TAU Olympic Spotlight

TAU Historian Delves into Forgotten 1936 Counter-Olympics
08 August 2016

As the world watches this year's Olympics in Rio, Tel Aviv University is delving into a little-known chapter of the Games' history.


TAU Vice President and historian Prof. Raanan Rein is currently researching the Popular Olympiad in Barcelona, which was planned to counter the Nazi-sponsored 1936 Olympic Games in Berlin, in opposition to the “fascist mockery of the Olympic ideal.” 


The event, organized by the French, Spanish and Catalan authorities, attracted 4,000 Spanish athletes and 2,000 athletes from other countries from a total of 23 teams, including a delegation from Jewish Palestine. Ironically, the nationalist rebellion against the Spanish republican government started on July 18, 1936, one day before the Popular counter-Olympic games were set to begin, and the Games never took place. In the days that followed, Spain became entrenched in a long and bloody civil war.


Prof. Rein's research focuses on the 20-30 Jewish athletes who traveled from Palestine to participate in the counter-Olympics and their subsequent involvement in the Spanish Civil War. The delegation from Palestine included a promising soccer team; most of the players were members of the highly ranked Hapoel Tel Aviv and Hapoel Haifa clubs.


Once the Civil War broke out, several athletes from different countries decided to stay in Spain to join the anti-Fascist militias and fight for the Republic. The Jewish athletes from Palestine discussed the possibility of joining the struggle, but Israel Carmi, head of the Hapoel delegation, forbade it and arranged for their travel back to Palestine.


Not all Jewish athletes from the Palestine delegation were Hapoel members, however. According to Rein, at least three were members of the Palestine Communist Party (PCP), and they decided to stay in Spain. Imre Jacob, Chaim Elkon and Nachum (Arie) Weiss were among the first PCP members to fight in Spain. The three had been deported from Palestine by the British for their communist activity prior to the outbreak of the War and were among the first international volunteers to fight for the Republic. By the end of year, they had all died in battlle.


Prof. Rein is the Elias Sourasky Professor of Latin American and Spanish History. He is also the Head of the S. Daniel Abraham Center for International and Regional Studies. His study on the Barcelona counter-Olympics is funded in part by the Israel Institute of Washington DC.


.Poster courtesy of the Archives of the Trades Union Congress, photos of Imre Jacobi and Nachum Weiss courtesy of the Eretz Israel Museum, Tel Aviv and Yad Izhak Ben Zvi



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