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Sunday, August 21, 2011


Yaron Zilberman’s documentary is a different kind of Holocaust story. It’s a brief remembrance of Hakoah, the Jewish Athletic Club of Vienna that produced champion swimmers before disappearing as the Austrians rushed to embrace Nazi Germany, and it’s a reunion story for a handful of survivors, vital women from England, America & Israel, now in their 80s, who return to the old training pool for a last lap. It’s charming & affectionate, very Viennese, and it sheds a different, softer light on a time, place & story we think we already know. The historical clips are fascinating, who knew this stuff?, and the women such a remarkable group of over-achievers, they make great company. And while Zilberman doesn’t oversell his unlikely story, there are chilling moments that make this more than just a sentimental journey.

  • A story, never before told by a Grandmother to her Granddaughter, about the time she and her Hakoah teammates marched in a city parade and were met with a sudden, threatening silence amidst the cheers for everyone else.
  • Post-dinner entertainment with a young man right out of an Aryan Recruitment poster who sings a final song, a bouncy paean to those jolly times we are all having at Buchenwald. The song, written to order in a Concentration Camp by one of Vienna’s popular Jewish composers is a gutsy offering by the singer, a nod toward his nation’s culpability. But not all the guests see the point.
  • And, riding in from the airport, one of the lady high-divers chats with her cabbie. Oh, he knows all about those horrible times. How bad things were for ‘Non-Natives’ and how the Jews weren’t, after all, Germans.

You could hardly find a better reason for making this lovely, little film.

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