Sometimes the caretaker has to come first to take a look into the dark corners of the past. For a long time no one was interested in the good dozen cardboard boxes, they were gathering dust in a cellar on the club grounds of 1. FC Nürnberg at the Valznerweiher. It contained 12,000 member lists from 1928 to 1955, and had been considered lost for decades – until the caretaker stumbled upon them in November. The find brought tears to the eyes of the club historian Bernd Siegler. And it illuminates one of the darkest chapters of German history.
It was this stamp that put Siegler on the track. April 30, 1933, a date in the “Brexit” line in the index cards. Zack. Again and again, with 143 members of 1. FC Nürnberg, most of them Jews, as club historian Siegler has researched. He is a fan, author and curator of the Club Museum. “I want to give history a face,” he says.
In arduous detective work, he now digs through the archives in order to reconstruct the biographies of those people. Some of these life paths end in places with a gruesome sound: Auschwitz, Riga-Jungfernhof, Majdanek, Theresienstadt, Stutthof, Ghetto Izbica. The names of concentration and extermination camps.
Others tell stories of flight and displacement, such as that of the businessman Franz Anton Salomon, who had to leave a lot behind, but took the letter with him to New York with which he had been chased away from the FCN. “Dear member”, so cynically began the letters, they ended “with sporty respect”, in between was the message: Get rid of you.
Solomon’s odyssey took him through internment camps in France via Trinidad to New York – and yet he pressed the wisp of the club to himself. “I find that remarkable,” says Siegler. And he often says that when you talk to him about the find on the phone.
Hardly any German professional football club has such detailed records of how it treated its Jewish members during the Nazi era. This is one of the reasons why the card index is so informative: because it shows how quickly and thoroughly organized sport excluded Jewish members from its ranks – and offered itself to the new rulers.
“The sports departments have outbid each other and courted the favor of the new rulers,” says Siegler. The determination with which the clubs proceeded is shown by a summit meeting of the most successful clubs at the time, to “clarify the Jewish question”, as it was called poorly veiled. Three months before the German Football Association (DFB) decided to remove Jewish members from its football clubs, the then cream of football met in Stuttgart. 14 clubs, in addition to the Nürnbergers also FC Bayern Munich, TSV 1860 Munich, SpVgg Fürth, Eintracht Frankfurt, 1. FC Kaiserslautern and the Stuttgarter Kickers, and signed a resolution to discuss the exclusion of Jewish members. The vote on this was unanimous on April 27 at the club’s members’ assembly, and one day later letters were sent to those who were now ostracized in Nuremberg. Then the stamp was pressed into the ink pad. Resigned on April 30, 1933. They were quick and thorough.
The club was the top address in German football in the twenties and thirties. And it seemed as if they wanted to play at the forefront when it came to implementing the unworthy anti-Semitic rules. Most of the disfellowshipped were in the tennis section. How toxic the climate in the city was can be seen from the hate writings in the Nürnberger Hetzblatt The striker read: “Club, blow your tennis Jews to the devil”, etched the weekly. The newspaper demanded a free ticket to Jerusalem for the prominent Jewish football coach Jenö Konrad, and it triumphed when the coach fled Nuremberg.
Today they play the Jenö Konrad Cup in Nuremberg, the Nuremberg State Theater staged a play about the club and its trainer, the Ultras put on a big choreography for the expelled trainer. You feel a special responsibility here to carefully work out your story.
Because hardly any other city in this country is so closely linked to National Socialism as Nuremberg. The stadium is located next to the grounds of the Nazi party rally, and when the football fans march to home games, they pass the stands from which Adolf Hitler held his parades. The anti-Semitic “Nuremberg Laws” prepared the ground for the persecution of the Jews, which ended in the Holocaust.
But remembering started late, and for a long time much remained as it was. The expulsion letter to Salomon and probably many others was signed by Karl Müller, who was then president of the club from 1935 to 1945 and a member of the NSDAP. And after the war again, from 1963 to 1964, he took up the post – “as if nothing had happened,” says Siegler. “Nobody asked about the past, although many should have known.”
Who was the perpetrator, who was the victim? Hardly anyone wanted to know that exactly for a long time. Football has struggled to come to terms with it, only since the 2000s did the German Football Association begin to grapple with its own past, the association commissioned the historian Nils Havemann to roll out his own inglorious role in National Socialism.
At FC Bayern it was the Ultra fans who brought the forgotten Jewish President Kurt Landauer back into the record master’s consciousness with a choreography, since then archivist Andreas Wittner has been reconstructing Jewish biographies at FC Bayern. Others were less careful with the past: During the renovation of the Betzenberg, the membership file of 1. FC Kaiserslautern simply ended up in the bulky waste, says Siegler, indignant, who finds this oblivion of history remarkable.
What has happened cannot be undone, you know that at 1. FC Nürnberg. Nevertheless, they plan to revoke the exclusion of Jewish members at the club at the next general meeting.