For a long time, sports clubs did not want to admit their involvement in National Socialism. But in the meantime a lively memory work has developed especially around football. Fans visit memorial sites, clubs establish partnerships with museums, and social workers organize workshops. “We should include the stadiums even more in the future,” says Berlin historian Juliane Röleke, who has long been concerned with memory work in football. What could fans watch in the Third Reich? Were their stadiums close to labor camps or concentration camp outposts? Were sports facilities used for SS propaganda games or as assembly points for deportations? There are still inadequate answers to many of these questions.
The soccer network “Never Again” has shaped educational work in soccer for 17 years. This year, too, events around the International Holocaust Remembrance Day will take place on January 27th, mostly digitally. But there are still gaps in research, believes Röleke, who studied the history of Hertha BSC in the Third Reich with Berlin fans. How do Bundesliga sponsors deal with their role in National Socialism in their corporate history? “It’s almost good form to deal with National Socialism, but it happens in a relatively uncritical way,” says Röleke. “It would also be important to look at the time after 1945. Who exactly rebuilt the clubs? «The prohibition of women’s football in 1955 was largely enforced by DFB officials who had once been in the NSDAP.
In recent years fans and historians have created a public space for persecuted Jewish athletes and officials, for Julius Hirsch, Gottfried Fuchs and Kurt Landauer. Prominent perpetrators in the clubs received less attention. One exception: Otto Harder, one of the most important players in Hamburger SV in the 1920s. Harder became a member of the NSDAP in 1932 and joined the SS in 1933, later he worked as a security guard in several concentration camps. “Harder was still honored and viewed as a role model after 1945,” says political scientist Paula Scholz, who had worked on an exhibition at the Neuengamme Concentration Camp Memorial on football in Hamburg under National Socialism. Your research was sometimes difficult. “The big clubs usually have archives,” says Scholz, but the situation is different for smaller clubs or regional associations: “And if there are archives, in many places there are rooms in the basement that are not even public.”
Partnerships between clubs, fan projects, memorials and city archives have emerged at several Bundesliga locations. It is important to transfer knowledge about the past into the present. “Anti-Semitism manifests itself in a wide variety of ways,” says Pavel Brunßen, who has been researching forms of discrimination in football for years and is currently doing his doctorate at the University of Michigan. Brunßen has analyzed examples of anti-Semitism: hateful songs from fans on travel routes, the desecration of a Jewish cemetery or attacks on Maccabi, “as a lightning rod for anger over the Israel-Palestine conflict, where a Jewish association is held liable.”
Antigypsyism and hostility to Sinti and Roma are less problematic. In many places, fans, professional players and youth footballers use the word “gypsies” as an insult to differentiate themselves, says Brunßen: “The term is historically charged and conveys stereotypes. And when people talk about it in public, they always say: it is not meant that way, and it’s not a problem at all. «Numerous groups and activists who campaign against right-wing extremism are attacked by neo-Nazis. Pavel Brunßen therefore wants a “central anti-discrimination agency that can work long-term and is not tied to anyone.” An institution that networks local knowledge.
What could be new stages in memory work? The Berlin association »Parlor Games«, which organizes events on football, politics and culture, cultivates international exchange. For example in 2018: At that time, 21 fans from Germany and Ukraine traveled to Kiev. They also visited the Babyn Yar Gorge, where the Nazis murdered more than 33,000 Jews in two days in 1941. The German fans noticed in discussions that they could not easily transfer their political coordinate system to Ukraine. “It may be that international partners have a different view of LGBTIQ or colonial history than we do,” says Rico Noack from “Parlor Games”. “At the same time, we shouldn’t apply the Central European compass of values to the partner organizations.” A process of weighing up.
This year, the “Never Again” alliance particularly reminds people who have been and are excluded because of their sexual and gender identity. “Sport is part of the reality of life for many people,” says the political scientist Nina Reip, who heads the office of the “Sport and Politics” network. “There are good points of contact in sport that young people can use to establish an emotional connection to what happened back then.” Reip took part in a digital tour of the concentration camp memorial in Dachau near Munich. In a time in which fewer and fewer contemporary witnesses can report, formats like these will increasingly shape the culture of commemoration.