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"Be strong and brave - Jewish-Sport-Warsaw"

Polish Jews before World War Two and sporting prowess? It’s not the first thing that springs to mind. It doesn’t fit the stereotypical image of the Chosen People nor the image of sport during the Second Republic (1918-1939). Our selective historical memory has not left us with such imagery. And even if it did, in the wake of the Holocaust, is it even appropriate to deal with such ‘trivial’ subjects?
Our album was created to convince skeptics that the participation of the Jewish minority in physical culture and athletics in the years between the two world wars was not incidental. It was extensive and meaningful, and it is crucial to our understanding of the period’s political, cultural and social changes. It had an important impact on the behavior of the young generation of Jews in Poland during World War Two.
Taking part in sport was a natural consequence of political and economic transformation for the diverse, 300,000-strong Jewish community in pre-war Warsaw. It was also an opportunity to challenge tradition and manifest the new national identity of the community. At times, participating in sports was a way to confront anti-Semitism and prejudice. At the same time, it was a means of building relations between the Jewish and Polish communities, and of accelerating assimilation of the Jews.
We show Warsaw’s swimming pools and sports arenas, where Yiddish was widely spoken. Next to them, we present a daughter of a Hassidic family, trying to escape her roots to represent Poland abroad. There is a German who coaches Maccabi Warsaw players, a tennis player who spars with the King of Sweden and a boxing prodigy, a darling of Warsaw streets who wasn’t allowed to participate in the Berlin Olympic Games. Sport has always been a reflection of social realities.
We begin our journey in the middle of the 19th century, when three quarters of European Jews lived in the eastern parts of the continent. Eastern Europe in the 19th century adopts the ideas developed in the West before the French Revolution. The nation-state was born, based on the concept of citizenship, and alongside it nationalism. The new state needed strong, patriotic citizens to fortify its position. Schools - not only public ones - were beginning to introduce physical education. We present boys from a cheder class doing their exercises, and girls wearing sports outfits that horrify Orthodox Jews. We introduce the toughest “fly” of Europe, and the man who refused to take part in sporting events without a Polish flag, despite the realities of the 20th century.
For many Jews, the development of a nation-state meant the symbolic, and sometimes real walls separating them from the rest of the society could come down. We hope the images presented in this book will explain, at least in part, the role of sports in social transformation and how physical activity helped Jews respond to new challenges.



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Prof. Moses Schorr Foundation

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