Imi Lichtenfeld is a name known in Israel, but it is almost unknown in Slovakia, where he grew up. This versatile athlete, creator of the Krav Maga self-defense system and one of the passengers on the legendary Pentcho steamer, was finally commemorated with a plaque, installed on Židovská Street 1 in mid-June.
It was Yaron Lichtenstein, one of his students, who initiated the installation of the plaque. Lichtenstein wanted to pay tribute to Lichtenfeld and remind Bratislava that Imi Lichtenfeld grew up in this city.
“He was probably the greatest man I had ever met in my life,” said Lichtenstein during the unveiling ceremony, whom Lichtenfeld had trained since he 14 years old. “He taught me everything I know. Not just to drink or use a knife and fork, but also loyalty and responsibility.”
Who was Imi Lichtenfeld?
Imrich “Imi” Lichtenfeld was born in Budapest on May 26, 1910, even though some sources claim Bratislava as his place of birth. His parents came from the Slovak territory of the then Austro-Hungarian Empire. His father Samuel was from Mliečno, today part of Šamorín, and his mother Janka was from Bátorské Kosihy.
Imrich “Imi” Lichtenfeld
- born on May 26, 1910 in Budapest
- he spent his childhood, youth and early adulthood in Bratislava
- he became a successful athlete and in the period of growing anti-Semitism he co-created a Jewish defence group to protect the community
- on May 18, 1940, he embarked on the Pentcho river steamer in Bratislava and with other Jews embarked on a dangerous cruise to Palestine
- after five months of sailing, Pentcho was wrecked on a desert island in the Aegean Sea
- Imi and other four men boarded the life boat and went for help
- after four days they were rescued by a British destroyer and taken to Alexandria. Here Imi underwent ear surgery
- after the recovery he joined the Czechoslovak Legion in May 1941
- in 1942 he applied for entry into the British Mandate Territory of Palestine. He was granted permission.
- here he firstly trained members of paramilitary organisations and later, until 1967, served in the Israeli army
- in 1960 he married Illana, originally from the Slovak village of Hričovské Podhradie
- Imi Lichtenfeld died in Netanya, Israel, on January 9, 1998
Later, they moved to Bratislava where Imi grew up and spent his early adulthood. His father was a police inspector and had important influence on the course of his son’s life. As a young man, he joined the circus where he wrestled, performed feats of strength and was introduced to various unconventional sports and techniques for fighting like Jiu-itsu. Later, as a member of the Municipal Police in Bratislava, he taught officers how to defend themselves and subdue dangerous offenders without the use of a weapon.
The father supported Imi in a wide range of sports - swimming, gymnastics, wrestling and boxing. In 1928, Imi won the Czechoslovak junior wrestling championship, a year later among adults and in boxing.
He utilised all his experiences from boxing and wrestling from the mid-1930s, when violence against Jews began to spread throughout Slovakia, including Bratislava. Imi Lichtenfeld and his friends from the Jewish organisation Betar decided not be passive and established a Jewish defence group to protect the community.
In 1940 he, along with some other members of Betar, boarded the rusty river steamer Pentcho to sail down the Danube River to Palestine in search of a new homeland, and to be there upon the establishment of a Jewish state. Even though the steamer was wrecked, they reached the land of which they had dreamed.
Afterwards, Imi Lichtenfeld trained members of paramilitary organisations in the British mandate territory of Palestine, where Israel later formed, which later transformed into the Israeli army. He served until 1967.
Krav Maga self-defence system
In Hebrew 'Krav Maga' means close combat. Imi created this self-defence system in memory of his father and to give Jewish people something to defend themselves with.
“He saw it as his legacy to the Jewish people, a tool for them to protect themselves so past events would never be repeated,” said Yaron Lichtenstein, who considers Krav Maga the most comprehensive martial art in the world.
13. Jul 2018 at 16:41 | Jana Liptáková