International Jewish Skating History

During Canadian Jewish Heritage Month and Jewish American Heritage Month, we celebrate the achievements of skaters of Jewish ancestry not just in North America, but around the world. This timeline highlights important history through the years.


1882 - Alsatian-Jewish composer Émile Waldteufel composed "Les Patineurs" (The Skater's Waltz), which became a figure skating music standard for decades.

1902 - Martin Gordan won his first of two medals at the World Championships. Born in Berlin to a wealthy Jewish shoe and fabric merchant, Martin competed at the European Championships four times and the World Championships five times. After World War II, his nephew, a lawyer who'd emigrated to America, devoted his law practice to helping refugees in their restitution claims against Germany.

1908 - Lili Kronberger (Szent-Györgyi) won her first of four consecutive World titles. Born in Budapest, Lili was the daughter of a wealthy Jewish lumber merchant. Her brother-in-law was a Nobel Prize winning physiologist who helped many Jewish people escape Hungary during World War II. Lili was inducted posthumously into both the World Figure Skating Hall of Fame and International Jewish Sports Hall of Fame.

Lili Kronberger

1910 - Andor Szende won his first of three medals at the World Championships. A four-time Hungarian Champion, Andor was born in Budapest to a Jewish father.

1912 - Anne Marie Gabrielle Dite 'Anita' Ben Nahmias (del Monte) made history as the first woman from France to compete in the World Championships. Her father was a Jewish banker from Salonica; her mother hailed from Ecuador. Ben Nahmias was a French Champion in both singles and pairs skating. 

1913 - Austrian born Jewish skater Leo Horwitz won his first of two medals at the World Championships with partner Christa von Szabó.

Christa von Szabó and Leo Horwitz

1923 - Gisela Reichmann (Kadrnka) won the silver medal in women's figure skating at the World Championships. A three-time Austrian Champion, Gisela later claimed the Yugoslavian title after moving to Croatia.

1924 - Yuri Zel'dovich won his first of three gold medals at the Russian Championships. Yuri was born to Belarussian-Jewish parents and later served as a Soviet figure skating official and doctor for the Dynamo football and hockey teams. 

Yuri Zel'dovich

1925 - Stéphane Rodrigues-Henriques won his first of three medals in the men's event at the French Championships. His brother Gérard followed in his footsteps, winning medals at the event in 1933, 1934 and 1936. The Rodrigues-Henriques brothers were descendants of Eugénie Rodrigues-Henriques Foa, whom The Shalvi/Hyman Encyclopedia of Jewish Women credit as "the first Jewish woman to support herself professionally as a literary writer."

1925 - Ernest Merton Cohen was elected Secretary of Great Britain's National Skating Association. Cohen's uncle was the President of the Board of Guardians for the Relief of the Jewish Poor and his father, a Baronet, was involved the resettlement of Russian Jews. In Dennis L. Bird's history of the National Skating Association, he recalled, "Few sports organizations can have had a more self-depracating Secretary. The minutes record that when he was nominated 'Mr. Cohen wished the Council to appreciate his disabilities owing to being quite deaf, which would necessitate him bringing a clerk to the meetings; he said he had no office and was a poor skater whose only asset was a considerable knowledge of foreign languages; he would be willing to act but felt his deafness was a great handicap." During Ernest's four-year stint Secretary, he was instrumental in the Association opening its first Headquarters since the Victorian era. For many years, the Association's secretaries conducted official skating business in their private studies.

Emília Rotter and László Szollás

1931 - Emília Rotter and László Szollás of Hungary won their first of four gold medals in pairs skating at the World Championships. Two-time Olympic Medallists, Emília and László were inducted into the International Jewish Sports Hall of Fame in 1995.

1931 - Wilhelm 'Willy' Petter won his first of three medals at the European Championships with Lilly (Scholz) Gaillard. A two-time Austrian Champion of Jewish ancestry, Willy went on to serve as a choreographer for the Karl-Schäfer-Eisrevue and Wiener Eisrevue. 

1936 - Pamela Stephany (Peat) represented Great Britain at the World Championships in Paris, France. The following year, she won the Lytton and Grindelwald Cups in Switzerland. Pamela was also a talented tennis player and her father was of Jewish ancestry.

Dr. Elemér Terták

1937 - Dr. Elemér Terták won the bronze medal at the World Championships. Though born to a Jewish mother, he attended a Roman Catholic school as a boy. He was a two-time Medallist at the European Championships and an Olympian in 1936. 

1937 - Jewish skaters Cissie Krieger and Harry Levy won the bronze medal in pairs skating at the British Championships. Harry finished second in the 1939 British Ice Dancing Championships with Pauline Borrajo and after the War, skated in pairs events with Joan Thomson and served as an NSA judge.

Joan Thomson and Harry Levy. Photo courtesy "Skating World" magazine.

1938 - When Germany annexed Austria, there were major impacts to the famous Wiener Eislaufverein in Vienna. Club historian Agnes Meisinger remarked, "In March 1938, a drastic restructuring of Austrian sports and clubs took place. The result was the transfer of the WEV to the National Socialist Reich Association for Physical Exercise. SA brigade leader Heribert Seidler was appointed as club leader, and Adolf Eder, who had already worked as general secretary in the club before the Nazi era, acted as acting administrator ('managing director'). The anti-Semitic laws of the Nazi regime led to a massive drop in club membership. The officials, members and athletes defined as “Jewish” by the Nazi regime were expelled from the association immediately after the 'Anschluss'. Membership fell from 5,515 in 1937 to 2,764 in 1938. Due to the loss of about half of the members, the WEV had to struggle with major financial problems during the Nazi era." One of the skaters who was expelled from the Club was Herta (Goldmann) Kovacs. In an oral history interview recorded for the Leo Baeck Institute in 2013, she recalled, "We went skating there the whole winter and there was a place there where we left our shoes. The men helped put them up - the high boots and all that. When Hitler came in, they told us, 'You can't come here anymore. You can come and pick up your shoes. That's all.' We were told we can't use the skating rink anymore."

1938 - Hungarian born skater Herbert Alward was invited to a meeting with Hans von Tschammer und Osten, whom the Nazi's had appointed as Reichssportführer. Herbert was promised full training facilities and support if he would skate for Germany, but he declined. He won bronze medals at both the European and World Championships, served as a Flight Lieutenant with the Royal Air Force and married the secretary of Wilfrid Israel, a wealthy Jewish philanthropist who played an important role in Kindertransport, a pre-War rescue effort which saved the lives of thousands of Jewish children. 

1941 - In a January 1941 letter from Amsterdam to her cousin Bernd Elias, Anne Frank wrote "Bernd, maybe we can skate as a pair together someday. But I know I'll have to train very hard to be as good as you are". Shortly after Anne penned this letter, the rink closed to her with a sign that said "No Jews Allowed". Anne Frank died in The Holocaust; Bernd Elias survived and joined the cast of Holiday on Ice.

Record of Adolphe Dinesman's deportation to Auschwitz. Photo courtesy National Institute for Holocaust Documentation, United States Holocaust Memorial Museum.

1943 - (Isaac) Frank Adolphe Dinesman and his wife Alice were murdered in a gas chamber at the Auschwitz concentration camp in Germany. Born in 1880 in Russia, Adolphe was one of many Jewish people deported from Drancy to Auschwitz when the Nazis occupied France. Adolphe earned the silver medal of the Club des Patineurs in 1912 and was a two-time medallist at the French Championships, finishing second in 1920 and third in 1922. He served as a judge at the French Championships in the thirties. He was a perfumier by trade who patented an artificial musk for use in fragrances.

Arthur Apfel. Photo courtesy "Skating World" magazine.

1947 - Johannesburg born Arthur Apfel made history as the first South African skater to win a medal at the World Championships and the first South African skater to win the British men's title. Apfel, who was Jewish, was well-known for his incredible spinning ability and later made a name for himself as a stilt skater in professional shows.

1948 - Eric Muller won his first of several gold medals at the South African Championships. Born in Vienna, Muller emigrated to Johannesburg prior to World War II. He served as a Chairman of King David Schools and as a council member of the South African Board of Jewish Education, and was an active member of the Linksfield-Senderwood Hebrew Congregation.

1950 - Jewish skater Klára Erdős won the Hungarian women's title.

Jean Westwood and Lawrence Demmy

1952 - With partner Jean Westwood, Lawrence Demmy made history as the winner of the first official World Championships. Westwood and Demmy won two European titles and four World titles - five if you count the International Ice Dancing Competition at the 1951 World Championships in Milan. Lawrence went on to become a high-ranking ISU official. His father Albert Dembovsky was the Jewish featherweight boxing champion of Northern England.

1957 - Corinne Altmann won the silver medal in the senior women's event at the French Championships. She went on to represent France at both the European and World Championships.

Pamela Davis with Janet Thompson and Warren Maxwell. Photo courtesy "Ice & Roller Skate" magazine.

1960 - Pamela (Lubliner) Davis judged at her first of four Winter Olympic Games. One of Great Britain's most esteemed judges, Pamela was of Jewish ancestry on her father's side. Her Polish born father Samuel (1895-1973) was a tobacco, diamond and pearl merchant. He became a naturalized British citizen in the roaring twenties. A former competitive skater, Pamela was the runner-up for the British junior women's title in 1938 and finished second in the senior pairs event at the British Championships with two different partners in the forties.

1964 - Jewish ice dance judge Harry Lawrence earned himself a one-year suspension from the ISU for 'inexperience'. Judging at first World Championships, Lawrence had placed the number three British couple (Diane Towler and Bernard Ford) in a tie for fourth in the compulsories, eleventh in the free dance and seventh overall. They had finished an unlucky thirteenth. Harry's suspension was considered quite controversial at the time, as he was an experienced N.S.A. judge who had done a fine job judging at the European Championships in Berlin in 1961. If anything, the ISU could have accused him of national bias. Harry stood by his scores, believing that the other judges hadn't known what to do with the then virtually unknown young team. Two years later, Towler and Ford were World Champions. Harry never judged at the World Championships again. 

Tatiana Zhuk and Aleksandr Gorelik

1968 - Aleksandr Gorelik won the silver medal in the pairs event at the Winter Olympic Games with partner Tatiana Zhuk. Aleksandr won multiple medals at both the World and European Championships in the sixties.

1969 - Russia's Natalia (Bakh) Dubova began her career as one of the World's top ice dance coaches. Over the years, Natalia worked with Olympic Gold Medallists Marina Klimova and Sergei Ponomarenko, Marina Anissina and Gwendal Peizerat and Oksana Grishuk and Evgeni Platov, as well as World Champions Shae-Lynn Bourne and Victor Kraatz and Maya Usova and Alexandr Zhulin.

1972 - Irina Rodnina won her first of three Olympic gold medals in pairs skating at the Winter Olympic Games. A ten-time Word Champion with two different partners, Rodnina was of Jewish ancestry on her mother's side.

Irina Rodnina and Aleksandr Zaitsev

1977 - Soviet skater Stanislav Voituk joined the Moscow State Ballet On Ice after ending his competitive career. Stanislav went on to tour with The Russian Ice Stars and serve as choreograph programs for champions like Irina Slutskaya, Maria Petrova and Alexei Tikhonov and Elena Leonova and Andrei Khvalko. In a 2008 interview with "The Australian Jewish News" he recalled, "I started skating in my home town of [Norilsk, in Krasnoyarsk Krai]... In 1976, my parents left and went to Moscow and that's when I started ballet. At that moment in Russia, it was difficult to be Jewish. Lots of people were leaving from Russia to Israel."

1980 - Gennadi Karponosov made history as the first skater of Jewish ancestry to win an Olympic gold medal in ice dancing. With partner Natalia Linichuk, Gennadi was a two-time World Champion and two-time European Champion.

1983 - Igor Shpilband won the gold medal in the ice dance event at the World Junior Championships with partner Tatiana Gladkova. After defecting to America, he became one of the world's most sought-after ice dance choreographers.

Natalia Bestemianova and Andrei Bukin

1988 - Natalia Bestemianova won the Olympic gold medal in ice dancing with partner Andrei Bukin. Natalia's father was Siberian; her mother of Jewish ancestry.

1991 - Jewish skater Adam Hart represented Australia at the World Junior Championships. Adam was the winner of the junior men's event at both Australian and New South Wales Championships and a bronze medal in the senior men's event at the Australian Championships in 1991. He was an apprentice cabinet maker that attended Illawarra Synagogue Sunday School and was coached by Canadian Champion Paul Huehnergard.

1993 - Figure skating was one of the sports demonstrated at the Maccabiah Games in Antwerp, Belgium.

Michael Shmerkin

1993 - Michael Shmerkin made history as the first skater from Israel to compete at the World Championships. The following year, he was the first Israeli skater to compete in the Winter Olympic Games.

1994 - Oksana Baiul, the 1993 World Champion, wins the Olympic gold medal in women's figure skating. Though raised in Ukraine as a Russian Orthodox Christian, Oksana later discovered that her maternal grandmother, who was Romanian, was Jewish.

1995 - The first Skate Israel competition is held in Metulla, Israel. Two of the winners, Israel's Michael Shmerkin and France's Sarah Abitbol, are of Jewish heritage.

Irina Slutskaya

1996 - Irina Slutskaya won her first of seven European titles and six World medals (two of them gold). A two-time Olympic Medallist, Irina was born in Russia to a Jewish father and was inducted into the International Jewish Sports Hall of Fame in 2009.

1998 - Galit Chait and Sergei Saknovski made history as the first ice dancers to represent Israel at the Winter Olympic Games. Four years later, they made history as the first skaters from Israel to win a medal at the World Championships.

1999 - Carol Bergman's book "Searching For Fritzi" is released. The book explored the author's search for answers about her mother's cousin, Olympic Medallist Fritzi Burger, and highlights the story of how Fritzi, like many Jewish American immigrants, chose to hide her ancestry.

Sarah Abitbol and Stéphane Bernadis

2000 - Sarah Abitbol and her partner Stéphane Bernadis won France's first medal at the World Championships in pairs skating in almost seventy years. Sarah's Jewish father was a nightclub owner.

2002 - Ilya Averbukh won the Olympic silver medal and World title with partner Irina Lobacheva. 

Irina Lobacheva and Ilya Averbukh

2002 - Natalia Gudina and Alexei Beletski represented Israel at the Winter Olympic Games.

2004 - Julia Shapiro and Vadim Akolzin made history as the first pairs team to represent Israel at the World Championships.

2004 - Bradley Santer won his first of two Australian senior men's titles. Bradley represented Australia at four World Championships and seven Four Continents Championships.

2006 - Maxim Staviski won his first of two World titles with partner Albena Denkova. 

Alexandra and Roman Zaretsky. Photo courtesy "Israel Hayom".

2006 - Siblings Alexandra and Roman Zaretsky represented Israel at their first of two Winter Olympic Games. They competed at five World Championships, placing as high as sixth.

2011 - Zhan (Devinski) Bush won the bronze medal in the men's event at the Russian Championships. As a young boy, he grew up in Israel and only spoke Hebrew until his family moved back to Russia.

2011 - Lionel Rumi represented Israel at the European and World Championships with partner Brooke Frieling. Prior to skating for Israel, he was a four-time medallist at the junior level in France.

2014 - Andrea Davidovich and Evgeni Krasnopolski made history as the first pairs team to represent Israel at the Winter Olympic Games.

Daniel Samohin. Photo courtesy "ynetnews".

2016 - Daniel Samohin made history as the first Israeli skater to win a gold medal at the World Junior Championships. He represented Israel at two World Championships and the 2018 Winter Olympic Games.

2016 - Alexei Bychenko won Israel's first medal in men's figure skating at the European Championships. He was born in Ukraine to a mother of Jewish descent.

REQUIRED READING

Gisela Reichmann biography in The Tales Of Two Austrians (2020)
Lili Kronberger biography in Figure Skating In The Edwardian Era (2020)