All dedicated bodybuilders must overcome difficulties, but Harry Gelbfarb had more troubles than most. Harry was born in Vienna, Austria, in 1931. When the Nazis came to power in 1938, all Jews were forbidden to go to school; instead, he was separated from his parents and sent to do heavy labor. Somehow Gelbfarb managed to survive the hellish conditions, but by the end of the war the boy was wracked by disease brought on by overwork and malnutrition.
Harry’s mother had also survived, and in 1947 the two of them left the Old World and headed to New York City and a new life. Better nutrition soon caused a transformation, and Harry’s physique began to improve. In order to speed the process, he went to the Eastside Barbell Club, where he met three famous athletes: Art Zeller, Leroy Colbert and Marvin Eder. They taught Harry how to build muscles using barbells.
When Harry was drafted in 1951, he was, ironically, sent back to Germany. Young Gelbfarb was stationed in Schweinfurt for two years, and he grew to like the place. After his stint in the Army, Harry returned to the U.S. and ended up in Southern California, where he continued to pursue bodybuilding. He came to the attention of several famous physique photographers, and they produced an impressive portfolio of images.
As wonderful as his life in California was, Harry made a fateful decision: He would return to Schweinfurt. There were two reasons for the move. First, while in the service he’d met a local girl whom he wanted to marry. Second, he wanted to become a bodybuilding pioneer and bring American ideas to the Old World. In the summer of 1955 he opened Germany’s first real bodybuilding gym.
Despite many problems the gymnasium was successful, and Harry promoted American methods and organized some of the first bodybuilding competitions in postwar Germany. He was responsible for fostering the talents of many young athletes in his gymnasium. Today the gym is still in operation, although Harry and his wife, Elly, have retired. They divide their time now between homes in Germany and Venice, California.
Gelbfarb, Harry. Die Wurzeln des Bodybuilding in Deutschland. Sportrevue.
Gelbfarb, Harry, and Liederman, Earle E. How I Overcame a Weak Heart and Tuberculosis. Muscle Power. November ’95.