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Judenklub, the Yid Army, and the Super Jews: The Jewish Presence in Sports

Henry Worcman Schmiliver // São Paulo, Brazil



Sports have been historically associated with political and social issues, serving as an environment for expression. Many Jews, in a constant state of subjugation to dominant groups, have traditionally used sports as a way to manifest against antisemitism. Throughout the course of history, Jews have developed deep roots in sports and well-known athletic institutions. From popular sports clubs with unexpected Jewish identities to Jewish players facing antisemitism in sports, interchanges between both aspects are clearly identified.


World War II and Judenklubs: FC Bayern Munich

Soccer clubs with great international relevance, such as “FK Austria Wien (FAK)” and “Eintracht Frankfurt (SGE),” were branded with the antisemitic “Judenklub” (Jewish club) title by Nazi forces in World War II. Among those, the current national soccer power, “FC Bayern Munich (FCB),” suffered from a downturn in ticket sales, memberships, and supporters' attendance as a result of discrimination based on its Jewish structure. The club lost its position of prominence in German Football and fell to 81st place in the national rankings. In wartime, the clubs' offices were bombed, and it was forced to adopt a badge featuring a Swastika.


Bayern's Jewish manager Richard Dombi and youth department director Otto Beer were forced to leave their positions, and president Kurt Lendauer was interned, in 1938, at the Nazi concentration camp of Dachau. After surviving for 33 days there, Lendauer fled to Switzerland, where he stayed until rejoining the club in the post-war period. As a form of response, the club held acts of challenge towards the Nazi dictatorship, such as contacting former president Landauer during a friendly match in Switzerland in 1943. Bayern's Jewish-related history was ignored until the launch of the book Der FC Bayern und seine Juden (FC Bayern and its Jews) in 2011 when the topic received increasing attention.


The Yid Army and the Super Jews: Tottenham Hotspur FC and Ajax Amsterdam


Another form of interchange between both aspects includes the club's identity, some of which are deeply connected to Judaism. Tottenham Hotspur FC; the Spurs, are a great example of that, as the team grew aside to the local increasing Jewish community in the early 20th century and other newly-arrived groups seeking a better life perspective. The Spurs then developed a strong Jewish identity, as the team's popularity grew among Tottenham Jews in an attempt to integrate into the broader society. Interpretations of Halacha (הלכה - Jewish law) were made to enable observant Jews to attend matches during Shabbat, and clubs' supporters began to call themselves 'The Yid Army', demonstrating such identity formation, to become the most supported association soccer club among Jews in the '1920s.


340 miles (ca. 547 km) away from London, in the historical 'Jewish city' of Amsterdam, Israel flags are held by Ajax's 'Super Jews' supporters in Johan Cruyff Arena. As it had in Tottenham, the club developed its Jewish identity early before the Holocaust, mainly due to the club's stadium proximity to the Jewish ghetto “Jodenbuurt”, whose community dropped 75% after World War II. Such a curious identity deepened in the '60s and '70s with Jewish managers and players — including Bennie Muller and Sjaak Swaart — contributing to Ajax's golden age and protagonist period in the European soccer scenario.


The interchange of Judaism and sports, despite primarily positive-looking, led to an increasing wave of antisemitism in sports events, in parallel to the artificial Jewish identification of clubs worldwide and the placement of Jewish culture in unrelated matters. Swastikas held during an international match in former Spurs' stadium White Hart Lane in 1935, offensive chants referring to Adolf Hitler and gas chambers by rivals' supporters in Tottenham matches, and the “De dokwerker” statue vandalism in Amsterdam by supporters of Ajax's rivals “ADO Den Haag”, are some examples of the wide range of cases throughout history. The consequences of such a phenomenon are serious and threaten the positive essence of sports competition, where cultural differences should ideally be put aside for the sake of fair play and coexistence.



BIBLIOGRAPHY


MELO, Afonso de. Bayern. Os nazis e o Judenklub. Nascer do Sol, Sapo, November 2, 2021. <https://sol.sapo.pt/artigo/751508/bayern-os-nazis-e-o-judenklub> Accessed online on April 3, 2023.


Judenklub. Wikipedia <https://pt.wikipedia.org/wiki/Judenklub> Accessed online on April 3, 2023.


FC Bayern München. Wikipedia. <https://pt.wikipedia.org/wiki/FC_Bayern_M%C3%BCnchen> Accessed online on April 3, 2023.


Spurs and the Jews: the how, the why and the when. The JC, October 6, 2016.  <https://www.thejc.com/lifestyle/features/how-tottenham-became-the-jewish-football-team-1.53784> Accessed online on April 9, 2023.


Why are Ajax and Spurs fans so connected to Jewish symbolism? NSS Sports, April 30, 2019. <https://www.nssmag.com/en/sports/18438/super-jews-yid-army-ajax-tottenham> Accessed online on April 9, 2023.


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