His parents were murdered by the Nazis and he survived starvation and slave labour during the war – before coming to Britain as a refugee and starting an extraordinary sporting career
His father, mother and little sister were shot by the Nazis. From the age of nine, he went from ghetto to ghetto, concentration camp to concentration camp, transported in cattle cars in which people collapsed and died all around him. For a time, he was to all intents and purposes a slave labourer. In the camps, he starved. And, 11 years after being liberated and again four years after that, he took part in the Olympic Games – as a weightlifter, captain of the team representing his new home, Britain.
Such was the early life of Ben Helfgott, who has devoted much of his time since the Rome Games of 1960 to helping fellow Holocaust survivors. Even now, at the age of 88, he is a strong man. Every morning, he lifts his weights, just as he was taught to do 70 years ago, before becoming British lightweight champion. They aren’t as heavy as the ones he worked with when he was famous, but I tried and I couldn’t shift them.