Langer was a 15-year old swimming phenom when she boycotted the 1936 Berlin Olympic Games in protest of the Nazis' policies and mistreatment of the Jews. Two other Austrian Jewish swimmers, Lucy Goldman and national champion Judith Deutsch, also boycotted the Games.
When asked just before the 1996 Olympics if she had regretted her decision to boycott back in 1932, Langer told Reuters, "Whenever the games come up again, I get a heartache. It's something that stays with you for the rest of your life. It was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. But being Jewish, it was unthinkable to compete in the Games in Nazi Germany, where my people were being persecuted."
After taking up swimming at the age of 11, Langer competed for Hakoah in Vienna; and at the age of 14 (in 1936), she broke the Austrian records for the 100-meter freestyle and 400-meter freestyle. After Langer decided to boycott the Games, she was banned from participating in Austrian competitions by Austrian officials "due to severe damage of Austrian sports...gross disrespect for the Olympic spirit," and her national swimming records were removed from the national list. They were not reinstated until 1995.
In 1938, when the Nazis occupied Austria, Langer escaped to Italy by dying her hair blonde and carrying a false baptismal certificate. She was eventually given asylum in Great Britain; and in 1939, Langer set a British record with a swim of the River Thames from Kew to Putney Bridge (a distance of 5 miles) in 74 minutes and 4 seconds. When World War II began, she was sent from London to Bath as an "enemy alien," but was later allowed to return to London. She eventually met and married John Lawrence and lived in London for the rest of her life.
In 1995, the Austrian Swimming Federation reinstated Langer's national titles and records and the federation president wrote: "When I learned in recent weeks that athletes who refused to serve as window-dressing for the Hitler regime received a lifetime ban ... I blushed with anger and shame. I am deeply ashamed of the decision taken at that time. You, who as an irreproachable and decent athlete, did everything you could to achieve athletic success, were already stamped by the Nuremberg Laws as a second-class person, and for renouncing athletic success in order to show solidarity with the persecuted, you were punished. Those responsible today for the Federation of Austrian Swimming Clubs are glad that you survived that cruel and merciless time and humbly apologize for what our predecessors did. All of your athletic successes and achievements are hereby confirmed and recorded in the perpetual scoring tables. You, Ms. Lawrence, are an example to young people. We are proud that you are there."
Birth and Death Dates:
b. 1921- d. May 2, 1999