsche Turnerbund (the GermanFederation for Gymnastics) hands out a memorial medal in honour of Alfred and Gustav Felix Flatow to an outstanding gymnast (Steins,1987:103-110).More recently the boulevard leading up to the Olympic stadium in Berlin has been renamed from "Reichssportfeld-allee"to "Alfred und Gustav Felix Flatow-Allee".*2)The German Philatelic Service has honoured the Flatow cousins by devoting the most expensive stamp in a series on Olympic champions to them. The third Jewish athlete who gained glory at the Athens Olympics and later became a victim of the Holocaust was Otto Herschmann of Austria.Herschmann stands out not only because he won during his athletic career Olympicmedals in two different sports in 1896 a third place in 100 metre freestyle swimming and in 1912 a silver medal as a member of the Austrian team for fencing with the sabre;a fact that has been achieved by very few athletes in the one-hundredyears history of the modern Olympic Games,but also due to the fact that while competing in the 1912 Olympics at Stockholm,he served as chairman of a body that was equivalent to a National Olympic Committee.Kamper claims that Dr.Herschmann,who perished in theconcentration camp of Izbica, to which he was deported on June 14,1942,a camp from which not a single person survived the Holocaust,was the only chairman of a NOC who gained an Olympic medal while in office.Kamper,(1982:50-51). The three Jewish Olympic medallists from Hungary who perished in the Holocaust were all fencers with the sabre.Dr.Oszkar Gerde gained gold medals in the team competition back in London 1908 and Stockholm 1912. Janos Garay won a gold medal in Amsterdam 1928,as well as a silver and a bronze medal in Paris 1924.Attila Petschauer gained a silver medal in Amsterdam 1928 and a gold medal in Los Angeles 1932.Both Gerde and Garay perishedin the concentration camp of Mauthausen (Austria), while Petschauer could not be saved by the Soviet Army, which liberated his labor camp in the Ukraine,where he died soon after the liberation as an aftermath to his tortures. Both Garay and Petschauer also had two European championship titles to their credit (Szabo,1993:11-13). Among the people who tortured Petschauer to death in the labor camp was,according to Siegman (1997:76),a fellow participant in the Hungarian delegation to the 1928 Olympics,Kalman Cseh,who held the rank of colonel in the Hungarian army,an ally of Hitler at the time,and who knew Petschauer personally very well.Cseh’s behaviour brings up the question whether the so-called “Olympic Family”enjoys nothing but a fictitious existence. Three additional Olympic champions who perished in the Holocaust were identified only recently,due to the fact that the Nazis who kept very systematic registers did not bother to register the maiden names of their female victims. Those three victims were Dutch female gymnasts who gained their gold medals in the team competitions at the Amsterdam Olympics of 1928. Estella (Stella)Blits-Agsterribbe was murdered on September 17,1943 in Auschwitz,together with her two children.Helena (Lea)Kloot-Nordheim was killed on July 2, 1943 at the camp in Sobibor and Anna (Ans)Dresden-Polak met the same fate in the same camp three weeks later on July 23, 1943.Both Nordheim and Polak were killed together with their husbands and children. Note from the Editor:There is more to tell on this subject. One of the coaches of the victorious Dutch team was a Jew -Gerrit Kleerekoper. Kleerekoper was killed at Sobibor,together with his wife and a daughter (a son of his was to die at Auschwitz),on the same day as his athlete Helena Kloot-Nordheim.Judikje Themans-Simons, who was a substitute on the Dutch team,died on July 23,1943 (the same day as Anna Polak)at Sobibor,together with her husband and two children. Ruud Paauw from the Netherlands published an article titled: AFTER THE GLORY,on the Dutch ladies' gymnasts who perished in the German concentration camps.Dr.Simri could not have known this article,because only recently he became a member.In his recent book:Olympische Sommerspiele -DIE CHRONIC I,Volker Kluge from Germany gave additional information about the two cousins Flatow, when reporting on them in the two notices numbers 69 and 70,on pages 39 and 40 from his book.It was Kluge himself,who discovered Gustav Felix Flatow's grave in Theresienstadt and reported its find to the still living son Stefan in Rotterdam. Gustav Felix Flatow emigrated to the Netherlands immediately after the Nazis took over the reigns in Germany in 1933.He was betrayed on Christmas-eve 1943,and then was transported via concentration camp Westerbork in Drenthe,the Netherlands, to Theresienstadt,where he died of starvation.

1.Bernett H. (1987).
"Alfred Flatow - von Olimpiasieger zum Reichsfeind"
,Sozial-und Zeitgeschichte des Sports
2.Kamper,E.(1982).“Gestorben im Vernichtungslager
“Izbica”,Olympisches Feuer,2,:50-51.
3.Siegman,J.(1997).Jewish Sports Legends.Washington:
4.Simri,U.(1988).“Juden an der Wiege der Olympischen
5.Szabo,L.(1993).Jews in Hungarian Sports.Budapest:
Museum of Physical Education and Sport.
6.Wallechinsky,D.(1996).The Complete Book of the
Summer Olympics.Boston:Little Brown.

Fallen champions: Story of '28 Dutch women gymnastics team

05/04/2011 04:19

Five of the gymnasts, as well as their coach Gerrit Kleerekoper, were Jewish. Only one of those six survived the Holocaust. For over 50 years, the fate of almost half of the Dutch ladies’ gymnastics team, which won the Olympic title in Amsterdam in 1928, was unknown. The 1928 Games were the first in which women participated in gymnastics events, and the all-around competition was dominated by the hosts. The 12-woman Dutch team became local heroes after recording a score of 316.75 points to beat out Italy and Great Britain for first place, one of just six golds won at the Games by the Netherlands. Five of the gymnasts, as well as their coach Gerrit Kleerekoper, were Jewish. Only one of those six survived the Holocaust. Kleerekoper made a living as a diamond cutter, but his true passion was gymnastics. He painstakingly put together a gold-medal winning team that competed in Drill, Apparatus, and Jumps, with medals only being awarded for all-around team performance. It was known that Kleerekoper died at Sobibor on July 2, 1943, but it wasn’t until the mid-1990s that the fortunes of Estella Agsteribbe, Helena Nordheim, Anna Polak, Elka de Levie, and Judikje Simons were finally established. The Netherlands Olympic Committee found no trace of them – despite many years of searching – due to the fact that the Nazis, who kept very systematic records, did not bother to include the maiden names of their female victims. The gymnasts had all likely married after 1928, and without their maiden names, it seemed to be almost impossible to track them down. However, thanks to one relentless Dutch engineer, Fred A. Lobatto, who as a schoolboy saw the 1928 Games, the fates of the five Jewish members of the women’s 1928 Dutch gymnastics team were finally brought to light. The Dutch Society for Jewish Genealogy tracked down the maiden names of many thousands of married Jewish women and it quickly became apparent that four of the five gymnasts, as well as their coach, were murdered in German concentration camps. Judikje Simons, later Judikje Themans- Simons, born August 20, 1904, died March 3, 1943, at Sobibor, together with her husband, Bernard, their five-year-old daughter Sonja, and their three-year-old son Leon. Simons, who ran an orphanage with her husband in the city of Utrecht that housed 83 children, had apparently been warned that the Nazis were heading her way, and was offered a hiding place by Dutch friends. However, Simons had no intention of forsaking her orphans, sealing her fate, and that of almost all of the children. It is believed that Jewish gymnasts were many times the first to be rounded up by the Nazis as their excellence in what the Germans considered the purest of sports dispelled their belief in the supremacy of the Aryan race. Four months after Simons’s death, Helena Nordheim, later Helena Kloot- Nordheim, born August 1, 1903, was gassed on July 2, 1943, at Sobibor, together with her husband, Abraham, and their 10-year-old daughter Rebecca. On the exact same day at the exact same place, Kleerekoper, born February 15, 1897, also died together with his wife, Kaatje, and their 14-year-old daughter Elisabeth. His 18-year-old son Leendert died at Auschwitz on July 31, 1944. The life stories of the gymnasts are largely unknown, but their tragic end is one we mustn’t forget. Anna Polak, later Anna Dresden- Polak, born November 24, 1906, died July 23, 1943, at Sobibor, together with her six-year-old daughter, Eva. Her husband, Barend, died at Auschwitz on November 30, 1944. Estella Agsterribe, later Estella Blits- Agsterribe, born April 6, 1909, died on September 17, 1943 at Auschwitz, together with her six-yearold daughter Nanny and two-yearold son Alfred. Her husband, Samuel Blits, died on April 28, 1944, at Auschwitz. The only Jewish gymnast of the triumphant Amsterdam team to survive the horrors of the Holocaust was Elka de Levie, whose story of survival remains untold. She died on December 12, 1979. For over five decades, the fates of Simons, Nordheim, Polak and Agsterribe remained a mystery. Their death at the hands of the Nazis may be irreparable, but at least they are no longer forgotten. Now it is our responsibility to ensure that their memory, and that of all those who perished in the Holocaust, never dies.

A two-time Olympic medalist, Hershmann was a proud Austrian who during the Holocaust was murdered at the Sobibor Concentration Camp in Poland. Otto Herschmann
Otto Herschmann Photo: Courtesy
Otto Herschmann was a proud Austrian.

A two-time Olympic medalist who went on to become the president of the Austrian Olympic Committee, Herschmann was a national hero.But like millions of other Jews in the dark days of the Holocaust, Herschmann was betrayed by his homeland.
Born in Vienna on January 4, 1877, Herschmann won his first Olympic medal as a swimmer at the 1896 Athens Games, the first Olympics of the modern era. He claimed a silver medal after finishing in second place in the men’s 100-meter freestyle event. In 1896, all the swimming events were held in the open sea, with Herschmann and the other swimmers competing in the Bay of Piraeus. The start line was marked by two buoys, with a red flag at the shore acting as the finish line. He clocked a time of 1:22.8 minutes, finishing a mere 0.6 seconds behind Hungarian Jew Alfred Hajos, and was welcomed by a large crowd on his return to Vienna. Herschmann’s love for sport went far beyond competing.
In 1904 he wrote the book “Winer Sport” and he was named as the president of the Austrian Olympic Committee in 1912. Herschmann served as president until 1914 and was then president of the Austrian Swimming Federation from 1914 to 1932. After taking part in the individual sabre fencing event in the 1906 Olympics, he won his second medal at the age of 35 in the 1912 Stockholm Games, taking a silver once more, this time as part of the Austrian sabre team.
Herschmann remains one of the few athletes to have won medals in more than one sport at the Olympics, and is the only known sportsman to have claimed a medal while also serving as the president of his national Olympic committee. Widely regarded as one of Europe’s top authorities in sport at the time, he visited the US in 1913, examining the country’s sports system in Boston, New York, Cleveland, Philadelphia and Chicago. His visit was well documented in the local press, including in the Boston Globe and New York Times, with Herschmann lauding the US for its sporting prowess.
“We used to have the idea in Europe that if a man was a natural athlete it wasn’t necessary for the trainer to devote much attention to him and that the only men who needed any amount of coaching were men who had only the appearance of athletes and no skill whatever,” he was quoted as saying in the Clinton County Times on December 19, 1913.
“But we have learned, through bitter experience, in the last two Olympic meets, that we were wrong, and that the American system of training every athlete all the time was the only right way.”
Herschmann went on to promise that the 1916 Games would be a different story, with the Clinton County Times claiming he had offered to double the salaries of several of the American coaches he had met during his visit in order to lure them to Austria.
Herschmann, who was also a doctor of law, was 61-years-old when Austria was annexed into Nazi Germany on March 12, 1938.
It is unclear how close Herschmann was to Judaism, but many Holocaust victims, including Austrians, didn’t even consider themselves Jewish. They thought they were completely assimilated in their countries and believed their Jewish ancestry had lost all significance. That may have been true at certain times in history, but the Second World War changed all of that.
The fact they were born to Jewish parents may not have meant anything to them, but it ultimately led to their death, often in unimaginable cruelty. Despite once being an Austrian hero, Herschmann was not spared. He was arrested in Vienna in 1942 and was deported to the Sobibor extermination camp in Poland. Herschmann was murdered in June 1942, most likely being gassed to death.

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