A World Champion and Holocaust Hero

Stand for Israel  |  April 3, 2023

Zarko Dolinar - Righteous Gentile and Table Tennis Champion

A Hero and a Scholar

Born to a Christian family in Croatia, Zarko Dolinar became Yugoslavia’s national champion at table tennis at the young age of 18. He would go on to win the World Championship in his sport in 1939, 1951, 1953, 1954, and 1955, dominating the sport before and after World War II.

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 as a hero of the Holocaust.

Friend of the Jews

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 run by Zagreb’s Jewish community, so he had many Jewish friends and did not want to see them deported and murdered.

Immensely popular because of his athletic renown, Zarko found himself 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, would 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. Her parents were both deaf mutes, and Zarko hid them, along with their daughter, until he could 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, a talented athlete 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.

A Winner, a Vet, and a Righteous Gentile

After the war ended, Zarko continued his champion sporting career, winning multiple world titles. He also taught veterinary medicine.

In 1993, Zarko and Boris Dolinar were recognized as Righteous Among the Nations because of the many Jewish lives they saved during such a dark chapter in Jewish — and world — history.