Football in 1944

Hope and damnation side by side in the People’s Game. The first film is of a Wartime International between England and Scotland, won handsomely by the team in white in front of the Royal Family at Wembley. Stanley Matthews and Matt Busby are just two players of the many ’40s talents on show here. Poor James Hagan scores for England, but this isn’t an official international, and his actual England record consists of one friendly against Denmark in 1948. He was thirty, and had lost the best years of his career to the War.

That’s all he lost. The second film (apparently) is taken by the Nazis. It shows a propaganda match played in an arena in the fortress town of Terezin in Czechoslovakia, which had been turned into a cross between a ghetto and a Jewish Potemkin Village. You might know the place better by its German name, Theresianstadt. Terezin also contained the largest Gestapo prison in the country. The match is likely to have been part of what was called the “Embellishment” of Theresianstadt by the Germans, which turned the camp into a grotesque happy theatre for the benefit of the visiting Danish and Swedish Red Cross. Accounts differ, but not as to what followed. Within 2-3 months of the game, all but about 400 of the town’s inmates were transported, mostly to Auschwitz. It’s reckoned that 33,000 people died in the town itself, with a further 88,000 taken to Auchwitz.

After the War, Terezin became an internment camp for Germans, and the dying continued for another year through a mixture of disease and revenge murder. The last German prisoners were not released until 1948.

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