World War II Jewish Neurosurgeon pioneer of Paralympic Games

This year, September 7 – 18, marks the 15th Paralympic Games, hosted in Rio de Janiero. The Paralympic Games is “about transforming our perception of the world. We are all different, there is no such thing as a standard or run-of-the mill human being, but we share the same human spirit” according to Dr. Stephen Hawking who spoke at the opening ceremonies of the previous Summer Paralympic Games held in London in 2012.

This year The Paralympic Games is receiving a wider coverage than ever before. Following a few short weeks after the Olympic Games, NBC is dedicating 66 hours of Paralympic coverage, 32% more airtime than in previous years. According to the President of the International Paralympic Committee, Sir Philip Craven, “Over the years, the Paralympic Games have developed a strong track record for changing and challenging deep-rooted views in society regarding disability. Thanks to widespread media coverage, the Paralympics have established themselves as the world’s number one sporting event for driving social inclusion.

The United States has always been a global leader in social change, including in regards to disabilities; however, research indicates that there is still room for the U.S. to grow, and Rio 2016 can be the catalyst for another level of education and inclusion. I am confident that with more TV coverage than ever before in the U.S., the Rio 2016 Paralympic Games are the best opportunity to further transform U.S. attitudes.”

Painted Portrait of Ludwug Guttman

Portrait of Ludwig Guttman – painted

But none of this would have been possible without Sir Ludwig Guttman, a Jewish-German neurosurgeon who fled Nazi Germany, and pioneered athletic competition as therapy for patients with spinal injuries. He first organized an archery competition for 16 patients in the Stoke Mandeville Hospital in Britain in 1948, where he worked. Four years later, by 1952 the Stoke Mandeville games had more than 130 international competitors and began to catch the eye of the International Olympic Committee. Guttman’s initial efforts led to the first full-scale Paralympic Games in 1960 in Rome.

The story of Sir Guttman and his Games is told in the BBC drama, The Best of Men. To read about his remarkable story as told by his own daughter, Eva Loeffler, go to the article “Meet Ludwig Guttman


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