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    Helene Mayer

    Jew Score:



    December 20, 1910 – October 10, 1953

    There is a very famous photograph from the 1936 Olympics: three women are standing on a podium. One's arm is extended in a Nazi salute.

    These are the three fencing medalists. The gold and bronze ones, Ilona Elek of Hungary and Ellen Preis of Austria, were Jewish. What is not often told is that Helene Mayer of Germany, the one who won silver, the one whose arm is extended, was Jewish as well.

    The story of how she ended up on that podium is rather complicated. Mayer was a terrific fencer, arguably Germany's best ever. By the time the 1936 Olympics rolled around, she already had won gold eight years earlier. She had also been living in America for a while, thrown out of her country for her Jewishness.

    Hitler, as the story goes, took a token Jew on his German team, to fake some level of tolerance. Mayer, who was a famous champion, was brought back in the fold.

    So why the salute? It's easy to say that for Mayer, her Jewish heritage wasn't exactly important. She was raised in a secular home with little importance placed on Jewish identity. But one shouldn't call her salute self-denying or antisemitic. She had no choice. Mayer might have lived in America, but she was still a German, competing in Germany for Germany. Failing to salute might have destroyed her or her family.

    The sad thing is that Germans didn't even celebrate her medal, since she lost to Elek. In hindsight, it was probably best for Mayer not to compete at all...

    Then, we could have focused on her being a great Jewish champion, and not have to explain the photograph.

    Verdict: Borderline Jew.

    September 21, 2016

    See Also

    Rudi Ball

    Gretel Bergmann

    Ilona Elek

    Karoly Karpati

    Ildiko Rejto
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