Yakov Punkin was captured by the Germans mere weeks into World War II. The Nazis asked all the Jews to step forward. Punkin stayed back. Those who stepped forward were shot on the spot.
One problem: the Nazis could have checked, ahem, under Punkin's, ahem, trousers. So he spent the rest of the war claiming he was a Muslim. What followed was an odyssey through multiple concentration camps and attempted escapes. Punkin survived. At the time of his rescue, he weighed 36 kgs (less than 80 pounds).
Punkin, a promising wrestler before the war, took on his old sport. In a few short years, he became Soviet champion. In 1952, he triumphed at the Helsinki Olympics, becoming the first ever Ukrainian gold medalist. Well, the first Ukrainian Jewish gold medalist, but who is counting? (We are.)
As fascinating as Punkin's story was, we can't end this profile without mentioning his father. Grigory Punkin, a stevedore, for a bet or for fun, would crawl under a horse and pick it up with his bare arms. (For fun!)
Those are some tough Jews!