Deutsch, Judith : Jews In Sports @ Virtual Museum

Deutsch, Judith


Country Represented:

Years Competed:

Olympic Info:
Deutsch was Austria's top swimmer in the mid-1930s and was selected to represent her country at the 1936 Berlin Olympics. After hearing about what Jewish athletes were going through in Germany, she and two other Austrian Jewish swimmers, Ruth Langer and Lucy Goldman boycotted the Games. In a letter to the Austrian Olympic Committee, Deutsch wrote: "...I a Jew I cannot participate in the Berlin Olympic Games. My conscience does not allow me. This is a personal decision and is not to be contested. I completely understand that I am giving up my rights to participate as the Austrian contestant in the Olympic Games. I sincerely hope you will understand this decision and not pressure me to change my mind."

Career Highlights:
From 1934-36, Deutsch dominated Austrian swimming and was the Austrian National champion in the 100-meter freestyle, 200-meter freestyle, and 400-meter freestyle all three years; she was elected Outstanding Austrian Athlete in 1935. Following her decision to boycott the 1936 Olympics, she was suspended from all national and international competition for two years by Austrian authorities.

Later that year Deutsch and her family emigrated to Israel, settling in Haifa, the only city in Israel with an Olympic-size swimming pool. Judith became the Israeli National champion and represented Hebrew University at the 1939 World University Games, winning the silver medal. The day after she won the medal, World War II officially began with Germany's invasion of Poland. The silver medal that she won for Israel is the only medal Judith kept.

Following Deutsch's emigration to Israel, Austrian officials stripped her of all the titles she had won and erased her name from the record books. In 1995, Rivka Rabinowitz, director of the Maccabi Museum, wrote to the president of the Austrian Swimming League about the disgraceful treatment that had been visited upon Deutsch. The president, Otmar Bricks, replied: "....I blushed with shame, humiliation and rage. I am deeply ashamed of the decision they made at the time."

Bricks invited Deutsch to return to Austria to restore her titles and re-enter her name into the official record book. After learning of Bricks' invitation, Judith refused to go to Austria because "nobody even bothered to inform me what the Austrians had done. This is the first time I have been told that I had been stripped of my titles...they threw me out once. If they want give me back my titles, they can give them to me in Israel."

In June 1995, the Austrian Ambassador to Israel, Dr. Herbert Karol, read out an official letter of apology written by the president of the Austrian Parliament, which stated its "...deep sorrow for the event. Perhaps we are apologizing too late, but better now than never." Deutsch responded to the Austrian delegation that "I am happy to accept your apologies and the withdrawal of sanctions against me...And in no way do I regret having done what I did sixty years ago." All of Deutsch's titles and medals have now been restored by Austrian officials.

Judith was inducted into the International Jewish Sports Hall of Fame as a representative of those athletes who could have competed at the 1936 Berlin Olympics, but chose to boycott the Games instead.

Birth and Death Dates:
b. Sept. 18, 1918

Vienna, Austria

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Jewish Sports Legends: The International Jewish Sports Hall of Fame, by Joseph Siegman (Washington, D.C.: Brassey's, 2000)
encyclopedia of JEWS in sports, by Bernard Postal, Jesse Silver, and Roy Silver (New York: Bloch Publishing Co., 1965)