Ben Bril: the youngest-ever Olympic boxer

Jewish boxer and referee who survived the Holocaust

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by
Adrian Murphy (Europeana Foundation)

In 1928, on his birthday, Ben Bril stepped into a boxing ring. His match was against Myles McDonagh, an Irish flyweight. McDonagh was 23. Bril was turning 16 that day - he was the youngest ever boxer to take part in the Olympic Games.

This was a second round match (Bril had won a bye in his first round fight). Bril won his match, before being defeated in his next match. Overall, he finish fifth, just outside winning a medal.

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Ben Bril was born in 1912 in Amsterdam - host city for the 1928 Olympics. He was the one of seven children to Jewish parents Klaartie Moffie and Abraham Bril, who worked as a fish seller. One day went with his brother to a boxing club. From that day onwards, Bril started training seriously.

Bril's Olympic matches in 1928 came a year after winning his first Dutch national championship. He would go on to win the Dutch national title eight times. He won a gold medal in 1935 at the second ever Maccabiah Games, a multi-sport tournament for Jewish and Israeli athletes.

Politics, discrimination and Bril's Jewish faith were the reasons for 1928 being Bril's only Olympic matches. He was not chosen for the 1932 squad, and boycotted the 1936 Berlin games being held in Nazi Germany.

During World War II, Nazi Germany occupied the Netherlands. In 1942, Bril, who was Jewish, was arrested by Jan Olij, the son of Sam Olij, a former 1928 Olympic team mate.

Together with his wife Celia and son Albert, Bril was deported via the camps Vught and Westerbork to Bergen-Belsen. The family survived the horrors - however many of Bril's extended family were murdered.

In the 1960s, Bril found fame as a boxing referee. He travelled across Europe, refereeing fights for the European Boxing Union. He also returned to the Olympic and Maccabiah Games throught the 1960s and into the 1970s.

Ben Bril died in September 2003 and is remembered today for his boxing career and legacy.


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