Monday, February 12, 2018

The Jew Who Played for Germany

It is impossible to imagine what the thoughts of Rudi Victor Ball were when high ranking Nazi officials asked him to rejoin his German ice hockey teammates and play for Germany in the 1936 Olympic Games. Aware of the growing anti-Semitism in Germany, Ball had left Berlin and its SC Berliner ice hockey team in 1933 and joined the Swiss League playing for St. Moritz. So what drew him back to Germany to be the only Jewish athlete among Germany’s Olympians?

First a little background: Rudi Ball was born in Berlin in 1911 to a German father and Lithuanian Jewish mother. During his childhood, hockey was still a fairly new sport in Europe, and he did not even see his first hockey game until he was 15. Within a couple of years, he debuted on SC  Berliner’s second line. His two brothers, Gerhard and Heinz, also took up the game and, by 1929-30, all three were among Germany’s top players. At 5'4" and 140 lbs, Rudi was shockingly fast and skillful. He gained international notice and was considered a premiere European player. After the Ball brothers moved to St. Moritz, they went on to play for Diavoli Rosso Milano (Milan, Italy).

As the 1936 Olympics approached, Germany selected the players for its national team and deliberately ignored Ball. However, Gustav Jaenecke, Germany’s only other star player and one of Rudi Ball’s close frends, refused to play without him. The Germans, for whom Olympic victory was supremely important, recognized that they had no chance in ice hockey without Jaenecke and that Bell would be a critical asset. Rudi agreed to play for Germany with one stipulation - that his parents be allowed to emigrate.

The Germans finished 5th in Olympic hockey in 1936, because Rudi Ball ended up playing with an injury. The Nazis kept their end of the bargain and the Balls moved to Johannesburg, South Africa. Rudi continued to play for SC Berliner until 1948, when he moved to South Africa. Ball passed away in 1975, He was posthumously inaugurated into the International Ice Hockey Federation Hall of Fame in 2004.

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