A World Champion and Righteous Gentile
The Fellowship | July 3, 2019
July 3, 1920 – March 9, 2003
Born to a Christian Slovene family in Croatia, Zarko Dolinar became Yugoslavia’s national champion at table tennis at the tender age of 18. He would go on to win the World Championship in his sport in 1939, 1951, 1953, 1954, and 1955. Dolinar is also the only world champion in any sport who held a Ph.D. A biologist, Dolinar taught in universities in both Zagreb and Basel.
But even more than his intellectual and athletic accomplishments, Zarko Dolinar should be remembered for the bravery and kindness he showed during World War II.
In April of 1941, the Nazis invaded Yugoslavia and began to implement their anti-Semitic laws and actions. Zarko coached at the Maccabi Sports Club that was run by Zagreb’s Jewish community, so he had many Jewish friends and did not want to see them deported and murdered.
Because Zarko was immensely popular because of his athletic renown, he was welcome everywhere in the city. Visiting the city’s municipal offices, he swiped a number of blank ID papers and seals. Zarko and his brother Boris then began to create falsified identifications and travel permits for many of Zagreb’s Jews.
One day, Zarko learned that a Jewish student of his, Gerson Apfel, was to be deported to the Jadovno concentration camp. Alarmed, Zarko hid the young man at his home, prepared a falsified permit for him, and then took him to the train station where he was able to escape.
Another Jewish friend of Zarko’s, Zuzi Farler, asked for his help. Zuzi’s parents were both deaf mutes, and Zarko hid them along with their daughter until he was able to procure papers for them. Then Zarko personally escorted the family to safety, saving them from certain death at the hands of the Nazis.
Zarko and Boris saved the lives of countless other Jews from Zagreb, including Dr. Josef Deutsch and Gustav Perl, who was a talented athlete much like Zarko.
Throughout, the Nazis suspected Zarko and his brother of helping Jews, and even imprisoned their father. But they could not stop the Dolinar brothers from doing good.
After the war ended, Zarko continued his sporting career, winning multiple world championships. He also taught veterinary medicine.
Zarko married Judith Duic, a Jewish woman whose family he and Boris had saved, and the couple had one daughter.
In 1993, Zarko and Boris Dolinar were recognized as Righteous Among the Nations because of the many Jewish lives they had saved during such a dark chapter in Jewish — and world — history.