The sports movement was born in Europe in the
late nineteenth century, in conjunction with the formation of modern
nations and mass political mobilization. Among Polish Jews, interest in
sports emerged in the early twentieth century. It was associated with
the development of Zionist ideology, which emphasized the need to raise a
new, strong and healthy generation of young people able to withstand
the difficulties of building a new country in Palestine.
The first Jewish sports clubs were founded at turn of the century in
the Austrian and Prussian partitions. The oldest gymnastics society,
"Dror" [Hebrew, Nightingale] was founded in Lwow by engineer Zinn, who
was its director for thirty-five years. In 1908, A. Kohn established the
"Hasmonea" Jewish Sports Club in Lwow. (The name refers to the
Hasmonean dynasty that ruled Judea in ancient times. The "Ha-koach"
[Hebrew, Strength] Jewish Sports Club was founded in Stanislawow. At the
initiative of members of "Hasmonea", an annual holiday, Lag Ba-omer,
was established in 1913 to celebrate Jewish sports.
After Poland's independence in 1918, these
clubs had branches in many cities. In 1929, the Union of Jewish
Gymnastics and Sports Societies in Poland was founded, known as "Makabi"
(Hebrew, Hammer, the nickname of Judah Maccabee, founder of the
Hasmonean dynasty). Based in Warsaw, it was part of an international
sports movement by that same name. In the late 1930's, about 60,000
young people belonged to its clubs in the various cities. Beginning in
1930, the Jewish youth representation from Poland took part in all of
the "Makabi games" (the Jewish equivalent of the Spartakiade), such as
those in Tel Aviv in 1933. The elite skiing clubs of this union were
very active, and participated in all the Makabi winter games held
abroad. The left-wing parties also created their own sports
organizations. The most popular included the "Morgenshtern" [Yiddish,
Morning Star] Physical Education Association, founded by the Bund; the
"Gwiazda" (Polish, Star) Physical Education Association, sponsored by
Poalei Zion-Left, and the Jewish Workers' Sports Club "Ha-poel" [Hebrew,
Worker], associated with Poalei Zion-Right. These three clubs belonged
to the Union of Workers' Sports Associations, founded in Poland in 1925,
which was under the sway of the Polish Socialist Party. Polish and
Jewish sports clubs cooperated with one another, organizing matches or
Many Jewish sportsmen and women and sports
activists belonged to national organizations in Poland, such as the
soccer players L. Sperling (a member of the Polish soccer team at the
1924 Olympics) and Gintel, associated with "Cracovia"; M. Hamburger, one
of the founders of the Warsaw team "Polonia", as well as one of its
members; R. Gruenberg, a marksman and activist of the Academic Sports
Union in Krakow (the captain of the Polish shooting team at the 1924
Olympics); the boxing coach of Gdansk's "Gryf" team, Singer; and J.
Arnasztajn, tennis player and member of "Lublinianka". In chess,
considered a sport, famous Jewish players included I. Appel, J.
Cukierman, H. Friedman, A. Frydman, S. Kohn, M. Lowcki and D.
In the late 1930's, some of the Polish clubs introduced an "Aryan clause", such as "Warta" in Poznan and "Wisla" in Krakow.
After the Second World War, in 1946-1950, the following Jewish
sports clubs were active: "Gwiazda", "Morgenshtern", "Ha-poel" and
"Makabi". Jewish clubs were most numerous in Lower Silesia, where there
were fourteen; they also existed in Lodz and Warsaw. They were soon
liquidated along with Jewish political parties.
Since 1989, the "Makabi" club is operating in Warsaw, with shooting and chess sections.