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Thursday, July 22, 2021

Olympic Boxers: Jew or Not

Most people who run sites dedicated to Jewish athletes share a common dislike: determining who is Jewish. We just want to cover the athletes, not act like the chief rabbinate of Israel. The rule at The Jewish Boxing Blog is if a person identifies as Jewish or feels some connection to the religion or the people and wants to be included in The JBB's coverage, then they will be included.

That sounds like a simple enough policy, but it turns out not to be so simple. A boxer's religion isn't often mentioned in their coverage. If they're alive, you can ask them, but asking the boxer is quite awkward and the question is usually ignored. If they've already died it becomes that much more difficult.

That leads us to two boxers who are often included on lists of Jewish Olympians. Albert Schneider's name can be found on most lists of Jewish Olympic boxing medalists, and Waldemar Holberg is counted among Jewish Olympic boxers. After much research conducted for The JBB's Olympic series, they shouldn't be on those lists.

Bert Schneider won a gold medal for Canada at the 1920 Olympics as a welterweight. Born Julius Gustav Albert Schneider in Cleveland, Ohio in 1897, he moved with his family to Canada when he was nine years old. The 1911 Canadian census lists the religion for each member of his family as Lutheran. His obituary states a pastor officiated his funeral service. The few sources that refer to Schneider as Jewish can be primarily traced back to Mike Silver's Stars in the Ring. Despite participating in at least 53 pro bouts, Schneider's only mention in the book is on the list "Jewish Boxers Who Won an Olympic Medal" and he's listed incorrectly as a middleweight. JewsInSports.com lists two different "references" for Schneider, but Schneider is included in neither. Here's a list of Jewish Olympic medalists included in one of the references. There is no mention of Schneider being Jewish in his Canadian Hall of Fame profile and he's not in any Jewish Hall of Fame. Schneider lived an interesting life worth remembering, but I could find no real evidence that he identified as a Jew.
Here is The JBB's list of Jewish Olympic medalists in boxing.

Waldemar Holberg fought in the 1908 Olympics as a lightweight. He lost in the first round to Matt Wells, a Jew from Great Britain. BoxRec and Wikipedia categorize Holberg as a Jewish boxer. However, in the Denmark Church Records 1880-84, Vol 3. page 154, Holberg's name appears as Valdemar Birger Marten Holberg, born on May 29, 1883 and Christened on August 5. In 1914, Holberg married Elsa Schwartz, who may have been Jewish, in New York. Perhaps he converted to Judaism, but that is mere speculation as no records have been found. Some sources list his death year as 1927 and others list it as 1947. He and Elsa appear together in the 1930 Denmark census, but 1947 could not be confirmed as the year of his death.
Here is an incomplete list of some Jewish Olympic boxers.

This is not an authoritative account of course, but it makes sense to leave Schneider and Holberg off lists of Jewish boxers since there is no evidence (that I found, at least) of either identifying as Jewish while there is evidence that they identified as Christian. I'd be curious to learn when and why they have found themselves on lists of Jewish boxers or if there is any evidence that they identified as Jewish. Please comment below or email me at JewishBoxing at Yahoo if you have any information about either.

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