- Book Review Index
“. . . mehr als ein Sportverein”: 100 Jahre Hakoah Wien 1909–2009, edited by Susanne Helene Betz, Monika Löscher, Pia Schölnberger. Innsbruck: Studien Verlag, 2009. 368 pp. $39.00.
Twenty-two years after John Bunzl’s “classic” study of the history of Jewish sports in Austria (Hoppauf Hakoah. Jüdischer Sport in Österreich. Von den Anfängen bis in die Gegenwart [Vienna, 1987]) this ambitious anthology arises. The occasion for this book was the 100th birthday of the Jewish Hakoah Sports Club Vienna in the year 2009. The managing board of the club asked the editors to publish a book which would inform a broad public about the development of the Hakoah and also fulfill the standards of a scientific publication. Fifteen mainly young scholars with different scientific backgrounds (history, sociology, political science, architecture) contributed to this book. The study is subdivided into three main sections. It starts with seven articles focusing on the history of Jewish Sports in Vienna from the beginning of the 20th century till the year 1938. The second section deals with development in the Nazi era and afterwards. The third section discusses the question of the role Hakoah plays nowadays in Viennese and Austrian sports, how Jewish and non-Jewish club members see their own identity, in what way especially women are involved in the club and what part antisemitism and racism still play in Austrian sports. The book also contains 55 illustrations, 11 facsimile reprints of historic key documents, and a register of persons. Most of the articles deal with historic topics. The methodological standard of almost all the papers is quite good. The authors have invested an impressive amount of work and skill—using 22 private and public archives—to locate and to secure new documents and resources. With that new material it was possible to find new insights and to describe unknown coherences within the history of the Hakoah.
The title of the book “… more than a sports club” (“…mehr als ein Sportverein”) indicates that the goals and the meanings of sport and the Hakoah sports club go far beyond the operations on the sports field. But what does that mean? Basically the book tells a simple story of a group of Jewish people dedicated to sports. The group is not very big in numbers at the beginning in the year 1909. But the motives of its members are different from other sports organizations. They are deeply linked with the political situation in Europe and with the phenomenon of antisemitism, so it is important for them to emphasize from the very beginning that Jewish bodies are not inadequate and that Jews are not only able to fight but also can win in sports and in political competitions. In the golden era between 1919 and 1938 the club was very successful and the number of club members rose to around 5000. Hakoah Wien was one of the world leading multi sports clubs in the interwar period and served as an important role model for similar clubs in the Austrian cities of Graz, Leoben, Innsbruck, and Linz. But the sphere of action did not stop at the Austrian borders. Hakoah was intensively linked with its sister organization Bar Kochba in Berlin. In 1926 the Hakoah soccer team even travelled to the U.S.A. “They came; they played; they conquered” the New York Times wrote. The “Austrian Soccer Champion” attracted at least 200,000 spectators. But the successful journey ended up in disaster because fifteen of the best players of the team left Hakoah and did not return to Vienna. Stars like Bela Guttmann and Ernö Schwarcz found it more attractive to play for clubs like the New York Giants which were already involved in an economically advanced sport show business. This short chapter of the Hakoah history gives us insight into the general process of commercialization of sports in the U.S.A. and in Europe at that time and explains one of the main topics in current sport science.
In another article Georg Spitaler and David Forster for the first time try to reconstruct the paths of life of the members of the Hakoah soccer section after the German “Anschluss” (annexation) in 1938. It is the sad story of displacement, escape, and the killing in the Nazi concentration camps. But it is also a story of a transnational network which brought the football culture of central Europe to different countries like Israel and the United States, where the former Hakoah Wien players became pioneers of local soccer. Hakoah was one of the first victims of the national socialist regime in Austria. Three days after the “Anschluss”—March 15, 1938—the Hakoah club house was closed. But how difficult the bureaucratic liquidation—which was not officially complete until March 19, 1940—was is shown in an article by Susanne Helen Betz. Bureaucratic and political hurdles also had to be overcome in the process of rebuilding the club after 1945. The first attempts to reorganize Jewish sports were already made in May 1945, at a time when the town was destroyed and people had to fight hard to cover their basic needs. This example also shows one of the functions of sports, the desire for normality. The whole process of re-establishing Hakoah after 1945 and the difficulties in the restitution of the sports ground which was looted in the year 1938 gives deep insight into Austrian politics and how the country struggled and still struggles with its national socialist past. This has also to do with the so called “Washington Agreement 2001,” is influenced by the “Waldheim Debate” in 1986, and is directly connected with the international protests and pressure on the “Schüssel I Government” in February 2000. In general this refers to a key issue of human life, what the current President of the Hakoah Wien, Paul Haber, calls “late justice.” So it is obvious that this book is more than the story of a negligible Viennese sports club. The history of Hakoah Wien exemplifies the function of sports in (Jewish) life and summarizes connected aspects of 100 years of socio-cultural and political development in Austria and in Central Europe. It gives insight into many interesting biographies and furthermore traces a piece of Jewish identity in and through European culture. Highly recommended.
Centre for Sport Science and University Sports
University of Vienna