USA Table Tennis

May 25 74-Day Countdown to Change in the ITTF's Presidency

By Sheri Cioroslan | June 19, 2014, 5 p.m. (ET)

Day 74, June 19 - The Ravages of World War II & Resulting Peace Initiatives in the ITTF

“Sport can make a powerful contribution to friendship and peace between the peoples.”

ITTF President Ivor Montagu was not able to attend the 1939 WTTC’s in Egypt because he was professionally engaged “in the closing stages of a film production.”  (ITTF Archives, 1939, chairman4.jpg).  He did, however, file a report.  He listed some of the latest concerns (debate about lowering the net, the “pushing” epidemic, future modifications to the WTTC’s, etc).    (ITTF Archives, 1939, chairman1.jpg)

But there was a more pressing geo-political issue that he recognized.  He wrote, “The period covered by season 1938-39 has been a period of development and modification in international affairs.  Although the activities of the Federation are confined strictly to sport, the international character of the Federation, the national character of its constituent associations, has implied that, of necessity, these rapid developments and modifications have not been without their inferential effect upon the affairs of the Federation.”

In fact, after the 1939 WTTC’s, there would not be another WTTC’s held until Paris in 1947.

World War II

World War II was the cause.  And it was the grimmest period in ITTF history.  Being a primarily Jewish sport, table tennis players suffered greatly.   Below is a brief record of what happened to some of our Jewish champions during the war:

  • Laszlo Bellak fought in the U.S. Army for five years, mostly in India and Burma (Table Tennis Legends, 2001, p. 39)
  • Viktor Barna worked in London, occasionally performing exhibitions.  (TTL, p.50)
  • Alojsz Ehrlich (credited for the 1939 WTTC’s in Egypt) spent four years in a concentration camp at Auschwitz.  At Dachau, he was spared from a gas chamber by a guard who recognized him as a famous table tennis player.  When he was rescued, he was on the verge of death.  He weighed less than 80 pounds and hadn’t had anything to eat or drink in eight days.  (TTL, p.62 and en.metapedia.org)
  • Richard Bergmann served four years in the British Royal Air Force.  Carrying his racket and a ball in his backpack, he was among the forces who landed in Normandy on June 7, 1944.  (TTL, p. 89-90)
  • Anglica Rozeanu was not allowed in a gym in Romania during WWII because she was Jewish. (TTL, p. 118)
  • Gertrude Kleinova (member of the WTTC’s gold-medalist 1935 and 1936 Czechoslovakian Women’s Team and gold medal winner of the 1936 Mixed Doubles), along with her husband Jacob Schalinger and her coach Eric Vogel, was deported to Theresienstadt and then Auschwitz, where her husband perished. (Wikipedia)

Post-WWII Table Tennis

This is a brief account of the Jewish players who re-emerged in the sport after World War II:

  • Gertrude Kleinova and her coach Eric Vogel survived Auschwitz and later married. (Wikipedia)
  • Dr. Roland Jacobi became President of the Hungarian Table Tennis Association.  (TTL, p. 29)
  • Zoltan Mechlovits captained the Hungarian team at the 1947 and 1948 WTTC’s.  (TTL, p. 35)
  • Annus Sipos captained the Hungarian women’s team at the 1950 WTTC’s.  (TTL, p.44)
  • Viktor Barna’s neighbors had safeguarded his trophies during the war.  They were movingly returned to him by a Hungarian sport’s delegation after the war.  (TTL, p.50)
  • Alojsz Ehrlich recuperated and played in the 1947 WTTC’s and several more tournaments after that.  (TTL, p. 62)
  • Richard Bergmann obtained British citizenship and represented England in the 1948 WTTC’s.  (TTL, p. 87)

The Heroism of Croatia’s Dolinar Brothers, Zarko and Boris

Zarko Dolinar, a Croatian who was a member of Yugoslavia’s silver-medalist Men’s Team at the 1939 WTTC’s, proved to be a war hero.  Because of his fame as a table tennis player, he was welcomed at his local municipal office.  There he was able to steal blank identity papers and seals.  Using those items, he, along with his brother Boros, were able to rescue about 300 Jews during World War II.  On September 8, 1993, Yad Vashem awarded the two brothers the highest honor of the State of Israel: “Righteous Among the Nations.”  Zarko Dolinar went on to win Men’s Doubles, along with Vilim Horangozo, in the 1954 WTTC’s.  He won a total of eight medals at the WTTC’s and was co-founder of the Swathling Club in 1967.  (TTL, pp. 124-25 and p. 437, yadvashem.org, and wikipedia)

The Post-War Revival of the ITTF

Ivor Montagu organized a “Conference of Table Tennis Representatives” in March of 1946 to begin to discuss post-war revival of the ITTF.  Regardless of geo-political realities, Montagu’s report on the conference suggested “that we should not act prematurely in this matter, but leave relations to develop gently and less rigidly for a time.”  He was talking about relations between people from Axis and Allies countries.  (ITTF Archives, 1946, IMaddress2.jpg)

A vote was passed “That the rights of any Axis country be restored automatically if it be admitted to the United Nations organisation.”  (ITTF Archives, 1946, vote2.jpg)

Many other topics too numerous and complex to detail here were also discussed.  Humorously, at one point Montagu stated, “England is opposed to the office of President and would like to see it abolished.”  (ITTF Archives, 1946, vote5.jpg)

In 1949, Japan was re-admitted to the ITTF.  (ITTF Archives, 1949, AGM2.jpg) 

Germany was re-admitted in 1951.   (ITTF Archives, 1951, AGM7.jpg)  

Peace Resolution in 1950

At the 1950 AGM, Mr. Horn, representing Romania, “explaining that he would speak not of politics, but of sport,” offered the following resolution, “let us resolve that, after we leave here, each in his own country shall work for good relations in the sporting world, and use Table Tennis to help bring together the world’s youth, thereby contributing to world peace; frustrating the forces trying to divide the peoples and so advance a new war, forwarding peace, the development of sport and our youth.”  The proposal was carried unanimously.  (ITTF Archives, 1950, AGM9.jpg)

Along the same lines, a special commission of the President and three Vice Presidents similarly stated, “The Commission considers it wise for Congress to express regret at the existence in the world today of tensions affecting the universality of friendly international sporting intercourse among all peoples, and the hope that the future will see reduction and relaxation of these tensions.”  (ITTF Archives, 1950, AGM16.jpg)

Hungarian Table Tennis Association Resolution on Peace

In 1952, yet another Peace Resolution, this time by the Hungarian Table Tennis Association, was unanimously adopted by the ITTF: 

“Bearing in mind that true sport, conducted in a spirit of friendly emulation, on the one hand can make a powerful contribution to friendship and peace between the peoples, and, on the other, can only flourish at its best in an atmosphere of peace – the Annual General Meeting of the International Table Tennis Federation calls on all Table Tennis players and enthusiasts everywhere to:-

(a)    so conduct their sport that, by modesty, tolerance, keen[n]ess and understanding, they help to increase and strengthen friendships and peaceful sentiments among all peoples without exception;

(b)   give support and encouragement to all those in every country, without distinction of race, religion, politics, and philosophy, who work sincerely to reduce tensions and mistrust throughout the world and to achieve peaceful and mutually agreed solutions to the problems of the day”.  (ITTF Archives, 1952, AGM6.jpg)

New WTTC’s Requirement Established

Finally, to leave no room for doubt or misunderstanding, the English Table Tennis Association proposed a clear resolution “That the entry form for future World Championship events should contain a statement, to be signed by entrants in team and individual events, that they understand and accept the conditions of the Championships, and that they are prepared to compete against all other teams and individuals”.  (ITTF Archives, 1952, AGM7.jpg)

Identity of the International Table Tennis Federation

As the unique history of the ITTF shows, our representatives felt deep sorrow for the suffering and losses that occurred during World War II.  Our leaders were galvanized to make a difference in the world, using Table Tennis as an instrument of PEACE.  That identity, forged in the aftermath of World War II, carries on to this day.  

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