I think the idea that one does the best one can do, no matter what the circumstances are, has always been my way of thinking and of living.
—Annie Lampl, Additional interviews
Watermarks ends with seven members of the Jewish Hakoah Vienna swimming club reunited at their club pool, which had been overrun by the Nazis some 65 years earlier. The camera pans over each woman—Nanne Selinger, Greta Stanton, Elisheva Susz, Hanni Lux, Ann Marie Pisker, Trude Hirshler, and Annie Lampl—as she disrobes, revealing a bathing suit emblazoned with the club’s Star of David logo. One by one, they walk into the water and swim. One does the backstroke, others let the water wash over them. The women, in their 80s in 2004, are seeing each other for the first time since World War II.
As moving as this moment is, the DVD of Yaron Zilberman’s Watermarks contains another 50 minutes of extra footage and extended interviews revealing the swimmers’ histories and families. In their 20s when Jewish persecution was in full swing, the women talk frankly about how the war influenced their choices as adults, as well as their childhoods, some good (Selinger’s, for instance), and some not so good (Lampl was chastised as girl for being “ugly”).
Watermarks takes a different focus from these extra interviews, looking at the women’s lives within the Hakoah, how their allegiance to the group helped them escape Nazi capture. “I believe that because of Hakoah, we were saved,” says Hirshler. Providing a thorough history of the sports club, the documentary includes background on the Hakoah men’s soccer club as well as Hanni’s sister Judith Haspel, considered the Hakoah’s greatest female athlete. She’s venerated here for refusing to participate in the Berlin Olympic Games, leading to her loss of all previous medals and achievements.
“My snap reaction [towards Austrians my age] is, I hate their guts,” says Stanton in one of the additional interviews. In behind-the-scenes footage at the Holocaust Memorial in Judenplatz, Vienna, she appears resigned: “It was all a matter of luck,” she says, about saving herself and losing her aunts. She questions Selinger and Lux on their lost friends and family members, as they have all lost someone. Stanton notes that, for a long time, she wondered if Austrians may have “put my aunts on the wagon that took them to their deaths”.
Stanton, intense as she is when discussing her past, appears to have come to terms with at least some of her bad feelings. “As I was getting old,” she says, “I decided that I did not want to die with so much hatred in me.” Susz, on the other hand, maintains fear and doubt about the region’s history. Soft, frail, and visibly unsettled, instead of discussing her childhood, she spends much of her time questioning the events of and following 1938. She talks about her capture and humiliation at the hands of Nazi soldiers, how she will never forget being forced to wash bandages while a soldier practiced “with his gun.” Her ongoing distrust emerges when she explains that her daughter once questioned her: “You always said that the Viennese are so terrible. They are really nice. What do you want from them?” Susz explains that her daughter “grew up in difference circumstances.”
Other differences surface as well. Stanton and Selinger reveal their own differences regarding Judaism: Stanton cannot separate the religion and the nationality; Selinger principally regards it as a nationality. And Pisker and Hirshler disagree over what was worst in the war: Pisker calmly discusses lost relatives, saying, “This was 60 years ago. It doesn’t seem possible,” while Hirshler (and her husband Jeno) become animated and emotional. The varying impacts of the war depend on upbringing, self-esteem, reactions to the swimming club and its successes, world travel. All these elements created the full lives of seven women.