New Budapest exhibition commemorates Jewish-Hungarian athletes

An exhibition featuring the life stories of athletes who were pioneers in forging relations between Hungary and Israel recently opened at the new Puskas Arena in Budapest.

The Game Changers exhibition tells the story of the connection between Hungarian Jewry and Israel utilizing Hungarian sports. Sports have always been used as a tool for social mobility due to athletes being judged only according to their performance.

The exhibit outside the stadium shows photos of former athletes and tells their stories. Each athlete’s picture is accompanied by a short biography in English, Hungarian and Hebrew.

According to a website promoting it, the exhibition “highlights the possibility given by Hungarian sports to touch fame, shatter myths and allow dreams to come true.”

“No area throughout history has allowed this equality and the possibility of conquering the world through the football [soccer] field, the swimming pool or the fencing halls,” said Adi Rubinstein, the exhibition’s curator. “This is the first time this connection has been seen through the eyes of those who have been there and changed Hungarian and Israeli sports as well.”

A soccer match between Hungary and Germany at the new stadium was a perfect setting for the historic exhibition, given that some of the athletes have starred in Hungarian soccer and in European soccer leagues, the organizers said on the website.

The events surrounding the exhibition will be attended by members of the government, the Israeli ambassador to Hungary, representatives from the world of sports and the exhibition’s curator.

Rubinstein said he wanted to highlight through the selection of the various characters “that sports in Hungary and of course football as a leading force, always knew how to appreciate the greatness of its stars no matter what background they came from.”

Among the stars of the exhibit are Jewish-Hungarian athletes Agnes Keleti, Béla Guttmann, Ralph Klein and Alfred Hajus.

Keleti was one of the great Jewish sportswomen of all times and won the Israel Prize for Sports and Body Culture. According to the Maccabiah website, Keleti (born Klein) was born in 1921 in Budapest.

During the Holocaust, she hid by using forged documents and continued to train in secret. At the end of World War II, she resumed her gymnastics training, won the title of world champion and became an Olympic champion with 10 medals, including five gold.

In 1957, Keleti arrived in Israel for the fifth Maccabiah, after which she remained in the country. Keleti developed gymnastics in Israel and served as coach of the national team.

Guttmann was a Hungarian soccer player. He was deported by the Nazis to a slave-labor camp and survived the Holocaust. He was later a coach and manager of A.C. Milan, São Paulo FC, FC Porto, Benfica and C.A. Peñarol. Before the Holocaust, he played for MTK Hungária FC, SC Hakoah Wien and other clubs.

Perhaps the most famous figure displayed in Game Changers, at least in Israel, is Ralph Klein, the late Israeli professional basketball player and coach, who was known as “Mr. Basketball” in Israel.

Klein was born to a Jewish-Hungarian family. His father was killed in Auschwitz. Klein survived together with his family. He played for the Maccabi Tel Aviv basketball team and later coached different teams in Israel and around the world.

The exhibition is a collaboration between the Hungarian and Israeli foreign ministries, the Hungarian Ministry of Sports and the Hungarian Football Association. The exhibition will be shown later in other venues in Hungary and around the world.


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