This Day in Jewish History

1946: Polish Jews Punish Boxing Superstar for Collaborating With Nazis

Boxing champ Shepsel Rotholc tried to clear his name of charges of abusing Jews while serving in Warsaw Ghetto Jewish police. The tribunal didn't buy it.

From "Sport in pre-war Warsaw": Paper dedicated to "Lord of the Ring, our Szapsio" authored by  Jarosława Rokickiego.
Wikimedia Commons

On November 29, 1946, the Central Committee of Polish Jews ruled that Shepsel Rotholc, a former Polish national boxing champion, had collaborated with the Nazi occupiers of the country during his service in the Jewish police in the Warsaw Ghetto, and banned him from any involvement with the post-war Polish Jewish community for a period of two years.

Shepsel Rotholc was born on July 2, 1913, in Warsaw. In 1929, he joined the Jewish Warsaw Gwiazda (“Star”) boxing club, which was affiliated with the left-wing Poalei Ziyon political party.

Boxing in the featherweight division (under 50.8 kilograms), Rotholc won the national championship in 1933, and was seen by many as the best in his weight class in Europe.

In 1936, when the Olympic Games were hosted by Germany, Rotholc was in a quandary: Jewish organizations in Poland had decided to boycott the Berlin event, but he was under pressure from both the Polish army and the national Olympic committee to participate. In the end, he did travel to Berlin, though he did not win any medals.

A job with the Judenrat

Upon his return to Warsaw, Rotholc, who made his living as a printer, was expelled from his Jewish trade union. He found work as a driver and a mechanic.

In 1938, shortly after Kristallnacht, Rotholc competed against a German boxer, Nikolaus Obermauer,  who, like other members of his national team, donned a jersey decorated with a swastika. The fight took place in Breslau, then a stronghold of Nazi support, but the Polish fans who were present shouted at the Jew to “beat the German, beat him into the swastika.”

By April 1939, however, Rotholc was dropped from the Polish team when it went to the European championships in Dublin, apparently because he was Jewish. After the invasion of Poland, he and his wife and young son were confined, like other Jews in Warsaw, to the ghetto.

There, he took a job with the Jewish Order Police, the Judenrat’s much-hated security force, which was charged with keeping order in the ghetto. In that capacity, he profited from smuggling goods into the ghetto, and was widely accused of beating Jews.

Despite his efforts to spirit his family to safety outside the ghetto, Rotholc’s wife, Maria, was arrested and killed by the Germans, and he was sent to a labor camp after the liquidation of the ghetto, in 1943.

Beating up Jews

In 1946, after the war’s end, the Jewish community established a people’s court, where Jews suspected of collaboration were put on trial. Rotholc, anxious to have his name cleared, took the initiative of applying to the Jewish court for “rehabilitation.”

The trial of the former people’s hero, one of 25 such trials in Warsaw, took place that November. According to historian Gabriel Finder, the court’s judges accepted much of Rotholc’s defense, and based their November 29 conviction of him, of “participating in acts of extermination against the Jewish people,” mainly on the fact that he remained active in the police even after the end of the great deportation of September 1942, “when the true objective of resettlement and the fate of his brothers were already clear to everyone and also to him.”

Rotholc put up a spirited defense. He acknowledged the smuggling, but denied either that he had beaten anyone or actively participated in rounding up Jews for deportation. His principal goal had been to save his own family, he said, and he also had witnesses who testified that he had personally saved the life of Nehemia Tytelman, the chairman of Gwiazda, as he stood on the railroad platform for deportation to the East.

Yet in sentencing Rotholc, the court imposed on him the harshest punishments at its disposal: a two-year expulsion from the Polish Jewish community, and a three-year ban from participation in any of its activities. It also ordered that the verdict be publicized in the Jewish press.

After two years, the remainder of his sentence was commuted, but in 1949, Rotholc emigrated with his son, Ryszard, who had also survived the war, first to Belgium and finally to Canada, where he worked as a furrier.

Shepsel Rotholc died in Toronto, Ontario, in 1996.