A Hero On and Off the Field

Stand for Israel  |  August 1, 2022

England soccer game, 1939
(Photo: wikicommons)

Each week, we take a look at Heroes of the Holocaust, many of them Christians who acted courageously during this dark chapter in Jewish (and world) history, saving their Jewish brothers and sisters. And this week, the story comes from an Israeli journalist, Sue Surkes, who writes at The Times of Israel about the English soccer player who saved a young Jewish peer – her father-in-law:

Ralph Freeman (then Rolf Friedland) was born in Berlin in 1920 and was an ardent soccer player and fan from an early age.

By the late 1930s, stranded and alone, he was desperate to leave Germany…

On May 4, 1938, just before his 18th birthday, he went to watch England beat Germany 6-3 in Berlin.

The match, attended by the likes of Hermann Goering, Rudolf Hess, and Joseph Goebbels, is remembered less for England’s victory than for the sight of the England team giving the Nazi salute before play began.

Hours before kickoff, the secretary of the Football Association and later FIFA president Stanley Rous told the England lineup that it would be expected to give the Nazi salute as a mark of respect to the German hosts.

The players were furious, and Nevile Henderson, Britain’s ambassador to Berlin, had to intervene and explain that the salute was a gesture of protocol and not an endorsement of the Nazi regime.

Captain Eddie Hapgood — who is said to have compared Hitler to his ex-girlfriend, saying she had a fuller mustache — reportedly said they could “stick the Nazi salute in a place where the sun doesn’t shine.”

At the end of the match, Rolf Friedland hung around until the England players came out of the stadium, and approached the English left back, Bert Sproston, imploring him for an invitation to England…

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