“First Shtern assembly in Poland, Warsaw, 31 May–2 June 1933.” Polish/Yiddish poster. Printed by Wzorowa, Warsaw, 1933. (YIVO)

Find more information about

at the Center for Jewish History:

NOTE: you will be redirected
to the Web site for the


The Workers’ Society for Physical Education “Shtern” traced its roots to a sports group known as Spartakus, which was established in Warsaw by the Labor Zionist youth organization Yugnt in 1920. In 1923, Spartakus united with a group known as Gwiazda (Star), composed of middle-school students; this new entity then began to refer to itself as the Shtern (Star) Workers’ Sport Club. The club’s formation in the Polish capital provided impetus for the establishment of similar groups elsewhere in the country. A Shtern group formed in Łódź around 1925, and in Kraków in 1928. In 1937—when there were 190 branches of Maccabi and 107 branches of Morgnshtern (the Bundist movement for physical education) in Poland—the Shtern movement was made up of 44 local organizations.

Shtern was affiliated with the Left Po‘ale Tsiyon and shared the party’s attitudes toward socialism, Yiddishism, secularism, and Zionism. Shtern insisted, for example, that its members’ chief goal be socialism (not victory over rival teams, or physical fitness for its own sake). Shtern pointedly published membership books and other materials in both Polish and Yiddish and demanded that local affiliates do likewise. Its leaders also believed that there was no such thing as proletarian sport and therefore promoted even those activities that had initially been soft-pedaled by Morgnshtern. Shtern’s soccer teams seem to have taken pride of place. In 1928 in Warsaw, 70 of the 300 individuals in that city’s Shtern were affiliated with its soccer section.

Stanisław (Shepsel) Rotholc (left) with two other athletes at a sporting event, Poland, 1930s. (Archiwum Dokumentacji Mechanicznej)

Shtern’s insistence that all sports be appropriately played by self-conscious socialists helps explain its attitude toward boxing (which it supported from at least the late 1920s on). The single most prominent athlete in Shtern—Stanisław (Shepsel) Rotholc—was a boxer who won numerous competitions in the flyweight category. Shtern also fostered gymnastics, ping-pong, and other sports and activities. The Shtern movement was instrumental in the formation of the Polish Workers’ Sport Federation (Związek Robotnicych Stowarzyszeń Sportowych; ZRSS). It did not approve, however, of the relatively positive relationships that the ZRSS maintained both with bourgeois Polish sports movements and governmental authorities, and it also disagreed with the decision of the ZRSS to expel certain left-oriented clubs from the federation.

Shtern was simultaneously subjected to—and suffered from—political oppression by the government and popular antisemitism. The facility used by the group in Brisk (Brest-Litovsk), for example, was searched and sealed in 1937. Harassment of Shtern by government authorities also occurred in Pruszków (Yid., Prushkov).

There are no reliable statistics on the total membership of the Shtern movement. However, membership numbers for the Warsaw branch seem to have increased until the mid-1930s, and to have dropped in the years immediately preceding World War II. In the late 1930s, as the Left Po‘ale Tsiyon declined in strength in Poland, so too did the movement for physical education affiliated with it. Whereas the Warsaw Shtern claimed an active membership of more than 700 early in 1937, it admitted that it had roughly 300 fewer activists in 1939. It was, however, not the internal dynamics of Polish Jewry but rather the events of World War II that led to the final disintegration of Shtern.

Suggested Reading

Jack Jacobs, “Jewish Workers’ Sports Movements in Inter-War Poland: Stern and Morgnshtern in Comparative Perspective,” in Jews, Sports and the Rites of Citizenship, ed. Jack Kugelmass (Champaign, Ill., 2006).

YIVO Archival Resources

RG 28, Poland (Vilna Archives), Collection, ca. 1850-1939.