He won countless medals in table tennis • But Doliner was a hero who risked his life in World War II Europe • The story of a Righteous Among the Nations
Did not forget his friends at Maccabi
During World War II, many European sports stars took advantage of their high status and the fact that they were well-known figures in the society in which they lived and worked, to do what they saw as the right thing to do: save Jews from the jaws of Nazi rule.
They risked not only their lives, of course, but also the lives of those close to them.
Some managed to survive and gained worldwide recognition, others paid with their lives.
Of course, these stars were not Jews, but that did not change them at all because they saw civilians who saved, first and foremost, human beings.
One of those heroes, one of the least known, was Jerko Doliner, the Croatian table tennis star.
He trained and worked at the local "Maccabi" club in the city of Zagreb, and the Jews were his best friends and of course his trainees.
Doliner was in the late 30s the promising star of the world table tennis industry.
After the German invasion of Yugoslavia, in April 1941, when the Croatian puppet government, the Ustasha, happily cooperated with the Nazis, Doliner realized he had to take action.
Officials in the offices of the various authorities identified the star who won many championships and were happy to let him enter the offices.
During his visits to these offices, Doliner would steal IDs and pass them on to his Jewish friends from the table tennis club.
Doliner and his brother Boris assisted many Jews not only in obtaining identity cards, but in other ways.
For example, they were often accompanied to hiding places.
No one dared say anything to the local star of Zagreb.
Sometimes he even managed to match Jewish athletes with Tito's partisans who were looking for men who knew how to fight.
The success of the Doliner brothers at one point, predictably, aroused the suspicions of the authorities.
They were summoned for a conversation, which ended with nothing.
Even after their father was summoned for questioning, after which he was briefly detained, the brave brothers did not shy away, and after the release of their father continued to work in secret.
It is estimated that the two rescued close to a hundred Jews, including their friends from the "Maccabi" club, risking their lives each time.
Celeb and Professor
When the international competitions returned after the war, Jerko Doliner became the undisputed star of European and world table tennis.
Despite a long hiatus, nothing stopped his erupting talent.
He has won eight medals at world championships.
He was the best player at the European Championships in which he competed during the 1950s and added the world title in doubles at the 1954 London Championships.
He became the first celeb in the world of table tennis and produced his own various rackets, which became his trademark.
Along with his success on the field, he studied veterinary medicine and biology and became a professor.
He took advantage of his success as a table tennis player to meet stars around the world and ask them for their autographs.
During the 1990s he became a Righteous Among the Nations, and at his funeral in March 2003 his autograph albums were unveiled, which included nearly 8,000 autographs by world celebrities, including Charlie Chaplin, John Lennon and even the painter Pablo Picasso.
Various competitions in the world of table tennis still bear Doliner's name, without most of the contestants at all knowing the story behind the champion.