Chaim Korman. …World’s Strongest Young Boy…. Early Life.
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…World’s Strongest Young Boy…
Chaim Korman, my father’s father, was born in 1921 in Ostroleka, Poland, a small town located 62 miles northeast of Warsaw where he lived in a “shtetl” (a Jewish neighborhood). He was born to Odessa and Leibel Korman, a master builder and a rabbi, who was a well-known figure in the town. Leibel was an extremely tall man. Some sources even cited him as being 7 feet tall. Chaim had 10 siblings but only brothers Abraham, Harold, and Shulom and sister Helen survived the holocaust.
When Chaim was seven years old and defending himself against anti-semites in Poland, he realized he wasn’t the same as the other children. He also found his superhuman strength when he encountered a Polish strongman and tried to do everything he did. Chaim succeeded. He was far stronger than anyone else and decided, at the young age of 8, to run away and join the circus. This may sound strange for us, but back then—in the 1920’s—young children running away was not too uncommon.
During his circus career, he performed in a father-son act with the strongman. His circus career lasted for six years and then he returned to his home in Poland at the age of 14. His stunts in the circus included lifting elephants and lying on beds of nails. One of Chaim’s favorite acts was noted in an old newspaper. He went inside a three-foot trench that was then covered with earth and then driven over numerous times by a truck. He emerged from the interment by sheer might. When he returned to Poland he had jobs that included carrying luggage and taking people to hotels.
In May of 1938 Korman moved to New York City. In the US he was better known as “Johnny” rather than “Chaim” and took on the title of “The World’s Strongest Young Boy.” In New York, he got into show business-- performing as a strongman at various nightclubs across New York and New Jersey. He also performed at the New York World’s Fair. His amazing abilities brought him a lot of attention and fame in numerous radio shows, newspaper articles, and books. One book in which he was featured was written by Ben Hecht—a famous New York journalist and playwright. The book described various stunts done by Johnny including lying down on two chairs by his chin and toes and having three people jump on him, bending iron spikes with his hands, and bending dimes with his teeth.
Although he was extremely strong he was not very big. Chaim appeared—or was heard—on a famous New Jersey radio show called “We the People” in 1941 at the age of 19. Korman was only 5’4’’ tall and weighed a mere 128 pounds at the time. However, at these dimensions he was able to lift the 200 lb. radio announcer Von Zell with his teeth on the show along with biting six-inch long nails in half and having three-inch pins stuck into him. When asked how he managed to get so strong he replied, “I’ve been strong ever since I was a baby over in Poland. One day my father wanted to move a house so he hooked me and my two brothers to the house and we pulled the house through the streets.”
Some quotes from the radio show:
Chaim was tested at Harvard Medical School and Tulane Medical School where they attempted to discover the source of his unusual strength. They decided that he had extraordinary muscle tone and unusual control over individual muscles. They also noted that his blood clotted unusually fast after being cut.
“The World’s Youngest Strong Boy” certainly did not follow today’s ideas of physical training. He had an unusual diet that often consisted of 10 eggs for breakfast. He also never formally worked out.
Chaim was not the only person in his family with unusual physical traits. His younger brother Harold was known as “Anvil Head” and also performed briefly as a strongman. His specialty was having things broken over his head.
When Korman’s strongman acts were over he got into the clothing business and became a tailor. Instead of using nails by breaking them with his teeth or sticking them in him, he used them to sew. Sometimes, however, he would end up breaking them accidentally. In Newark he opened a tailor shop called Korman’s cleaning store. Tailoring had been in his blood and one of his brothers was a tailor back in Poland.
Despite Chaim not doing anymore strongman acts his strength still affected his everyday life. When one of his sons David was a little boy, Chaim broke his ribs squeezing him too hard while holding him.
Although his strongman days were over, his amazing feats were not. He had been a caretaker at his synagogue, Congregation Anshe Roumania, which was located on the same street on which he lived and on which his store was. In 1960 the temple caught on fire and Korman dashed in to save the sacred, expensive, and heavy Torah scrolls. He was able to rescue all 17 of them.
Chaim is now a parent to five– Miriam, Linda, Robert, Lenny, and David– and grandchildren to 13. He now lives in West Palm Beach, Florida. Although he does not perform anymore, his circus acts have been passed down to my father who juggles and is a magician and who passed those skills on to me. We both perform at various events.