Ajax, the Dutch, the War: The Strange Tale of Soccer During Europe's Darkest Hour

Overview

In Ajax, New York Times bestselling author Simon Kuper explores the myths of Holland's "Good War" -the brave nation that hid Anne Frank from the Nazis-by using the story of soccer in Holland and the Amsterdam club Ajax to puncture the tales that post-war Holland lived by. Through interviews with Resistance fighters, survivors, wartime soccer players and more, Kuper uncovers a history that has been largely ignored. Ranging far beyond the Netherlands and examining the stories of soccer and war in England, Germany ...

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Ajax, the Dutch, the War: The Strange Tale of Soccer During Europe's Darkest Hour

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Overview

In Ajax, New York Times bestselling author Simon Kuper explores the myths of Holland's "Good War" -the brave nation that hid Anne Frank from the Nazis-by using the story of soccer in Holland and the Amsterdam club Ajax to puncture the tales that post-war Holland lived by. Through interviews with Resistance fighters, survivors, wartime soccer players and more, Kuper uncovers a history that has been largely ignored. Ranging far beyond the Netherlands and examining the stories of soccer and war in England, Germany and France, Kuper writes an alternative history of Europe at its darkest hour. He helps change the way we understand ordinary people's experience of the war in Europe.

The story does not end with World War II and the Holocaust. Though haunted, by this experience, Ajax became known during the postwar era as Holland's "Jewish club" because of historic links with Amsterdam's once-large Jewish population. It also became the envy of clubs around the world for producing unparalleled talent, epitomized by soccer genius Johan Cruijff. Kuper shows how Cruijff and his fellow Amsterdammers created the most exciting and revolutionary style of soccer in the world-"Total Football"

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
Booklist(Published in the UK by Orion)“Kuper’s journalism is always about more than just the game itself….It’s a fascinating exploration by a journalist who holds no truths to be self-evident but wants the facts behind the national myths we so eagerly embrace. Likely to interest WWII and Holocaust scholars as much as—if not more than—soccer fans.” The Classical“Ajax is an absorbing, thoughtful read, driven by a moral intelligence not typically found in sports books…. The resulting book is not about 4-4-2 formations, transfers, or sporting glory—Kuper instead uses the game as a lever to open up a serious but engaging discussion of collective memory, group identity, the legacy of the Holocaust and the war, and what games can stand for beyond the pitch. Any intelligent sports fan not familiar with Kuper's work is missing out, and Ajax more than lives up to his high standard.” Tobias Carroll, Vol. 1 Brooklyn“[W]orthy (and decidedly different) nonfiction…. Simon Kuper’s Ajax, The Dutch, The War: The Strange Tale of Soccer During Europe’s Darkest Hour is a smart, sometimes horrifying look at soccer in the 1930s and 1940s, primarily in nations occupied by the Nazis. I’ve read a couple of Kuper’s other books, and as with them, I was impressed with his ability to place compelling sports narratives into a larger geopolitical context.” International Soccer Network“Another masterpiece from Simon Kuper….Kuper, one of the most prominent writers in the soccer business, tackles the difficult task of finding out the truth behind what the Dutch did and didn’t do in WWII and the role soccer may have played in the grand scheme of things. Kuper becomes historian, investigative journalist, and storyteller all wrapped into one….Simply put this text is extremely powerful….It is impossible to truly understand Dutch soccer without first reading this book. If you liked David Winner’s Brilliant Orange, you will absolutely fall in love with Kuper’s Ajax, the Dutch, the War. It’s that good.” The Volunteer“[Kuper] is a tenacious digger….his work is indispensable today.” Kirkus Reviews“Though Kuper’s book promises to explore the history of Ajax and other soccer clubs, it goes much deeper….[Kuper] kicks topics around the way Maradona smacks a ball, sometimes with a great roundabout curve to it—but always hitting the goal….fascinating.” Franklin Foer, author of How Soccer Explains the World“This book is filled with reporting that will break your heart and analysis that will change the way you watch the game.” Daily Telegraph“His fresh-eyed survey has a familiar theme but never palls, crowded with a gallery of unlikely figures…whose stories weave through the book.” The Times“I have only bought one football book recently and it’s an absolute belter…heartily recommended.” Glasgow Herald“Gripping and brilliant.” Financial Times“An intriguing social history, full of quirky anecdotes, written with a winning geniality and the dash of a Brazilian forward…a beguiling book.” Spectator“A fascinating tale, which Kuper describes particularly well.” GQ“Kuper’s poignant and perceptive account again proves there can be more to football writing than fanzines and pale Hornby imitations.” Telegraph“A fascinating history, full of startling facts and sobering detail.” Time Out“Kuper has fashioned a work which brilliantly juxtaposes the everyday life of football clubs with the awful fate suffered by so many of their Jewish players, officials, and supporters.” Independent
“An intriguing work.”

The Forward“[Kuper] is the world expert on the intersection of soccer, culture and politics.”
World Football Commentaries
“[A] provocative, well-researched and captivating book. The author takes you down a road less-traveled to unearth a rich trove of remembrances: Memories that were previously hidden from public view but never forgotten by their protagonists….The author’s writing style is detailed, journalistic and captivating….Mr. Kuper told a story that needed to be shared with a larger audience….This seminal work is not only about soccer, a country and a people, but rather the good and bad qualities found in human nature.”

Sacramento/San Francisco Book Review

“[A] poignant tribute.”

Jewish Book World
“[A] bold and comprehensive book.... [Kuper] deepens our understanding of Europe’s darkest hour.”

Kirkus Reviews
Were the Dutch a nation of heroes of World War II resistance, as they like to claim? Paris-based Financial Times columnist Kuper (The Football Men: Up Close with the Giants of the Modern Game, 2011, etc.) rains on the liberation parade by suggesting that the right answer is, not quite. Soccer, a British wag once remarked, is way more important than life or death. By this account, it sometimes trumps even war. When the Nazis were rising in power in Germany in the 1930s, they used competitive games--and particularly soccer--as a vehicle of diplomacy; they were good sports when they lost, and they cheered good performances on the pitch no matter who gave them. Even when the Nazis declared war on half the world and overran most of Europe, soccer occupied a kind of hallowed ground. "The point of the game was distraction," writes Kuper, "not propaganda; soccer was a space where Germans could escape from the war, where life continued as it always had." That did not keep the Germans from insisting that soccer teams in occupied countries be cleared of Jewish players, managers, owners and others. Kuper asserts that too many Dutch teams did so too willingly. Ajax, a team beloved of Israelis today, was no exception. Some Jewish players wound up in Auschwitz and other death camps; some non-Jewish players resisted, while others collaborated. Though Kuper's book promises to explore the history of Ajax and other soccer clubs, it goes much deeper, dissecting the widely held view that the Dutch were guid and the Germans fout during those ugly years. "The Israelis are right in a way; the Dutch were good in the war," Kuper writes. "Not the Second World War, though, but the war of 1973." If you want a nation that really resisted the Nazis, he adds, look at Denmark. Kuper's narrative is a little loopy, and he kicks topics around the way Maradona smacks a ball, sometimes with a great roundabout curve to it--but always hitting the goal. A footnote to history, to be sure, but a fascinating one.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781568587233
  • Publisher: Nation Books
  • Publication date: 9/11/2012
  • Edition description: First Trade Paper Edition
  • Pages: 288
  • Sales rank: 296,336
  • Product dimensions: 5.50 (w) x 8.20 (h) x 0.90 (d)

Meet the Author

Simon Kuper is one of the world’s leading writers on soccer. The winner of the William Hill prize for sports book of the year in England, Kuper writes a weekly column for the Financial Times.

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Table of Contents

Acknowledgments ix

1 Orange Soldiers 1

2 A Sunday Before the War 15

3 A Friendly Salute: International Soccer in the 1930s 25

4 The Warm Back of Eddy Hamel: An American in Amsterdam and Birkenau 47

5 The Lost Memories of Meijer Stad 57

6 Sparta: A Soccer Club in Wartime 69

7 Boom: The Rise of Soccer in the Occupied Netherlands 93

8 Strange Lies: Ajax, World War II, and P. G. Wodehouse 105

9 Captain of France, Collaborator in Gorcum: Soccer and the Annals of Resistance 123

10 The Netherlands Was Better Than the Rest 139

11 Soldier Heroes: British and German Soccer in the War (and Long After) 153

12 Of Bunkers and Cigars: The Holocaust and the Making of the Great Ajax 187

13 The Most Popular Team in Israel 203

14 Soccer Songs of the Netherlands 219

15 Disneytown and the Secret Monuments 233

Afterword to the U.S. Edition 245

Sources 259

Index 265

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