Otto Herschmann

Otto Herschmann bigraphy, stories - Swimmer, fencer, and lawyer

Otto Herschmann : biography

4 January 1877 – 14 June 1942

Dr. Otto Herschmann (4 January 1877 – 14 June 1942) was a Jewish Austrian swimmer, fencer, lawyer, and sports official.

Herschmann won a silver medal at the initial modern Olympic Games, the 1896 Summer Olympics in Athens, Greece, in the men’s 100-metre freestyle event. He also won a silver medal at the 1912 Summer Olympics, in the men’s team sabre event in fencing. Herschmann is one of only a few athletes who have won Olympic medals in different sports.

He served as President of the Austrian Olympic Committee from 1912 to 1914. Herschmann was then President of the Austrian Swimming Federation from 1914 to 1932.

During the Nazi era, Herschmann was persecuted because he was Jewish. The Nazis arrested him in Vienna and deported him in 1942 to the Sobibór extermination camp, and then to the Izbica concentration camp, where he was killed.


Herschmann was inducted into the International Jewish Sports Hall of Fame in 1989. On 7 November 2001 his hometown Vienna named a lane "Otto-Herschmann-Gasse" (Otto Herschmann Alley) in his honor in Simmering, the 11th District of Vienna.


Herschmann was Jewish, and was born in Vienna, Austria. He was affiliated with the 1.W.A.S.C. in Vienna, and the Wiener AC in Vienna.

Olympic swimming career

Herschmann first competed at the initial modern Olympic Games, the 1896 Summer Olympics in Athens, Greece, at the age of 19 in the men’s 100 metres freestyle swimming event. On 30 March, he and the other swimmers were taken by boat into the Bay of Piraeus to compete in the open sea. The competitors swam from a starting line between two buoys, through a course marked by a number of floating hollow pumpkins, to a red flag finish line at the shore.

Herschmann placed second and won a silver medal, with a time of 1:22.8, 0.6 seconds and half a metre behind the winner, Alfréd Hajós, as the other swimmers trailed far behind. When he and fellow Austrian swimmer Dr. Paul Neumann returned to Vienna from Greece, a large crowd met them at the train station with cheers. ranked Herschmann as tied for the second-best swimmer of the 1890s, behind Alfréd Hajós. In 1904, he wrote Wiener Sport, which was published by H. Seemann.

Olympic fencing career

In the 1906 Summer Olympics, Herschmann competed in Athens in individual sabre, but did not medal. He returned to Olympic competition at the 1912 Summer Olympics in Stockholm, Sweden, competing as a member of Austria’s sabre fencing team at the age of 35, 16 years after he first won a medal. On 15 July he won a silver medal in the team competition. In so doing, he became one of only a few athletes to win Olympic medals in more than one sport.

Other Jewish fencers who participated in the 1912 Olympics included Hungarian gold-medal winning sabre fencers Dr. Jenő Fuchs, Dr. Dezső Földes, Lajos Werkner, and Dr. Oszkár Gerde, and Austrian silver-medal winning sabre fencer Albert Bogen.

Athletic administrative posts

At the time he won his fencing medal, Herschmann was serving as President of the Austrian Olympic Committee, a position that he held from 1912 to 1914. He is the only president of a National Olympic Committee to win a medal while holding office.

Herschmann was one of Europe’s top authorities in sports. In November 1913, he traveled to various cities in the United States, including Boston, New York, Cleveland, Philadelphia, and Chicago, to examine the United States sports system, and to hire one or more U.S. trainers to train Austrian athletes for the upcoming Olympics. That month, when he was visiting the U.S. as the Austrian athletic envoy, the Boston Athletic Association gave him a banquet, and in December 1913 the Board of Governors of the New York Athletic Club held a banquet honoring him. He lauded the United States system for how it conditioned athletes’ bodies, for how it availed itself to top-level trainers, and for not only developing athletes, but also developing its athletes as gentlemen and developing their character. In contrast that he said the European system had historically taken the view that trainers were not much needed for natural athletes, but rather were only needed for those who lacked skill.

Herschmann served as President of the Austrian Swimming Federation from 1914 to 1932.

Concentration camp and death

Herschmann was in private practice as a lawyer in the 1940s. He was persecuted during the era of the Nazis because he was Jewish. Herschmann was arrested in Vienna because he was Jewish, and deported on 14 January 1942, to the Sobibór extermination camp in Sobibór, Lubelskie, Poland.

Herschmann died in the Izbica concentration camp in German-occupied Poland on 14 June 1942, most likely by being gassed to death.