Created on 2014-08-26 at 16:00 PM
For all the great steps forward taken by FC Bayern and German soccer in the 1920s and 1930s, World War II interrupted and had a universally destructive effect on teams and the game throughout Europe. Competitions across the continent were suspended, civilians as well as players were drafted for duty and the soccer landscape would forever be changed. For FC Bayern, the war years were a turbulent and challenging time that not only disrupted its operations but also threatened its very existence.
In a way, Bayern’s story during the war was also that of club President Kurt Landauer. In a landmark season, Bayern won the national title for the very first time in 1932 under Landauer and Coach Richard Kohn. But only a year after their first national trophy, Adolf Hitler and the Nazi party came to power and had an immediate effect on Bayern. Already known as the “Jewish club” in Germany because of its many Jewish officials, players and members (Landauer and coach Kohn most notably) Bayern was under extreme political pressure from the start. So much so in fact that Landauer was forced to resign from office in March of 1933.
In November that year, Landauer was arrested and sent to a concentration camp in Dachau. Fortunately for Landauer, his military service during World War I allowed him to eventually leave. His family, on the other hand, was not so fortunate and perished. He immigrated to Switzerland in 1939 where he remained until after the war. Just like that, the President that took Bayern to their first national title was out of the picture, powerless to help the club he helped shape. But the club would not forget Landauer. Bayern would later travel to Switzerland in 1943 for a friendly match, accompanied by the Nazi’s secret police to prevent any contact with German immigrants in Switzerland, most notably Landauer. When their game kicked off, instead of playing, the entire team rushed to the sidelines where they collectively greeted Landauer, who was sitting in the stands. A bittersweet reunion in protest.
Part of the Nazi doctrine was to influence and assume control in all spheres of life, sports included. Jewish members and players of clubs were announced to be unacceptable, and several were pressured to leave and even expelled. Teams lost some of their best players. Oskar Rohr, who helped Bayern win their first title in 1932, left to play abroad. Prolific Karlsruher FV striker Gottfried Fuchs fled to Canada and never returned to Germany. Two-time German champion and German international, Julius Hirsch, stayed in Germany and was killed in a concentration camp. The list goes on.
But they didn’t stop there. The Nazis looked to restructure the leagues and the national team. Aiming to avoid a centralized national league like England or Spain along with the advent of professionalism in the sport, they set up the Gauligen. Formed in 1933, the system divided German soccer into 16 regions (and then additional sub-regions to which more were added throughout Germany’s expansion). The winners of each league would play one another for the national championship. Dealing with several personnel changes, Bayern’s performances fluctuated during the Gauligen era. In 1943, their home pitch, the Grünwalder Stadion, was even bombed by an air raid and partially destroyed. It took until 1944 for Bayern to win the South German championship again, but the team came short in the knockout rounds of the national championship. They qualified for the national championship again the next year but the competition was interrupted by the war.
Perhaps even more devastating was the effect on the national team. Germany, featuring Bayern defender Sigmund Haringer, finished in third place at the 1934 World Cup. In 1937, Coach Sepp Herberger put together what is still regarded as one of the best and well-known sides in German soccer history, the Breslau Eleven (named after the town where they famously beat Denmark 8:0 in 1937), which included Bayern defender Ludwig Goldbrunner. The Breslau Eleven was short-lived, however, as Herberger was forced to incorporate Austrian players in a pan-German national team following the annexation of Austria in 1938. The amalgamation of countries and teams even resulted in an Austrian club, Rapid Vienna, winning the German championship in 1941 (the first and only non-German team to be German champions).
When the war began in 1939, soccer in Germany continued, strangely enough. The idea was to maintain some sense of normalcy but it was primarily used as a propaganda tool to distract and entertain during wartime. Yet, players from club and country continued to be drafted into the army, including Germany’s captain during the 1954 World Cup, Fritz Walter. It was not uncommon for players to go back and forth between matches and where they were stationed during the war. Some returned safely, others didn’t. But the increasing turmoil and scarcity of resources made it near impossible to maintain any structure, and by 1944, German soccer had all but ceased. The following year Germany capitulated and the war was over.
Cities and soccer fields lay in ruins, teams were torn apart and the league turned on its head. Landauer would return to Munich after the war in 1947 and was elected Bayern president for a third term where he presided until 1951. But it would take years for the club to rebuild in the wake of the war.
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