Ben Helfgott

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Ben Helfgott
Medal record
Representing  Great Britain
Maccabiah Games
Gold medal – first place 1950 Israel Lightweight
Gold medal – first place 1953 Israel Lightweight
Gold medal – first place 1957 Israel Lightweight
Representing  England
Commonwealth Games
Bronze medal – third place 1958 Cardiff Lightweight

Sir Ben Helfgott, MBE (born 22 November 1929) is a Polish-born British Holocaust survivor and former champion weightlifter.[1] He is one of two Jewish athletes to have competed in the Olympics after surviving the Holocaust.[2]


Ben Helfgott was born in Pabianice, Łódź, Poland. He was 10 years old when Germany invaded the country in 1939. In 1942, with the help of Andrew Janotta, he convinced the Nazis that he was ethnically Polish and not a Jew. He was eventually sent to a concentration camp, but in 1945 he was released, but he was understandably weak. Initially sent to Buchenwald, Helfgott survived the Holocaust and was sent to England after the war with 700 other youngsters after being liberated from Theresienstadt. He and one of his sisters were the only members of his family to survive; his mother and youngest sister were rounded up and shot by the Nazis.[3] When in England, he set up a Jewish youth club. He has 9 grandchildren, of which two attend Oxbridge.

Weightlifting career[edit]

Helfgott won the nation's 11-stone championship in 1954 and was lightweight champion in 1955, 1956 and 1958. He represented Great Britain at weightlifting in the 1956 Summer Olympics at Melbourne, Australia. He was the captain of the British weightlifting teams at the Olympics in 1956 (Melbourne) and 1960 (Rome). In addition, he was a bronze medal winner at the 1958 British Empire and Commonwealth Games held in Cardiff, South Wales. Helfgott also won the gold medal in the lightweight class at 1950, 1953, and 1957 Maccabiah Games.

Media appearances[edit]

As a guest on the BBC Radio 4 Desert Island Discs programme on 1 April 2007, he chose to be stranded with a copy of Bertrand Russell's History of Western Philosophy and a bar with two discs for weight training.[3]

In 2010, Helfgott was one of five British Jews interviewed for an exhibit at the London Jewish Museum exploring "different ways of being Jewish."[4]

In 2018, Helfgott appeared in an edition of the BBC series Who Do You Think You Are? featuring Judge Robert Rinder. In the programme, Sir Ben recalled how he had encountered Judge Rinder's maternal grandfather, Moszek (Moses, Morris), in the Schlieben concentration camp.

Awards and recognition[edit]

In 2012, at a Limmud convention in Nazareth Illit organized to commemorate the 40th anniversary of the Munich massacre, Helfgott was awarded a prize by the mayor.[1]

In 2018, Helfgott was awarded with a knighthood as he was honoured for his contribution to services to Holocaust remembrance and education. He was praised for his determination, dedication and unparalleled perseverance. Helfgott received his knighthood at Buckingham Palace from Prince Charles on the 21st November 2018.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b Remembering the living dead: 40 years since the Munich murder
  2. ^ Steve Lipman (August 13, 2004). "The Olympics and The Holocaust". Jewish Federations of North America. Archived from the original on 2013-04-16.
  3. ^ a b "Ben Helfgott". Desert Island Discs. BBC Radio 4. April 1, 2007.
  4. ^ Aaronovitch, David. "Jewish Museum: history with chicken soup: The all-new Jewish Museum in North London has the sights and even the smells of an ancient British way of life", The Times, March 2, 2010. Accessed February 2, 2011.

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