Sports Center Hakoah: Coming Home After Seventy Years

Marina Stemmer

Der Standard

The traditionally-rich Jewish Hakoah Sports Club finally has its own site. Next week the super modern sports gymnasium will be officially opened.

Vienna – Construction shacks, gravel roads, wire fences, signs warning “No Trespassing on Construction Site” – the entrance to the new sports center in the Simon-Wiesenthal-Gasse hardly appears very welcoming. “We’re still suffering a bit from being under construction,” says Hakoah’s General Manager, Ronald Gelbard. “But that’s something we’ll have to put up with for awhile.” That, however, has not seemed to have affected the joy Gelbard takes in the new sports center, in addition to the new Jewish school and elderly home being built on the grounds next to it.

Justifiably so since the modern building’s interior exudes a warmth that even the most stubborn, non-athletic person would be tempted to jump onto the treadmill, throw a few basketballs into the net or climb up and down on the wall bars. The new Hakoah home is, however, not only a place to toughen up the body but also a place to relax, either in the sauna or the steam bath.

Some two-and-a-half years ago, through restitution, the City of Vienna provided the Jewish Community with a comparable piece of property in the green area of Prater to the traditional Jewish Sports Club for the rebuilding of Hakoah. On Tuesday Mayor Michael Häupl and Federal Chancellor Alfred Gusenbauer will officially open the Hakoah gymnasium. Construction costs for building the new Hakoah – whose football and sports stadium were seized after the Anschluss  in 1938 and never returned - were estimated at some 7.2 million euros and were split between the federal and provincial governments.  “The 7.2 million were, unfortunately, not enough,” says Gelbard. “We have to try raising funds from the private sector.” He who helps us financially to get off the ground will have his name engraved into the “Wall of Fame” at the entrance of the sports center, directly next to the wall of running water, upon which a white star with the letter “H” in the middle is set against a blue background.

SC Hakoah has currently some 300 members. The club was established in 1909, resulting from an increasing rise in self confidence felt by Vienna’s liberal Jews on the one hand, and on the other hand, due to the sudden enactment of an “Aryan law,” which excluded Jews from other sports clubs. Initially what proved of great success were football, water ball, wrestling and swimming.

A Wide Diversity of Sports Offered
 After 1933, Hakoah increasingly lost its members. The name Hakoah (Hebrew for “strength”) was officially obliterated. A few years after the end of the war a handful of survivors breathed new life into the club. The athletes, however, always had to train in other sports clubs. Today the sports center offers everything from physical fitness to table tennis to basketball to boxing. “Our main emphasis lies with team sports,” says manager Ronald Gelbard, who initiated karate at the end of the 1990s.

Only the swimmers have to continue training elsewhere. Despite the heavy engagements of swimming professional, Markus Rogan, one was unable to raise the 2.2 million euros necessary for building an indoor swimming pool. “I, myself, was quite surprised, but even Rogan wasn’t able to help us find funding,” says Gelbard. Nonetheless, one has left a place free on Hakoah’s grounds “should the case arise.”