Helfgott is one of only two known survivors of Nazi concentration camps (he was the only member of his family to survive Buchenwald) to later compete in the Olympics Games; the other was French swimmer Alfred Nakache. Helfgott was the captain of the British weightlifting teams at the Olympics in 1956 (Melbourne) and 1960 (Rome).
Born in Poland in 1929, Helfgott was only 10-years old when the Nazis invaded the country in 1939. Initially sent to Buchenwald, Helfgott miraculously survived the Holocaust and was sent to England with hundreds of other youngsters after being liberated from Theresienstadt. The only member of his family to survive, Helfgott later helped form the 45 Aid Society for Holocaust Survivors in the U.K., which gives aid to all those in need. (he was the Chairman of the Society from 1963-1970, and served again from 1970 to the present). Helfgott has also held many other positions, including Chairman of the Yad Vashem Committee of Board of Deputies of British Jews (he still holds this position); former Chairman of the Central British Fund-World Jewish Relief; and Member of the Council of the Conference on Jewish Material Claims Against Germany.
In January 2000, Helfgott testified at the Stockholm International Forum on the Holocaust and said: "Over many years I have worked diligently and constantly to try to educate and teach the lessons of the Holocaust and provide opportunities for remembrance...I have always believed that the Holocaust should be presented in context, both of Jewish History and World History. It must be taught as a consequence of history. It is a consequence of history...I have always been against the use of Holocaust testimony to pursue private, political and religious agendas." A biography of Helfgott called Ben Helfgott: From Victim to Champion by Joseph Finklestone was published in 2000.
After surviving the Holocaust, Helfgott emigrated to England and settled in London. He began lifting weights, and within a decade, was the English champion. He won the nation's 11-stone championship in 1954, and was lightweight champion in 1955, 1956, and 1958. Helfgott also won the gold medal in the lightweight class at the 1950, 1953, and 1957 Maccabiah Games. Helfgott graduated from university with an economics degree, married and had three children, and worked as a clothing manufacturer. He is a a member of the International Jewish Sports Hall of Fame.
Birth and Death Dates:
b. Nov. 22, 1929
Use links below to navigate through the olympics section of Jews In Sports.
Jewish Sports Legends: The International Jewish Sports Hall of Fame, by Joseph Siegman (Washington, D.C.: Brassey's, 2000)
encyclopedia of JEWS in sports, by Bernard Postal, Jesse Silver, and Roy Silver (New York: Bloch Publishing Co., 1965)