"Why I became a member of Hakoah? Why am I proud to be one? Why do I believe that "Hakoah" had to be founded?
Because it taught others to say "Mr Jud."
Sport was seen by Zionists and Assimilationists alike as a means of getting rid of the image of the "soft and weak Ghetto-Jew". Physical training was supposed to educate young and robust people who would face life and its challenges from a more advanced position. According to this attitude, the gymnastics club "Maccabi" was founded as "First Jewish Gymnastic Society" in 1897, followed by the "Gymnastic Society of Jewish Students" 1899. A year later it allowed access to the general public as well. Many Jewish athletes trained in mixed clubs that were open to Jews, apart from the "Wiener Sports Club" which had an "Aryan Section". Popular clubs included the "Akademischer Sportclub" ("Academic Sports Club"), the WAC, "Austria" and the "First Vienna Football Club". When Zionist leaders tried to establish a way of bringing young people together, it was suggested that an exclusively Jewish Sports Club be founded which would strengthen Jewish self-consciousness and offer a possibility of approaching the younger generation.
This was the background of the sports organization "Hakoah" which was established in September 1909. It was modeled after the major Jewish Sports Club VAC-Budapest. Anti Zionist Jews feared that it would increase anti-Semitism and liberal Jewish circles opposed its founding. "Hakoah" began as a football team and it was this team which brought its greatest success. The beginnings were very modest, though. After gathering 25 able and enthusiastic players, they had to start at the bottom of the Fourth Division. "Immediately after the founding of the club we faced its end, because we lost our first game against some little team from Favoriten 1:10" (founding member and first team captain Eugen Eisler). The soccer fields for this division were not always fenced and were located in the rougher suburbs of Vienna. The crowds who came to cheer their clubs were not always genteel to the Jewish team. Nevertheless, the footballers in the blue-and-white jerseys and the Shield of David on their chests began to rise in the divisions. They became famous in the interwar period after climbing up to the First League in the 1919/20 season. In their first year in the League they won the Austrian championship. In 1922 "Hakoah" was the first Austrian team to bring an English team, West Ham United, to Vienna and to gain a draw in front of an audience of 50,000. A year later, "Hakoah" went to England and won the game with a sensational 5:0 score. After this outstanding success, they went on a triumphal tour to Palestine via Egypt.
"Hakoah" also had other popular sections such as mountaineering, swimming, athletics and wrestling. Several members of "Hakoah Wien" became Austrian champions in swimming (Judith Deutsch reached a new Austrian record in 1935), and the land hockey section of "Hakoah Wien" became national champions in 1924/25 and again in 1937. In 1922 and 1924 " Hakoah" was University champion in sabre fencing and won the team championship in table tennis in 1936. Only a few years after its founding, "Hakoah" became the largest Jewish sports association in Europe with 2,000 members. In 1923 the club opened a stadium for more than 20,000 spectators.
About a third of all Jewish athletes switched to "Hakoah", but many Austrian Jews achieved major successes in mixed clubs and organizations. Hugo Meisl (1881-1937) was a member of the First Vienna Football Club and became in 1910 the Captain of the Austrian Football Association. A member of the legendary "Wunderteam" ("Miracle Team") he was essential in organizing professional football in Austria. Dr. Paul Neumann won a gold medal for Austria at the Olympics in 1896. Other Jewish gold medal winners for Austria were Otto Scheff (1906, swimming), Hans Haas (1928, weightlifting) and Robert Fein (1936, athletics). The swimmer Hedy Bienenfeld gained a world record in 1929. The athlete Gerda Gottlieb jumped to a world record in high jump in 1934 and marked the American record in 1941. Robert Kronfeld (1904-1948) was the holder of the most world records in gliding. The wrestler Micki Hirschl won two bronze medals in 1932.
The importance of "Hakoah" for Jewish self-confidence is demonstrated by a statement of Robert Stricker who wrote in 1928:
"In Jewish circles, far beyond Vienna, there is consternation and agitation… The Jewish Sports Club has lost many games in this year's football season and was removed from the First League. As one praised the rise of this club as a major Jewish victory, one laments its decline as a Jewish failure."
When the "Hakoah" swimmers Ruth Langer, Judith Deutsch and Lucie Goldner refused to participate in the Olympic Games of 1936 which were held in Nazi Berlin, they were banned by the Austrian swimming association for life.
"Hakoah" and all other Jewish sport clubs were dissolved in April 1938, less than a month after Austria was incorporated into Nazi Germani, the stadium was confiscated and two officials who happened to be there were deported to Dachau. At least 37 members of "Hakoah" were murdered in concentration camps.
"Hakoah" was re-founded in 1945.