Šťastný as the manager of Austria in 1968. Source: Vorarlberger Landesbibliothek.
Šťastný as the manager of Austria in 1968. Source: Vorarlberger Landesbibliothek.

Leopold “Jim” Šťastný

An Unstoppable Spirit

The life story of Leopold “Jim” Šťastný (1911-1996), a prominent Slovak and later Austrian football player and manager, is one of unbreakable spirit, character, and love for football, all shown by a man who had to experience both the Holocaust and persecution by the Czechoslovak Communist regime. In spite of this, Šťastný ultimately became one the most important Slovak football managers of the mid-20th century.

Šťastný’s playing years

Šťastný spent the majority of his playing career at 1. Čs.Š.K. Bratislava (modern-day Slovan Bratislava), a leading football club in the Slovak part of the Czechoslovak Republic. In the 1930s, he rose to fame as a tough-tacking defender and ultimately became the club’s captain. Šťastný also briefly featured in the Czechoslovak national team, which was a rare achievement for a Slovak player in the interwar period.

World War II and the Holocaust

Šťastný’s life was deeply impacted by World War II and the contemporary antisemitism present in Slovakia, by now a separate state established under the tutelage of the Nazi Germany in 1939. Šťastný was initially able to continue playing football, both for his club and the country, featuring in the club’s two title-winning seasons. However, due to his Jewish origin, Šťastný was banned from football-related activities in 1940. Despite this ban, he further served as a youth coach in his club and even appeared in several first-team matches.

The situation of Šťastný and his family became even more precarious in 1942, when Slovakia began the first wave of deportations of its Jewish inhabitants to concentration camps. Šťastný was initially able to secure an exemption for himself and his family, in relation to which he was also allowed to participate in football. In a strange twist of events, Šťastný became an unofficial coach of the OAP, the club of the Slovak armed forces, with which he won the league title in 1943.

However, the situation of the Slovak Jews deteriorated further in 1944, when the deportations were restarted. Šťastný’s parents were sent to concentration camps, where they both died. Šťastný himself had to go into hiding to avoid a similar fate.

Socialist Czechoslovakia

Almost immediately after the end of the war, Šťastný resumed his football activities. In 1949, after the Communist coup d’etat, he led the club, by now under the name of Sokol NV Bratislava, to its first Czechoslovak title, which was also the first title ever won by a non-Prague club. Sokol NV Bratislava was also to win the two subsequent seasons.

In 1953, Šťastný experienced the brutality of the Communist regime. He was arrested in relation to fantastic charges related to his alleged support of the Slovak anti-Communist émigrés abroad. Šťastný, by all accounts innocent, was eventually released after three months, by then visibly emaciated and shaken.

Šťastný was able to rebuild his career even after this setback. Already in 1955, he won the Czechoslovak League again with Slovan Bratislava. In the subsequent years, he largely served in various coaching roles at this club. To this day, he is credited with raising some of the players who won the UEFA Cup Winners’ Cup in 1969.

Coaching in Austria

In the 1960s, Šťastný left Czechoslovakia to work as a manager in Austria. He first managed FC Wacker Innsbruck, narrowly missing out on a league title, and later also the Austrian national team, which he led for an impressive period of seven years.

Thinking Points

Educators working with young people could work on this life story around the theme of war, migration and democracy. For example ask:

  • How did World War II affect your country?
  • What is the position of minority groups in modern society?
  • What are some of the issues that democracies have to face?

Find out more

You can find out more about Šťastný’s extraordinary life in his Slovak biography. You can also listen to this English-language radio recording produced by the Radio and Television of Slovakia. For German speakers, a 1972 post-match interview with Šťastný, the manager of Austria at the time, is available on YouTube.

Leopold “Jim” Šťastný, a football player and manager who survived the Holocaust and Communist persecution, is one of unbreakable characters.

Life Story 130

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Šťastný as the manager of Austria in 1968. Source: Vorarlberger Landesbibliothek.
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