Watermarks: Memories and Survival

By Lois Siegel


Photo by Paul Jean

Lois Siegel

Filmmaker/Photographer
Plays fiddle and she teaches Video Production at
the University of Ottawa
Her documentary films include “Baseball Girls”
 (women who play softball and baseball)
 “Lip Gloss” (female impersonators)
 “Strangers in Town” (albinism)
 and “Stunt People”
 (The Fournier Family performing stunts for films).

 

“Watermarks” is an observation of the times - a history lesson focusing on a Jewish sports club, Hakoah Vienna, in existence when the Nazis came to power. It documents the story of what happened to a team of women championship swimmers who had to flee after the political unification of Nazi Germany and Austria in 1938. Their escape was organized by Hakoah administrators who arranged an illegal ship that saved their lives.

Director Yaron Zilberman finds the women 65 years later and interviews them in their new homes. “Watermarks” is a story of memories and the struggle these women faced in a period of turmoil.



Director Yaron Zilberman

Hakoah was founded in 1909 in response to the Aryan Paragraph which forbade Austrian sports clubs from accepting Jewish athletes.

There is a personal side revealed about each woman interviewed.  We learn how they feel about their past and their lives now. They are all in their 80s.

Archival footage and photographs of the athletes when they were younger appear throughout the film.  We are introduced to Judith Haspel and Hanni Lux, sisters now living in Herzlia, Israel, who visit each other every day at 6 p.m. to drink Vermouth and read poetry.

There are images of the Berlin Olympics, 1936 where the Nazi flag is flown, and we are told signs are posted:  “Dogs and Jews Forbidden.”  Swimmer Judith, chosen best athlete that year in Austria, refused to participate in the Berlin Olympics.  As a result, the Austrian Sports Federation banned her from competing, and her sports records were removed from the official sports books in Austria.

At the time of Hitler’s speech in Heldenplatz, the historical plaza in Vienna, where he announced the Anschluss – the inclusion of Austria into the German Reich in 1938,  it is said that 98% of Austrians were pro-Nazi, indicating the extent of the mass hatred of Jews.

After the annexation of Austria, the Hakoah Club was shut down and their facilities were confiscated. The president of the club, Dr. Valentin Rosenfeld, was on the Gestapo’s most wanted list.  He escaped to London and published a newsletter, distributed to the members of Hakoah to keep them united.

Ann Marie Pisker, who now lives in London, is an articulate and witty lady. She smiles, “Some of my best friends were Nazis. I went to school with them. I would have preferred to stay in Austria, but you had to make changes.”  The changes included a new climate, new food, and a different mentality in her new country. “You either sink or swim,” she says, “When you’re young, you swim.”




Ann Marie Pisker

Anni Lampl, 85, is blind.  She has once again become an Austrian citizen so that she can vote and prevent someone like Hitler happening again. “I hope my vote counts,” she says.

 

At the end of the film, we see six of the former champions reunited, swimming in a large Vienna pool. We learn that they have moved on with their lives; some are recognized professionals.


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