Gershon Kofler was born in 1906 in Eastern Galicia to a poor family. When World War I broke out, the family fled to Vienna, there his father was taken to the army and his mother died of an illness. The six children were moved from one orphanage house to another until his father returned from the front. Unfortunately his father was unable to support his large family and Gershon at age 14, had to go to work.
In spite of the fact he had to support his family financially, Gershon found the time to be active in sport, particularly in swimming, and reached considerable achievements. On the advice of his brother and due to unemployment in Austria, he decided to immigrate to Israel.
Kofler and Sport in Israel
Gershon arrived to Israel in 1933, worked as a construction worker in Haifa and in the evenings guided sports in “Hapoel” association. He laid the foundation to “heavy athletics” and developed water sports. For a while he worked as a sports teacher at a vocational school in Yagur, then decided to join the kibbutz as a full-fledged member.
1933-1941 Gershon was the leading figure of hand-to-hand combat in the Hagana and Palmach (the elite fighting force of the Hagana), developing a new combat method known as 'Sport Magen (defensive sport). He, published ‘Manuals in Sport Magen’ and a book named ‘Sport Magen, Boxing and Ju-Jitsu’. These texts included a wide variety of techniques such as: punching, release from bear-hugs, defense against stick attacks and escapes from ground positions.
Gershon was active in helping illegal immigrants reach the country’s shores during World War II. With the increasing threat of German invasion and allies to Israel, Gershon was assigned to instruct and train recruits for special military operations.
On 18/05/1941 23 young people – most of them his apprentices – went on a bold action to sabotage the refinery in Tripoli, Gershon was among them. They sailed by motorboat, but the operation was not carried the 23 unit members disappeared without a trace.
His last words
Before leaving to the task, Gershon left a farewell letter to his friends at the Kibbutz in which he wrote: “… I lived a good and honest life. If this role is expected to have mortal danger, I want to go for it with equal courage and willingness that I used so far in my life. Don’t feel sad for me, on the contrary – you should envy me for the responsible role assigned to me to accomplish. I realize that the four years I have been living in the kibbutz are right and honest. I just regret that I found it belatedly. ”
Following Gershon Kofler and Yehuda Markus deaths, their students, published a book named ‘Judo Shimushi’ (Practical judo) in their memory, which contained various drills of hand-to-hand combat.