Book Review: Soccer Under The Swatstika

Soccer Under The Swatstika:  Stories Of Survival And Resistance During The Holocaust, by Kevin E. Simpson

I have to admit that this is the first book I have ever read that focuses on soccer and its role in Nazi Germany before and during World War II.  Although I have read Primo Levi, who obliquely refers to the soccer games that were played in the concentration camps, it was not a big focus of his work and so it was not something I paid a great deal of attention to.  While I am a big fan of sports, I have to admit that I’m not a huge fan of soccer, and so this book is at least somewhat lost on me because it makes its focus the enjoyment of the beautiful game and how soccer and the politics of soccer were greatly affected by World War II.  The author has certainly done his research though, and anyone who is a fan of soccer and wants to understand how the Olympic and World Cup and national and club-level game was strongly affected by Nazi Germany’s rise and the effects of World War II will have a lot here to think and ponder about, given the way that soccer served so many contrary purposes during those times.

This book is between 250 and 300 pages long and is divided into 9 chapters.  The book begins with illustrations, a foreword by Simon Kuper about World War II stories, acknowledgements, and an introduction.  After that the author discusses the general theme of soccer under the Swatstika with a focus at first of soccer in the period before World War II started (1) in Germany.  The author then contrasts German struggles to succeed in world soccer with Italian success during the same period (2) and the observation that soccer during the time was war without the shooting.  Then the author discusses the famous match of death in Ukraine and its consequences (3) for those who won.  The author then looks at the beautiful game in the German concentration camps (4) and how it was that players were able to continue playing despite the horrors of their existence.  There are chapters about the fall of Austrian soccer after the Germans swallowed up the country in 1938 (5) as well as the way that soccer players and fans served as witnesses of the Nazi horrors in Poland (6).  Finally, the book ends with some chapters on Dutch soccer during Nazi occupation (7) as well as the ghetto soccer of the Liga Terezin in occupied Czechoslovakia (8) before a conclusion that discusses soccer after World War II ended (9) as well as notes, a bibliography, index, and some information about the author.

Although this book is admittedly not in an area of personal expertise, as someone who reads a great deal about the Shoah has given me an appreciation for how sports can be used for a variety of purposes.  For foreign countries before World War II, pressure to appease the sentiments of Nazi Germany led to embarrassing scenes like the British offering Nazi salutes on camera, even as the Swedes kept their arms down and preserved their dignity even as neutrals.  On the other hand, soccer players in Ukraine, the Netherlands, and Poland, among other places, faced the tension of whether to take advantage of German ancestry to preserve a career and possibly avoid being sent to die on the Eastern front or faced the dilemma as prisoners of whether to play for victory against German SS players or to play for survival.  Even players in camps sought to use their athletic skill as a way of preserving their health and life in the face of Nazi brutality and were sometimes successful in doing so, though certainly not always.  Soccer under Nazi rule was a complicated matter, and this book does a good job at presenting the complexities involved.

About nathanalbright

I'm a person with diverse interests who loves to read. If you want to know something about me, just ask.
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