Sixty years after the end of World War II, Germany's soccer federation (DFB) has presented a study of its role during the Nazi era. While DFB leaders weren't ardent Hitler supporters, they played along as opportunists.
"Heil Hitler": The German national soccer team in 1941
For decades, most Germans have associated the name Sepp Herberger with the so-called "Miracle of Berne." In 1954, Herberger, the German national soccer team's coach, led his group to victory in the World Cup.
Herberger carried on the shoulders of German national soccer player in a film about the German 1954 soccer victory.
But Herberger's career didn't start in 1945. He joined the Nazi party just a few months after Hitler came to power in 1933 and became national coach in 1937.
"He never had anything to do with ideologies, but he was willingly used for the inhuman ideology," said Niels Havemann, the author of the first comprehensive book on the DFB's role during the Nazi era, adding that Herberger cooperated with the Nazis on a 1941 propaganda film called "Das grosse Spiel" ("The great game").
Herberger in March 1977, just a month before his death.
Hitler's ignorant backers
DFB officials commissioned Havemann, a historian at Mainz University, to write the book, which is entitled "Fussball unterm Hakenkreuz" ("Soccer Under the Swastika"). Studying previously unknown documents from 40 archives in Germany and abroad, Havemann came to the conclusion that, like Herberger, who was 80 when he died in 1977, most DFB leaders didn't support the Nazis out of conviction.
Havemann (left), Zwanziger (center) and Schily during the book presentation
"It's perfectly clear that the DFB's leadership was not part of the resistance," said Theo Zwanziger, the current president of the DFB, which is the world's largest single sport association. "People didn't jump on the chances this popular sport would have offered to resist the regime at least a little."
Shedding light ahead of World Cup
"I can imagine a lot of visitors will be here and asking what happened between 1933 and 1945," he said. "I think this will make an important contribution to those discussions."
An award for tolerance
DFB officials have meanwhile established an award in honor of former German national team player Julius Hirsch, who was killed by the Nazis at Auschwitz death camp.
"With this award, we want to show that we think it's everybody's duty to stand up for our democratic and constitutional values," Zwanziger said. "We want to use our position in society to promote freedom, tolerance and humanity."
Bayern Munich's players celebrate after winning the German Soccer Championship 2005