Saturday, June 1, 2002

And The Ball Kept Rolling

Ajax, de Joden, Nederland

Ajax During the War
"There was not that much trouble for Ajax yet. No players disappeared until 1942. In fact, we didn't have that many Jewish players. Jaap van Praag and Jopie Schelvis were in hiding. Actually, Jopie de Haan and Eddy Hamel were the only ones I really missed after the war."
Former Ajax player Jaap Hordijk
in Vrij Nederland, 1979
As early as in 1938, Ajax hoisted the swastika-flag over De Meer before the club played Admira Wien from Vienna. The Austrian players performed the Hitler's Salute before the game. 'The crowd reacted furiously. They whistled and booed, and some spectators made a statement by leaving the stadium', Evert Vermeer writes in 95 Jaar Ajax ('95 Years Ajax'). On Ascension Day of 1938 the Jeugdstorm ('Youth Storm') of the Dutch nazi party NSB organized a gathering at the stadium. Ajax, of course, received the rent.

It must still be possible to find some old men in Germany, who have stayed in De Meer. During the war, Ajax allowed that German soldiers used some of the stadium's dressing-rooms, offices, the exercise hall and one of the training-pitches. Ajax' only demand: they could not play or exercise on the main pitch. Vermeer seems to regard this an act of courage: 'Treasurer Volkers even had the audacity to demand rent from the German commander, for the use of the club's facilities. To Volkers' astonishment, the commander agreed on the proposed amount - no questions asked.'

Vermeer continues with an apparent contradiction: 'Ajax has always refused to play against the billeted soldiers, although a team of Ajax seniors played a game against the occupiers once, during the very first days of the occupation, with an in every respect satisfying 14-1 victory as a result.'

Did they teach those Germans a lesson! And it was not all: 'Ajax stole from the German coal and potato supplies to their heart's content, in behalf of the Ajax members.'

Thousands of Amsterdammers were in revolt during the February Strike of 1941, due to German razzia's for Jews on Jonas Daniƫl Meijerplein; Ajax played a game during the strike. In the fall of 1941, Ajax expelled all Jewish members, just like all other Dutch football clubs. They were not allowed to visit De Meer anymore, either.

Abraham Roet, now living in Tel Aviv, can recall it precisely: "Absolutely. Yes, certainly. It was a shock for me, back then. Something you remember. We didn't go to the cinema or to concerts anyway. But that we were no longer allowed to go to Ajax, yes, that's something I'll always remember."

So far, it's the same old story of Dutch cowardice. Only in Ajax' year report of 1941-1942 are a few remarkable lines: '[We are] impressed by the occurrences in the world and we fear that many of our members will be taken away from us, amongst whom people who have been at our side for 35 years or longer and from whom we have not heard anything so far. Many of us are already gone and we face the near future in fear, because we now live in a time, in which nobody can tell who will return and who will not.'

The writer of the above is definitely talking about Jews here, and not about Christians getting sent to Germany for labour: those who were members for 35 years or longer, were too old to be taken to Germany to work. The number of young men called up for German Labour Service was still low anyway, halfway 1942. And those who were taken to Germany, could write home regularly and did not need to fear for their lives. For one time, albeit in covert terms, Ajax dislayed a little bit of bravery.

Susan Smit quotes the two lines in her excellent doctoral essay De bal bleef rollen; Ajax binnen voetballend Amsterdam tijdens de Tweede Wereldoorlog ('The ball kept rolling; Ajax in Amsterdam football during the Second World War'). She did not find a similar piece of text in the documentation of any other club. Why wouldn't Vermeer mention this?

Ajax lost Jews, but other Jews subscribed as well. Half-breed Jews such as Luc Sacksioni, who played for shut up Jewish clubs before, came to Ajax after 1941. Hans Boskamp, a half-breed who was later to play for Holland and became an actor after his career, became an Ajax member in 1943. Elek Schwarz, the Hungarian Jewish coach of the Dutch national tean, called him Schauspieler, the German word for 'actor'.

The ball kept rolling. On 6 December, 1942, as half of the Amsterdam Jews had already died, the game against Feyenoord showed a scruffle on the pitch. Feyenoord captain Bas Paauwe would eventually send his team mate Jan Bens to the dressing-rooms. Ajax was to win the national cup that season. The supporters kept coming to the stadium, albeit by bike after December of 1943, because tram services were discontinued. Supporter Deetje van Minden says he kept following Ajax during the war. Until early 1942 in De Meer - "The little plate saying 'Jews Prohibited' was already there, but I could not read, you see?" - and after that in hiding, in the province of Friesland, from the newspaper.

Vermeer concludes: 'The misery of the war turned out to be relatively limited, as there were no Ajax members to be mourned for at the end of the German occupation.'

This sentence is quoted in almost every article about the Jewish aspect of Ajax. It's an unquestionable truism. No Ajax members died during the war, because they were all expelled from the club in 1941, and therefore no longer subscribed at the and of the occupation. But most of them were dead. It's disgraceful that a club like Ajax allows Evert Vermeer to proclaim such offensive nonsense on its behalf. And it conflicts with an English Ajax promotion booklet from 1974, which states that 'many Jewish members' of the club were killed by the Germans.

Luc Sacksioni told Evert de Vos: "Several Ajax people perished, Jopie de Haan for example, a very good player. At least six of them. I've saked questions about it at meetings. A memroial plate, that would be reasonable. Not just for the Jewish members, but for everyone. A little monument for the public."

A Jew who did return, was Jaap van Praag, father of current chairman Michael. In the official 'Board Announcements' of 10 November, 1945, he writes: 'In this fashion I want to express my sincere gratitude to all Ajax friends who have approached me with so much cordiality, after my long period of being in hiding. I especially want to deeply thank Cor and Jan Schoevaart for the shelter they gave me in their hospitable residence, exactly in the weeks that were the most dangerous for me.'

Jan Schoevaart was the uncle of current keeper of the records Wim Schoevaart. He has probably offered Van Praag a place to stay during the first deportations of Jews in 1942. During the last three years of the war, Van Praag was in hiding in a house on the street of Overtoom, using the name Jaap van Rijn. He was so much disgusted by the decay in that period, that he would wear a spruce suit every day, after the war.

Jopie Schelvis and Johnny Roeg went into hiding and survived the war. Roeg is still alive. In a city that saw 80% of its Jews die in concentration camps, stories such as theirs have become rare.

It seems like Ajax - not as a club, but as an informal network - saved people's lives. The Jewish members of Ajax were in fact lucky that Ajax was not a Jewish club. Because of Ajax, they knew Christians, and among those Christians were some brave people. Jews that lived in the Jewish quarter and played for Jewish clubs, hardly knew non-Jewish people. Which made a difference, during the war.

After the war, Ajax changed one word in the official club march: 'Ajax heil (= 'hail'), red and white brigade' became 'Ajax hup (= 'go!'), red and white brigade'. The club won the Dutch championship in the first season after the war. The championship magazine contains 44 pages, but I could not find a single word about dead Jews in it.

It's a bit like the story of the Brooklyn Dodgers, with one difference: not the club disappeared, but the supporters.

* * *

A man who seemed disappeared after the occupation, albeit just for a while, was Jaap Hordijk, the man of the quote at the beginning of this chapter. The man who stated that 'there was not that much trouble for Ajax yet', was 'cleansed' by the club for playing for German club Potsdam '03 during the war. Hordijk had also played for the unofficial Dutch national team, that played games against Flanders and France in the 'Third Reich' - performing the Hitler's Salute before kick-off, of course.

You'd say: what else could he do? Just like hundreds of thousands of other Dutch men, Hordijk was sent to Germany for labour. He worked for a film company in Babelsberg: "We made no propaganda films, just screenplays and operas", he told Vrij Nederland ('Free Netherlands') journalists Frits Barend and Henk van Dorp in 1979.

Hordijk was not forced to play, however. Nobody was. A player of Amsterdam club VIC, for example, wrote a letter home from Germany: "I have played for some German club a few times, but even foreigners are now obliged to perform the Hitler's Salute before the game. Therefore, I have called it quits."

Hordijk defended himself, as he was interviewed by Barend and Van Dorp: "Once more: I can't say I have had too hard of a time..."

Shortly after the war, Hordijk was allowed to play for Ajax again. He's now considered an expert on 'Ajax and the Jews'.

© Simon Kuper; all rights reserved. Reproduction, redistribution or re-use of any kind prohibited without written permission by the author.

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