Hakoah Returns Home

Die Gemeinde (The Community) Nr. 588 (07/2006)

During a press conference on June 22, 2006 in the Vienna Community Center, the HAKOAH project was introduced for the first time to the public. This new sports center ushers in a new era of traditional clubs.

For the first time since 1938 Hakoah will again have their own center for athletes and no longer have to be a “guest” at other gymnasiums and sports clubs. Designed by the architect, Thomas Feiger, a brand new sports club including three gyms, a fitness room, sauna and wellness area, tennis courts, weightlifting rooms, and a 25-meter indoor swimming pool with resting area will be built if the necessary funding can be raised.

Construction will start in summer and will be completed within the next two years. The Federal government and City of Vienna will make seven million euros available for the building. Markus Rogan will take over as fundraiser for the swimming pool, which costs another 2.5 million euros. “In view of our history, there is no club which deserves more a spectacular center than the Hakoah,” emphasizes Rogan. With this sports club, he sees the chance of reconciling past injustices suffered by the Jewish community. Moreover, “the greatest swimmers in history were Jewish,” said Rogan, pointing out champions such as the nine-time winner of the Olympics, Mark Spitz. Rogan wishes to organize a swimming show for the Hakoah in the fall. His main competitor, Aaron Peirsol, has accepted coming to Vienna for it.

The club, which once dominated the sports pages, returns home to where it once met with so much success: Initially, in the so-called “Washington Agreement” of 2001, one was able to achieve partial restitution and renovation of the former area constituting the Jewish Sports Club. The following year, the final return was negotiated. The new sports center will be financed by funding from the City of Vienna, the Republic of Austria and private sponsors.

The street in which the sports center is located will be renamed after Simon Wiesenthal. Currently it is called Ichmanngasse, after Franz Ichmann, a Viennese writer of song lyrics and member of the NSDAP.

The History
Vienna’s Hakoah (“Strength” in Hebrew) is considered one of the most traditional and most successful sports clubs in Austria. Its history reflects, however, the history of Vienna’s Jews during the twentieth century.

This Jewish sports club was founded in 1909 and emanated from the rising self-confidence of liberal Jews and their change in attitude toward the human body. A second important reason was that it served as an alternative to Aryan laws at the time which eventually forbade their membership in other sports clubs. Jewish citizens of Vienna grew to be a large community of 180,000, and Hakoah quickly spurred a flock of members. Subsequently, the club opened up new fields of sport such as fencing, football, hockey, light athletics, wrestling and swimming.

Despite difficult economic times following WW I, Hakoah eventually expanded and offered also ice hockey, handball, chess, skiing, tennis, table tennis and water ball. With time, it became a sports club with the strongest membership in all of Austria. Hakoah’s location in Vienna’s Prater developed into a societal center for many of Vienna’s Jews. The stadium in 1922 held 3,500 bystanders, in addition to standing room for 25,000 people more and had a soccer field, running track and jumping area. During the two world wars, enthusiasm for their achievements was rewarded by Hakoah members having won numerous national and international titles, including the Olympics. Particularly legendary was the success enjoyed by the soccer, water ball, wrestling and swimming teams.

After 1933 the political situation worsened and normal activities became evermore restricted. Many Hakoah members left Vienna over the following years and Hakoah’s growth declined. In 1938 Hakoah was seized. The soccer and sports stadium in Krieau was leased to the SA Standarte 90 by the community of Vienna. In 1941, the name, Hakoah, was officially erased from the books in Vienna and what followed was the systematic destruction of the Jewish population.

But shortly after WW II new life was breathed into the Hakoah by a few survivors and returnees (some 6,000). And although the club was never returned, member enthusiasm and dedication brought a number of sports back to life. In the beginning, swimming and light athletics came again into their own, followed by basketball, bridge, soccer, judo, karate, tennis, table tennis and water ball. Unfortunately, not all fields could be continued and were eventually dropped.

Although the number of Jewish athletes in Vienna dramatically sunk after the Holocaust, they went on to achieve numerous national and international titles. Above all, during the Maccabi Games (Jewish Olympics), Hakoah was able to win a number of medals.