Jews who fled Nazis return for Vienna games

Tue Jul 12, 2011 10:50am EDT
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By Michael Shields

VIENNA (Reuters) - Having escaped the Holocaust as boys, two 80-year-old Jewish doctors from the United States have returned to Vienna to swim in the European Maccabi Games and have the last laugh at the Nazis who tormented their youth.

Competing at the Jewish version of the Olympics caps a life intertwined for John Benfield and Arthur Figur, boyhood friends who learned to swim in Vienna, fled when Nazi Germany annexed Austria, and became successful physicians in their adopted home.

"When I heard that the Maccabi Games were going to be in Vienna I said: 'This is right, this is something I need to do', and even though I'm not a very good swimmer...I need to show the Nazis that we're still around," Benfield said in an interview.

Benfield -- who was born Hans Bienenfeld -- and his lifelong friend Figur are among the nearly 2,000 Jewish athletes from 37 countries competing at the European Maccabi Games, which are held every four years.

The 2011 Vienna Games, which run until Wednesday, are the first since World War Two to be held on former Nazi territory.

"I see it in one way as a symbolic return to a country that would have annihilated me if I hadn't escaped," said Figur, an adventurous type who is associate medical director at Mount Sinai Medical Center in New York.

"I feel proud of where I was lucky enough to grow up and to come back and demonstrate that Jews are survivors."

The two men helped to carry the United States banner at the opening ceremony.   Continued...

<p>Arthur Figur of the U.S. reacts after a swimming event during the 13th European Maccabi games at the Stadionbad open air pool in Vienna, July 8, 2011. REUTERS/Herwig Prammer</p>