"For those who have an interest in Jewish life in pre-World War II Vienna, this film is the best source for a glimpse into that world: a burgeoning world where Jews thrived and above all were happy, well-adjusted Viennese.
The women who tell their stories describe their childhoods and parents in early 20th century Vienna and participation in the great Jewish swim team, Hakoah - and the changes in Vienna that took place in the 1930s leading to their emigration to countries all over the world and the rude ending of their competitive swimming careers. The women's courage - and wit - come across beautifully. One sees the side of these women that is still Viennese (reciting Austrian verse by heart in a Mushav in Israel, singing along to songs by Leopoldi) while also seeing them in their homes of 50 years in the United States or Israel - where it becomes apparent that the women have since managed also to become American, Israeli, etc - whereever they ended up after the war. At the end of the film they return to Vienna to swim one more lap in the pool where they once competed.
You will cherish this film as a magnificently made documentary about an extraordinary group of women whose youth was spent in a place (thriving, burgeoning Jewish Vienna) that sadly no longer exists - but should never be forgotten."
Luminous Film about Jewish Athletes in Nazi Vienna
Gerard D. Launay | Berkeley, California | 02/06/2006
(5 out of 5 stars)
"This is a film about remarkable people. In Vienna in the 1930's, a Jewish sportsclub HAKOAH organized athletes in several categories but the most impressive were the women swimmers. In fact, one of these Jewish athletes was the best female swimmer in Austria. Nevertheless, at great "personal cost" to her, she refused to go to Hitler's Berlin Oympics in 1936 and all her records were stricken and she was forbidden to compete. 65 years later, 7 of these swimmers (now in their 80's) are brought together and they swim together, once more, in a famous Vienna pool. The Boston Globe remarked (correctly) that the images of these women in the pool is beautiful and a little bit holy. They move like angels in water. Their stories are fascinating and the people glow with intelligence, warmth, and goodness. My friend and I both had tears by the end of the film."
Once Were Waterbabies
Stephanie DePue | Carolina Beach, NC USA | 11/09/2006
(5 out of 5 stars)
""Watermarks" is a remarkable documentary, as remarkable as the women whose stories it tells. It harkens back to early 20th century Vienna, Austria, a time when the Jewish community was well-settled, prosperous, and largely assimilated, and tells the true story of Hakoah, a Jewish sports club, the largest membership sports club in the world. We mainly learn about the women's swim team: they are charming, intelligent, high-spirited, and as independent as the times allow them to be. These women were athletes, and in the old footage, you can see that they just loved to swim: there's even a lot of footage of their happily diving into the Danube River, which, at that time, must have been as unpleasant an open sewer as most of the world's other major urban rivers.
During the 1930's,three of these women were ranked the numbers 1-2-3- Austrian swimmers. They had to make a choice about participation in the 1936 Olympics, in Hitler's Germany, and chose not to attend. The Austrian Sports Board thereupon stripped them of their titles. Of course, there was worse to come, but these Viennese women were quite sophisticated enough to recognize that: they,and their families all got out of Austria in time. They follow their motto "Say yes to life," in exile, and prove every bit as remarkable as they were at home. Finally, as part of the making of this documentary, the remaining women who were able to travel reassemble in Vienna, and take one more swim in the great and beautiful sports hall of their youthful triumphs. There's sheer joy as they slip into the water again; and not a dry eye in the house."
Inspiring true story!
Murray Kastner | Montreal, Canada | 02/24/2006
(5 out of 5 stars)
"Very refreshing aand heartening true story that should serve to inspire us all, especially in today's rather sorry world. We need to learn of the bravado and courage that brought others to such heights."
Excellent sports documentary . . .
Ronald Scheer | Los Angeles | 12/13/2007
(5 out of 5 stars)
"This documentary takes a footnote in sports history and wonderfully illuminates the human drama behind it. It's difficult to add to the glowing comments already made here about this film. Probably it's most remarkable achievement is the evocation of a time and place we already think we know well - the 1930s in Austria - where Jews have been traditionally banned from membership in sports clubs, and the anti-semitic rantings of Hitler are being embraced by a ready and willing public.
The existence of the Jewish sports organization, Hakoah, meant several things to the young women who became members of its Olympic-class swimming team at this critical point in European history. Watching the film, you marvel at how circumstance can dramatically shape the lives of individuals. In this case, it seizes them first out of anonymity and gives them identities as athletes; it introduces them to the growing Jewish community in Palestine that was to become Israel; then it saves them from the death camps by sending them in a last-minute diaspora to countries around the world where they live the rest of their lives - far from the middle-class Vienna that they had known and loved as young girls.
Now almost 70 years later, a handful of them gather in Vienna to meet again and relive the best memories of the past. Meanwhile, the ghost of that past also lives on, and the filmmakers do not shrink from including the most chilling of the memories as well. Worse still, the driver of a car service makes no secret of his own ambivalent opinion of Jews by referring to them unapologetically as "nonnatives." It's a fascinating film for its willingness to range across such a complex and difficult range of emotions. The DVD includes many extras including additional interview footage and deleted scenes."