Henoch remembered for impact on sports, humanity

Sinai Says: Despite being German women’s trailblazer, Lilli Henoch was shot and buried in mass grave in woods surrounding Riga, Latvia.

Lilli Henoch 370 (photo credit: Courtesy)
Lilli Henoch 370
(photo credit: Courtesy)
Lilli Henoch was a pioneer.
Not just as a Jewish woman, but as a female athlete.
Born in 1899 to an upper middle- class family in Königsberg, East Prussia, Henoch displayed a flare for sports at an early age.
Women’s track and field only became part of the Olympic program in 1928, but Henoch was a trailblazer in the sport well before that.
Following the death of her father in 1912, she and her family moved to Berlin where her mother subsequently remarried.
Henoch joined the Berlin Sports Club (BSC), founded in 1895, shortly after World War I, and was undoubtedly the club’s best athlete.
She was the captain of the women’s handball team and was also a member of the championship- winning hockey side. However, it was in shot-putting and discus-throwing that she made a real name for herself.
She set world records in these disciplines several times, hurling the discus 24.90 meters in October 1922, before improving her record to 26.62m less than a year later.
In August 1925, Henoch also broke the Shot Put record with a toss of 11.57m and one year later, she ran the first leg on the four-some that set a new world 4 X 100m relay record of 50.4 seconds.
Henoch was a truly exceptional athlete, winning 10 German national championships between 1922 and 1926, including in Shot Put (1922, 1925), Discus, (1923, 1924), Long Jump (1924) and 4 X 100m relay (1924-1926).
Henoch, who missed a chance to compete in the 1924 Olympics as Germany was not allowed to participate in the Games after World War I, was a true sporting star at the time, with her name appearing regularly in the club’s news bulletin.
“Congratulations above all to Lilli Henoch, who has won no less than 7 German individual titles and 3 German relay championships.
Lilli Henoch! If ever an example of devotion and selflessness were needed, then all you need to do is call her name. And the air around us is pure,” read an article written to commemorate the 10th anniversary of the women’s section at the BSC.
Henoch also made a significant contribution to the club – of which a quarter of the members were Jewish – off the field, being elected as the head of the women’s section in January 18, 1933, shortly before Adolf Hitler was appointed Reichskanzler.
It is not known if Henoch faced any discrimination before the Nazis took power, but everything changed in 1933 when all sporting values were rendered meaningless and neither the sports associations nor the clubs fought for the rights of Jewish athletes.
Henoch was forced to leave the BSC along with all the other Jewish members and she decided to join the Jewish Gymnastics and Sports Club.
Henoch, who as a Jew was not allowed to participate in the 1936 Berlin Olympics, helped the club to the Berlin Jewish Women’s Team Handball Championships in 1935 and 1936, also being employed as a gym teacher at the Jewish Elementary School in Ryke Street since 1933.
However, life for Jews in Germany soon became unbearable.
On September 5, 1942, Henoch, her 66-year-old mother and her brother were deported to Nazi-occupied Latvia. In a memorial book her name is listed among many other victims as: “Missing in Riga.”
She and her mother are believed to have been taken from the Riga ghetto and machine-gunned to death by an Einsatzgruppen mobile killing unit later the same year, along with a large number of other Jews. They were all buried in a mass grave in the woods outside Riga.
This story would not have been published without the help of the Jewish Women’s Archive (jwa.org) and Gertrud Pfister