The Exceptional Lilli Henoch: The Sad Story of a Champion Athlete

Lilli Henoch won championships and set new world records, but her accomplishments weren't enough to save her from the bullets of the Nazi Einsatzgruppen soldiers

1

From the private collection of Martin-Heinz Ehlert

Lilli Henoch was an exceptional athlete. She was not only an outstanding sprinter, but also a long jumper. She not only set a shot put world record, she set another in the discus throw. Not only did she compete in individual fields of athletics, she was also a leader of women’s teams in both handball and hockey. Lilli Henoch was a ten-time German champion in various fields of athletics, a holder of world records – but she was also Jewish.

Lilli Henoch’s story may have a familiar ring to it. Some may recall the figure of Gretel Bergmann, a high jump champion, whom the Nazis banned from taking part in the1936 Berlin Summer Olympics. Many know the story of Béla Guttmann, a legendary soccer player and coach, who survived the concentration camps. Lilli Henoch’s story is even more tragic.

Henoch was born in 1899 in the city of Königsberg, East Prussia (now the Russian city of Kaliningrad), the second child in a middle-class Jewish family. From time to time, the family would host their friendly neighbor, Albert Einstein. From a young age, Lilli loved to jump and run, but life wasn’t all fun and games. Her father, Leo, passed away when she was only 13 years old. Several years later, the family moved to Berlin, and Lilli’s mother remarried. Lilli quickly joined the Berliner Sport-Club (BSC) and engaged in athletics, at a time when the field was considered “masculine” and inappropriate for women.

1
Lilli Henoch takes part in a race; from the private collection of Martin-Heinz Ehlert

There, at the famous sports club laden with history and trophies, began the glorious career of one of the best and most versatile athletes in German history. For example, in 1924 alone, Henoch became the German national champion in four different fields: the shot put, the discus throw, the long jump, and the 4×100 meters relay. During this period, she set two discus throw world records, another world record in the shot put, and was part of the running team that achieved a world record in the 4×100 meter relay race in 1926. There are those who claim that her achievements, as well as the achievements of other German female athletes, were what encouraged the International Olympic Committee to approve women’s participation in athletics for the first time in the 1928 Olympics.

1
Lilli Henoch as a shot putter; from the private collection of Martin-Heinz Ehlert

However, as if often the case in any new field of sport, by the time the Olympics took place in Amsterdam, other athletes had already bypassed her achievements, and Henoch did not take part. Nevertheless, Lilli Henoch continued to be a prominent figure in her Berliner Sport-Club. She was captain of the handball team (a sport that was actually regarded as “proper” for women at the time), and was considered one of the best-known athletes in Berlin. Lilli was so well-respected at the Berliner Sport-Club, that on January 18th, 1933, she was elected chairwoman of the women’s athletic section.

1
From the private collection of Martin-Heinz Ehlert

However, just like a multitude of brilliant scientists, famous artists, educators, and others – her achievements didn’t stop the Nazi government from banning her from athletic activity from the moment they came into power in 1933 – less than two weeks after Henoch was appointed to her prestigious position. She was forced to look for a new professional home. She then joined the Jüdischer Turn-und Sportclub (JTSC), an organization affiliated with non-Zionist, assimilated Jews. She played for the club’s handball team in the Jewish leagues of the 1930s, and won two championships. She also became a gymnastics teacher at a Jewish school in the city.

1
Lilli Henoch playing handball; from the private collection of Martin-Heinz Ehlert

Years later, Lilli’s sister Susie said Henoch received an offer to move to the Netherlands and work there as a coach. Henoch refused, although it was already apparent that staying in Germany was dangerous. She preferred to stay in Berlin with her mother, who was widowed for the second time. In 1942, the mother and daughter were deported from Berlin and sent by train to Riga, in Latvia. There is contradictory information regarding what exactly happened next. However, what we do know for certain is that Lilli and her mother Rose were executed by Einsatzgruppen death squads and buried – with many others – in a mass grave in the woods near the Latvian city.

Thanks to the tireless efforts of one German scholar, Martin-Heinz Ehlert, the name of Lilli Henoch has been commemorated across Berlin. Several sports venues are named after her: a school gymnastics hall, a soccer field not far from the Jewish Museum, and a small street.

So why is Lilli Henoch’s name not so familiar here in Israel? Why is so little written about her in Hebrew? Perhaps this has something to do with the fact that Henoch was not a Zionist, and did not join a well-known Jewish and Zionist club, like Berlin’s highly successful Bar Kochba club. For Henoch, sport was not a political cause, but a passion, a pleasure, and a haven for her competitive nature. Lilli Henoch simply wished to jump and run.

 

Thanks to Ronen Dorfan for his assistance in writing this article.

 

If you liked this article, try these:

Passing the Torch: The Maccabees of Berlin

Who Is the Israeli Who Won 10 Olympic Medals?

Meet the Jewish Circus Performer Who Could Bend Iron with His Bare Hands

A Digital Geniza: The National Library of Israel Is Collecting in the Age of COVID-19

The National Library of Israel is asking you to send us examples of digital ephemera which convey a sense of the times

An example of digital ephemera, appearing with the kind permission of Pagoda Online Learning, www.pagodaonline.org 

  • Please don’t delete that email from the Rabbi offering to Zoom the Shabbat service straight into your lounge
  • Save the Whatsapp message from the kosher shops assuring customers that there will be enough matzah for Pesach
  • Download your synagogue’s poster offering support for vulnerable people in the community
  • Forward messages from community leaders offering psychological support

These ephemeral digital fragments are documenting Jewish history in real-time. And they are also ephemera –   in ordinary times they might be items such as a synagogue timetable, a kosher restaurant menu, wedding invitation or Jewish film festival poster – items people would not necessarily think to keep, but that will later define our communities and our culture for future generations.

An example of digital ephemera, appearing with the kind permission of Pagoda Online Learning, www.pagodaonline.org

In these extraordinary times, they include a whole range of materials reflecting halachic innovations, new forms of ‘socially distanced’ communal life, educational creativity, Jewish irony and unthinkable situations of mourning our lost ones.   These items deserve to be collected as they will tell a story of resilience, creativity and also tragedy .

A classic example of ephemera – an Israeli ad for Ephedion cough syrup from Assea Labs, the Eri Wallish Collection, the National Library of Israel Ephemera Collection

Fortunately, the National Library of Israel (NLI) is creating  the COVID-19 Jewish ephemera collection, the perfect central repository ‘ a digital time capsule’ for this information.

A “Prayer for the Suppression of the Plague in Bombay” at the Shaar Harahamim Synagogue, October, 1896; the Valmadonna Trust, the National Library of Israel Ephemera Collection

Future students of sociology, anthropology, medical history, Jewish communal life, mass marketing, computer science and rabbinic responsa will be tremendously grateful.   Consider the NLI as a library without borders – with links to Jewish communities, people and libraries wherever they may be, drawing on the cyber revolution to enhance community engagement, digital preservation, open access, and collaborative projects globally.

We all hope that one day soon COVID-19 will be history – help us record this unique and historic time.


Drop your COVID-19 digital ephemera here or email it to
[email protected].

 

See also:

Gesher L’Europa

Rothschild Foundation Hanadiv Europe

 

This article is based on a longer one published on the Times of Israel website, here.

No Friend of Bacteria: A Letter from Louis Pasteur

This is the story of a promising young student who became the “father of microbiology”, but it didn’t happen by accident; a personal tragedy spurred Louis Pasteur to search for cures for infectious diseases

Louis Pasteur was not born into a family of means. Growing up poor, he received a Catholic education and did not particularly excel at his studies. No one imagined that he would become one of the most prominent scientists of all time for his contribution to the field of medicine.

In his early teens, Louis’ interest in reading grew and he eventually became his own schoolteacher’s assistant. At sixteen, he moved to Paris for his studies, but an acute case of homesickness led him to return home. He enrolled in a local college and successfully completed his bachelor’s degree in science in 1840 and master’s in science in 1842. The next year, he fulfilled his lifelong dream of attending the prestigious École Supérieure Normale (after having failed his first attempt at acceptance).

A portrait medal of Louis Pasteur, the Sidney Edelstein Collection at the National Library of Israel

In 1846, Pasteur began his research in the field of crystallography (the scientific study of crystals), for which he was made a Chevalier of the French Legion of Honor in 1853 for his discovery of the differences in the crystal structure of the two enantiomers of tartaric acid. At age twenty-seven, Pasteur was appointed professor of chemistry at the University of Strasbourg.

An autographed photograph of Louis Pasteur, 1891, the Sidney Edelstein Collection at the National Library of Israel

While teaching at the university, the brilliant young scientist met Marie Laurent, the daughter of the university’s rector. They married on the 29th of May, 1849 and began working together, with Marie assisting in scientific experiments. Their future seemed very bright, until tragedy struck. Three of the Pasteur’s five children died from typhoid, not unusual for that time, but Pasteur swore he would do everything in his power to find a cure for communicable diseases.

In 1854, he was appointed dean of the faculty of sciences at the University of Lille, the same year he began his study of fermentation. In the framework of his research, he came up with a solution to the problem of bacteria. His idea eventually led to a process that would significantly reduce the presence of bacteria in milk, wine, beer, fruit juices and honey.  In this process, liquid (milk, for example) is heated rapidly – almost to the boiling point, and immediately cooled. The purpose is to kill harmful viruses and organisms such as bacteria, protozoans and fungi that are present in the liquid without compromising the liquid’s nutritional value or taste. Beyond extending the shelf life of the liquid, the process helps to prevent disease. This process, which we call pasteurization, was named for its inventor – Louis Pasteur. For his work, Pasteur was awarded the prestigious Rumford Medal in 1856.

Louis Pasteur

The National Library of Israel is in possession of a rare letter sent by Pasteur himself to an unknown recipient, referred to simply as “Monsieur,” which was written, in French, at some point between 1868 and 1869, and which reveals that at that time of its writing, Pasteur was deeply engaged in the further development of the pasteurization process:

“[B]efore anything, and as I mentioned in my last message to you, I ask that you take note of the necessity of performing the heating of the bottles inside the large-scale heating containers; and remember the fact which the professional committee finally agreed upon at the last wine tasting, that the color of the wine that was heated when protected from air was stronger and even somewhat darker than that of the same wine when it remained unchanged and unheated. One can get an idea of the speed of the oxygenation of the wine by looking at the exact experiments appearing in my publications. Do not forget that the wine in bottles or in any other vessel, after it has been sealed a few days before, and after moving it from vessel to vessel to remove the sediment, will, during its decomposition, contain only nitrogen or carbonic acid and no trace of oxygen, but will contain oxygen the very moment it comes into contact with air. Furthermore, bear in mind that the solubility of gases is proportional to pressure.

Finally, it is best to remember that the wine, at the first removal of sediment after the end of fermentation, is saturated with only carbonic acid gas; also on this point refer to my publication “Etudes sur le vin” – the amount of dissolved carbonic acid, at this moment, is so great and so ready to be released that it might resist the intake of air in your device.

I am far from being against cooling after heating. Here again, one must take into account the oxidation process. With the reduction in volume in a barrel, air will penetrate, however it is perfectly clear, from the point of view of preservation principles, that it is safer to fill while heating; but the germs of the wine development process are many and much more active than those created by the air. Through heating, the wine has acquired such features of preservation as to allow, in most cases, even further maneuvering at a later date without great danger to its preservation. In short, with regard to the practice of immediate cooling after heating it will be possible to formulate an opinion after the accumulation of [data from] experiments. In the current state of affairs, I am far from doubting the wisdom of this practice. When heated in a bottle it is clear that the process is more or less natural and certainly not harmful here…”

The four-page letter Pasteur wrote to an anonymous recipient on October 20th (no year is recorded), the Sidney Edelstein Collection at the National Library of Israel

Pasteur did not stop there. His contributions spanned a variety of fields and even included the development of a vaccine for rabies. The first successful experiment with the vaccine was performed on a sick child on July 6th, 1885. Following the experiment’s success, he received inquiries from across Europe from people who had been bitten by wild animals.

In 1887, Pasteur founded the medical research institute which bears his name to this day, and which he headed until his death in 1895. Long after his passing, his name is still familiar thanks to his discoveries relating to the principles of vaccination, microbial fermentation and pasteurization. The Pasteur Institute continues the work he began: developing vaccines and drugs to fight disease, including current research being conducted in the hopes of developing a vaccine for the Covid-19 virus.

Many thanks to Elizabeth Friedman and Sharon Assaf for their assistance with translation.

 

If you liked this article, try these:

When the Spanish Flu Arrived in the Land of Israel

Newton’s Temple

What Did Freud Really Think of Zionism?

 

 

 

 

When the Spanish Flu Arrived in the Land of Israel

The pandemic known as the Spanish flu spread across the world in the early 20th century, reaching the Land of Israel as well; we took a look back at the news reports of the day

1

Courtesy of the Otis Historical Archives, National Museum of Health and Medicine, Maryland

“Avoid crowded gatherings in closed places; avoid contact with others as much as possible, don’t even shake one’s hand when saying hello.” This was the ninth directive in a list of guidelines published by the Hebrew newspaper “Do’ar Hayom in February 1920, when the pandemic known today as the Spanish flu raged all over the world – and in the Land of Israel as well.

The Spanish flu, otherwise known as the 1918 flu pandemic, spread rapidly across the globe following the end of World War I, with overcrowding and famine likely contributing to the disease’s outbreak. The flu infected approximately half a billion people, almost a third of the world’s population, and killed tens of millions. It was one of the deadliest pandemics in human history.

In the Land of Israel, where the population was relatively sparse at the time and largely rural, the disease didn’t hit as severely as it did in other countries across the globe. Nevertheless, it arrived here too, and the population and authorities had to adjust to a new situation. As we mentioned above, even in 1920 – well after the major outbreaks of the pandemic across the world – residents were still being asked to adhere to strict hygiene rules. Apart from being given basic cleaning guidelines, people were also instructed to isolate patients and even to inform the authorities if they encountered someone who was sick.

From Doar HaYom, February 9th, 1920. For the full list of recommendations in Hebrew, click here

On the Flu

Recently, a disease has been raging in Haifa, which is apparently that same Spanish Flu which wreaked havoc in Europe, claiming so many victims, even more than the Great War. And yet, here it won’t last long. Nevertheless, it has become quite dangerous here as well, especially in the Old City neighborhoods, where the Muslims and Sephardic Jews live, and which is quite gloomy and dark. Furthermore, these residents do not maintain hygiene and sanitary conditions.

  1. General sanitation and specifically maintaining clean bedclothes: on clear and sunny days, take out the bedclothes, sprinkle camphor or naphthalene powder on the beds, wash the floor, and let the breeze dry it.
  2. If you start suffering from a cold, even a mild one, use a handkerchief, which you should keep in a tin box, with chunks of camphor and naphthalene. Be especially careful of phlegm from the nose or throat. In case of a runny nose, gargle antiseptic medicine and use the following ointment: Eau exygenee Menthel Resorcine Borax. It is recommended to stay in a warm bed for a day or two.
  3. In case of a cold accompanied by fever, report this immediately to the government sanitary department and if possible, call the doctor”

 

There is little information on the impact of the disease on the Land of Israel. Contemporary reports cite a low number of casualties in urban areas compared to Europe. According to a study on the subject conducted by Zalman Greenberg, there were approximately 40 listings of flu patients at Sharai Tzedek Hospital in Jerusalem in 1918 – and this is the only remaining documentation regarding patients infected with the disease in the country. Greenberg also noted that in Tel Aviv’s Trumpeldor Cemetery, there are three tombstones with inscriptions stating that the deceased passed away from the “Spanish disease”. Here is an excerpt from a doctor’s report on the state of health in the country in 1919:

From Haaretz, September 24th, 1919. For the full article, click here

Dr. M. Borochov-Hoze

On the State of Health in the Country

(A short review)

This first year following our redemption from the agonies of war, has passed, compared to other countries, with relative peace. Although malevolent angels in the shape of contagious diseases and various plagues, which always follow war, and which accompanied the World War as well, have also passed through our country. Evil spirits blowing through the ravaged countries, trampled by armies, have blown through the air of the Land of Israel as well. “A scroll and a sword descended intertwined from heaven” – yet this is but a saying of old. It is a historical fact that in places where you find the sword, you come across epidemics and other exotic diseases. However, just like with the war itself, our brothers in the Land of Israel suffered less of diseases than the rest of the world. Lone cases of cholera, typhus, and recurring fever, and many case of the Spanish disease – a disease that has spread like a storm through all the fighting countries and their neighbors, and wreaked havoc upon them. – This disease claimed victims among our young soldiers, who survived the Turkish oppression. Nevertheless, casualties in our small country were fewer than those abroad.”

 

Naturally, in the early months following the outbreak of the flu pandemic, in the spring of 1918, when the information was still scant and incomplete, the Hebrew newspapers began publishing their reports. In June 1918, a journalist for the newspaper “Ha’Tzfira” (one of the leading early Hebrew newspapers, published in Warsaw), reported on the spread of the disease in Spain.

From Ha’Tzfira, June 13th, 1918. For the full article, click here

The Foreign Disease

I read that all public and government spaces in the capital have closed. The trams have stopped working. The factories and industries have shut down. The schools have closed and the students, who were anxiously studying for their exams, were sent home. More than one hundred thousand people are lying sick in their beds, and the disease hasn’t overlooked the king and his chief ministers, who have also caught this strange, wondrous illness, which has suddenly assailed Spain.

And I also read that the disease is spreading and expanding all over the country. The number of people afflicted by the disease has reached 10 million people. The military forces stationed in Morocco and the Canary Islands are also suffering. The doctors are helpless; all of the people are extremely fearful.”   

 

The pandemic raged for two years. During that time, Hebrew newspapers wrote brief reports about the pandemic spreading throughout the rest of the world, just as they reported on other daily news from around the globe with the help of news agencies.

1
From Doar HaYom, October 1st, 1919

“Madrid (today): the Spanish flu has erupted again. One hundred and twenty people died from the disease in the past two days.”

 

The issue of language in these reports is no less interesting. What was the disease called when it mysteriously appeared? The source of the virus wasn’t actually in Spain. Its common name, “the Spanish flu”, stemmed from the fact that most of the initial reports of the disease came from neutral Spain, a country that didn’t take part in World War I and which didn’t censor its press. However, Hebrew newspapers hurried to align with other media outlets around the world and associated the disease with the Iberian country. Some newspapers wrote of “the Spanish disease”. The Yiddish press often used the phrase “shpanishe magefa” (Spanish plague). These papers were published in the United States and across Europe and reported more frequently on the topic as their target audience resided in countries that were more heavily affected. Eventually, “Spanish flu” became the dominant name for the disease. The Hebrew newspapers still used the terms “grippe” (derived from French) and “influenza“, but gradually they also began using the word “shap’a’at“, meaning “flu”, which Eliezer Ben Yehuda coined as early as 1893.

In late 1920, the Spanish flu disappeared from the world just as suddenly as it had appeared, and with the exception of a few outbreaks in Africa, the H1N1 virus which caused a worldwide pandemic, didn’t return until the swine flu outbreak of 2009. However, here in the Land of Israel, the relatively new British Mandate authorities had to deal shortly after with the return of an equally threatening illness: the plague, which broke out in Jaffa and threatened Tel Aviv in 1922. Fortunately, thanks to the authorities’ determined actions, it was also wiped out of existence. You can read about it on the Israel State Archive’s website.

1
A poster distributed by the British Mandate authorities encouraging the extermination of rats and mice – The Israel State Archives

 

And one more bonus tidbit:

Although the Spanish flu was left behind, various flu viruses remained with us, and even made their way into commercial advertisements! In 1957, there was an outbreak of another (much less fatal) flu pandemic around the world, known as “the Asian Flu.” “Eliaz” wineries from the Israeli town of Binyamina took advantage of the opportunity and published an ad with a recommendation that wasn’t necessarily approved by doctors:

1

Asian Flu or Regular Flu?

Either way, getting sick isn’t pleasant.

Golden Crown Cognac, from Binyamina’s “Eliaz Wineries” – is the best natural vaccine against flues and colds.

Drink Golden Crown Cognac, from Binyamina’s “Eliaz Wineries”.

 

If you liked this article, try these:

Prayers, Amulets and Spells to Ward off Plague

Israeli and Egyptian Soldiers in a 1948 Group Photo: The Story Behind a Picture

Scenes from the Battlefield: A Jewish Artist’s Memories of WWI