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Monday, August 22, 2022

A Podcast about Boxing and the Holocaust

During the Holocaust, Nazis sometimes pitted concentration camp inmates against one another in boxing matches for their own enjoyment. The loser was often killed. In a fantastic podcast called Holocaust Histories, Jonathan Bonder explores not only these fights, but also the lives of the boxers and the wider historical context.

In each episode a boxer's life is a starting point to delve deeper into his country's history during the Shoah. The subject of the first episode, Victor Perez, is from Tunisia, which harbors its own little-known history during that period. Thus far the podcast has covered Greece, Italy, Germany, and Poland.

Bonder first became interested in these horrific Holocaust bouts through Reinhart Kleist's 2014 graphic novel The Boxer about Harry Haft, a Holocaust survivor and professional boxer who was the subject of a eponymous book by Haft's son and a recent HBO film called The Survivor. Bonder told Jacob Gurvis of the Jewish Telegraph Agency, “I don’t think enough people know about a lot of these people’s stories, like I didn’t. I'm Jewish, I am a sports fanatic, and I didn’t know about this."

Knowledge of the tragedy fades as the years pass. "I think Holocaust discussion and education is important," Bonder told The Jewish Boxing Blog, "as are the individuals and their stories."

Noting that there aren't many high-quality podcasts about the Holocaust, Bonder's hope is to bring a "cinematic" feel to each episode. "If it’s more entertaining then ultimately it will be more educational," he told Gurvis. "The message will get across better."

His professional work as a sound editor contributes to the podcast's success. Haunting music fuses with speeches and news clips to create an intense yet solemn mood. While any discussion of the Holocaust is just too difficult for many, Bonder's steady narration makes it eminently listenable. By placing the boxers within the context of historical events, he treats the boxers and these death matches, not as bizarre sideshows, but with the proper level of importance they deserve. These bouts are yet another prime example of Nazi cruelty, but also of the human spirit's unconquerable will to survive.

While Jewish boxers such as Perez, Pacifico Di Consiglio, Leone Efrati, Eric Seelig, Salomo Aroucho, Jacko Razon and others have been covered over the course of the first six episodes, Holocaust Histories also includes non-Jewish victims as well. Featured in their own episodes have been Johann Trollmann, a Sinti, and Teddy Pietrzykowski, a Polish dissident. Jews were the primary target of Nazi vilification, but it's important to remember other groups suffered as well.

Personally, Bonder has had an on-again-off-again love affair with boxing. "My love of boxing started around the Holyfield-Tyson fights," he told The JBB, "and as a Canadian, I was a big fan of Lennox Lewis around that boxing-era." Lewis retired in 2003.

He then mentioned the 2013 Ring Magazine Fight of the Year. "Bradley vs. Provodnikov renewed my love for the sport." Seemingly as an act of penance for a dubious split decision victory over Manny Pacquiao nine months earlier, Timothy Bradley decided to exchange fire with brawler Ruslan Provodnikov when he could have assuredly boxed his way to victory. By the middle rounds, both men were on the verge of being stopped. Out on his feet when the final bell sounded, Bradley, who would suffer from headaches for weeks after the fight, earned a slim unanimous decision victory.

Uniquely suited to do a podcast about boxing and the Holocaust, Jonathan Bonder produces an excellent series in Holocaust Histories. It's an invaluable resource, one that has greatly added to The JBB's own Holocaust boxing page. For fans of Jewish boxing, Holocaust Histories is an essential listen.

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