The International Olympics were conceived as a competition meant to foster peace and comradery. Alas, that lovely ideal has often been too difficult for people to live up to. 

One of the most contentious Olympic Games was the 1936 Berlin Olympics. By the summer of 1936, Hitler’s hold on power was clear and the anti-Semitic agenda of the Nazis was rapidly becoming apparent. That year, many Olympic dreams were shattered by the vile behavior of the host nation.

After the American Olympic Committee rejected a petition for a national boycott of the Games, individual athletes had to choose between taking a stand and fulfilling their personal dreams. For some athletes, it was the end of their athletic career.

Syd Koff (Sybil Tabachnikoff 1912-1999) had followed her Track and Field dreams against her parents’ wishes. A native of the Lower East Side, NY, she used to sneak out to train. Her natural talent caught the attention of other athletes and she began to compete. In 1932, Koff traveled to Tel Aviv – a three week ocean journey – and won four gold medals at the Maccabia Games. She earned two more at the 1935 Maccabia Games.

Although she greatly desired the chance to compete at the Olympics, Koff decided that she could not participate in a country that was persecuting her fellow Jews. Perhaps she imagined that she would compete in 1940, but those Games were cancelled due to war. While Syd Koff never had the opportunity to go for Olympic Gold, she certainly earned gold in standing up publicly, at great personal cost, against anti-Semitism.

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