In 1941, one of the biggest stories of defiance of authority in football occurred, when SK Rapid Wien won the German league title. Rapid Wien, as all the Austrian football clubs did during that period, were taking part in football competitions in Nazi Germany since the event known as Anschluss happened in 1938. From Anschluss to Liberation, Austria spent 7 years under the Nazi regime. The person who shall not be named was born in today’s Austria, more specifically in Braunau am Inn, in 1889, and everyone knows the name of the culprit. Back to business. The question is, are the players that contributed to Rapid Wien’s league glory considered heroes? They should be, but there are some conflicting opinions on this. Here is the story of SK Rapid Wien under the National Socialist regime of Nazi Germany.
It is important to know some details about Rapid Wien’s history, first and foremost. Sportklub Rapid Wien was founded on 8 January 1899, and won the most championships in Austrian football history, with 32 league titles to their name – the last of which came in the 2007/08 season. They have also played in two Cup Winners’ Cup finals – in 1985, and 1996, respectively. The club’s history actually goes back to 1897, when they were founded as ‘Erster Wiener Arbeiter-Fußball-Club, with the original colours being red and blue. Two years later, they got their current name as in the example of Rapide Berlin, nowadays known as SV Nord Wedding 1893. In 1904, the club changed their colours to green and white. From their first title win in 1912 to 1938, the year in which Anschluss occurred, die Grün-Weißen (The Green-Whites) won 12 Austrian championships. In 1930, they did a double by winning the Austrian championship and the Mitropa Cup. In 1938, they won the Tschammerpokal, the predecessor of DFB-Pokal, right after the annexation of Austria.
From Anschluss onwards, SK Rapid joined the Gauliga Ostmark, the regional first division, along with many fellow Austrian clubs, including FK Austria (initially renamed SC Ostmark, only to be revoked two months later), SC Wacker, and SK Admira. In their first season in the newly-formed regional league, the Green-Whites finished the 1938-39 season in third place, behind fellow Viennese clubs Admira and Wacker – the former of whom were thrashed 9-0 against Schalke 04 in the 1939 German Championship final. The next two seasons saw SK Rapid clinch the title by three and four points of margins respectively. In the latter of these two seasons, SK Rapid Wien were drawn to Group 4 in the same group with Gauliga Baden winners VfL Neckarau, Gauliga Bayern winners TSV 1860 München, and Gauliga Württemberg winners Stuttgarter Kickers. SK Rapid finished the group in first place with 9 points (2 points per victory, 1 point per draw). The only loss was against TSV 1860 München, where the Bavarians prevailed by two goals to one. The champions from Ostmark played Dresdner SC, the Gauliga Sachsen winners, in the semi-final. The match ended in favour of the Austrians with the score 2-1. On 22 June 1941, the day Nazi Germany invaded Soviet Union in Operation Barbarossa, two weeks after the semi-finals, SK Rapid Wien took on the seemingly indomitable side of Schalke 04, who were the champions of the last two years, in the final at Olympiastadion in Berlin. S04 scored two goals in the 5th and 8th minutes of the game with the goals from Heinz Hinz and Hermann Eppenhoff. Die Knappen (The Miners) added insult to injury in the 58th minute thanks to Hinz’s goal; but then, just as the match seemed over, SK Rapid’s Georg Schors pulled one back for the Viennese side on the hour mark. Later, a certain Franz Binder completed a hat-trick within 9 minutes for the Austrian champions. In a match resembling chess (SK Rapid’s Viennese pyramid v Schalke 04’s German W-M), die Hütteldorfer (the Hütteldorfers) reigned supreme and became the first champions of the German Reich outside das Altreich (the Old Empire). This victory did not only avenge Admira’s loss in the final two years earlier; but also represented the ‘resurrection’ of Vienna as well.
The next couple were supposed to be SK Rapid’s, but unfortunately, it was not. The last three Gauliga Ostmarks went to First Vienna FC, before the league was cancelled in 1945 before the end of the 1944-45 season due to the Liberation of Austria. Incidentally, SK Rapid were the leaders after 9 matches that season. How did the squad of 1941 fail to dominate the Nazi German football for good? An article named ‘Between Manipulation and Resistance: Viennese Football in the Nazi Era’ suggested that the SK Rapid players were sent to the front line as a punishment. The suggestion in question, however, was refuted in 2009 as no evidence was found in a study commissioned by the club. The same article, which was written in 1999 by Matthias Marschik, also stated that Rapid’s loss was Vienna (First Vienna FC)’s gain as Curt Reinisch, the chief of the Viennese and military hospitals, managed to employ some players for Vienna – and probably saved their lives by preventing the employees from going to the front. On 2 April 1945, the Vienna Offensive was initiated by the Soviets. Eleven days later, Ostmark was liberated – and split into four sectors (American, British, French, Soviet). SK Rapid Wien went on to win 18 further league titles, the second-highest number of titles in the post-war period. Only their fierce rivals FK Austria won more post-war Austrian championships than SK Rapid, with 22 titles between 1948 and 2013 – including a league title in the 1975-76 season under the name FK Austria WAC Wien, merely two seasons after forming a joint football club with Wiener AC.
What could be said about the players of the man who was also the genius behind das Wunderteam (a nickname given to Austria national football team of the 1930s), Hugo Meisl? For a start, the players were seen as heroes. According to the aforementioned article, the Viennese people greeted the Rapid players with jubilation and jeered the official speakers, some of whom were prominent figures in the regime. Kicker, one of the most popular sports newspapers in Germany, accepted Rapid’s win albeit unwillingly. Reichssportblatt, on the other hand, refrained from giving die Hütteldorfer some credit by implying that the exciting match did not have a true winner. Binder, Schors & Co will most probably be fondly remembered by the fans of the Green-Whites.
I would like to give credit to Matthias Marschik and his article ‘Between Manipulation and Resistance: Viennese Football in the Nazi Era’ for giving me some idea about the state of the Viennese football during Anschluss, and more importantly, about some information about SK Rapid Wien during that era. You can view it here: https://www.jstor.org/stable/261216?seq=1#metadata_info_tab_contents. If you find any misinformation, grammatical or punctuation mistakes, please do warn me @jmanstories on Twitter, and via email@example.com on Gmail. All feedback are much appreciated. If you want to read more stories like this, you can either visit this website, or simply, subscribe by entering your e-mail. All the content is free, so you do not have to pay for anything as I do not release stories for money. Thanks for reading! And sorry for being a bit late. If you saw the news on Twitter, I had told you that this story would be published later than planned.