Paul Grüninger: The Quiet Hero

Mar 10, 2022

Life Stories

Paul Grüninger

Beginnings

Paul Grüninger was born in Switzerland in 1891, He grew up in the city of St Gallen, not far from the border with Austria-Hungary. From his youth, Paul was a talented footballer. By 1913, aged 21, he was a starring as outside-left for St Gallen’s top team, SC Brühl. At that time, Football in Switzerland had not gone professional but SC Brühl were a fine team. In the 1914-15 season, they won the national league title. Paul Grüninger seemed set for a long, successful career in the game. But after SC Brühl’s triumph in 1915, football in Switzerland, like almost everywhere else, was halted by the First World War.

The Quiet Hero

After army service during the First World War, Paul Grüninger became a policeman. He carried on playing for SC Brühl but his team was no longer competing for championships, mostly fighting against relegation. By the 1930s, Paul had become St Gallen’s police chief, respected for his discipline and hard work but little known outside his home region. What made him famous was the Anschluss, when Austria was annexed by Nazi Germany in April 1938. In the months that followed, thousands of Jewish refugees fleeing Nazi persecution came into Switzerland over the Rhine bridge at Diepoldsau. The Swiss government issued strict orders they must be sent back into Austria. Paul Grüninger disobeyed. He permitted the refugees to stay illegally, helped them with winter clothing and provided hundreds of them with falsified documents to obtain legal status. These actions ruined his career.

Consequences

For his selfless actions, Paul Grüninger was sacked from his job in April 1939 and put on trial, ‘defended’ by a far-right, anti-Semitic lawyer. He was found guilty of illegally aiding and abetting 3,600 refugees and heavily fined. After the war, his criminal record made it hard to find employment. Paul lived a difficult life until his death, aged eighty, in October 1972. Just before then, his sacrifice and heroism was beginning to be remembered. In 1971 the Yad Vashem Holocaust Memorial Centre in Jerusalem named him one of the Righteous Among the Nations. In the 1990s, his story was told to the world by a book, The Grüninger Case, and by a documentary film of the same title. The Swiss government quashed his conviction. Streets and squares were named after him. So was the Rhine Bridge at Diepoldsau, where so many refugees had crossed the border. In 2006, the football world gave him recognition in a way he might have liked best of all, when SC Brühl’s ground in St Gallen was re-named Paul-Grüninger-Stadion.

Thinking points

What made a quiet, loyal police chief help Jewish refugees in 1938-39, ruining his life and career? Why did the Swiss government and legal system punish him so severely? Why did it take so long for the authorities to rescue his reputation from injustice and rehabilitate his memory? How did his surviving family members feel when his true story was told to the world? And what is the responsibility of football clubs to respect the memory of the players, coaches and supporters who belong to them?

Find out more

Click here to find a brief account of Gruninger’s story online.

The inspiring story of Paul Grüninger can be compared with other heroic figures who saved innocent lives from the Holocaust, such as Nicholas Winton, Oskar Schindler and Hannah Senesh. Other life stories linking football to the Holcaust and how it is remembered are included in the Lives on footballmakeshistory.eu: Jewish players like Julius Hirsch, Eddy Hamel & Bela Guttman, or two great friends and team-mates, Asbjorn Halvorsen and Fritz ‘Tull’ Harder, and the way their memory was handled by SC Hamburg.

A big thank you to Diana Hildebrandt for the tip on Paul Grüninger and the background info! Do you know any amazing football lives that we haven’t gotten to yet? Do not hesitate to contact us.

There is a teaching app (Fliehen vor dem Holocaust) which uses five biographies, one is related to the help of Paul Grüninger.

Sophie Haber — ERINNERN: NATIONALSOZIALISMUS UND HOLOCAUST 

There is also a movie about Paul Grüninger called Akte Grüninger available on 3sat. Stefan Keller’s book, Grüninger’s Fall: Geschichten von Flucht und Hilfe, is still in print.

COVER Image

Paul Grüninger: The Quiet Hero

The Quiet Hero.

Life Story

A football life and career truncated for the greater good

109

Article Tags:   20th century  |   antisemitism  |   fascism  |   values  |   World War 2

LIFE STORIES  To discover now

Edith Klinger: Muzzled Austrian Referee

Edith Klinger: Muzzled Austrian Referee

Edith Klinger was an enthusiastic promoter of women’s football in Austria. But in 1938 the women’s game came to a full stop. Her story is one about politics and discrimination.

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

Refugees

Refugees

In the wake of the 2015 migration peak, activists and volunteers across Europe have been involved in supporting refugees, sometimes with the simple act of offering space and friendship to participate in football through grassroots clubs to help newcomers integrate.

LATEST POST  You may also be interested in

Formation for Human Rights

Formation for Human Rights

A class of high school history students in Oslo was asked to create an ideal starting XI line-up based on Human Rights. Find out why and how it went.

Share This