Judith Deutsch-Haspel

* 18.8.1918 (Vienna) 20.11.2004 (Israel) Austria
Fields of activity: Sportswoman
Author: Gerti Zupanich

Judith Deutsch


Judith Deutsch was one of the best Austrian swimmers from the Jewish sports club Hakoah and athlete of the year in 1935. Latent anti-Semitism was her constant companion during her younger years. Among others, she refused to participate in the Olympic games in Berlin, in 1936.

The sports club Hakoah (Strength) was founded in 1909, first as soccer club.

On the one hand, because Jewish athletes were increasingly refused admittance in other clubs, on the other hand, the intention was to strengthen Jewish self-confidence and to counter the stereotype that Jews were wimps physically and avoiding all physical strain. Many successful sportswomen originated from the ranks of Hakoah. For members (5000 when it was closed down in 1938), athletes and guests Hakoah was

„…more than a  sports club“.

In my opinion the „Danube Maidens“ (co Karen Propp), most of them swimmers in their teenage years, are sport heroines in times of anti-Semitism. They had to flee from the Nazis and thereafter lived in different countries all over the world. Hardly any of them wanted to return to Austria.

Judith Deutsch, Fritzi Löwy and Hedy Bienenfeld are three of these   heroines, which I want to introduce:

Her father already very early in their life took Judith Deutsch and her sister Hanni along to Hakoah. Aged only 15 years, she became Austrian champion and for a long time record holder on all short-, middle- and long swimming distances. In 1935 she was elected as sportswoman of the year after swimming 12 minimum times in a row and she was awarded the golden medal for being an outstanding athlete.

1936, the year of the Olympic games in Berlin, changed her life and the life of other Jewish athletes dramatically. They had to decide, if they should participate at all in this anti-Semitic climate. At the entrance to the stadium was a billboard reading

„Dogs and Jews are forbidden to enter the stadium“.

Due to international protests this billboard was removed during the Olympics. However, during the parade of all sports clubs in Vienna headed by the Olympic torch, the onlookers shouted ‘Heil Hitler’, when non-Jewish clubs marched by - despite the fact that this was still forbidden in 1936. When Hakoah appeared, there was a dead silence. “ We were terribly afraid and glad we made it home in sound condition” her sister Hanni remembered during an interview in Israel in 2007.

Judith Deutsch, 18 years old, had invested a lot of time in her training and was qualified to participate in the Olympics. However, together with other Jewish athletes they decided not to take part. According to the charter of the International Olympic Committee this was covered. Nevertheless, the Austrian swimmers’ confederation deprived Judith Deutsch of all her national records and champion titles. They barred her from any further participation for lifetime, despite the fact that one year before she was decorated as best athlete.

When Hitler invaded Austria in 1938, the Deutsch family had already emigrated to Palestine. The lawyer Dr Rosenfeld, at that time president of the swimmers’ organisation, made it possible that 200 members could flee the country due to his contacts in London. He himself was warned and managed to escape at the last moment. His dog was left behind and beaten to death by the Nazis.

In Palestine - Israel was only founded in 1945 – the family found it difficult to settle in. To speak German was frowned upon. Still Judith succeeded to continue her career as a swimmer and to participate in international contests such as Makkabiade.

Judith and her sister Hanni, an excellent crawl swimmer as well, got married and stayed in Israel. With pleasure she accepted the apologies and the restitution of her records in 1995(!).

In 2006 Judith died at the age of 86 in Herzliya (Israel).

Author: Gerti Zupanich
Ulrike Rahmatian



Betz, Löscher, Schölnberger (publisher), „… mehr als ein Sportverein“, Studienvlg, 2009

Propp, Karen: „The Danube Maidens“ in „…mehr als ein Sportverein“, Studienvlg,2009

Zinke, Peter: „Interview mit Hanni Lux“, Israel, 2007 und http://www.nurinst.org/nurinst_org/proj_hakoah_1_lux.htm

Zilberman, Yaron, Doku „Watermarks“, 2004, Trailer see http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NSDUKxMWfKE

Photocredits: Judith Deutsch, author unknown, presumably around 1935/36, photo from family album, allocated from her son to Maccabi Sports Museum/ Pierre Gildesgame, Israel.