Soccer Friends

This evening a game between the Israeli and Norwegian teams will kick off the Under-21 European Football Championship in Netanya. Participating in the opening match in their home country will be something very special for the Israeli players.

Since I am a big soccer fan, this European Cup provided me with the impetus to take a closer look at what the Jewish Museum’s collection has on the subject of soccer. In our online display I discover a “Short History of Jewish Football,” and in our collection data bank I find further objects that awaken my curiosity. A photograph from the year 1936 or 1937 particularly appeals to me. I find it fascinating that soccer was already in the 1930s something boys loved to play. In the picture stands (last row, center) the young Walter Frankenstein, born in 1924, together with his soccer team:

Young football players pose before the game

The soccer team of Auerbach’s Orphanage from 1936 or 1937. Gift of Walter Frankenstein (last row, center). Photographer unknown.
© Jewish Museum Berlin, photo: Jens Ziehe

All the boys in the picture were inhabitants at that time of Auerbach’s Orphanage in Berlin’s Schönhauser Allee. In actual fact this was no real orphanage, as it took in boys and girls whose fathers had died and whose mothers were unable for a variety of reasons to care for them.

The extraordinary thing about this picture is that Walter Frankenstein wrote the initials of all the boys on the photograph – and, through this aid to his memory, he was able to recall for the Jewish Museum every one by first and last name many decades later. Their stories were as varied as they were. Egon Strassner, far right in the middle row, was deported together with other boys from the orphanage in 1940 to Riga and later murdered in the concentration camp at Buchenwald. The little Hans Meier, in the middle of the second row, emigrated to Palestine in 1938 and later became head of the Israeli Davis Cup team. Gerhard Eckstein (last row, left) died at Auschwitz. Walter Frankenstein’s best friend Rolf Rothschild (second row, second from the left) was able to leave for Sweden in 1939. Walter Frankenstein himself went underground in 1943 with his wife Leonie and their newborn son Peter-Uri. They even had a second son before they learned in the Berlin underground that the war had ended.

Walter Frankenstein talking to some young women

Walter Frankenstein during an archival workshop, in conversation with young people of the Jewish Congregation of Larger Dortmund in July 2012.
© Jewish Museum Berlin, photo: Michaela Roßberg

Although he has lived for a long time now in Sweden, Mr. Frankenstein visits the Jewish Museum Berlin regularly and has appeared as a contemporary witness in our archival workshops. There he tells young people stories, answers questions about how he survived in Berlin, and talks to them about the period of National Socialism. This year I participated in one of the workshops and was impressed by his detailed recollections and the earnestness with which he spoke to the students.

Before I set out to write this text, I spoke on the phone with Mr. Frankenstein. I asked for his permission to publish his photograph on the Jewish Museum’s blog. Although it was 9:15 a.m. and the picture from his childhood has already been in the museum’s depot for five years, he knew immediately what photo I was talking about. He said, “Ah, you mean the picture in front of the bench where little Hans Meier is standing in the middle. Of course you may use the photograph.”

This evening I will be watching the opening game of the European Cup in Netanya, on television. And I am sure that, before the sound of the opening whistle, I will think of the team picture of those eleven boys from Auerbach’s Orphanage. Exactly as the players will pose tonight, those boys posed for the camera before the game.

Michaela Roßberg, Museum Assistant

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