Sid Kiel – the South African who boycotted Hitler’s Games

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Sid Kiel, a notable member of the ‘Friday Club’ passed away in July last year aged 91.

Sid was born in Vrede, Orange Free State. When he was 7 years old, his father died and his mother took him and his sister Diana to Cape Town to live with his Uncle Morrie. He entered SACS in Standard 3, where he shone academically and enjoyed an illustrious career in the fields of leadership and sport — cricket, rugby and athletics. He became head boy twice before matriculating in 1935.

At aged 16, while still at school, Sid became a Springbok athlete, and in 1935 came within 0.5 seconds of the world record for the 120 yards hurdles. This ensured his selection for the forthcoming Olympic Games to be held in Germany in 1936. Hitler and the Third Reich were in power, and being Jewish, Sid sacrificed his selection on principle. However, he did represent South Africa at the Empire Games in Sydney in 1938. A brilliant cricketer too, he opened the batting for Western Province. Surprisingly, he was omitted from the SA team captained by Jack Cheetham, a selection that would have earned him a double Springbok cap.

After matriculating Sid entered UCT Medical School and on graduating MB ChB, he joined the SA Medical Corps in the North African and Italian campaigns. After the war he returned to South Africa and did his internship at the New Somerset Hospital.

In 1949 he married Jean Kramer, and with two children, Sue and Barnett, settled in Sea Point, where he started his career as a family doctor — a career that rapidly flourished, earning him a reputation as ‘the beloved physician’. He was also an esteemed colleague.

‘What was so precious to Sid Kiel,” recalls his partner of decades, Dr ‘Mossie’ Silbert, “was the warm and trusting relationship between doctor and patient, and between society as a whole and the medical profession … and our committed role of not only caring for our patients’ medical problems but also about our patients as human beings.

The practice grew, but in latter years, in deteriorating health, he gradually extricated himself from full-time practice.

“But this did not deter him from remaining socially active and involved with the affairs of his old school SACS, his Alma Mater,” recalls Mossie.

More recently, however, he became chair- and wheel-chair bound, a tragic irony for those powerful legs that had brought him to within 0.5 seconds of a world record.

“In 2002 Sid Kiel was awarded the Spectemur Agendo Award by SACS ‘for outstanding achievements as sportsman and medical practitioner, but above all as an exceptional human being … a leader of boys and men in peace and war, a servant of the community during a life-time’s medical practice, and always a most gentle and uplifting of men — a legend for his modesty, talent and courage’.”

In June, 2007, Sid suffered a myocardial infarct, for which he was hospitalised and he died a month later on the night of his 91st birthday, a birthday he shared with Nelson Mandela.

“I’ve often thought,” Mossie muses, “how similar these two individuals are — both imposing, dignified and charismatic, sharing an intense core of humanity, humility and integrity, and beloved by all.”

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