Stanisław (Shepsel) Rotholc (left) with two other athletes at a sporting event, Poland, 1930s. (Archiwum Dokumentacji Mechanicznej)

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Rotholc, Stanisław

(1912–1996), Polish flyweight boxing champion; member of the Ordnungsdienst (Jewish order police) of the Warsaw ghetto. Before World War II, Stanisław (Shepsel) Rotholc was a member of the boxing division of the Jewish sports club Gwiazda (also known by its Yiddish name, Shtern, meaning Star) in Warsaw. This workers’ sports organization was affiliated with the Left Po‘ale Tsiyon. Competing in the flyweight category, in 1933 Rotholc was the first Jewish boxer to become a Polish national champion.

The following year, Rotholc finished in third place at the European boxing championship, winning a medal for Poland. Thanks to his participation in 16 international championships for Poland, the Gwiazda boxer rose to become the star of the Polish boxing scene in the 1930s. Rotholc successfully fought before audiences numbering in the thousands against German boxers competing with swastikas on their jerseys. His reputation suffered when he participated in the 1936 Olympic games in Berlin, which were boycotted by the Jewish sports organizations of Poland. Rotholc did not make it into the medal-winning ranks. Upon his return, the skilled typesetter was excluded from the Jewish printers’ union. He competed for the last time for Poland in 1939 against Finland.

After the establishment of the ghetto for the Jewish population of Warsaw by the German occupiers in 1941, Rotholc joined the Jewish ghetto police. In this capacity, he participated in smuggling and money transactions. He later firmly denied, however, any involvement in deportations to the extermination camps. After the destruction of the ghetto and the violent suppression of the Warsaw uprising, Rotholc ended up in a labor camp in Germany; his wife, Maria, was murdered. His son, Ryszard, survived the war in hiding, remaining unharmed.

In 1946, Rotholc’s conduct was evaluated in the Sąd Społeczny (citizens’ court) of the Centralny Komitet Żydów w Polsce (Central Committee of Polish Jews); he was accused of collaboration with the occupiers. Rotholc defended himself by asserting that he had tried to use his position to help Jews within the ghetto, taking advantage of the Germans’ respect for the great athlete. Witnesses’ testimonies were contradictory. While Jews claimed to have been beaten by Rotholc and emphasized his brutality, others testified that he managed to save the chairman of Gwiazda, Nehemia Tytelman, from deportation when the latter was already at the Umschlagplatz.

On 29 November 1946, the court sentenced Rotholc to two years of exclusion from the Jewish Community and a three-year suspension of his civil privileges. Sometime after the conclusion of the trial, Rotholc was taken into custody by the Polish Public Prosecutions Service but was released shortly thereafter. The Polish Boxing Association, the former captain of the Polish national team, and government-appointed Polish sports officials continually intervened on Rotholc’s behalf during those conflicts. On 22 June 1948 the sentence of the Jewish citizens’ court against Rotholc was rescinded, and on 6 July 1948 the Główny Urząd Kultury Fizycznej (Head Office of Physical Culture) ended his disqualification as a sportsman in a letter to the association.

Reunited with his son, the former boxer nevertheless left Poland for Belgium. From there he immigrated to Canada, where he lived in Montreal until his death. In Israel and Poland the Rotholc case occasioned various legends, turning him into a resistance activist and even presuming his execution by the Germans.

Suggested Reading

Diethelm Blecking, “Marxism Versus Muscular Judaism: Jewish Sports in Poland,” in Sport and Physical Education in Jewish History, ed. George Eisen, Haim Kaufman, and Manfred Lämmer, pp. 48–55 (Netanya, Isr., 2003); Gabriel N. Finder, “The Trial of Shepsl Rotholc and the Politics of Retribution in the Aftermath of the Holocaust,” Gal-Ed 20 (2006): 63–89; Barbara Stanisławczyk, Czterdzieści twardych (Warsaw, 1997).



Translated from German by Sonja Mekel