Assimilation and emancipation,

through gymnastics and sport

Gymnastics and sport were closely involved in the dual process of Jewish emancipation and assimilation, at work in Europe throughout the 18th and 19th centuries.

In Germany, where the physical education movement developed early, Jewish gymnasts were welcome within the Turn, founded by Ludwig Jahn following Germany’s defeat by Napoleon’s armies at Iéna in 1806. A similar process of Jewish assimilation through patriotic gymnastics occurred in the Austro-Hungarian Empire. Starting in the late 19th century, anti-Semitism prompted the creation of Jewish athletic associations in Central and Eastern Europe. France, Belgium and Great Britain would have to wait for the arrival of political refugees at the end of the 1920s before the first specifically Jewish clubs were formed.

In Germany, there were two sports organizations that took part in the post-Great War assimilation process in a very particular way, refusing all Zionist or political involvement. The Vintus group brought together all the unerringly neutral clubs, while the Schild (shield) was the sporting branch of the Federation of Jewish Great War veterans (Reichsbund Jüdischer Frontsoldaten). However, unlike Vintus, the Schild placed particular emphasis on boxing and judo, organizing self-defense militias to protect the Jewish community from anti-Semitic violence.

Meanwhile, Jewish sporting champions found a home in the clubs of the German bourgeoisie, until they were excluded in 1933. They benefited from training conditions far superior to the Jewish clubs. Many athletes, in fact, only became conscious of their Jewishness after suffering from anti-Semitic measures and behavior. Next >>

quizz How is called the sporting branch of the Federation of Jewish Great War veterans?
Vintus   Schild