The Olympic Games start today in Rio de Janeiro. 80 years ago Europe appeased Nazi-Germany in the notorious Berlin Olympics where Jewish-German athletics were not allowed to participate and the regime persecuted the Jewish minority. Instead of boycotting Hitler’s Berlin Olympics, most countries continued to develop its relations with Nazi-Germany until he plunged Europe into war and ruin.
Attila Petschauer (1904 – 1943) was a famous Jewish-Hungarian athletic who was murdered in the war by his own country for which he had competed in the Hungarian national sport fencing. He was an Olympic fencer and won the team gold medal and a personal silver medal in the 1928 Amsterdam Olympic Games and the team gold medal in the 1932 Los Angeles Olympic Games.
During WWII, when Hungary under the rule of Admiral Miklos Horthy was allied to Nazi-Germany, he was brutally murdered in a forced labor camp. His tragic fate inspired the film Sunshine in 1999.
Sports before the war often served as a bridge between the Jewish and non-Jewish worlds in Europe. Friendships and comradery formed between these two societies. During the Holocaust, some of these bonds would help save Jews, when non-Jewish athletes bravely risked their own lives to rescue their Jewish compatriots from Nazi persecution.
These brave individuals, who stood up against the evil that prevailed at risk to their own lives, would later go on to be recognized as Righteous Among the Nations by Yad Vashem, the world Holocaust Remembrance Center in Jerusalem.
In the spirit of the Olympic Games set to open today (5 August) in Rio de Janeiro, Yad Vashem has dedicated two on-line exhibitions to commemorate these Jewish and non-Jewish athletes. The Exhibition entitled “Jews and Sports before the Holocaust: A Visual Retrospective” utilizes images and artifacts to portray different sporting events and competitions in which Jews participated.
The other exhibition “The Game of their Lives” tells the stories of non-Jewish athletes recognized as Righteous Among the Nations by Yad Vashem.
The inspiring accounts of a dozen brave men and women are highlighted in the exhibition – most notably the rescue stories of world-renowned Italian cyclist champion Gino Bartali, Olympian swimmer Margit Eugénie Mallász, and Czechoslovakian soccer player Martin Uher –truly embody the Olympics spirit of “social responsibility and respect for universal fundamental ethical principles.”