Was the Karlsruhe football team punished by the Nazis? | News | DW | 27.05.2018
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Was the Karlsruhe football team punished by the Nazis?

A 1934 article about a German club refusing to do the "Hitler salute" has been widely shared on social media in light of a decision by the NFL to curb protest. But how true is the story?

In light of a recent decision by the NFL to prohibit players from kneeling in protest during the national anthem, an old Australian news clipping has been making the rounds on social media. The article, from the Advocate newspaper in Burnie, Tasmania, published on January 9 1934, speaks of a Karlsruhe soccer club being punished for refusing to do the Nazi salute before a game:

The story has struck a chord with many in the US who are upset with the NFL's decision, citing concerns about enforced patriotism and free speech. The league's move stems from a silent demonstration launched by then-San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick in 2016, who wanted to bring attention to the issues of police brutality and racial injustice.

Indeed, the story of Karlsruhe bravely standing up to fascism was so inticing, the story has been treated as fact by a number of major news outlets, including the New York Daily News. But the team may be getting a good deal of undue plaudits as a vanguard of freedom, when its true history is far more sinister.

French team refused to play

After the Nazis rose to power, all soccer clubs in southwestern Germany, where Karlsruhe lies, signed a declaration agreeing to commit themselves to the exclusion of Jews and Marxists. This happened even before an official decree from the German Football Association (DFB), per Hitler's express wishes, required teams to do so. Indeed one local team, FV Karlsruhe, has been noted after the fact for being particularly ardent about implementing the new rules.

The incident in the Advocate article actually took place in Metz, France. According to an Associated Press write-up of the same story found by a Snopes.com factchecker, it is the French team that perhaps deserves the accolades. The team refused to play if the Karlsuhe side did the "Hitlergruß" salute. The French authorities, fearing the fans could riot, asked the German team to refrain, and they did.

Multiple other sources back-up the Associated Press version of events.

The penalty for the "failure" mentioned in the Advocate article is also a bit of a misnomer. After the game, the DFB temporarily suspended all the teams in Germany's southwestern Baden region from playing in France.

What is perhaps more interesting to those seeking stories about the pernicious everyday of creeping fascism is the story directly under the Advocate article that has become ubiquitous on Twitter. It recounts the story of two professors at hospital in Germany's western city of Essen being sentenced to jail terms of three and four months for "falsely disparaging Nazism."

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