Jewish Sports Officials in Interwar Vienna: Performative Identities and Jewishness between ‘Assimilation’ and Zionism, Acceptance and Antisemitism

The project uses the example of Jewish sports officials to reconstruct the social field of sport as a site of identity politics in Vienna during the interwar period. It will compare the possibilities and limits of Jewish participation in various social fields, and examine the interactions and networks that may have linked these fields.

First, a demographic overview of Jewish sports officials will be created; second, using a collective biography approach, the possible similarities and differences will be analyzed. Besides their activities in and for sport, a priority will be placed on the professional activities of the persons under examination, as well as their activities in the media and in politics. Additionally, individual biographies will be traced as case studies.

In this way, the project seeks to make visible the role of this buried tradition of Viennese sport and popular culture in the first half of the twentieth century.

The biographies of the circle of people under investigation raise questions of Jewish identity, which, especially before 1938, was dominated by the tension between religion, Zionism and “assimilation”. At the center are the strategic aspects of the construction of social identities: how could varying “Jewish identities” be implemented, how could a “non-Jewish society” be positioned on the basis of what ascriptions of the “Jewish” as the other, and in which interactions could these respective constructions be found? This will be linked to the question of whether, for a specific period of time, a concrete engagement with Jewishness was a genuine part of specific Central European sport cultures.

The involvement with popular cultural practices constituted the decisive criterion for the selection of a particular sport for our investigation. Where sport functions as a popular (mass) culture, paradigmatic social self and public positioning can be analyzed. Particularly in these public discussion processes the manifestation of Jewishness can be observed.

Our research focus is on football, but swimming, figure skating, boxing, skiing and workers’ sports are also important components of the investigation.

The different perspectives on sport, Jewishness, and especially on the synopsis of both levels—in addition to individual self and external assessments, self and public attributions—draw primarily on the media. In the media, the struggle for the production of hegemonic or minority discourses and arguments was raised, strengthened, or challenged, and meanings are constructed. The symbols of sportiness were transferred into the ‘community’, examined for ciphers of the “Jewish” and tested for their usefulness or their feasibility. The media are, therefore, not only used among our research sources, but are also understood as the starting point of contemporary discourse.

Funded by FWF – Austrian Science Fund, conducted at the University of Applied Arts Vienna with the University of Vienna as scientific partner organization.