Conference on Jewish sport in Hungary

Special Chapters from the History of Jewish Sport in Hungary”: this was the title of the conference organized jointly by EMG Sport 2019 Ltd, University of Physical Education and Hungarian Olympic and Sport Museum.

It is important to know to what extent Jewry has contributed to the history of Hungarian sport, said Tamás Sterbenz, Deputy Rector of University of Physical Education in his introduction.

Stella Syrkin, Executive Director of European Maccabi Confederation, presented the history of the Maccabi movement. As she said, the first Jewish sports club was founded in 1895, in Istanbul, by German Jews living there, after they hadn’t been allowed to join other associations. Afterwards, associations were founded in a row, and Maccabi soon became not only a sport, but also a youth and cultural movement. Maccabi World Union was founded in 1921, in Karlovy Vary; the first European Maccabi Games were organized 8 years later, in Prague, the first World Games 3 more years later, in Tel Aviv. Today the Maccabiah is the third biggest multisport event in the world, behind the Olympics and Universiade.

Ádám Jusztin, President of Maccabi VAC, Co-Chairman of the Organizing Committee talked about the history of the Hungarian Maccabi movement, of the Maccabi VAC association, which was founded 1906, as the first Zionist multisport association in Hungary. Maccabi VAC was also more than a sports club, as it organized cultural events as well. 

It accomplished its greatest achievements in the 1920s and 30s, but the anti-Jewish laws soon made it impossible for Maccabi VAC to operate. The association was finally banned in 1941. Many members, leaders of the association fell victims of the Holocaust. After WWII, the communist dictatorship did not allow the re-establishment of Maccabi VAC. As Ádám Jusztin said, the breakthrough came only in 1989.

Tamás Deutsch, President of MTK and Chairman of the Board of Patronage presented the history of the 131-year-old MTK, which was founded for two reasons: on one hand because emancipation progressed slowly in everyday life, on the other hand because other associations were quite conservative and there wasn’t any possibility to do other sports than gymnastics and athletics. 

MTK was the first association to allow women to do sports, or to employ foreign coaches and athletes. Shoah affected MTK as well: many of its athletes, leaders and supporters fell its victim. The club was banned in 1942. It was re-established in 1945, but the communist dictatorship forced the club to abandon its colors, it even had to change its name several times. The club started to revive its identity only in the 70s, 80s. In the words of Tamás Deutsch, MTK has always been a secular sports association, but with numerous ties to the Jewish community in Budapest.

At the following roundtable, journalist András Kő and sports historians Péter Szegedi and Tamás Dénes talked about the history of soccer, focusing on the role of the two teams, on players and coaches who achieved significant success, for example Béla Guttmann who enjoyed a great international career.

Lajos Szabó, Director of Hungarian Olympic and Sport Museum talked about why sport is important for minority communities: it helps forming identities. Then he presented the most successful athletes of Jewish origins, from the first Olympic champion Alfréd Hajós and first world champion Lili Kronberger to champions in fencing, wrestling and waterpolo.

Finally, Katalin Szikora, retired Associate Professor of University of Physical Education presented the life story of sport diplomats (Ferenc Kemény and Ferenc Mező), sport leaders (Mór Fischer, Leó Donáth, Alfréd Brüll) and patrons (Leó Goldberger, Lipót Aschner, Manfréd Weiss) of Jewish origins.

As a special addition to the conference, the exhibition of the Hungarian Olympic and Sport Museum “For Whom the Bell Tolls…” was also opened.

Photos: Gábor Hegedűs