HomeNovember 2023Triumph of the Spirit: Jewish Athletes Before, During and After the...

Triumph of the Spirit: Jewish Athletes Before, During and After the Holocaust

Autographed photo of well-known boxer Kid Francis.
Courtesy of Neil Keller.

Exploring the Lives of Jewish Olympic Athletes Through Rare Memorabilia

An extraordinary exhibit is now on display in the Slutzky Family Art Gallery at the Merage Jewish Community Center. Triumph of the Spirit: Jewish Athletes Before, During and After the Holocaust sheds light on the lives and legacies of famous Jewish Olympic athletes. Curated from the private archives of collector Neil Keller, this collection features rare and extensive memorabilia of famous Jewish Olympic athletes and provides an unprecedented glimpse into the personal journeys, achievement, and heartbreaking struggles of these remarkable individuals.
     The exhibition brings together one-of-a-kind items such photographs, trading cards,  family memorabilia, historical newspaper clippings, and magazine articles,  giving visitors a chance to connect with the inspirational and courageous men and women whose lives were either cut short or profoundly affected by the Holocaust.   Keller has amassed more than 22,000 sports collectibles over a 35-year span by leading a worldwide pursuit of prominent Jewish figures throughout history.  He said: “I have spent the better part of my life tracking down family members and other individuals that would lead me to discover the stories behind these remarkable athletes. This has been a fulfilling quest and I am honored to share it.”
     Aliza Sable, Cultural Arts Director said that the Merage JCC is privileged to share Keller’s remarkable collection with the community. “Neil’s collection is one-of-a kind and the extent of information and artifacts he has collected about Jewish athletes before, during and after the Holocaust is astonishing. The stories of these athletes are inspiring and heart-breaking, and are truly a testament to the enduring power of the human spirit,” she said.
     Autographed family photographs that belonged to World champion Jewish boxer Victor “Young” Perez and famous boxer Kid Francis, both of whom were ordered by the Nazis to fight other Jewish concentration camp inmates to the death, reminds us of the people behind the athletes, their dreams, and their humanity. These items breathe life into their stories,  transforming these athletes from distant historical figures into individuals with passions, hopes,, and fears. They remind us that heroes come from families just like our own.
    Today, as the world still reels from antisemitism and hatred, the stories of these athletes take on renewed importance and their stories offer hope and inspiration. Their stories resonate with today’s challenges and bear witness to the capacity for courage and resilience within us all.
    The exhibit will be on display from October 31st to December 1st and is free and open to the public.
      For further information please contact Aliza Sable at: (949) 435-3500, ext. 305, or alizas@jccoc.org. 

Aliza Sable is the Cultural Arts Director at the Merage JCC and is a contributing writer to JTA and Jlife Magazine.

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