Synchronized swimming has never been what you might call “cool” or “hip to the latest trends.” At this year’s Olympic games, for example, swimmers have performed to a mix of bad ‘80s music, classical tunes, and “Blurred Lines” by Robin Thicke. But nothing really beats the time France put together a routine set to the Schindler’s List soundtrack.
The year was 1996. The plan, according to the New York Times report at the time: “In black bathing suits, team members would goose-step in German military style to the side of the pool.” Sehr cool!
Then, “they would re-enact the arrival of Jewish women in the death camps, the selection by Nazi doctors and their final march to the gas chambers.” It would be performed to music from Schindler’s List, which had premiered a few years earlier, along with “chants sung in Jewish ghettoes before the Holocaust.” Can you imagine what this might have looked like? “C’mon, ladies, let’s nail this swastika!”
The public reaction was, of course, not great:
“The routine is ridiculous,” Henri Hajdenberg, head of the Representative Council of French Jewish Organizations, told the New York Times. “It’s tactless and in poor taste.”
“Now I’ve heard everything. Aqua-Nazis,” wrote then-Los Angeles Times columnist Mike Downey, as news of the planned routine spread. “Leave it to France to find a way to make a dumb sport dumber.”
In a Baltimore Sun column titled “French Swimmers Have All the Reich Moves,” Mike Littwin wrote: “No, this is not a plot from The Producers... This is Dr. Mengele in spandex as the Gestapo swims its way into your hearts.”
Despite the technical director’s pleas that the team’s program had “great emotional value”—the team’s trainer also argued that the routine was “an appeal to combat racism,” and made the dubious point that France’s ice dancers had performed a similar routine “evoking torture in Chile”—France’s sports minister anticipated outrage and instructed the team to remove any references to the Holocaust.
While what they ended up with was not exactly Holocaust-themed (no more Schindler’s List soundtrack, black swimsuits replaced with, uh, red ones), the routine has distinctly ominous vibes—and, if you skip to 3:02, it looks like there’s one element of the original program they just couldn’t bear to part with:
Oh my god!
OH MY GOD!