Bedrich Löwy was born in 1883 in Wildenschwert, then in Bohemia and part of Austria-Hungary. He was five years old when his family moved to Vienna, to become part of its Jewish community of 200,000. His name changed in the process, reflecting the complex identities of Central Europe. Löwy became Löhner; Bedrich (Friedrich in German) became Fritz for short. He later made his name Löhner-Beda because Beda was his pen-name. Like many of his peers, he studied law. He was a keen amateur footballer and was a co-founder of the Hakoah Vienna multi-sport club in 1909.
Rise and Fall of Hakoah
Fritz Löhner-Beda rose to prominence in the cultural life of Vienna. He was a prolific author of articles, stories, poems and songs. From 1913 he collaborated with famous composers like Franz Lehar. Among the many librettos he wrote for operettas was Land of Smiles in 1929. But Löhner-Beda was also at the forefront of Austrian football. The team he co-founded, Hakoah Vienna, was committed to Zionist ideals. All its players and coaches were Jewish. In addition to winning championships in Austria, Hakoah made many tours abroad and had worldwide fan clubs.
The assertive Zionism of Hakoah Vienna encoutered opposition, and often open anti-Semitism. The club struggled in the 1930s and was totally closed down after Austria was annexed to the Third Reich in 1938. Fritz Löhner-Beda was an obvious target for the Nazis. He was sent to the camps, first Dachau and then three years at Buchenwald, where he organised cultural activities for inmates. He even composed Das Buchenwaldlied:
O Buchenwald, I cannot forget you,
because you are my fate.
Only he who leaves you can appreciate
how wonderful freedom is!
O Buchenwald, we don’t cry and complain;
and whatever our destiny may be,
we nevertheless shall say “yes” to life:
for once the day comes, we shall be free!
He was then sent to Monowitz-Auschwitz where he was murdered in December 1942.
Fritz Löhner-Beda’s life reflected the history of Jewish Central Europe. He was a cultured man, famous as a writer and as a librettist for opera composers like Franz Lehar. He was a passionate Zionist. He was the driving force behind Hakoah Vienna, the wholly Jewish club that dominated Austrian football in the 1920s. And he was a victim of the Holocaust in 1942, beaten to death at the forced labour camp at Monowitz (Auschwitz III).
What can be learned from the story of Fritz Löhner-Beda about the links between football, Zionism, anti-Semitism and history?
Fritz Löhner-Beda in 1928 (Photo: Karl Winkler. Source: Austrian National Library).
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