Paul ‘Yogi’ Mayer

Mayer was born in 1913 in Rhineland-Palatinate, a state in West Germany to a Jewish family. His mother died when he was six years old and his father, who was a seed merchant, died when he was twelve.

He never explained how he acquired the nickname ‘Yogi’.

Mayer studied at Berlin and Frankfurt universities, however once the Nazis came into power they prevented Jews from attending higher education and Mayer was forced to halt his studies and take up a job as a PE teacher.

He was an extremely talented and natural athlete and swimmer and hoped to be included in the German Olympic team in 1936. However, Germany also excluded Jewish athletes from competing as part of their Olympic team, yet Mayer still attended as a sports journalist.

Mayer married his wife Isle in 1938 and had a son a year later. They fled Germany in 1939 to escape the persecution of Jews under the Nazi government.

Once Mayer and his family arrived in England, he enrolled in the British Army and was first assigned to the Pioneer Corps and then to the Special Operations Executive. In 1946, he was discharged from the army and settled in Hampstead with his family.

After the war, Mayer was asked to lead the Primrose Youth Club, which was established in 1947 to support the Boys. It ran a range of activities - served a three course Kosher dinner, ran their own magazine ‘The Primrose Leaves’ and conducted camping trips to the Isle of White.

Mayer saw the club as a way to allow other Jewish refugees to meet and form relationships with each other, whilst also encouraging them to use their survival skills to thrive in post-war British society.

In 1949, Mayer became an art and PE teacher at Hasmonean Grammar School in Hendon and worked as a sports instructor at Brady Boys’ Club in the evenings. As club leader, he ensured that hundreds of poor boys from the East End could enjoy a wide range of activities and receive motivation to aspire to greatness and succeed in life.

He left Brady Boys’ Club in 1965 and was appointed as youth officer for Islington, where he established the Islington Youth Theatre and developed the playing grounds by introducing floodlights and AstroTurf.

After his retirement in 1980, he continued his community service by supporting the youth and community studies programme at North London College in addition to becoming a governor of Islington College. He also returned to Germany to talk to young people about Jewish life in Germany before and after the Nazi’s rise to power.

In 1997, Mayer was awarded an MBE that recognised his services to the community, and he was also granted an honorary degree by Potsdam University a year later. In 2004, he published his book ‘Jews and the Olympic Games: Sport – A Springboard for Minorities’ which further demonstrates his passion for athleticism that he held throughout his life. Mayer died in 2011, leaving his wife Isle and his three children.

This profile was written by Ruby Kwartz.

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