SC Hakoah Wien

So first things first for any football fans reading, which was the first European football club to beat an English team at home? The answer, which you may or may not be interested to know, is SC Hakoah Wien who in 1923 beat West Ham 5-1 in London. Though whilst I’m not usually one to pay attention to football trivia, or sports at all for that matter, after coming across the story of Hakoah Wien I couldn’t resist digging further.

Hakoah Wien were an all Jewish sports club founded in Vienna in 1909, with Hakoah meaning the strength or the power in Hebrew. This alone I found brilliant enough considering not only was Karl Lueger, a populist antisemite mayor of the city from from 1897 to 1910 but in a cruel coincidence an as yet unknown impoverished Adolf Hitler happened to be scrapping a living in the city at the same time. Although whilst Jewish people were not facing discrimination on the same scale as the later Nuremberg Race Laws at this point in Austria, antisemitism was a feature of Austrian politics and society from this period right up to the Anschluss in 1938 when the situation for Austrian Jews became entirely more dangerous.

But perhaps most importantly Hakoa Wien’s significance doesn’t entirely lie in them being an all Jewish team during a time of widespread antisemitism, they were also incredibly successful athletes. The image above is a picture taken of Hakoa Wien’s football team as champions of the Austrian football league in 1925 with them proudly posing next to their club logo, a blue star of David, on a flag after the game. Of further interest in the above picture is the sadly not visible broken arm of the team’s goalkeeper who after swapping positions with a forward managed to score the game winning goal with a broken arm in a sling.

Even though Hakoa Wien were most famous as a football team they also boasted successful sections for  other sports including fencing, hockey, and even chess. Furthermore eight Hakoah athletes were chosen by the Austrian Olympic Committee to represent the country at the 1936 Berlin games. Whilst  all but two protested and refused to take part in the games hosted in Nazi Germany, those who went met some success. Alfred König for example went on to represent Austria in the Men’s 400m and weightlifter Robert Fein even won a gold medal in the lightweight class becoming one a handful of Jewish athletes to win a medal in the 1936 games. Fein interestingly throws up the bizarre situation of an athlete from an all Jewish sport club representing Austria, run by Austro-fascists at this time, at the 1936 Olympics in Nazi Germany and winning a gold medal. Whilst the story of Jesse Owens being snubbed by both the Germans and the Americans is widely known , surely Fein’s story is worthy of similar attention? Fein survived Nazi persecution and went on to live in Austria until his death in 1975, I could find little else on his life.

Unfortunately though Fein’s story isn’t mirrored in the club itself. A day after the Anschluss in March 1938 Hakoa Wien was forcibly dissolved and its grounds were repossessed by the Nazi party. Those members who hadn’t already fled or moved to America or Palestine to make successful sports careers there where persecuted, deported and more often than not eventually murdered in concentration camps across Europe. Of Vienna’s pre-war Jewish population of nearly 200,000, only 6,000 had survived by the time the city was liberated by the Red Army in April 1945.

Whilst though the club was founded again in 1945  the world famous football team was discontinued in 1949. Interestingly enough after the site of the original grounds were sold back to Hakoa Wien by the city of Vienna in 2000 the club reopened a new sports center on the same site in 2008 in Vienna’s Prater park which is home to the club to this day.

Perhaps it may be cheap to try and reduce the  story of the world’s first modern all Jewish sports club to a piece of English football trivia, but the story of a Jewish Viennese team beating West Ham in 1923 really is special.