Holocaust Survivor Nora Tausz Ronai Persists in Her Masters Swim Career at 98

On the second day of the UANA Pan American Masters Championships held in Medellin, Colombia in late July, everyone in attendance drew their attention to the 80 & over heat of the women’s 400 IM. Brazilian Masters swimmer Nora Tausz Ronai had registered herself to race one of competitive swimming’s most grueling events at 98 years old.

Every turn she made at the starting side of the competition pool was met with the crowd’s roar of applause. After completing the race, she got herself out of the pool and joined her daughter, Brazilian journalist Cora Ronai.

When the medical staff offered her a wheelchair, she vehemently waved her hand, according to El Colombiano, and continued taking incremental steps alongside her daughter. From Nora’s 23-minute 400 IM to the minutes after leaving the competition area, she embraced life’s struggles with dignity and grace.

The 400 IM kicked off Nora’s busy and intense weekend of swimming. She returned to the pool in that same session to race the 50 fly. In the following sessions, she competed in the 50 free, 100 and 200 fly, women’s 200 medley and free relays, and the mixed 200 medley and free relays.

Documented in a recent article from the Jewish Telegraph Agency (JTA), Nora Tausz Ronai’s story is certainly a remarkable one.

Nora’s swim background does not begin in her childhood but instead at age 69 when her husband, Paulo Ronai, died. Nora currently holds eight Masters swimming world records in the fly and IM events. She has accumulated 13 gold medals at the Masters World Championships and broken 12 world records.

Though her athletic career began late in life, Nora’s story of perseverance dates back to around age 11. While living in what was then Fiume (today’s Rijeka, a port city in Croatia), Nora and her family experienced many hardships due to fascism.

Her father, Edoardo Tausz, was the president of a Hungarian insurance agency. In 1935, Edoardo lost his job after the Hungarian government forbade non-citizens from working in high-ranking positions.

Life for the Tausz family changed quickly in the late-1930s. The Italian government issued the Racial Laws that discriminated against Italy’s Jewish people in 1938. Nora and her brother Giorgio were no longer allowed to attend school.

Once Italy entered World War II in 1940, the prefect of Fiume ordered the round-up of all Jewish men. Her father and brother were taken to the Torretta detention camp.

While Edoardo had been identified as Jewish in his papers, he converted to Catholicism years ago. His conversion aided his family’s escape route to find asylum in Brazil. The Vatican made 3,000 visas for Brazil available to Jewish converts, and the Tausz family purchased the visas with the help of Nora’s aunt Valeria.

The Tausz family arrived in Rio de Janeiro in 1941, when Nora was 17 years old. From that moment on, she made a good life for herself in Brazil. Nora married Paulo in 1952, and the couple remained together until Paulo died in 1992. The married couple raised two daughters, Cora and Laura, who is the head of the Baroque orchestra of Rio de Janeiro.

Before committing to her competitive swimming career, Nora was an architect, professor, and author of three books, one of which tells her life story.

She now swims 1,600 meters a day and finds immense peace while swimming.

“The pool saves me from many oppressive situations,” Nora told JTA. “Some situations are maddening. If you swim, you don’t cry.”

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6 months ago

Wonderful story, thanks for this. A 4IM at 98 is breaking my brain.