Ben Helfgott grew up in the town of Piotrków Trybunalski in Poland and was nine years old at the time of the German invasion. In October 1939 he and his family were herded into what was to become the first Nazi created ghetto in occupied Poland. In 1942, at the age of twelve, he registered for work at the local glass factory as he was led to believe that those who worked for the German war effort would not be chosen for transportation to the death camps. A man called Janota was in charge of his work unit and would continually treat Helfgott in a brutal manner. By coincidence Janota would regularly borrow a horse and cart from a friend of Ben’s father. When Janota next visited to borrow the horse Ben’s father was present and asked Janota why he treated Ben so badly. Afterwards the horse owner refused Janota permission to borrow his horse but changed his mind when Ben’s father spoke on Janota’s behalf.
A few weeks later the transportations to the Triblinka extermination camp began, 22,000 out of 24,500 Jews in Piotrków were sent to their deaths. On the final day on transportations the trains were not filled to capacity and the SS marched into the glass factory and rounded up anybody they suspected was Jewish. Ben was stopped but insisted that he was a Pole and not a Jew. The SS continued to question him but at that moment Janota came over and lied to the SS that Helfgott was indeed Polish. Helfgott spent the three remaining years of the war being moved from one labour camp to another. Although weak and skeletal in appearance he survived and was liberated from the Theresienstadt concentration camp in 1945. His family were not so fortunate, his mother and eight year old sister were victims of a mass execution in the forests near Piotrków and his father was killed attempting to escape from a "death march" a few weeks before the end of the war.
Together with 700 other orphans he was sent to England and soon discovered a talent for weightlifting. He became British champion in 1954 in the featherweight division and was later three times national lightweight champion. Helfgott also won a bronze medal in 1958 British Empire Games (750 pounds, represented England) and was three times a champion at the Maccabiah Games in Israel. On both his Olympic appearances he was captain of the British weightlifting team.
A clothing manufacturer by profession he has been a prominent member of the Jewish community in Britain. He helped to form a charity, the 45 Aid Society for Holocaust Survivors in the UK, served on the Board of Deputies of British Jews and was a member of the Council of the Conference on Jewish Material Claims Against Germany. He was elected to the Jewish Sport Hall of Fame in 1995. A biography of Helfgott, entitled Ben Helfgott: From Victim to Champion was published in 2000.
|1956 Summer||27||Melbourne||Weightlifting||Men's Lightweight||Great Britain||GBR||13|
|1960 Summer||30||Roma||Weightlifting||Men's Lightweight||Great Britain||GBR||18|
|1956 Summer||27||Melbourne||Weightlifting||Great Britain||GBR||Final Standings||13||340.0|
|1956 Summer||27||Melbourne||Weightlifting||Great Britain||GBR||Military Press||4||112.5|
|1956 Summer||27||Melbourne||Weightlifting||Great Britain||GBR||Military Press||Lift #1||AC||105.0||o|
|1956 Summer||27||Melbourne||Weightlifting||Great Britain||GBR||Military Press||Lift #2||AC||110.0||o|
|1956 Summer||27||Melbourne||Weightlifting||Great Britain||GBR||Military Press||Lift #3||AC||112.5||o|
|1956 Summer||27||Melbourne||Weightlifting||Great Britain||GBR||Snatch||11T||100.0|
|1956 Summer||27||Melbourne||Weightlifting||Great Britain||GBR||Snatch||Lift #1||AC||95.0||o|
|1956 Summer||27||Melbourne||Weightlifting||Great Britain||GBR||Snatch||Lift #2||AC||100.0||o|
|1956 Summer||27||Melbourne||Weightlifting||Great Britain||GBR||Snatch||Lift #3||AC||105.0||x|
|1956 Summer||27||Melbourne||Weightlifting||Great Britain||GBR||Clean & Jerk||15T||127.5|
|1956 Summer||27||Melbourne||Weightlifting||Great Britain||GBR||Clean & Jerk||Lift #1||AC||127.5||o|
|1956 Summer||27||Melbourne||Weightlifting||Great Britain||GBR||Clean & Jerk||Lift #2||AC||132.5||x|
|1956 Summer||27||Melbourne||Weightlifting||Great Britain||GBR||Clean & Jerk||Lift #3||AC||132.5||x|
|1960 Summer||30||Roma||Weightlifting||Great Britain||GBR||Final Standings||18||337.5|
|1960 Summer||30||Roma||Weightlifting||Great Britain||GBR||Military Press||11T||110.0|
|1960 Summer||30||Roma||Weightlifting||Great Britain||GBR||Military Press||Lift #1||AC||110.0||o|
|1960 Summer||30||Roma||Weightlifting||Great Britain||GBR||Military Press||Lift #2||AC||115.0||x|
|1960 Summer||30||Roma||Weightlifting||Great Britain||GBR||Military Press||Lift #3||AC||115.0||x|
|1960 Summer||30||Roma||Weightlifting||Great Britain||GBR||Snatch||19||100.0|
|1960 Summer||30||Roma||Weightlifting||Great Britain||GBR||Snatch||Lift #1||AC||100.0||x|
|1960 Summer||30||Roma||Weightlifting||Great Britain||GBR||Snatch||Lift #2||AC||100.0||o|
|1960 Summer||30||Roma||Weightlifting||Great Britain||GBR||Snatch||Lift #3||AC||102.5||x|
|1960 Summer||30||Roma||Weightlifting||Great Britain||GBR||Clean & Jerk||18T||127.5|
|1960 Summer||30||Roma||Weightlifting||Great Britain||GBR||Clean & Jerk||Lift #1||AC||127.5||o|
|1960 Summer||30||Roma||Weightlifting||Great Britain||GBR||Clean & Jerk||Lift #2||AC||132.5||x|
|1960 Summer||30||Roma||Weightlifting||Great Britain||GBR||Clean & Jerk||Lift #3||AC||132.5||x|