Today we are joined by Kevin Simpson, the author of Soccer under the Swastika: Stories of Survival and Resistance during the Holocaust (Rowman and Littlefield Publishers, 2016). In Soccer under the Swastika, Simpson recovers a largely forgotten history of the sports during Holocaust. Through a close reading of wartime memoirs, oral histories, newspapers, and records from camps across Europe including Thereseinstadt and Auschwitz, Simpson illustrates the politicization of sports by the Nazi regime, traces the diverse histories of soccer in the Nazi camp system, and shines a light on the lives to the various sportsmen who competed behind the barbed wire. He discovers a complicated sports system that simultaneously existed to entertain the inmates and the Nazis, created a privileged class of athlete-prisoners that frequently received better rations and treatment, and ultimately restored the humanity of athletes that took to the fields and the spectators that enjoyed watching them play. The histories Simpson uncovers span Europe, centering on the Jewish clubs, like Hakoah Vienna, that dominated European soccer in the interwar period, but also encompassing teams as far west as the Netherlands and deep in Soviet Ukraine. Throughout his analysis, Simpson emphasizes the individual agency of soccer players who used their sport to maintain their identities in spite of Nazi persecution, reestablish their Jewish communities in displaced persons camps after the war, and even find spaces for joy and triumph inside of the death camps.
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