Happy Birthday Eddy Hamel—American Soccer Player Murdered in Auschwitz

I have done a piece on Eddy Hamel before, but for two reasons I wanted to do a post again about him. Firstly it is his 120th birthday today, secondly, we are only a few weeks away from the FIFA World Cup, the biggest tournament of the sport he loved so much.

He was born in New York City. He was Jewish, as were his parents who were immigrants from the Netherlands. He moved to Amsterdam in his teenage years. In 1928 he married Johanna Wijnberg, and in 1938 they had twin boys, Paul and Robert.

Eddy Hamel was the first Jewish player, and also the first American, to play for Ajax in Amsterdam. Prior to Ajax he played for Amsterdamsche FC (AFC). His first acquaintance with Ajax was a special one. The training fields of AFC and Ajax were next to each other and Hamel had broken a window of an Ajax changing room while in a rowdy mood. The groundskeeper did not take it kindly and gave the boy an earful. In 1922 Hamel became the first Jewish player at Ajax and the first American at one of Europe’s most famous football clubs. The Ajax supporters—at the time also largely with a Jewish background—quickly embraced him.

Ajax’s players in 1926 pose for a team photo. Eddy Hamel is kneeling, front left.

Hamel became a first-team regular for Ajax. To date, only four other Jewish soccer players have followed in his footsteps – Johnny Roeg, Bennie Muller, Sjaak Swart, and Daniël de Ridder. Hamel was a fan favourite and was cited by pre-World War II club legend Wim Anderiesen as part of the strongest line-up he ever played with. He had his fan club in the 1920s, which would line up on his side of the field at the beginning of every game, and then switch sides to be on his side of the field in the second half. After his retirement as a player, Hamel managed Alcmaria Victrix for three years and continued to play in an Ajax veteran squad.

Hamel, his wife and their sons lived across town at the time, in a second-floor flat at 145 Rijnstraat, not far from where 13-year-old Anne Frank and her family lived. In apparent defiance of the Nazis’ rules, Hamel continued to play for his old club’s alumni team, Lucky Ajax, during the German occupation.

On Oct. 27, 1942, Hamel was stopped by two officers from the Jewish Affairs division of the Amsterdam Police Department, which had turned compliant with the Nazis. The arrest report, written in German, states that Hamel told his captors he was born in New York. He gave “coach” as his profession. As for the reason for his arrest: He’d been caught in public sich ohne judenstern—without his Jewish star. Despite his American citizenship, Hamel was detained by the Nazis because he was a Jew.

Eddy and his family had to report to Westerbork. They ended up in the so-called ‘English Barrack’. Here were British and American citizens who were eligible for exchange. But that status turned out to offer no protection either. Leon Greenman, who was in the same barracks, spent the last few months with Eddy. Both their families were deported to Auschwitz in January 1943, where the women and children were immediately murdered. Both men were to work.

Eddy spent four months doing hard labour at Birkenau. After he was found to have a swollen mouth abscess during a Nazi inspection, the Nazis sent him to the gas chambers in Auschwitz concentration camp on April 30, 1943, where they murdered him.

I don’t know if this was the case but I think it is safe to assume that Eddy would have watched matches of the young talent at Ajax. I have no doubt that he would have enjoyed the talent of Rinus Michels, who played for the youth team in Ajax in 1940/1941. Rinus Michels went on to become the most successful manager of the Dutch national team, with whom he won the European title in 1988.

Ajax 4 with Rinus Michels kneeling in front with ball. Netherlands, Amsterdam, 1940-1941 season.




Westerbork-Distraction from fate.

I have done several blogs on Westerbork before. The reasons why I highlight Westerbork so much are.

  1. It was the place where most Dutch Jewish and Jewish Refugees passed through before being sent to extermination camps
  2. It had initially set up as a refugee center for Jews prior to the war.
  3. Although the death toll was much lower in Westerbork then in other camps ,it was also one of the most sinister camps.

It is the sinister aspect I want to explore here. The biggest crime committed in Westerbork was that it gave those who were imprisoned there, hope or rather false hope. It was a distraction to the real fate that awaited them.

The Dutch government established a camp at Westerbork in 1939 to intern Jewish refugees, mostly from Germany. The first refugees arrived in Westerbork in October of that year. In April 1940, there were approximately 750 Jewish refugees housed in the camp. Some of them were German Jews who had been passengers on the St. Louis ship.

As you can see the picture above is of a football team. Amidst all the killing, torture, deportations and other horrors in Camp Westerbork, they actually found time to set up a football competition.

Some of the prisoners were well know European players, or players who played for major European teams.

Westerbork had facilities like a hospital, an orphanage with a playground, and a football competition fall into that category. The prisoners got hope and a sense of normality out of this.

How did the idea of a football competition come from ? In 1943 a small group of prisdoners went from Westerbork to Amsterdam where they had to work in a factory. Whilst on the train from Assen to Amsterdam, they read a paper, De Telegraaf, a widespread Dutch Newspaper. In this newspaper, it said that the national football competition was still going on. When reading this news, one of the group members got angry; they were playing without him! How could this be?

Within that group that traveled to Amsterdam were multiple footballers, such as Ignatz Feldmann, a famous professional footballer from Austria in the 1920s and the 1930s.

Feldman was one of the best defenders at that time. He was quite famous , not only in Austria but also in The Netherlands. So he had a certain status within Camp Westerbork and the Jewish community. During that train journey from Assen to Amsterdam, he came up with the idea of starting a football competition in the camp. The camp commandant allowed it.

It was a quiet professional-looking competition. With matches being played every week.

Eddy Hamel was an American Jew who played for AFC Ajax, Amsterdam. Ernst Alexander was a Jewish player for FC Schalke 04 and Árpád Weisz a Hungarian Olympic football player and manager, he was managing FC Dordrecht in the Netherlands when the war broke out. They all were murdered in Auschwitz.

But football was not the only thing that distracted the prisoners from their fate. There were factories, music, playgrounds, it was nearly like an ordinary town.

Camp Westerbork also had a school, orchestra, hairdresser, and even restaurants designed by SS officials to give inmates a false sense of hope for survival and to aid in avoiding problems during transportation.

The camp administration was headed by a German commandant. Westerbork had three commandants, all of whom were SS officers: Erich Deppner (July 1942–September 1942); Josef Hugo Dischner (September–October 1942); and Albert Konrad Gemmeker (October 1942–April 1945). German SS men and a rotating group of Dutch civilian and military police guarded the camp. In addition to the German and Dutch personnel, a Jewish police force ,called the Ordedienst or the OD, kept order in the camp.

Below is a film that shows life in Westerbork-It was recently discovered and restored. It is a long film but it is well worth the wwatch.





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