This is the story of three Jewish swimmers who went down in history for bravely refusing to lower their heads to the regime at the 1936 Nazi Olympics in Berlin. Ruth Langer, who at just fourteen years old – in 1935 – had already established national records of the 100 and 400 freestyle, Lucie Goldner and Judith Deutsch. Their refusal arises one day, when a sign appears in the swimming pool where they train: “NO ENTRY FOR DOGS AND JEWS” and when, due to this outrage, the world federation of Jewish sports clubs recommends athletes to boycott.
Thus, the young Langer denies herself at the Olympics and for this reason she is immediately cut off and her records removed. The champion escapes from Vienna, goes to Italy, then in 1939 emigrates to London, where she gets married in 1943 and where she dies in June 1999, at 77 years old. Unfortunately, only four years before his death the Austrian swimming federation canceled the shameful ban of 1936 and rehabilitated it.
Lucie Goldner Gordian goes instead to Berlin. She is young too, she is eighteen. She has chosen to represent Austria, but in the inaugural parade of the athletes in front of Hitler, she refuses to do the nazi salute. She is disqualified for life but thanks to the press the government reduces the sentence, suspending her for two years. However, Lucie is arrested when the Nazis invade Austria. During the interrogation, thanks to a doctor, she manages to escape, dyes her hair, turns blondie and disguises the yellow star that identifies her as Jewish, packs the trophies and leaves for Berlin by train. The carriage in which he travels is full of Gestapo agents, but Hitler’s personal driver, who is gallant with her, understands that she is Jewish and helps her. He passes her the badge, a golden swastika, and fixes it on the lapel of his suit: “With this you will go safely to Berlin”. And so it was, in fact she managed to reach London. She died in Australia in 2000.
Judith Deutsch shows from an early age that she is an exceptional swimming talent, holds the record on all short, medium and long distances already at the age of 15 and is among the top ten in the list of the best in the world. In June 1936, Judith began keeping away from training and wrote to the Austrian Swimming Association that she would participate in the Olympics only as a Jew, not as a representative of Austria, and that on the contrary her conscience forbade her. The association reacted severely to the courageous political decision of the seventeen-year-old, who was banned from the Olympic games for life (penalty then reduced to two years) and all the championship records and titles were canceled. In the same year, Deutsch emigrated with her family to Haifa, the only city in Palestine with a swimming pool for training. She died in Herzliya, Israel in 2004. But only in 1995 did a delegation from the Austrian Swimming Association send her an apology letter acknowledging all her victories and records.
In order not to forget you must continue to tell. And to share stories of courage and heroism like these, which make you want to fight evil, always.
Source: “La Shoah dello sport” by Leonardo Coen.