I saw an interesting movie last night, one I'd like to recommend to you: "Watermarks".
In Vienna, in the early part of the 20th Century, there was a Jewish sports club called Hakoah, Hebrew for "The Strength". Jews were prohibited from participating in Austrian sports clubs, so they founded their own. Hakoah became hugely popular, with thousands of members throughout Europe, and hugely successful, both their women's and men's teams winning championships in several sports.
In the 1930s, Hakoah became best known for its female swimmers, who dominated national competitions in Austria. After Hitler annexed Austria in 1938 (with overwhelming popular support from his native Austrians), the Nazis shut down the club. Hakoah's president and its swim coach, high on the Gestapo wanted list, managed to escape. From safety in England, they smuggled out every swimmer and their families. So Hakoah gave these young women direction and purpose, and it ended up saving their lives.
Watermarks tells Hakoah's story, and filmmaker Yaron Zilberman brings seven of the former swimmers back to Vienna for a reunion.
My mother recommended this movie to me, and I immediately understood its appeal to her. She's very interested in Jewish heritage, much more so than I am. But she knew I would love this story on other levels, as part of women's history, especially women's sports history. It's also the story of encroaching fascism - and resistance.
In old photographs, you see the Hakoah women when they were young - vibrant, healthy, beautiful girls, not skinny in the fashion of today, but curvaceous and strong. But it's the women today that impress - vibrant, intelligent, assertive older women. They've lived at least a few different lives, first happy lives of relative privilege in Vienna, then cast out as refugees, and forced to make new lives for themselves, in England, the US, Israel and several other countries.
In our youth-obsessed society, older women are invisible. Women of any age are supposed to do whatever it takes to not appear old. But, as I am fond of saying, aging is another word for living. The women of "Watermarks" are in their early 80s, and each of them is very much alive.
"Watermarks" illuminates some hidden corners of history, especially around the 1936 Berlin Olympics, European culture at that time, what it felt like for young Jewish people as their world began to change. The film's music is cheesy and annoying, and some of the footage of the women's reunion is a little dull, but the extra interviews on the DVD more than compensate.
In one scene, one of the women is being driven from the airport to her hotel, the first time she has seen her native Vienna in more than 60 years. She chats with her driver, who asks her, "Did you leave?"
She says, "I left," then corrects herself: "I was kicked out."
The driver asks her what year it was, then says, "Those were bad times."
The former swimmer replies, "For some people. Not for everyone."
The driver insists, "Well, for most people." Then he reflects and says, "It was hard for 'non-natives', so to speak."
She says to him, very mildly, "It's hard for me to think of myself as a non-native. I was born and raised in Austria, so was my mother and my grandmother."
Afterwards, to the camera, she says, "Four hundred years of Jews in Austria in my family, and he says 'non-native'. Today he says that. What am I supposed to think?"