Helene Mayer

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Olympic medal record
Women's Fencing
Gold medal – first place 1928 Amsterdam Individual foil
Silver medal – second place 1936 Berlin Individual foil

Helene Mayer (December 20, 1910 – October 10, 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 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]

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.

Mayer left Germany in 1933, as her father was Jewish. She accepted an invitation to compete for Germany at the 1936 Summer Olympics, held in Berlin, and was one of several Jewish athletes, but the only German-Jewish, to win medals that year.[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 an old friend, Erwin Falkner von Sonnenburg, in a quiet May ceremony in Munich. The couple moved to the hills above Stuttgart before setting in Heidelberg where she died of breast cancer in October 1953, two months before her 43rd birthday.

Hall of Fame[edit]

She was inducted into the USFA Hall of Fame in 1963.[6]


  • 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
  • 1933: U.S. Foil Champion (outdoors)
  • 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 November 27, 2015. 
  4. ^ Farrar, Doug. "Breaking news". Sportsillustrated.cnn.com. Archived from the original on October 20, 2012. Retrieved August 5, 2014. 
  5. ^ "The Nazi Olympics (Berlin 1936)—Jewish Athletes; Olympic Medalists". United States Holocaust Memorial Museum. Retrieved July 16, 2015. 
  6. ^ a b http://www.fencingonfairfield.com/mayer_helene.htm. Retrieved January 26, 2007.  Missing or empty |title= (help)[dead link]

External links[edit]

  • Janet Woolum: Outstanding Women Athletes: Who They are and how They Influenced Sports in America, Greenwood Publishing Group, Westport, CN, USA, 1998. S. 193.
  • Jews in Sports bio
  • Mayer, Helene, US Fencing Hall of Fame