do not mention the war

Trautmann and Germany

In History on August 21, 2013 at 16:30

After the passing of Bernhard ‘Bert’ Trautmann  in July the obituaries appeared to reduce his life to 2 facts: the re-education of a former Nazi simply by the kindness and humility of the British people and the 1956 FA Cup Final. For Trautmann himself, this was not very particularly pleasing as he stated repeatedly.

Bert Trautmann's Neck Brace

Bert Trautmann’s Neck Brace (Photo credit: Smabs Sputzer)

However, he is not alone: Helmut Rahn was and still is known in Germany for his goal against Hungary in 1954 and so is Geoff Hurst for his hat-trick in 1966. So is Bob Beamon for his long jump world record in 1968 in Mexico City or Dick Fosbury for introducing the flop in high jump. Every sport, every discipline produces what is often labelled ‘legends and heroes.’ People that are often referred to and whose lives are ear marked by this single episode in their lives. The same is true for Trautmann; in England. Germany has long ignored him. Schalke 04 tried to sign him 1953 only for Manchester City to hamper the deal with an exorbitant transfer fee of £20000. Although Manchester City tried in vain to silence those rumours they were largely blamed for the failure of the deal.

After this, it seemed the keeper was forgotten if not ignored in the Fatherland. At least as a player. This must have been frustrating for the man whom many considered as the best keeper of the 1950s. In many articles after his death this episode was described as a selection policy of the German national coach, Sepp Herberger. Which would have made sense if he was one of many German players playing abroad and not the only one. The official reason for his exclusion was the policy of no ‘legionnaires’ in the team.

For 2 reasons this seems to be questionable at least.

Firstly, the German Football Association, DFB, was keen to uphold the amateur ideal in German football. None of the national players were professionals, nor were any of the ordinary league players. Officially, they were all normal working class people with football being their leisure time pursuit. However, this system is best described as shamateurism as many players focussed on playing and only held their day jobs pro forma. It took until 1962 for the governors of German football to support the idea of a unified league and finally agreed on establishing the Bundesliga which kicked off in 1963.

The English Football League was professional at least from the turn of the 20th century and therefore was the complete opposite to German Football. As player for Manchester City Bernd Trautmann was a professional and as such could have presented a disturbance in the dressing room. However, this is only the minor issue. Another, a much graver issue was much more likely playing an important role in Trautmann’s exclusion.

Another mindset that was far more likely to have caused his exclusion from the national team was his past; or rather his handling of it. As a PoW in Britain he was not just marked as a German but also as a Nazi. Thus, he had to face his past and admit it. To his fellow inmates and to the British people. Trautmann has often stated that in Britain he was taught humanness and kindness. And he was grateful for it.

The likes of Fritz Walter however fought in the war too, though they were lucky enough to escape being a prisoner of war and they returned home. During the war Walter played for a football team that enabled him to avoid fighting, the 11 Red Hunters. The coach of this team was a good friend of Sepp Herberger, the German national coach. It was through this relationship that Fritz Walter and others were moved to the Red Hunters. The team has had some notable success between August 1943 and November 1944 losing just 4 matches out of 26 games played in just over a year.

The situation in Germany was entirely different. The whole populace were morally guilty and faced condemnation from the entire world. After the establishment of the 2 German states in 1949, the West quickly adapted to the new circumstances and ‘suffered’ collective amnesia about the period from 1933-1945. It is no surprise that Konrad Adenauer employed a policy of ‘drawing a line’ under the past and managed to win a another term in office with this policy. This suppression was ever present in post-war German society and certainly was popular among football players and coaching staff. At the end of the day, football and sports in general provided a very welcome distraction from the grim reality in Germany.

When Herberger’s team won the World Cup in 1954 this was a boost for the moral. It was a point that Germany and Germans after all were no longer excluded but also excelled. For that reason it was said that the ‘Miracle of Berne’ helped to kick start the ‘Economic Miracle’ in West Germany. It also served as a pretext to forget or to remain silent about the immediate past. This ‘coat of silence’ in Germany possibly prevented Bernd Trautmann of having a career with the German national team.

This silence remained in good order until the late 1960’s; by that time Trautmann had retired and was working as a coach and football ambassador for the DFB. The president of the DFB in the post-war period from 1950 to 1962, Peco Bauwens was a staunch nationalist and he attributed the German victory in Berne to the help of Wotan. Bauwens went one step further by stating that the Führerprinzip has been preserved with this victory.

It seems unlikely that Trautmann would have liked those ideas, however Bauwens would equally have had acceptance problems with Trautmann for the latter’s open handling of his past.

In hindsight, Herberger’s selection policy was justified as Germany won the tournament. However, given the past of many leading figures of the DFB and the general atmosphere in Germany post-1945, these points give some support to the idea that Trautmann was indeed excluded from the German national team not because he was a ‘Legionnaire’ but because he handled his past in a very different way from the majority of Germans.

  1. […] City’s Bert Trautmann is knocked out during their FA Cup final in 1956 “After the passing of Bernhard ‘Bert’ Trautmann mid-July the obituaries appeared to reduce his life to 2 facts: the re-education of a former Nazi simply by the kindness and humility of the British people and the 1956 FA Cup Final. For Trautmann himself, this was not very particularly pleasing as he stated repeatedly.” Do not mention the war […]


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