International Vegetarian Union (IVU)
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Vegetarian Sportsman Emerich Rath
120th ANNIVERSARY OF A FORGOTTEN HERO
by Jan Stastny

 


 

 

 


from a bodybuilding book

 

 


Signboard at Rath´s store

 


Rath in white at start in berlin 1907

 

 


Old Rath cycling

 

 

A Prague born vegetarian sportsman Emerich Rath used to be famous in the first half of the 20th century, but is hardly known today. He won more than 500 competitions, championships and races all around Europe ; was heavy weigh boxing champion of Germany ; champion of long distance walking and running ; skiing pioneer and champion ; started at Olympic games in London (1908) and Stockholm (1912) ; model in early body bulding books ; won in rowing many times and many other sports.

In his 77th year he wanted to go to the Olympic games in Rome by bike (it's 3000 kilometers from Prague and back!); he was also a succesful sports store owner and propagator of sports and vegetarianism.

He was imprisoned by the Nazis during the second world war and by the communists after the war. He remained a sportsman and vegetarian until the end of his life.  

Emerich Rath was born in Prague in 1883 in a German family, and spent his childhood in the north of Bohemia (Austro-Hungarian Empire that time, now the Czech Republic).

Succesful Propagator of Vegetarianism  

He became a vegetarian at the age of 16 at the end of 19th century and stayed till the end of his life and also was in touch with the vegetarian movement and the IVU. After every competition he won, he never forget to say, that he is a longtime vegetarian. At 14 he moved to Prague to get higher education. Then he went working to Germany, was active in many sportclubs and was one of the bests long distance walkers, runners and athletes. No one was able to beat him.

He started to be famous sportsman, vegetarian and sport magazines and books glorified him. For example, in an interesting book Fleshless Diet (J.L.Buttner, New York 1910):

"Mr. Rath won the fifty kilometers race with military equipment organized by the Komet Sporting Club of Berlin. His equipment weighed sixty two lbs., and he covered the distance in six hours and thirty -two minutes. Medical examinations showed that Rath´s hearth was in excellent condition when he reached the goal and he had only lost 2,8 kilograms of his weight when other competitors lost up to four kilograms."

Rath later completed this race in 6 hours and 13 minutes and this record was never outperformed. He also published a book about his training methods in 1905. He wrote there: "Since 16. I am completely vegetarian and on the base of this practice can say, that meatles nutrition is able to fullfil the most physically active man." He wrote, that he is eating very abstemious, mostly fresh fruits, bread, nuts and seeds, vegetables and from time to time some milk, is teetotaller. (For meateaters is up to this day hard to believe that it is possible to build up a strong body on this diet) During the long distance marches he ate raisins, almonds and drank grape juice. Likes cold water showers, winter swimming in rivers, is using modern training methods. There is an article in Olympic Review from 1941 about sporting diet, the author C. Diem wrote :

"I remember among these victorious vegetarians outstanding endurance walker, a winner of innumerable pack marches, competition endurance walks, long distance skiing contests and paddle- boat journeys, Emerich Rath of Prague. He wasn´t in any way a thin man, as is often the case with vegetarians. On the contrary he is stocky and athletic and had especia§ly strong bones and tremendous muscular development, a true Hercules. He inclined towards an ascetic form of life which has proved efficacious info his fifties and even today enables him to accomplish strenuous performances."

He was very tall, unusually strong and tough and weighted 80, later 100 kilograms and due this was called, as above, as a Hercules or giant. He won a contest for the best body in 1910. He made use of his dispositions to help to the other people in need. Due his abilities he saved many lifes in mountains in the winter and was awarded for riking his life to save others several times. He stayed vegetarian also during his military service during the first world war!  

Sport store owner

He opened his own sport store in Prague in 1929 which became very quickly the best and favourite Sport store in Prague, he had the best equipment from the whole world and Rath himself was very friendly and helpfull tradesman with sense for humour.

Rath was enthusiastic propagator of sport, he build his own weekend house in a beautifull valley of Sazava river and made a sporting place there (tennis field, running track, equipment for high jump etc) and organized competitions for prizes donated by himself. This area was called Rath´s Ranch . Rath was a fan of simply natural life, woodcraft, lived with the respect to the nature and he loved the native americans and was walking barefoot also during the winter. He wasn´t doing the sport for money and always played fair.  

Hard times during the war
He was a German, but a cosmopolitan and when Hitler occupated Czechoslovakia he kept the Czechoslovakian citizenship He hated Nazis and was helping to Jews during the war and for this he spent three months in the Gestapo custody jail. During the war he also helped to Boris Efenberger, a german Jew who survived the holocaust hidden in his store . For such activities was only one penalty at the German courts, the death sentence. You needed much fotitude for doing this this during the war. Rath was a real hero and we can be proud that vegetarians have examples like him  

Worst times after the war
When communists came to the power in Czechoslovakia in 1948 Rath´s store has been confiscated, - as every other private undertaking- and Rath was inprisoned for one year for „propaganda of western life" and was accusated as a „possible hazard for moral development of youth". The reason were scout boys badges (also the scoutboys were on the comunist black list), native american clothes and tomahawk, cowboy hats and Popey the Sailor displayed in the shop window of his store. (Popey the Sailor was in the eyes of communists propaganda of american life, but i think that Emerich Rath liked this guy for his strengh from Spinach eating) So Rath, who liked freedom so much came to prison. He was 65. And his wife died at this time.. It was a hard time for Rath, he lost the woman he loved and the store he had, the state gave him the lovest possible old age pension, which wasn´t enough even for a simply life he had. Additionally, the times were very bad for vegetarians, lack of fresh fruits and vegetables, vegetarian restaurants and stores or organizations were liquidated.

Still doing sport and active vegetarian
But he wasn´t giving up! To earn some money, he started working as a street sweeper or bricklayer, and was optimistic doing this despite his old age. In 1954 (in the age of 71) he was still able to run a 10 kilometers race in a very good time! In 1960 he wrote a greeting letter to World Vegetarian Congres held in Hamburg.(First of these letters of support he sent to the International Vegetarian Union Congress in 1909 !) He wrote „I wish succes to the Vegetarian movement.. Peace to the whole World!" He also described, that he wanted to go to Rome Olympic Games in 1960 by bike and with a tent (3000 kilometers). He was 77 at this time! But the communist didn´t gave him the permition to leave Czechoslovakia, so the sport champion and early Olypics competer only saw the games in TV and radio. (These were the Olympics where another vegetarian, Murray Rose, triumphaly won.)  

Sad end of one optimists
He was in perfect condition till a car hit him on the street, injured him and broke his leg. He went then to his cousine to north Bohemia where he grew up. He lived by him untill they had an argue in 1962 and Rath had to leave. He lived with no money in the town park and washed himself in the fountain. The police deported him to the old people´s home where he died at Christmas 1962 at the age of 79. There is writen in the admition record of the retirerment home „want work and do sports" Sportsman Rath wasn´t giving up till the end! If you come to Prague, go through the large street Na Prikopech and in the middle is a passage to the Ovocny trh Square where the Rath´s Sport store was. The passage is called "Rath´s Passage" today but only few people know why.  

2003 was the 120th anniversary of Rath´s birth. Emerich Rath was a real European, active as a sportsman in the whole Europe, spoke 8 languages and was member of these sportclubs in Czechoslovakia, Germany, Britain etc: Berlin Sport Club, Boxing Club Berlin, German Football Club Prague, Bolzano, Football Club Germania, Football Club Rapid, Foot Ball Club Slavia Prague, Lyzarsky zavodni klub (Skiing club), Sport Club Charlottenburg, Ruder (rowing) Club Hellas, Sport Favorit, Touring Club, Turnverein, Vegetarian Cycling and Athletic Club London…    

Emrich Rath (* Nov. 5th 1883 + Dec. 21st 1962)

Winner of long distance walking for 50 and 100 kilometers, Boxing master of Germany in 1912, in the same year he beat champion of British colonies in Hamburg, Bobsleigh in Tyrolia, Italy and Bavaria, hockey, football and rugby player, climber in Alps, skiing matches in Bohemia, Germany, Austria, Italy, Sweden, Finland, and Norway. He rode many rivers by canoe and kayak – famous 460 kilometers on Tibera river to Rome to the Olympic games in six days!, from Passau to Vienna in 24 hours!, swimmer, speed-skater, heavy athlet, rower, rugby player, cycler, marathon and cross country at the Olympics in the Austrian team in 1908 (25th, firts of the Austrians!) and Stockholm 1912 (33. place, firts place of the Austrians), there aren´t much heavy weigh boxers able to run marathone! He allways played fair and helped to the other competitors.