Holocaust survivor, 10-time Olympic medalist Agnes Keleti awarded Israel Prize

Agnes Keleti pictured in 1949
Wikimedia commons: FORTEPAN / Kovács Márton Ernő - CC BY-SA 3.0
Born in Budapest, Hungary in 1921, Keleti survived WWII by working under a false identity

Agnes Keleti, a 96-year-old Holocaust survivor and one of the most successful female Jewish athletes on Tuesday was awarded the Israel Prize in the field of sports.

The Israel Prize is awarded by the state to persons or organizations who have displayed excellence in their field or made major contributions to Israeli culture.  It is considered the State's highest honor.

In a statement, the Education Ministry said that "Keleti is a unique woman, powerful and brilliant. A groundbreaking woman, a leader and a role model among all her students in Israel and abroad, who made history and is living among us."

Born in Budapest, Hungary in 1921, Keleti bengan practicing gymnastics at age four.  By the time she was 16, Keleti had been named Hungary's National Gymnastic champion and was on the fast track to the 1940 Olympic games.

The rise of Nazi Germany and the escalation of WWII led to the games being cancelled, and Agnes, like many Jews in Europe went into hiding.


She managed to acquire forged documents giving her a new identity and spent the war working in a small village as a maid and in a munitions factory.

Her mother and sister were saved by Swedish diplomat Swedish diplomat Raoul Wallenberg, who saved tens of thousands of Jews during the Holocaust.  Her father, aunt and several other extended family members, however, were sent to Auschwitz and did not survive.

After the war ended, Keleti returned to gymnastics and was selected to represent Hungary at the 1952 Olympics in Helsinki and again at the 1956 games in Melbourne.  She won ten medals between the two summer Olympics, five of them gold.

As the 1956 Olympics were underway, Russia invaded Hungary and Keleti, along with 44 other Hungarian athletes requested political asylum in Australia. She move to Israel in 1957 and became a citizen.

During the following decades, Keleti coached and worked with the Israeli national gymnastics team and taught physical education at Tel Aviv University and Netanya's Wingate Institute for Sport.

Keleti "was an object of admiration and awe among the girls and other coaches," the ministry statement said, describing her as "Critical, determined, requiring hard work, perseverance and uncompromising professionalism and endless creativity."

She has been inducted into the International Gymnastics Hall of Fame, the International Jewish Sports Hall of Fame and the Hungarian Sports Hall of Fame.

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