Synopsis by Mark Deming
In 1909, after the Austrian government passed a law known as "the Aryan Paragraph" which forbade sporting clubs from accepting Jewish members, a group of Jewish athletes responded by forming a sports organization of their own. Known as "Hakoah Vienna" (from the Hebrew word for strength), the club sought to give Jewish athletes a place to turn to, and to confront stereotypes that Austrian Jews were intellectual giants but physical weaklings. Hakoah Vienna's members were champions in a number of sports in Austria and Europe (and their soccer team defeated Britain's legendary West Ham United in a 1924 exhibition match), but their most famous athletes were the members of the women's swimming team, who soon came to dominate competition throughout the nation. Hakoah Vienna's female swimmers were the core of Austria's 1936 Olympic Team, held in Germany, though some refused to participate in what was seen by many as a propaganda triumph for Adolf Hitler. In 1938, after Nazi Germany took control of Austria, Hakoah Vienna was put out of business, the records of many of its champions were stricken from the books, and nearly all the athletes were forced to flee the land of their birth. Director Yaron Zilberman reunited eight of the Hakoah Vienna swimmers for the documentary Watermarks, in which these extraordinary women discuss the triumphs and tragedies of their past, return to Vienna, and swim together for the first time since 1938.
anti-Semitism, Austria, club [organization], Jewish, Nazi, reunion, swimming, swimming-pool, women's-sports