Two Israeli teams playing in the PONY European Championships in Prague in mid-April had their own Holocaust Remembrance Day experiences, as they found themselves deep inside East Europe on the solemn day. Both the Under 14 and Under 16 sides of the Israel Association of Baseball played their first games of the tournament on April 16.
Following the Under 14 game, the team chose to mark the day in the historic Jewish quarter of Prague. And the personal history of two of the players made the tour especially meaningful.
Daniel Laderman, a 13-year-old infielder from Tel Aviv, stopped with the group at the Altneuschul, one of the oldest synagogues in Europe, where, according to legend, the famous Maharal of Prague created a golem to protect the Jews. It was not just another historical site for Daniel – it was where his paternal grandmother’s great-uncle Yitzchak Schmiedt served as chief cantor from 1925-1942, before being deported to Theresienstadt, where he was one of the few rabbis the Nazis allowed to perform weddings. He was also one of the Talmudic scholars assigned to document Jewish books looted by the Nazis across Europe, part of Hitler’s plan for a “Museum of an Extinct Race.” In 1944, Yitzchak was transported to Auschwitz and sent to the gas chambers.
Daniel was playing in Prague for Israel’s national team because Yitzchak’s brother Zev left Europe for Palestine in 1929. In fact, Zev might have arrived earlier were it not for his pious father-in-law, who made him vow to remain in Europe as a condition for marrying his daughter. After the death of his father-in-law (who, on his deathbed, had a nightmare about the Jews of Europe being burned), Zev fulfilled his dream of settling in Palestine.
Daniel’s teammate Iddo Rachamimov also has a special connection to Prague. Two of Iddo’s great-grandfathers studied in Prague. One of them, Tibor Burger, studied law and became a judge; he was killed during the Holocaust. Iddo’s other great-grandfather, Jacob Spira, studied medicine and served as a cantor at the Maisel Synagogue during his studies. Later, he worked as a doctor in Slovakia and collaborated with the partisan forces. (Members of Daniel’s family were also involved in partisan activity in Slovakia, so it is possible that the teammates’ ancestors met during this period.)
While Daniel is connected to Prague through his paternal grandmother’s family, he also has deep American roots on his paternal grandfather’s side – including a connection to baseball. His great-grandfather Manuel grew up in Chicago and was a talented athlete. In particular, he loved the game of baseball. He was such an outstanding player that the Chicago Cubs offered him a contract to play first base for them. In the end, he opted for rabbinical school instead. Little would Rabbi Manuel Laderman know that his great-grandson would someday be playing first base – for Israel’s national team.
Following a protracted opening game, the Under 16 team opted to remain at the Eagles Prague baseball field for their ceremony. Surrounded by teams from countries including Germany and Poland, Team Israel lit six memorial candles to commemorate the six million Jews who were murdered in the Holocaust, and members of the team held a ceremony of remembrance.
Both teams were proud to be flying the flag for Israel at their tournaments, as a symbol of the rebirth and strength of modern Israel.
The Under 14 and Under 16 teams finished in 7th and 15th place, respectively, at the tournament.