In terms of history work, sport is a laggard. Even after five “Carl Diem debates” since the West German 1950s, he cannot bring himself to take a critical stance towards the sports official who organized the 1936 Olympic Games. And for a long time, the process of coming to terms with Germany’s favorite sport, football, was at a snail’s pace. It wasn’t until 2000 that people began to be interested in questions such as how players and officials adapted, who refused and who cooperated, even benefited – and who “disappeared” – as Jews, as leftists. How far this path was, however, hardly anyone knows better than Dietrich Schulze-Marmeling.
The Noah’s Ark story
“There was next to no talk about it in the 1950s. Often not on the part of the victims either, in the interests of the association’s peace, «says the author and historian. The silence was supported by the leadership of the German Football Association (DFB). In the post-war period he spread the harmonious self-image of an “apolitical Noah’s Ark”, which “sailed stably through the various forms of political rule: the German Empire, Weimar Republic, Nazi years – now the Federal Republic.” Anyone who touched this dogma was harshly rejected. Even the well-known intellectual Walter Jens was, according to Schulze-Marmeling, “declared persona non grata” when he asked for more history work in front of gathered dignitaries on the 75th anniversary of the DFB, which was founded in 1900. After that, nothing happened for a long time, both at the DFB and on site. If the association didn’t have a problem, why should one research in the associations?
The Noah’s Ark story goes back to the “history of German football” by Carl Kohepel, a DFB functionary who held leading positions before, during and after the Nazi era; after 1945 he was press spokesman. Accordingly, football had basically remained neutral and clean during the Nazi era. In 1954, this corresponded to the general attitude in the West German post-war state – and the legend persisted for a very long time in the relatively isolated public of the association.
It was only when historians “from outside” and critical fans began to be interested in the history of the association in the 1980s and 1990s that the first critical articles appeared in the Federal Republic. But momentum only got into the matter in 2000 with Arthur Heinrich’s political history of the DFB. In 2003, Bernd Beyer recalled Walther Bensemann – German-Jewish football pioneer and founder of the “Kicker” magazine – with a biographical novel. At the same time, the anthology “Star of David and Leather Ball” was the first major German-language publication on the Jewish side of football history to draw attention to the clubs.
Here, too, for a long time embellished chronicles, often created internally, had predominated. When Schulze-Marmeling and the publishing house “Die Werkstatt” started a series of club stories in the 1990s, the bar was set correspondingly low: “For the years 1933 to 1945, the authors were asked not to be content with the fact that it was dark there over Germany, which is why nobody knows what was actually happening, «he looks back. The results were “initially rather modest” – but “at least this time was no longer simply ignored.”
In 2002, a book about Borussia Dortmund started a more precise history – for the 2006 men’s soccer World Cup, in which the country wanted to be cosmopolitan, proved beneficial in addition to the “Tatort Stadion” exhibition series about right-wing extremists on today’s grandstands. It was in this context that books about the Nazi era of large associations appeared, such as “The Betze Under the Swastika” about 1. FC Kaiserslautern or publications on Schalke and SG Eintracht Frankfurt. Their example also shows how tough it was: “Even in the 1999 book› 100 Years Eintracht Frankfurt ‹commissioned by the association, 39 lines were enough for the Nazi era,” says Matthias Thoma, director of the association’s museum. “Actually, you only learn that a flak tower was built at the club’s headquarters and the stadium was bombed.”
From victim to perpetrator stories
Thoma himself corrected this picture in 2007 with the study “We were the Juddebubbe”. In fact, before 1933, the footballers of the bourgeois-liberal club were often so called because they – as de facto professionals – were employed by the Jewish shoe factory J. & CA Schneider. But although this was still known after 1945 and Eintracht fans were occasionally abused anti-Semitic, the club not only has a “victim story” – although one seems to emerge from the book title.
Thomas Buch showed how the club was brought into line and Jewish members were forced out, how everyday life was organized and how the Hitler Youth took over club sports. It was also discussed who was driving this forward in the club – for example Rudolf Gramlich (1908-1988), former player, long-time president and honorary president until 2020. That Gramlich probably benefited from the “Aryanization”, that he was a member of a skull regiment of the Waffen-SS: All of that was written in Thomas Buch. And yet, in 2018, “Bild” was still able to cause a stir in the context of Eintracht by once again taking up Gramlich’s past with the Waffen SS.
The fact that the motives were not only noble – the article countered President Peter Fischer, who had positioned himself against racism, anti-Semitism and the AfD – is one thing. The other is that eleven years after Thomas Buch, knowing about Gramlich had no consequences. This was made up for after the Fritz Bauer Institute in Frankfurt had created the study “Club Leader”, which examined Gramlich’s deeds at the top of the club from 1938 to 1942 – where he cooperated with Adolf Metzner, who later became the sports reporter of the “Zeit”. According to Thoma, this study “explicitly focused on those responsible for the first time.”
External reappraisal, which also considers perpetrators, instead of cultivating tradition characterized by loyalties: A good 75 years later, this will hopefully become standard in football. FC Bayern is also following this path: At the Institute for Contemporary History Munich-Berlin, a doctoral candidate is currently working on the project “FC Bayern Munich 1929-1949. The rise and fall of a club in the comparative context of the development of German football”. We can look forward to the results. As certainly as FC Bayern was discriminated against as a »Jewish club« in the Third Reich and as much as its fans identify today with the Jewish President Kurt Landauer, who headed the club from 1913 to 1914, from 1919 to 1933 and from 1947 to 1951, so It is uncertain whether facts beyond a pure “victim story” will not open up there too.
In the program of the “Werkstatt” it is noticeable that there is no publication about important Eastern associations under the titles à la “In the Nazi era” or “Under the swastika”. The reason for this is that the clubs from the East, which now play in the 1st to 3rd Bundesliga, were only founded in the GDR – where workers’ sport, which was destroyed in the Nazi regime, was built on and organized sport beyond football, for example Carl Diem had quickly given up.
Nevertheless, there are also initial projects in the East that deal with the forerunners of today’s clubs. In the SV Babelsberg 03 fan project, for example, a »Research Group Babelsberg 03 in National Socialism«: Seven interested parties aged 15 to the end of 20 look for gaps in the club’s history. The current fourth division got its current name in 1938 because the Nazis renamed Nowawes in Babelsberg, which sounded “German”. In the GDR, the BSG Motor Babelsberg kicked in the Liebknecht Stadium, after the fall of the century again as Babelsberg 03.
Fourth division games are also played by the newly founded BSG Chemie Leipzig in the Alfred Kunze Sports Park (AKS) today. As part of the 100th anniversary of the venue of the traditional GDR club last year, the book “100 Years of AKS” is being created. Project manager Alexander Mennicke is doing his doctorate in cultural studies and is the lead singer at games. He sees the stadium as a “socio-cultural space” in which the history of the working-class district of Leutzsch is reflected. After communist and social democratic clubs were banned in 1933, no games were played there for two years. Then the workers’ athletes met under a new name. But this story also has breaks. In the GDR the stadium was named after Georg Schwarz, a politician who was murdered by the Nazis. The footballer Alfred Kunze, namesake since 1992, was the club’s successful coach and an important football theorist in the GDR, but also in the NSDAP.
A “history of football in NS” as a synopsis of association and club stories may still be a long way off. Perhaps, however, it is becoming apparent that the picture of “synchronization” does not really fit here either. Many club histories show that hatred and exclusion not only came – almost inevitably – “from above”, but also from an eagerness from “below” that was never entirely without alternatives. In Frankfurt, the Jewish footballer Julius Lehmann was still playing in the third team in 1937, in 1940 Bayern players greeted their exiled president, who had fled to Zurich, demonstratively in the stands: The really bitter thing about the history of the NS is that there were quite separate social rooms in society in which the crackdown by the Nazis could at least have been lessened – if more brakemen had been found. In general, sport was no more an »ark« than soccer in particular, but it was also such a space of wasted opportunities – no matter how small they were: there might have been more small dinghies.