Alfred Nakache

French Olympic Swimmer and Holocaust Survivor

Alfred Nakache

Alfred Nakache was born in Constantine (French Algiers) in 1915. One of ten children, he grew up in a traditional Jewish home. By 1931 he was already the Swimming Champion of North Africa and was one of the pioneers of the butterfly stroke.  Nakache continued to excel, and competed in French swimming championships in Paris during the 1930s.  He was a member of France’s swim team at the 1936 Olympic Games in Berlin, where he attained fourth place in the 4x200m freestyle event. From 1936 onwards, Nakache won the French 100m freestyle six times, the 200m freestyle four times, the 200m breaststroke four times, and an assortment of other French swimming titles, many of them setting national records.

When the Germans invaded France, Alfred, together with his wife Paule, escaped to Toulouse in Vichy-France, where they opened a sports studio. In 1941, Nakache set the world 200m breaststroke record (2:36.8). However, from 1943, as a Jewish swimmer he was barred from entering further swimming races.  Alfred Nakache and his family tried to escape with other Jews to Spain from Toulouse via the Pyrenees, but fearing that their toddler daughter's crying would endanger the others, the Nakaches turned back to Toulouse.

In November 1943, Alfred Nakache and his family were denounced in Toulouse, arrested and detained in St. Michel prison.  On 26 December 1943, the Nakaches were taken from Toulouse to Drancy, where they spent their last month together.  In January 1944, the Nakaches were deported on convoy 66 from Drancy to Auschwitz, where out of the 1153 deportees, 291 people were selected for forced labor. The rest of the deportees were gassed immediately upon arrival, among them Alfred's wife and daughter.  Unaware of his family's fate, Alfred was sent to work in the labor camp Auschwitz III-Monowitz and survived.

Alfred Nakache was sent on a death march from Auschwitz in the harsh winter of 1945, and was eventually liberated at Buchenwald. After the war, he returned to Toulouse, where he learned that his wife Paule and daughter Annie had been murdered at Auschwitz. The Pages of Testimony in their memory were submitted to Yad Vashem by Paule's sister, Lorne Gilbert.

After the war's end, Alfred Nakache recuperated and returned to swimming. He went on to set the 3x100m relay world record in 1946, less than a year after his liberation from Buchenwald, and swam in the first postwar Summer Olympics in 1948 in London. In 1983, Alfred Nakache died of a heart attack during a training session.