Helene Mayer

Biographical information

RolesCompeted in Olympic Games
Full nameHelene Julia•Mayer (-Falkner von Sonnenburg)
Used nameHelene•Mayer
Nick/petnamesblonde He
Born20 December 1910 in Offenbach am Main, Hessen (GER)
Died15 October 1953 in Heidelberg, Baden-Württemberg (GER)
Measurements183 cm
AffiliationsFC Hermannia, Frankfurt am Main (GER)
NOC Germany
Medals OG
Gold 1
Silver 1
Bronze 0
Total 2


Helene Mayer was the daughter of a doctor. She learned to fence at the “Offenbacher Schule” of “Cavaliere” Arturo and his son Fritz Gazzera. She won her first German Championship in foil in 1924 when she was only 13, and by 1930, had been a six-time German Champion. In 1928 she won the Italian Championship and in 1929 and 1931 she won the European Foil Championships, the forerunner of the World Championships. In 1933 her club excluded her because she was “half Jewish”. Mayer left Germany at the time, because of their treatment of Jews, and settled in the United States, eventually winning the US foil title eight times (1934-35, 1937-39, 1941-42, and 1946). Competing for Germany she added a third World Title in 1937, when the event was called World Championships for the first time, and also won a silver medal with the German foil team. Mayer won the gold medal at the 1928 Amsterdam Olympics in the individual foil, came in fifth at the 1932 Los Angeles Games, and added another silver medal at the 1936 Berlin Olympics.

After international discussions began about boycotting the 1936 Olympics, Germany offered her a place on the 1936 Olympic Team as their token Jewish athlete, and she was the only German Jewish participant at the 1936 Berlin Games. During the 1936 Olympics Mayer wore the German uniform with the Swastika, and after her silver medal, gave the Nazi Salute (Hitlergruß) on the podium, which earned her severe criticism from the world press, one of her hardest detractors being the writer Thomas Mann, who had fled to Switzerland in protest of Nazi policies, and would later settle in the USA. In 1952 Helene Mayer returned to Germany, settled in München, married Baron Falkner von Sonnenburg, dying only one year later from breast cancer. In 1968, the German Post issued a stamp in memoriam, and in 1963 she was inducted in the US Fencing Hall of Fame.


Games Discipline (Sport) / Event NOC / Team Pos Medal As
1928 Summer Olympics Fencing GER Helene Mayer
Foil, Individual, Women (Olympic) 1 Gold
1932 Summer Olympics Fencing GER Helene Mayer
Foil, Individual, Women (Olympic) 5
1936 Summer Olympics Fencing GER Helene Mayer
Foil, Individual, Women (Olympic) 2 Silver

Special Notes