Tag Archives: Auschwitz

Jews of the Week: Alfred Nakache & Ben Helfgott

The Holocaust Survivors Who Became Olympians

Helfgott at the 1966 Olympics in Melbourne, Australia

Ben Helfgott (b. 1929) was born in Poland and was only a child when the Nazis invaded his country. He was sent with his entire family to Buchenwald concentration camp. Everyone perished except for one sister. After the war, Helfgott was among some 750 Jewish kids under 16 taken to England as refugees. Now safe in England, Helfgott started a Jewish youth club and became a big fan of sports. He was soon introduced to weightlifting and wanted to take it up professionally. Being just 5 foot 4 inches tall, and weighing 154 pounds, Helfgott was told to find another sport. He persisted nonetheless, and at age 26, became England’s champion in the 11-stone division. He went on to win four more English and British Commonwealth weightlifting championships, and represented the UK at the 1956 Olympics in Australia. He returned in the 1960 Olympics in Rome as the coach of the UK weightlifting team. He also participated in the Maccabiah Games, earning weightlifting gold three times. After retiring from sport, Helfgott became a successful businessman. He used his wealth to start The ’45 Aid Society, generously supporting struggling Holocaust survivors. Helfgott was recently knighted by Queen Elizabeth. He is one of just two Holocaust survivors to become an Olympian.

Alfred Nakache

The other is Alfred Nakache (1915-1983), born in French Algeria to a traditional Sephardic family of eleven children. As a child, Nakache had a crippling fear of water. He made the decision to overcome his phobia, and soon immersed himself in swimming and water sports. He went on to become a five-time French swimming champion, and set five European and World Records. After a silver medal at the 1935 Maccabiah Games, Nakache made the French Olympic team and competed in the 1936 Berlin Olympics. When the Nazis invaded France, Nakache escaped to the Free Zone in the south of the country. He wasn’t safe from anti-Semitism, though. Banned from swimming in Toulouse, he moved to Marseilles. Several weeks after setting a new record in the 400 metre butterfly in 1943, he was arrested and deported to Auschwitz. Surviving the camp’s hellish conditions, Nakache returned to swimming, setting a new French record in 1946. He made the French Olympic team again and participated in the 1948 games in London. In 1993, Nakache was inducted into the International Jewish Sports Hall of Fame. He was the subject of the 2001 documentary Alfred Nakache, the Swimmer of Auschwitz. Today, many pools across France are named after him.

What’s the Difference Between Ashkenazim and Sephardim?

Words of the Week

According to the pain is the gain.
– Pirkei Avot 5:21

Nakache (far left) with the French relay team at the 1936 Berlin Olympics. Helfgott (inset) at a weightlifting competition.

Jew of the Week: Philippe Kahn

Inventor of the Camera Phone

Philippe Kahn (b. 1952) was born in Paris, France to Jewish immigrants from Eastern Europe. His mother fought alongside the French in World War II (with the rank of lieutenant), and went on to survive Auschwitz. Kahn studied in Zurich and Nice, attaining master’s degrees in both mathematics and music. During his studies, he wrote software for the world’s first modern personal computer, the French-made MICRAL of 1973. In 1982, he started his own company in California called Borland. It was one of the first start-ups to create software development tools, and stood out from other companies as it offered incredibly cheap products. (Its Turbo Pascal, for example, cost only $50 compared to the thousands of dollars that similar tools cost.) Over the next ten years, Kahn transformed Borland into a computer powerhouse with $500 million in revenue. However, a number of disagreements led to the board squeezing him out of his own company. Kahn took his severance pay and started a new company, Starfish. Just a few years later, he sold it to Motorola for a whopping $325 million. Around this time, Kahn’s daughter was born, and he got frustrated at his inability to quickly send baby photos to friends and family. He fiddled with his camera and his phone until he managed to link the two. He then sent history’s first photograph through a cellphone. This inspired him to develop the camera-phone, making it the focus of his new startup, LightSurf Technologies. This company, too, was bought out for $300 million. Since then, Kahn has started yet another company that designs and develops wearable technology. He is also an avid sailor, holding the world record for fastest San Francisco to Hawaii trip, and recently winning the Transpacific Yacht Race from LA to Hawaii. Kahn is credited with inventing the now-ubiquitous camera phone, and TIME Magazine included his first phone photograph in its 2016 list of the 100 Most Influential Photos of All Time.

The Mysterious Jewish Custom of Upsherin

Words of the Week

The day science begins to study non-physical phenomena, it will make more progress in one decade than in all the previous centuries of its existence.
– Nikola Tesla

First photo taken and sent by a cellphone – June 11, 1997. TIME Magazine ranked it among the 100 Most Influential Photos of All Time.

Jew of the Week: Diane von Fürstenberg

Diane von Fürstenberg    (Credit: Ed Kavishe)

Diane Simone Michelle Halfin (b. 1946) was born in Belgium, the daughter of a Moldavian-Jewish immigrant father and a Greek-Jewish mother who survived the Holocaust. She was born just 18 months after her mother was liberated from Auschwitz. Halfin studied economics at Madrid University and the University of Geneva. During this time, she met Prince Egon of the German aristocratic house of Fürstenberg. The couple soon married and had two children: Prince Alexander and Princess Tatiana. The now-Princess Diane did not want to be a trophy wife, and “decided to have a career. I wanted to be someone of my own, and not just a plain little girl who got married beyond her desserts.” She followed her passion into fashion design and apprenticed at a textile factory in Italy. It was here that she first came up with her idea of the “jersey dress”. Unfortunately, the Prince and Princess separated (a major reason being the disapproval of the Prince’s family of a Jewish bride), and Diane became a full-time fashion designer in New York. She started her business with a $30,000 loan from her father. In 1974, she finally introduced her jersey “wrap dress”. It took the world by storm, and over 5 million dresses were sold in just one year. Von Fürstenberg expanded into cosmetics and fragrances, and was soon among New York’s most successful fashion designers and businesspeople. After moving to Paris in 1985 to open a publishing house and a European cosmetics line, she returned to New York in 1997 to re-launch her American business. The jersey dress returned to immense popularity. In 2004, von Fürstenberg launched new collections of jewellery and beachwear. A couple of years later, she was made President of the Council of Fashion Designers of America, a position she still holds. She is one of the most popular designers among celebrities, and her dresses have been worn by the likes of Kate Middleton, Michelle Obama, Madonna, and Jennifer Lopez. Von Fürstenberg is also a noted philanthropist (together with her current husband Barry Diller), having donated millions to a wide array of causes including public housing, education, human rights, health, and the environment. Every year, she presents a $50,000 “DVF Award” at the United Nations building to each of five women “who display leadership, strength, and courage”. She is on the board of Vital Voices, an organization that assists women around the world, particularly in the area of economic empowerment. In 2014, she gave $12 million to help restore the crumbling historic Jewish ghetto of Venice (the oldest in the world). Von Fürstenberg also had her own reality TV show (House of DVF) that ran for two seasons, and has written two popular books. She still presides over 111 DVF stores around the world. She was recently ranked by Forbes among the world’s most powerful women, and in the TIME 100 list of iconic figures.

Words of the Week

One feels the beauty of the world only according to the measure of beauty that is in the inner core of one’s soul.
– Rabbi Abraham Isaac Kook