The Jewish Strongman And The Baby Elephant


As the stereotype goes, Jewish men are bookish and sensitive, nerdy and meek, and they don’t let railroad workers drive sledgehammers into tombstones laid on their chests.

Or do they?

Zishe Breitbart, the “Iron King,” was a Jewish circus strongman who became a worldwide sensation in the early 20th century. Bending iron rods with his bare hands, climbing ladders while holding a baby elephant, and withstanding an automobile rolling over his chest—he did it all, while wearing a blue and white leather smock with a Star of David on the back.

The son of a blacksmith from Lodz, Poland, Breitbart had unnatural strength from an early age, and dreamed of becoming a modern-day Samson. Like Houdini, whose theatrical escapes gave hope to a generation of Jews facing oppressive policies and restrictions, Breitbart’s physical prowess became a symbol of strength for his landsmen.

But like Samson, Breitbart fell prey to a tragic weakness. He contracted fatal blood poisoning after performing a grisly trick he’d thought he had mastered. With a single stroke, the strong man fell.

Photo rights reserved by Gary Bart.

Watch a trailer of a fictionalized film about Breitbart:

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