Helene Mayer

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Olympic medal record
Women's Fencing
Gold 1928 Amsterdam Individual foil
Silver 1936 Berlin Individual foil

Helene Mayer (December 20, 1910 – October 15, 1953) was a world champion Olympic fencer who competed for Nazi Germany in the 1936 Summer Olympics, despite having been forced to leave Germany and resettle in the United States because she was of partial Jewish family background.

Mayer was born in Offenbach am Main, the daughter of Ida (née Becker) and Ludwig Mayer, a physician. Her father was Jewish and her mother was Lutheran.[1] She was Jewish, according to the book Jews and the Olympic Games,[2] and was born in Offenbach am Main. According to an article in the Daily Herald, entitled "In Helene Mayer, a Jewish athlete who competed for Germany in 1936, an Olympic mystery remains", "Most accounts of Mayer's life say she did not consider herself Jewish".[3][dead link]

Fencing career[edit]

West German stamp from 1968 of Mayer

Mayer was named one of the top 100 female athletes of the 20th century by Sports Illustrated.[4]

German Championships[edit]

Mayer was only 13 when she won the German women's foil championship in 1924. By 1930, she had won 6 German championships.


Mayer won a gold medal in fencing at the age of 17 at the 1928 Summer Olympics in Amsterdam, representing Germany, winning 18 bouts and losing only 2.

She finished 5th at the 1932 Los Angeles Olympic Games. She then remained in the U.S. in 1933 to study at the University of Southern California, earned a certificate in Social Work, and fenced for the USC Fencing Club.

Berlin Olympics and controversy[edit]

In 1933 she learned that she had been expelled from the Offenbach Fencing Club as part of a Nazi purge of Jewish athletes. She fled persecution in Germany after Hitler's rise to power because of her status as a Mischling, having a Jewish father.

The Amateur Athletic Union then voted to boycott the 1936 Olympics, to be held in Berlin, unless Jews were allowed to take part in the German trials and compete for Germany in the Olympics. As a gesture of compliance, the German Olympic Committee invited Mayer to join the national team.

She accepted, hoping to be accepted back into German society, and returned to Germany to compete in the 1936 Summer Olympics, despite protests from the American Jewish community and other Jewish athletes,

She won a silver medal. Controversially, she wore a swastika and extended her right arm in the Nazi salute on the medal stand during the medal ceremony. This rankled many, but others explained that she was trying to protect her family. Although her Jewish father had died in 1931, her mother and two brothers had continued to live in Germany. Mayer considered herself German and wanted to represent her country, but she was not accepted back into German society.

She was one of a number of Jewish athletes who won medals at the Nazi Olympics in Berlin in 1936.[5]

International competitions[edit]

In 1928 she won the Italian national championship.

She was the European champion in 1929 and 1931.

She was World Foil Champion in 1929–31 and 1937.

US Championships[edit]

Ultimately, she settled in the United States and had a successful fencing career, winning the US women's foil championship 8 times from 1934–46 (1934, '35, '37, '38, '39, '41, '42, and '46).[6]

Return to Germany and death[edit]

In 1952, Mayer returned to Germany, where she married and settled in Munich. Shortly after, she died of breast cancer, two months before her 43rd birthday.

Hall of Fame[edit]

She was inducted into the USFA Hall of Fame in 1963.[7]


  • 1924: German Foil Champion
  • 1925: German Foil Champion
  • 1926: German Foil Champion
  • 1927: German Foil Champion
  • 1928: German Foil Champion
    • Olympic Gold Medal, Foil, German Team
    • Winner Foil, Italian National Championships
  • 1929: German Foil Champion
    • World Foil Champion
  • 1930: German Foil Champion
  • 1931: World Foil Champion
  • 1932: German Olympic Foil Team
  • 1934: U.S. Foil Champion
  • 1935: U.S. Foil Champion
  • 1936: Olympic Silver Medal, Foil, German Team
  • 1937: U.S. Foil Champion
    • World Foil Champion
  • 1938: U.S. Foil Champion
  • 1939: U.S. Foil Champion
  • 1941: U.S. Foil Champion
  • 1942: U.S. Foil Champion
  • 1946: U.S. Foil Champion

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Anne Commire. Women in World History. Retrieved August 5, 2014. 
  2. ^ Paul Taylor (January 1, 2004). Jews and the Olympic Games: The Clash Between Sport and Politics : with a ... Retrieved August 5, 2014. 
  3. ^ "In Helene Mayer, a Jewish athlete who competed for Germany in 1936, an Olympic mystery remains". Retrieved August 5, 2014. [dead link]
  4. ^ Farrar, Doug. "Breaking news". Sportsillustrated.cnn.com. Retrieved August 5, 2014. 
  5. ^ "The Nazi Olympics: Berlin 1936 | Jewish Athletes — Olympic Medalists". Ushmm.org. August 2, 1936. Retrieved August 5, 2014. 
  6. ^ [1][dead link]
  7. ^ [2][dead link]

External links[edit]