SINAI SAYS: Honoring the tragic legacy of fallen Flatow cousins

Born in October 3, 1869, in Danzig, Germany, Alfred Flatow won three gold medals in Athens, Greece, at the first modern Olympics in 1896.

May 4, 2016 20:40
2 minute read.
GERMAN Cousins Gustav and Alfred Flatow died of starvation during the Holocaust.

GERMAN Cousins Gustav and Alfred Flatow died of starvation during the Holocaust at the Theresienstadt concentration camp.. (photo credit: Courtesy)


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It is ironic that cousins Alfred and Gustav Flatow were honored at the Berlin Olympic Games in 1936, also known as the Nazi Olympics.

Despite being Jewish, they were invited as guests of honor with other former German gold medalists, as even the Nazi organizers of the Games recognized the Flatows’ contribution to sports in their home country.

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Born in October 3, 1869, in Danzig, Germany, Alfred Flatow won three gold medals in Athens, Greece, at the first modern Olympics in 1896.

He also won a silver medal. Alfred finished first in individual parallel bars, team parallel bars, and team horizontal bars, claiming a silver in the individual horizontal bars event.

In 1903, Flatow assisted in the founding of the Judische Turnerschaft, the historic and pioneering Jewish sports organization in Europe.

His cousin Gustav, who was born on January 7, 1875, in Berent of West Prussia, won two gold medals in 1896, joining forces with Alfred in the team horizontal bar and team parallel bars competitions.

Gustav was also a German war hero, fighting for his country in World War I.

But being a war hero and a decorated Olympian wouldn’t save Gustav or Alfred from their fates in the Theresienstadt concentration camp.

Alfred remained involved in gymnastics for much of his life, taking over as assistant supervisor of gymnastics at the Berlin Gymnastics Federation following his retirement while publishing several writings on gymnastic training methods.

Nevertheless, at the beginning of 1933, with the rise of the Nazis to power, Alfred was banned from his club after 46 years.

He remained in Berlin, even after he was arrested on Kristallnacht for owning a gun. He escaped serious punishment, but his past achievements couldn’t save him forever. In 1942, at 71 years old, Alfred was deported to Theresienstadt, where he died from starvation two months later, on December 28, 1942.

Foreseeing what was about to unfold, Gustav Flatow fled to Rotterdam in 1933, relocating his company that specialized in manufacturing children’s clothing.

Following the German occupation of the Netherlands he went into hiding with his family, but informants turned them in.

Gustav had received an exemption stamp from deportation, but on New Year’s Eve of 1943, he and his family were arrested and sent to the Westerbork transit camp. Despite the protests on his behalf by German gymnastics officials, they were deported to Theresienstadt in February 1944.

Gustav received special consideration in the camp and in December 1944 was given an extra food ration of four additional apples and eggs a week. Nonetheless, he died of starvation on January 29, 1945, just months before the camp was liberated.

Alfred and Gustav Flatow were finally commemorated by the German sporting establishment in 1996, when the German Gymnastics Association began awarding the Flatow-Medal in “Remembrance of the Persecution of Jews in the German Federation of Gymnasts from 1933 to 1945.”

One year later the City of Berlin honored the memory of Gustav and Alfred by renaming its Reichssportsfeld Strasse (street of the National Sports Complex) at the Olympic sports complex to Flatowallee (Flatow Blvd.).

The German postal service issued a set of four stamps to celebrate the 100th anniversary of the modern Olympic Games in 1998, including one featuring the country’s first Olympic gymnastics champions, the Flatow cousins.

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