3.26.2006

hakoah

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?"

16 comments:

Amateur said...

That sounds like exactly the kind of film we would enjoy in the Amateur household. Thanks for the tip.

L-girl said...

You're welcome! I was thinking of you when I posted this.

KidKawartha said...

L-girl-
First off, don't be knocking the Koufax stuff to hard, it brought me here! I love the site and particularly details of your journey here (I live in Peterborough)- I studied in Michigan, almost married a wonderful American young lady, and return when I can to visit friends in Chicago. But lately, I've become more and more hesitant to plan visiting- the last time I got a very worthless hassle by DHS and almost missed my flight out of Ottawa. I don't recognize the America of today anymore, and to be honest, I don't really think of it as a democracy.
That being said, if you liked the Hakoah story, Franklin Foer writes about the soccer version in his book "How Soccer Explains the World" which I just finished- you might get a kick out of it (no pun intended).

David Cho said...

According to Netflix, this is a documentary. Is that correct? So there aren't actress who play the "young - vibrant, healthy, beautiful girls."

Even so, it has been added to my Netflix queue.

L-girl said...

First off, don't be knocking the Koufax stuff to hard, it brought me here!

Check again - I don't believe I did.

I don't recognize the America of today anymore, and to be honest, I don't really think of it as a democracy.

Me neither, that's a big reason why I'm here.

Thanks for your nice words about the blog. I'm afraid a soccer book really isn't my cup of tea. I can't watch 5 minutes of the sport. But thanks anyway! Enjoy.

L-girl said...

David, it's a documentary. None of the women are vibrant in the way you might like. To me, however, they are beautiful.

KidKawartha said...

L-girl-
I was being facetious.

L-girl said...

Thanks. :)

I wasn't snapping, either. We have to use rampant smileys in absence of facial expressions and happy tones of voice!

KidKawartha said...

Gotcha. Smiling from ear-to-ear as I type this. (my face hurts! ;)

L-girl said...

Keep smiling and keep reading. :)

James said...

In our youth-obsessed society, older women are invisible. Women of any age are supposed to do whatever it takes to not appear old.

Hazel McCallion's still mayor of Mississauga, right? :)

Here she is in full hokey kit. Last I heard, she was still playing recreationally at 85.

L-girl said...

Hazel McCallion is a terrific woman, but you don't see many Hollywood movies about women who look like she does.

In the mainstream media, and in the entertainment industry, older women are subject to a lot of negative stereotyping, or they are invisible.

I think that reflects a general attitude in our society. Naturally there are always exceptions, but they are just that, IMO.

James said...

Hazel McCallion is a terrific woman, but you don't see many Hollywood movies about women who look like she does.

That's not unique to older women, or women period; you don't see many average-looking women or men in Hollywood movies either. At least, not in the starring roles -- though you certainly see more average looking men than women.

L-girl said...

I'm not talking about average-looking women. I'm talking about women who look old.

Older women's stories are seldom told in our society. When they are, they are rarely told with honesty and without stereotype. I didn't say this was unique. There are many people similarly ignored. However, I observe it to be true, despite the occasional exception.

Anne alias Purrceyz said...

Hi Laura,

My husband bought this DVD for me a while ago (he knows I love documentaries. and less well known films).

I was really blown away by the cab driver's remark too; she's is as Austrian as he is (maybe more). I was surprised she didn't react more strongly to his comment. I didn't detect any antiSemitism in Vienna when I was there in 1984 but then since I'm not Jewish, I'm not going to have it directed at me personally.

L-girl said...

I was surprised she didn't react more strongly to his comment.

I suppose she's elderly, she's on a big trip, it's her driver - she doesn't want to get into a big conflict, but she doesn't want the statement to go unchallenged. That's my guess.

I didn't detect any antiSemitism in Vienna when I was there in 1984 but then since I'm not Jewish, I'm not going to have it directed at me personally.

You don't see anti-Semitism when you're not Jewish. Most white people aren't aware of a lot of every-day racism, either.

I'm not saying there is a lot of anti-Semitism in Vienna, just that you can't tell if you're not Jewish.

So glad you saw this movie! I'm glad it's out there.