Franz Orgler was a German-Jewish track and field athlete, winner of six gold medals and two silver medals in the 400m and 800m events at the Maccabi championships that took place in Germany in the years 1934-1937. Orgler was also a member of the German team headed for the 1936 Olympic Games in Berlin, but was removed from the team on account of his Jewish identity. One year later, he escaped Germany for Sweden, where he continued his athletic career.
Franz Yaakov Orgler was born in 1914 in the town of Barmen, which merged with three other towns in 1929 to create the city of Wuppertal in western Germany. He grew up in a liberal household. His father Kurt was a well-known lawyer, and leader of the Wuppertal Jewish community from 1931 until the community was destroyed by the Nazis. Franz was the only Jewish member of the municipal sports club, "Black White Barmen". In 1933 he joined the Jewish sports club, "Hakoach" Köln, and would travel to Köln on a regular basis for training, in addition to his activities at the Barmen club.
Franz ran the 400m and 800m at the German Youth Championships and was awarded the prestigious "Golden Needle" by the German Sports Authority. The following appeared in a local German-Jewish newspaper in 1933:
This year's greatest performance was given by 18-year-old Franz Orgler of "Hakoach" Köln. He is the only Jewish athlete who participated in the German Sports Authority's preparatory course for the Olympic Games, and attained the highest score in the qualifying event for the 800m.
In October 1933, Orgler joined the Zionist Maccabi Sports Union. He preferred this club over Jewish sports unions with a German nationalist orientation, not so much for ideological reasons, but rather due to pragmatic considerations: here he was guaranteed a competition on his level, which would improve his running scores.
In March 1934, Franz was invited to the German Olympic team's training camp, after which he was accepted as a member of the German team for the Berlin Olympic Games. The Nazi authorities permitted his membership on the team despite his being Jewish. This was a compromise they were forced to make to the International Sports Association in order to express tolerance towards Jews, a public relations gesture in the run-up to the Olympic Games. In the course of that year, Franz competed not only in the 800m, but also in the 100, 400 and 1000m, and was German Maccabi champion in the 400m and 800m.
At age 21, Franz had the opportunity to take part in the 1935 Maccabiah Games. He was warned by his coach, Pfeifer, that if he went ahead and competed, he would no longer be able to hold membership at the "Black White Barmen" club. Franz decided to compete, and was thrown out of the club.
His participation in the Maccabiah expressed a clear affiliation with Judaism, but the termination of his club membership would presumably have occurred within a few months regardless, as Jewish sportsmen were being expelled from non-Jewish clubs at that time due to the increasingly oppressive Nazi anti-Jewish policies. Indeed, within a short period, Orgler was also removed from the German Olympic team.
In response to the deteriorating legal status of German Jews and their increasing isolation from German society, Orgler was one of the founders of the "Hakoach" Wuppertal sports club. In the absence of a coach, he had to create a training program for himself. Furthermore, the running track assigned to members of the "Hakoach" Wuppertal club was very far from the city itself. In this period, a tournament took place between the Zionist Maccabi organization and the nationalistic German-Jewish Sportbund Schild, and Orgler proved very instrumental in Maccabi's victory at this tense and charged competition.
Orgler continued to excel during 1935 and 1936. During the period of the Berlin Olympics in 1936, there was a massive foreign press presence, and the Nazis therefore had to temper their behavior towards the Jews. Once the Olympics were over, in the second half of 1936, the Jews' plight worsened again. In May 1937, Orgler fled to Sweden. His sister Eva had already moved to Italy in 1933. In 1939, his other two siblings escaped: his sister Mary-Louise to Britain, and his brother Hans Joachim to Sweden.
Once in Sweden, Orgler joined a Hachshara (pioneer training) program in preparation for immigration to Eretz Israel (Mandatory Palestine). In a risky move, he returned to Germany in August 1937 in order to compete in the Berlin Maccabiah Games. He won the gold medal in the 800m and the silver medal in the 400m, and managed to return to Sweden, despite the obstacles placed in his way by the German police. In addition to his participation in the Hachshara program in Sweden, he continued to compete, attaining success there too. In 1937 he achieved the highest Maccabi scores for the 400m and 800m, and maintained the lead in the 400m in 1938, with a score of 50.6 seconds.
When Orgler's residency permit expired and he was about to be evicted to Denmark, his athletics club, the "Hörby" came to his aid and helped him stay in Sweden. Other athletes who were forced to depart for Denmark were caught after the Nazi invasion of Denmark, and eventually deported and murdered. Orgler himself became the sports coordinator for Maccabi Stockholm. In 1946, 31-year-old Orgler attained the world Maccabi record of 4:01:4 minutes in the 1500m. In 1947, after ten years of residency in Sweden, Orgler received Swedish citizenship and served in the Swedish Army, changing his name from Franz to Frans.
On 20 July 1942, Orgler's parents, Kurt and Adele were arrested. They were taken to Dusseldorf and deported to the Terezin ghetto the following day. On 28 October 1944, Kurt and Adele were deported to Auschwitz. Neither of them survived.
Franz-Frans Orgler passed away in Sweden in 2015 at the age of 100.