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Posted on on July 12th, 2011
by Pincas Jawetz (

We do find this to be an important event and wonder why it was being downplayed by its organizers who did not look much beyond the opening evening. Did the security demands overwhelm the organizers, or was there a lack of interest in what those games stood for in years past?

This was the 13th European Maccabiah (Jewish International Maccabi sports games) and it stretched over July 5-13, 2011. Whatever else you want to say about these games – you always have to come back to the fact that since 1932 – these 2011 competitions were the first time the games were held in Austria and are yet to be held in Germany. This fact was well covered in the run up to the games – in the Austrian papers of the July 2-3, 2011 weekend. Much was made of it that Austrian President  Heinz Fischer and Vienna’s Mayor Michael Haeupl will make welcome-presentations at the official opening that to be held in the public space behind the Vienna City-Hall (the Rathaus). The papers covered this as a political event – what it really was – with photos of political figures and religious leaders from among the Jewish Community of Vienna.  There was clearly a build-up to the event, but past this start there was hardly any mention of the games, in the following days. The games were presented as the Jewish Olympics and that was nearly accurate in terms of what these games stand for.

The Jews of Vienna numbered 190,000 before the Nazi takeover – today they number just 7,000 and the growing number is a cause of joy – but let us look at the sports side of the Vienna Jewish community/

Already in the 19th century, Jewish sports clubs were founded in Eastern and Central Europe. The first club was the Israelite Gymnastic Association Constantinople (today’s Istanbul)  That was with the “Israelitischer Turnverein Konstantinopel” founded in 1895 by Jews of German and Austrian extraction who had been rejected from participating in other social sport clubs of Istanbul. Two years later, haGibor was formed in Philipople, Bulgaria, and 1898 saw the founding of Bar Kochba in Berlin along with Vivó és Athletikai Club in Budapest.

Other clubs that followed were named after “Bar Kochba” or Hebrew names such as Hagibor.

In Vienna it was “Hakoah” which like “Hagibor” symbolized strength and heroism. One of the basic premises behind the founding of these clubs was pure Jewish Nationalism. The concept was that Jews were not only a religious entity, but also one based on a common historical and social background, having special cultural and psychological concepts that have been preserved to this day, resulting in a strong recognition of collective belonging. This was Jewish Nationalism within the context of the emerging Nation-States of Europe.

In 1906, the first Jewish Gymnastics club was formed in Palestine. Clubs later would spring up in different cities. By 1912, all of them joined the Maccabi Federation of Israel. That same year, the first relations were established between them and their European counterparts, when a decision was taken at the Maccabi Conference in Berlin to begin group trips to Palestine – the eventual National homeland of the Jews.

The Maccabi World Union was created at the 12th  World Jewish Congress in Karlovy Vary, Czechoslovakia in 1921. It was then decided by the secretariat of Jewish sport leaders to form one umbrella organization for all Jewish Sports associations. Its aims were defined as working to “foster physical education, belief in Jewish heritage and the Jewish nation, and to work actively for the rebuilding of our own country and for the preservation of our people.”  In 1960, the International Olympic Committee officially recognized the Maccabi World Union as an “Organization of Olympic Standing.” Today its headquarters are in the Maccabiah Village, Ramath Gan, Israel.

Maccabi was thus created as a sports movement of an Israeli secular Nation in the process of rebuilding themselves – in the process they were also for rights in the countries they were living in, and proposed to show that Jews are  capable of success in physical things – not just spiritual, science,  business, and the arts. After the creation of the State of Israel, the Maccabi World Union became another network of the worl’s Jewry – linking between the countries of their residence and the State of Israel.

The First Maccabiah, or Jewish Olympics, took place already in 1932 in Tel Aviv – then there was a hiatus until after the war and the creation of the State; only 30 years later, in 1952,  a system, like in the Olympics, was established so that since then there is held in Tel Aviv a Maccabiah every four years. This allowed European Jewry to claim, since 1959, a spot for themselves in the middle second year. Eventually six confederations were created: Maccabi Israel, the European Maccabi confederation, the confederation Maccabi North America, the confederation Maccabi Latin America, Maccabi South Africa and Maccabi Australia.  This year,  December 26, 20111 – January 2, 2012, there will be also a Maccabi competition in Sao Paulo for the Western Hemisphere Maccabi Confederations – The Pan American Maccabi Games. Other 2011 Maccabi games will be held in Israel (July 24 – August 5), Philadelphia, PA, USA (August 14 – 19), and Springfield MA, USA (also August 14-16).

We had in Vienna the 13th European Maccabi Games – Where does all this put Austria?

As we said Austria had its Hakoah clubs – first class sports clubs.

Two Austrian Zionists, influenced by Max Nordau‘s doctrine of “Muscular Judaism” founded the club in 1909 – they named the club “Hakoah” meaning “the strength.” In its first year, the club’s athletes competed in fencing, football, field hockey, track & field, wrestling and swimming.

Hakoah Vienna was one of the first football teams to market themselves globally by traveling frequently where they would attract thousands of Jewish fans to their matches against local teams in cities such as London and New York. Support for Hakoah spread around Europe rapidly as Jews as far as Russia and the United States avidly supported Hakoah Vienna who took advantage of such support by setting up very successful tours and friendlies.

Hakoah soccer finished second in the Austrian league in 1922. On the team’s trip to London in 1923, they managed to defeat West Ham United Hakoah became the first continental club to defeat an English team in England.

In a dramatic game of the 1924–25 season, Hakoah’s Hungarian-born goalkeeper Alexander Fabian broke his arm. The rules at the time did not allow substitutions so Fabian put his arm in a sling and switched positions with a forward. Seven minutes later Fabian scored the winning goal, clinching Hakoah’s league championship.

In 1926, the team conducted a highly successful tour of the United States. Their game at New York City’s Polo Groundsattracted 46,000 spectators, a record at the time. Many of the team’s players, impressed by the relative lack of anti-Semitsm they found, decided to stay in the United States, accepting offers to play for American clubs. Several of these players formed a club called New York Hakoah which won the U.S. Open Cup in 1929. A few players emigrated to Palestine and founded Hakoah Tel Aviv football club there. The loss of so many talented players effectively put an end to the Austrian football team’s competitiveness.

Please remember here that Austria famous Jewish football star – one of the most famous Austrian stars ever – Matthias Sindelar – who plaid for Austria Wien and was the legendary captain of the National team – was found on January 29, 1939 murdered on the Annagasse in Vienna.

After the Anschluss of 1938, the German Football Association  banned HAKOAH and nullified their games. Their stadium was appropriated and given to the Nazi Party. Here another example how Nazi Austria shot at itself – not just at its Jews. In 1945 the club was founded again and exists today as a shadow of its old glory. Just a few years ago, Austria returned the Hakoah Stadium to the Jewish Community – I understand that they had to pay for it.  A football team was created and it plays in Austria’s minor leagues (2nd or 3rd class) under the name SC Maccabi Wien. The club opened its new home on 11 March 2008.

The Hakoah success extended beyond  football. Hakoah had highly successful sections in wrestling, fencing, water polo, and swimming among other sports. At its pre-war peak, the club had over 5000 members.

Why is all this so important? This because 1938 – 2011 was rather a Maccabi-less time for Austria. After the war the Jewish community started to rebuild and would have wanted to show off by hosting the European Maccabi games. But this did not succeed until now – lots of people were not ready yet to attempt a closing of the books on the years of unforgivable misery imposed on the Jews by Austria’s Nazis.

That is why we say these games were so important to the Austria of 2011 – even if there was not enough interest in the results in the actual games.

But was there real interest in the political side? No doubt that the highest officials of the State of Austria showed high personal interest in Austria hosting this event, but why was it not possible to get out from their offices texts of their welcome words, neither were there press releases. The event just did not get the full circulation it deserved – it was a coming out party for a new Austria – not really for its Jews. With some 4000 participants in town, this Maccabiah was also a business event even if the sports were not pushed by the community leaders and not covered by the sports press.

The competitors in these games came from 37 countries – from all continents and included also one delegation from Africa – from Guinea Bissau. The US team included two 80-year-old men who escaped Vienna as children in 1938 and came to the games to compete as swimmers. They had learned to swim at Hakoah Vienna. They were not the oldest competitors – that honor went to the 88 year young Bernard Teltscher from the UK, who with his wife Kitty got to fifth place in the Bridge game competition.

The sport disciplines of these games were: Badminton, Basketball, Beach Volleyball, Bridge, Chess (star Yehudith  Polgar from Hungary was here), Fencing, Field Hockey, Football (Soccer), Futsal (Indoor Mini Football – I met a team from the Russian Republic of Birobidjan), Golf, Judo, Karate, Squash, Swimming, T.P. Bowling (I met a delegation from Long Island, New York), Table Tennis, Target Shooting, Tennis and Volleyball.

The event ended Tuesday July 12th at night with a party at the  Pyramid in Vösendorf, where  everybody – athletes, friends, families and fans – were invited for a last farewell.  Entertainment was from Israel.

The opening ceremony speakers honored the victims of the Shoah, and the ending ceremony expressed the feeling that the holding of the games in the Vienna that was home to Hitler was testimony to Jewish survival.

The main papers of Vienna, Wednesday July 13, 2011, had the following to say:

Just one more comment that shows Holocaust education is still not deep enough in Austria – there is a need to point out more the positive side of the Jews as contributors in the history of Austria – not just the inhumanity of the Nazi era. This was pointed out to me by Ms. Hannah Lessing, She has been responsible for the administrative and organizational management of the official National Fund of the Republic of Austria for Victims of National Socialism since 1995 and of the General Settlement Fund for Victims of National Socialism since May 2001.
She is a permanent member of the “Task Force for International Cooperation on Holocaust Education, Remembrance and Research” (ITF).  She competed for Austria in lady’s golf and was written up in a pre-Maccabi-games article. The journalist wrote she was wearing a “Jew’s Star” – the derogatory term the Nazis used for the patch they made Jews to put on. But Ms. Lessing wore on her neckless chain a “Star of David”, which though having also six points, it nevertheless points at a totally different direction – to the Jewish glorious past – like the star used by the Maccabi organization itself. If you wish – Jews wear it around their neck like proud Christians wear the cross. Now – that is the deep difference in perception that still has to be overcome today even by some Austrian intellectuals.

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