Watermarks is the story of Jewish sports club, Hakoah Wien, which was formed in Vienna, Austria in 1909. The club was formed as a reaction to the Aryan Paragraph, according to which Jews were forbidden membership in many organizations. Hakoah grew quickly, and became one of Europe’s largest sports clubs. Although the club sponsored various sports including fencing and soccer, the film is primarily concerned with the girls’ swim team of the 1930s.
In the 1930s the Hakoah swim team dominated women’s water sports in Austria. In 1936 three members were chosen to go to the Berlin Olympics, but all three refused to participate. For this they were banned from entering Austrian swim events, and their swim records were struck from the record books. After the Anschluss (the annexation of Austria to the Third Reich) of 1938, the director of Hakoah became a wanted man. He left Austria, and from the USA he orchestrated the illegal immigration of the club members to other countries. Every member of the swim team made it to safety.
The idea for the film was to have a reunion of the remaining swim team members at the old swimming pool in Vienna. The filmmaker crafts the story by way of archival film and photos, and with interviews with the women, who at the time of the filming in 2004, were all in their 80s.
They tell a compelling story of feeling like strangers in their own country. Several are worried about returning to a city that turned its back on them, young women who only wanted “swimming, training, swimming, swimming, swimming.” But they do return and take to the pool wearing reproductions of their 1930s swimsuits.
Watermarks was suggested to me by a reader of The Vintage Traveler who thought I might enjoy the film, and was she ever right. I love it when this happens!