Book probes Nazi past of German federation
By Erik Kirschbaum
BERLIN (Reuters) – It has taken 60 years for Germany’s
soccer federation to face up to a dark period in its history
when it collaborated with the Nazis.
A new book, “Fussball underm Hakenkreuz” (“Soccer under the
Swastika”) is a first, if belated, attempt by the federation
(DFB) to look at the dirt swept under the carpet immediately
after the collapse of the Nazi regime it once wholeheartedly
The book illuminates how closely the DFB cooperated with
the Nazis from the moment they took power in 1933 and
systematically forced out thousands of German Jews from all
levels of soccer, from players to club owners and sponsors.
Many Jews, including former leading national team player
Julius Hirsch, went on to die in Nazi death camps.
“Julius Hirsch had been a national hero but from one day to
the next (he) was treated like an insect,” said Theo Zwanziger,
the present DFB co-president. “We want to come to terms with
our past and not just brush over all this.”
“It took far too long for this book to be written,” Otto
Schily, Germany’s minister for sport, told a news conference on
Tuesday. “But it also took a long time for Germany as a nation
to be able to look clearly at what happened in the Nazi era.”
Schily said the DFB deserved a share of the blame for the
decades-long cover-up of its collaboration with the Nazis.
The book, written by historian Nils Havemann, comes 20
years after most Germans began looking critically at their Nazi
past in the wake of a landmark 1985 speech by former President
Richard von Weizsaecker who called Adolf Hitler’s defeat a day
of liberation for Germans.
“One should be self-critical enough to say the DFB itself
was one of the reasons (for the delay), there’s no reason to
beat about the bush about that,” said Schily, flanked by
leaders from the DFB.
“But just because it took so long doesn’t at all mean we
shouldn’t bother now. Just because our predecessors wasted the
chance doesn’t mean we should.
“The DFB was anything but heroic during the Nazi era; on
the contrary, there were terrible characters and horrible
behavior. The facts are painful and sad but we have to face
Schily and DFB officials said the book, the result of a
three-year examination by Havemann which the federation
sponsored, threw a spotlight on the organization’s unsavory
cooperation with Hitler’s regime.
Its release comes less than a year before the World Cup
finals Germany is hosting and helps to end decades of stifled
speculation about whether German soccer was a victim, as some
have claimed, or a tool of the Nazis.
“Because the topic has been neglected for so long a lot of
myths have emerged,” said Havemann, a history lecturer at the
University of Mainz.
“Some said the DFB was militaristic and closely aligned
with Nazi doctrine while others said the DFB tried to stay
neutral and protect soccer from the Nazis. Those and other
legends should be corrected now.”
Schily said he hoped the book, which includes a striking
cover picture of Germany players lined up giving the
stiff-armed Hitler salute on the pitch before a match against
Sweden in Stockholm in 1941, would initiate a broad discussion
in soccer circles.
“This will help us next year with the World Cup,” said
Schily. “I can imagine a lot of visitors from abroad will be
here and asking what happened between 1933 and 1945. A lot of
that will come up. I think this will make an important
contribution to those discussions.”
Although few in the DFB were Nazi party members or
especially vocal advocates of the regime’s racist doctrines,
most were willing tools or opportunists who let themselves be
used out of ignorance or professional ambition, Havemann
“Most of the DFB members played a contributing role to the
stability of the Nazi rulers and thus deserve a share of the
guilt for the suppression, persecution, war and annihilation,”
he said. The DFB and clubs let themselves be “seduced” by
favored treatment by the Nazis.
The book probes the Nazi-era career of Sepp Herberger, who
joined the Nazi party in 1933 and was appointed national
trainer in 1937.
“He did everything in his power to keep that job and was to
a very high degree willing to conform, at least externally, to
the will of the regime of terror,” wrote Havemann. “Because he
bowed to their will, Herberger made the greatest leap forward
of anyone in the DFB during the 12 years of the Nazis.”
Herberger’s role in the Nazi era has always remained
shadowy, largely because he was quickly rehabilitated after
World War Two ended in 1945 and became one of the country’s
first post-war heroes by coaching West Germany to the World Cup
title in 1954.
“Unfortunately a shadow is falling over Sepp Herberger,”
said Schily. “It shouldn’t be overlooked that he let his
national team take part in a Nazi propaganda film in 1941. He
let himself become part of the Nazi propaganda.”