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Maccabi Games in Vienna reflect pain and hope for one local survivor

Alfred Schreier returned to Vienna in 2009 for the 100th anniversary of the Hakoah Sport Club (above), and again this summer for the first European Maccabi Games to be held in a German-speaking country since 1945.

Alfred Schreier was proud to be among the 2,000 athletes representing 37 nations at this year’s European Maccabi Games held July 5 to 13 in Vienna, Austria. A Sahuarita resident, Schreier, 82, was born in Vienna, where he returned after the Holocaust to become a successful teen athlete in track and field, gymnastics and team handball. In 1950, he participated in the first post-war Maccabi games, which took place in Israel.

Schreier’s childhood was interrupted by World War II. In 1939, the Nazis snatched his father from their family home, deporting him to Dachau. Six months later, Schreier’s father managed to be released from Dachau with a fake document alleging his paid boat passage to Santa Domingo. But instead of boarding a boat, Schreier and his family fled to Italy where they remained until after the war. Schreier and his father returned to Vienna in December 1945, intending to reclaim their home and belongings. But that was not to be.

“We didn’t get a single dime back from the government,” says Schreier. “Our neighbors had stolen all our stuff.” The family emigrated to the United States in 1952.

But during the five years Schreier had lived in Vienna, he participated in athletics at the Hakoah Sport Club, which was established for the Viennese Jewish population in 1909, because Jews were not allowed to join other facilities. “It took one surviving member of Hakoah 60 years of fighting with the Austrian government to get the sports facility back that the Nazis had confiscated in 1938,” says Schreier. Two years ago, at the 100th anniversary of the Hakoah Center, “ I was privileged to address 700 invited guests with the president of Austria, the mayor of Vienna, the consul general of Israel and many other dignitaries in attendance,” he adds.

This year, Schreier was invited to carry the official Maccabi Games banner at the opening ceremony, which took place in front of the Rathaus, the Vienna city hall. The Israeli flag was also flying in front of the building. The contrast, he told the AJP, “as a child seeing the Nazi flag with the swastika fly from the exact same spot in 1938-39, was a terribly emotional experience for me.”