Otto Nerz: Germany’s coach who died in a Soviet camp

Aug 2, 2020

Life Stories

Otto Nerz

Beginnings

Born in Hechingen in 1882, Otto Nerz qualified as a doctor of medicine. He played football as an amateur for clubs in Mannheim and Berlin. In 1923 he was appointed manager of Germany’s national team. Until then, football in Germany had lagged well behind countries like England, Austria and Italy. Nerz studied the tactics and training methods of famous coaches such as Hugo Meisl and Vittorio Pozzo and vastly improved the standard of Germany’s play.

Football and Nationalism

Germany did not play in the first World Cup, in Uruguay in 1930, but did compete in Italy in 1934. Nerz had made Germany into a strong side and they finished third. In 1930s Germany, football was a matter of national pride. Nerz joined the Nazi Party in 1932, before Hitler came to power. At the 1936 Olympics in Berlin, Germany was expected to achieve glorious success, but the team was humiliatingly defeated by Norway and knocked out before the final stages. Nerz was sacked.

Legacy

Nerz became an administrator in Berlin. When the war ended in 1945, he was arrested due to his Nazi Party connections and imprisoned at Sachsenhausen, a Nazi concentration camp that was reopened as a Soviet prison camp. Otto Nerz died there in 1949 and was buried in a mass grave.

Thinking points

Otto Nerz was a pioneer of modern football coaching. Between 1923 and 1936 he made Germany a force in European football. It was Nerz’s assistant coach, Sepp Herberger, who led West Germany to win the World Cup in 1954. But Otto Nerz was tainted by extreme nationalism. Fascist and Nazi propaganda set the tone for the 1934 World Cup and the 1936 Berlin Olympics. Nerz himself ended his life in disgrace, imprisoned in a former Nazi concentration camp.

Educators could look at the life story of Otto Nerz and work with young people to consider how nationalism in this period in history played a role in football.

Find out more

Read more about Otto Nerz and his coaching in an essay called “The peaceful invasion that London feared” on Game of the People. You can also watch a short clip of his team’s trip to England in 1923 on the British Film Institute. Finally, the German Football Association (DFB) offers a detailed profile of his life and career (in German).

COVER Image

Otto Nerz, Coach of Germany (Photo: Neil Jensen / Game of the People)

Otto Nerz, Coach of Germany (Photo: Neil Jensen / Game of the People).

Life Story

Football Makes History gathers life stories of unique individuals that help us connect the history of football to diversity and inclusion. The story of Otto Nerz is one of them.

46

Article Tags:   20th century  |   politics  |   totalitarianism

Do you wanna know more?

HISTORY CAN BE EXPLORED THROUGH THE LIVES OF INDIVIDUALS

Stories

Browse our collection of stories about football history and inclusion. With the history of football being made up of millions of stories, of individuals and communities, of movements and processes, we offer stories that can inspire our cultural conversations today.

Videos

Get to know untold stories where individuals are making history with football. When faced with insurmountable challenges, individuals past and present can use football as a cultural force to foster positive change in society. We honour these individuals and tell their ‘untold’ stories in short videos.

Educational Resources

Explore our innovative educational resources that use football’s history, heritage and legacy to engage young people. The resources include ready-made lesson plans and historical source collections for school history education as well as toolkit with activities for non-formal settings.

Trending Stories

The Climb to Equality

The Climb to Equality

Football Makes History spoke with Laura Youngson, co-founder of Equal Playing Field and co-owner of the world record for highest altitude official football match ever played. This is the story of why we wanted to retell this story, and how we did it....

LATEST POST  You may also be interested in

Football: A People’s History of Europe?

Football: A People’s History of Europe?

In cooperation with the festival “Forum on European Culture”, we spoke with author David Goldblatt about the value of football for Europe, taking historical perspectives.

Playing the game for peace

Playing the game for peace

On this day, 21 September, we look at how playing a game of football can contribute to peace by looking at the work of the NGO Childrens Football Alliance.

September in Football

September in Football

As the UEFA 2020 European Championships got pushed ahead one year, we provide you with a 365-day #onthisday series of posts to help all fans out there to go back in time, think, and reflect.

Football speaking out in perspective

Football speaking out in perspective

Football represents a large cultural space in society. It is not isolated from political developments. How have football players used this space to achieve their social goals?

Share This