Author Archives: Michael Brenner

Michael Brenner

About Michael Brenner

Michael Brenner is Professor of Jewish History and Culture at the University of Munich.

Displaced Persons After the Holocaust

Reprinted with permission from The Holocaust Encyclopedia (Yale University Press).

At the end of World War II there were about seven to eight million displaced persons (DPs) in Germany and the territories of its former allies. The DPs included former concentration camp inmates, prisoners of war, and East European nationals who had fled from Communist rule to Hitler’s Germany. Most DPs were repatriated soon after the end of the war in May 1945; by July 4.2 million had returned to their home countries, and by September the number had risen to 6 million.

In that period Jews constituted only a small minority of DPs. Approximately 50,000 Jews, mostly from Eastern Europe, who had survived the camps and the death marches, were liberated within German and Austrian territory. Many of them died after liberation as a result of malnutrition, disease, and exhaustion.

The survivors, who referred to themselves as she’erit hapletah (the surviving remnant, a biblical term from Ezra 9:14 and I Chronicles 4:43), wished to leave what they regarded as the cursed soil of Germany as soon as possible. But the doors of Palestine and other destinations remained closed, and in many cases their physical and psychological condition made any immediate move impossible

Just one year after the end of Nazi rule, Germany and the territories of its former allies became the major destinations of Jewish refugees who fled violent anti-Semitism in Poland and other countries of Eastern Europe. The flight of Polish Jewry culminated after the Kielce pogrom of July 1946, when about 700 Jews a day left the country. By the end of 1946 a quarter of a million Jews lived in Germany, Austria, and Italy, with the vast majority in the American occupation zone of Germany, which was considered by the survivors a stepping stone for emigration to Palestine or the United States.

During their stay, between 1946 and 1950, DP camps such as Feldafing, Fohrenwald, Landsberg, and Pocking–located near small towns that had never hosted a Jewish community–for a short time became centers of a vibrant Jewish cultural and religious life.

Jews & Sports on the International Scene

Emancipation Through Muscles: Jews and Sports in Europe
, edited by Michael Brenner and Gideon Reuveni, by permission of the University of Nebraska Press. © 2006 by the Board of Regents of the University of Nebraska.

Jews and sports? We all know how much Jews contributed to the cultural heritage of humankind, from Freud in the realm of psychology and Einstein in the natural sciences all the way to Marx in politics, Kafka in literature, and Schonberg in modern music. But Jews and sports? Do the two really go together? 

Just as one knows that all Jews are smart and businessminded, one is certain of the fact that they are inept in sports. Sure, there was Mark Spitz, who saved “Jewish pride” with seven gold medals in the 1972 Munich Olympics, or the famous left-handed baseball pitcher Sandy Koufax, but they seem to be the famous exceptions to the rule.sports quiz

And then there were numerous Jewish sports world champions-in chess. But here again, we are back to the realm of mental, not physical exercise. Thus, when we announced a conference on the topic of Jews and sports in Munich, the usual response we encountered was: “Oh, this is certainly going to be a brief meeting.”

Interwar Europe

If you were to ask a central European Jew around 1930 about Jews and sports, his response would have been very different from what we expect today.

A German Jew might have remembered Alfred and Felix Flatow, the first German Jewish athletes to win gold medals in the modern Olympic Games. An Austrian would have answered immediately that Hakoah Vienna, a Jewish, even a Zionist club, received the most prestigious national sport trophy, the Austrian soccer championship, in 1925. If that Austrian were really into Jewish sports, he might have added that in the same year Hakoah also became Austrian champions in field hockey, wrestling, and swimming.

A Hungarian would not have hesitated to name all the Jewish Olympic fencers who secured Hungarian medals, and a Czech would have recalled the water polo team of Hagibor Prague, which gained the Czechoslovak championship in 1928. One of its players was the well-known writer Friedrich Torberg, the author of what was likely the only water polo novel ever produced. Torberg became more famous for other parts of his literary oeuvre, but he later wrote about his success with the water polo team: “This was, I believe, the most beautiful day of my life.”