Sunday 22nd November 2020
“The audience surrounded us with a wall of hostility,” said the young Fritz Walter on November 22, 1942 after the clear 5-2 success of the “Greater German” national team against Slovakia. It was the team’s last game that was an important means of propaganda for the Nazi regime.
It was seething in the packed grandstands in Pressburg. National Socialist Germany was now met with pure hatred on the football field. “The 12,000 spectators surrounded us with a wall of hostility,” said Fritz Walter, then 22, describing the situation at the international match in Slovakia. After the final whistle, he and his teammates escaped to the dressing room in no time at all. “The audience was fanatical and undisciplined”, railed Reich trainer Sepp Herberger. The never endangered 5-2 success of the “Greater German” national team turned out to be a minor matter on November 22, 1942.
Before that, international matches in this showcase sport were a popular means to an end for the Nazi regime; a total of 35 games were played during the Second World War. In keeping with National Socialist propaganda, the DFB team’s appearances were intended to create a positive mood among the war-weary but football-loving population. And above all to distract – from the looming war defeat.
King football also ruled in Hitler’s empire
For example, on November 22, 1942, Major General Friedrich Paulus reported that his 280,000-strong army was encircled in the Soviet city of Stalingrad – a life-and-death struggle began. But the headlines in Germany determined the 100th international football victory in today’s Bratislava. King football also ruled Hitler’s empire for a long time.
Weeks before international matches, national players such as Walter, August Klingler or the later coach Helmut Schön were withdrawn from the army in the war zones, they should prepare for the prestigious games. “Despite the senseless war, it was a wonderful football time for us athletes,” said Schön later, looking back: “For us, every international match was associated with the tempting prospect of crossing the borders.” A welcome relief.
But this privilege came to an end with the encounter in Slovakia. In February 1943, the German Reich had to capitulate in Stalingrad. Propaganda Minister Joseph Goebbels then proclaimed “total war” and banned international sporting events such as football matches. The Second World War ended almost three years later, but the German “dearest child” had to wait much longer. It wasn’t until exactly eight years later to the day that King Football reported back. In front of over 100,000 spectators, the DFB team beat Switzerland on November 22, 1950 – of the protagonists from 1942, there were only two players left.