Ellecom’s sports hall is to become a national center of remembrance of wartime sports

Ellecom’s sports hall is to become a national center of remembrance of wartime sports
Ellecom’s sports hall is to become a national center of remembrance of wartime sports

Exactly eighty years ago, work started in the Gelderland village of Ellecom for the construction of the sports and exercise grounds of the SS. The associated sports hall is the only legacy of wartime sports and is therefore ideally suited as a national memorial center for wartime sports. Below is my speech of September 4 in Ellecom.

Photo Pim van Tend via Wikicommons

World War II is way too big for my head. What happened in those years is simply incomprehensible. That’s why I don’t try and that’s why I’m looking for another way. I think that’s important, because I don’t want to be a feather in the whirlwind of history. Even the Second World War can be made tangible, here too. Right here.

With a small sports hall in Ellecom I can tell a very big story. As a sports historian I have known for a long time that my field can help with this. More than 25 years ago I graduated from the University of Amsterdam with a research into football club Feyenoord in the Second World War. Since then I’ve been the only Amsterdammer who graduated from Feyenoord – something I want to say at least once a week.

My research was not about whether that club had won the championship at the time and who was the star player at that time. I just wanted to know what happened to a folk club like Feyenoord in the most difficult time in our modern history, especially from a city that was hit so hard by a bombing raid in 1940. I soon noticed that this gave me a special view of the Second World War, because I could see through the eyes of people who had no influence at all on the major events, as is actually the case for the vast majority now.

Roughly speaking, on one side of history are that one percent of political leaders, generals, media tycoons, factory directors and Elon Musk. Within political science they become decision makers mentioned, but it’s much hipper now to talk about influencers. They make decisions that have enormous consequences for the 99% of people who meet the Others side of history. It’s the group you belong to, along with me. After all, we have no direct influence on the war in Ukraine, on the climate problems and on Elon Musk. And so it was in World War II: the largest group had to trade per day to make the most of it.

And I saw that very clearly in the sports world in wartime. Clubs from this area in Dieren en Velp, for example, lost three members during the German invasion, who died as soldiers. A few years later, thousands of Jewish football players were murdered in the concentration camps, including someone from Dieren. For example, on September 30, a memorial stone is laid for Felix Bachrach, Theothorne’s Jewish football player. This club played next to the Kraaienbosje at the beginning of the canal, next to the old lock, on your left on the way to Spankeren.

Because Jewish football players also lived in Dieren. It is quite a misunderstanding to only see Ajax as a Jewish club. For example, Feyenoord had more Jewish members than Ajax, just like Sparta by the way. Real Amsterdam Jewish football clubs like WV, HEDW and AED lost at least 500 members! At the end of the war they didn’t even have enough people for one team. Five Jewish members were murdered at Vitesse and four at PSV. All those so-called supporters of those clubs should think about that before they shout anti-Semitic slogans at Ajax: in this way they murder their own fellow supporters from the past for the second time.

It is now clear that the terrible story of the Second World War suddenly comes very close by just watching the football in this municipality. That is why I search throughout the Netherlands for the thousands of names of war victims in football, regardless of how they died. This is often very difficult, because a lot of information has been lost. The Nazis wanted not only to kill their opponents, but to remove them completely from history, to deny their very existence.

My research makes the great history tangible, because we suddenly look at people from our own neighbourhood, who then tried to have the same life as we do now. As a result, I no longer feel like a feather in the historic hurricane. Certainly not here in this municipality, because as a child I lived next to the old synagogue in the Spoorstraat in Dieren, then the mini theater Jojo Saggum by Stef and Ria de Wit. The old field of Felix Bachrach near Theothorne is a two-minute walk from the parental home of today on the Zutphensestraatweg.

Ellecom is also very well known to me, because my father Chris van de Vooren was a neighbor of Landgoed Avegoor and the sports hall for many years. And then tomorrow afternoon in the Village Church of Ellecom the service for my deceased stepfather Sam van Tongeren will be held.

The great story of the Second World War is also reflected in this sports hall, because those who know more about it will gain insight into the role of sport in National Socialism. To begin with, you must immediately distance yourself from the idea that sports and politics are separate from each other, otherwise it will be nothing. On the contrary, we see a sport like boxing.

This sport was very much practiced by Jews in the 1930s. Not for fun and their health, but because they wanted to train for the expected street fights against the emerging fascism. These athletes were called muscle Jews, in German Muskeljudentum. The first wartime thugs in Amsterdam therefore consisted largely of Jewish boxers, weightlifters and other powerhouses. I have now found 125 names of these thugs, almost none of whom survived the war. At the Stopera in Amsterdam they are commemorated in the monument of the Jewish resistance.

At the same time, boxing was the favorite sport of the Nazis, because it enabled the athletes to prepare for battle on the battlefield. So sport was used to teach how to kill other people, how to commit crimes against humanity. It was intended to make disciplined soldiers out of the men and reliable birthing machines out of the women. That sounds awful and it is. This means that in boxing, two different ideologies clash, which are deadly enemies of each other: the Jewish ideology and the anti-Semitic ideology.

That’s not what sports divorced of politics, but a front area in the struggle of life and death. In this way we also say goodbye to the idea that sport is by definition fraternizing, because that does not apply in a dictatorship. If the sport is dictatorial, society as a whole is dictatorial.

And so we come naturally to Ellecom, the frontline of the sport. Sam Olij has been in this village, one of the best Dutch boxers of the thirties and then one of the greatest traitors to the country. Other SS athletes were also here, such as the athlete Tinus Osendarp, cyclist Cor Wals and football player Gejus van der Meulen. All famous athletes from the 1930s and 40s and all severely punished after the war for collaboration.

One by one, the great history brought them to small Ellecom, because the Germans built sports and exercise grounds for the SS on and around Landgoed Avegoor. This weekend, exactly eighty years ago, 139 Jewish forced laborers were transported here to level the land for a sports field under horrific conditions. The inhabitants of the village had to close their curtains so that no one would see these prisoners being kicked through the streets. That is why we walk through the village to the sports hall again, but with the curtains open.

Three Jewish prisoners did not survive this Hell of Ellecom. The rest went to Camp Westerbork, where another twelve succumbed to the misery. In the end, only 33 returned alive after the war.

In the years that followed, the most notorious Dutch and German Nazis walked around the site where we are now. In April 1942, NSB leader Anton Mussert was here to talk to the Nazi youth of the National Youth Storm. In his speech, he said that in Ellecom they were going to learn how to make war, how to kill. Hanns Rauter, the most important SS man in the Netherlands, was here at the opening of the sports hall. At sports competitions, the participants first had to think of Hitler and Mussert before the competition started.

Thus, this place became a front area in the sport’s ideological war. Here sport was used by the Nazis for their crimes against humanity. The sports hall is the visible legacy of this Nazi sport.

That makes it very special for me to mention the names of the 22 football players from the municipality of Rheden who died in the Second World War in that sports hall, exactly two teams. By mentioning these victims in Dutch sport, I symbolically claim this Nazi heritage as a place of memory, together with you. Together we pull the sports hall out of the hands of the Nazi ideology. Exactly eighty years after the arrival of the Jewish forced laborers, we will no longer liberate the victims, but we will remember them. And that was exactly what the Nazis didn’t want, who wanted to take them out of history. And of course we don’t allow that.

That is why I conclude with a call to BOEi, the current owner of the sports hall. There is currently nowhere in the Netherlands a memorial place for the war victims in Dutch sport. Although there are memorial stones and monuments, there is as yet no fixed place where information can be obtained about sports in wartime.

It is important that there is, because in football alone I have found 2700 names of these victims, including 22 from this municipality. These stories are a great way to talk to today’s young footballers. They may well be contemporaries of those wartime footballers, who were often killed very young, sometimes as young as 11 years old. Maybe they were on the same field as those players today. The Second World War may remain too big for our heads, but through sport we do have a way to talk about it with each other.

The sports hall in Ellecom is the best place as our country’s only tangible legacy of wartime sports. Here we have to tell how the sport was used by the Nazis for their crimes. Here we have to talk to young athletes that we never want that again.

There is simply no better place to remember wartime sports than the sports hall in Ellecom, where the Nazis abused it for their ideology. We must never forget that, to make room for a positive ideology of the sport. In this way we determine for ourselves what our history is and we ourselves determine what our memories are. Then we will no longer be feathers in the whirlwind of history. Because when the sport is free, we are all free.

The article is in Dutch

Tags: Ellecoms sports hall national center remembrance wartime sports

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