Salo Muller, 1969 (photo: Eric Koch for Anefo).
Salo Muller (crop), 1969 (photo: Eric Koch for Anefo).

Salo Muller

Therapy for old wounds

Leontine van Melle
Leontine van Melle FMH contributor

Beginnings

Salo Muller (1936-)  was born in Amsterdam and raised there as the only son of a Jewish Mother (Lena Muller) and father (Louis Muller). In 1942 his parents were summoned by the Nazis to register at the Hollandse Schouwburg for transportation to transit camp Westerbork. Salo survived the deportation as he was brought to the nearby children’s creche opposite the theater, where he was helped to escape through a secret operation led by Walter Süskind and Henriëtte Pimentel. Salo was one of hundreds of children and infants that were rescued out of the hands of the Nazi regime. His parents and most family members were deported and died in Auschwitz-Birkenau. Salo survived the holocaust due to nine different safe houses he was placed in by the Dutch Resistance network in the Netherlands. These hardship years have left a big mark on his life.

After the war his aunt and uncle, who survived the war, took Salo back under their wings. He moved from the north of The Netherlands back to Amsterdam when he was 9 years old. After struggling to adapt and catch up on the school years he missed, he managed to finish his high school and started as an intern physiotherapist at AFC Ajax in 1957, while following a course to master this new field. 

Legacy in football

Salo grew to be a very dedicated and expertised physiotherapist at Ajax from 1957-1972. It was a pioneering time, when many directors and coaches didn’t see the added value of treating players as the most important assets of a football club. Although in the beginning of his career the Dutch League was not even fully professional, in these years Salo pushed the boundaries of sport physiotherapy, meanwhile keeping  a personal business for private clients and athletes. Salo set up standards and many Ajax players enjoyed his qualitative and personal care, like Johan Cruijff, Sjaak Swart and Piet Keizer. He had very good relations with football manager Rinus Michels, who took his job seriously. Salo was noticed for his personal approach and the players shared many intimate stories and concerns, amongst them many holocaust survivors that came to his practice. Occasionally he was confronted with anti Jewish sentiments in society and from competitor fans in the stadium. He always stood up against that, even if it meant the end of a relationship. 

In 1972 Salo wanted a fairer reward for the many hours he put into his job at Ajax, for which in the end he did not earn more than 2 Dutch Guilders an hour. His demands were reasonable: a fixed contract and an assistant on the job. Sadly enough, the Ajax board denied his request. Salo decided instantly to leave his beloved Ajax. 

Salo’s final battle off the pitch

After his battle for recognition of the importance of physiotherapy in sports and football; Salo finally found peace to take on the most important battle of his life. The promise to his parents to fight for the indignity that was done to them by the Germans. His resistance focused on the fact that the national railways earned money for the death rides to the transit- and concentration camps. His endurance for his promise led to a victory in 2018; the Dutch Railways (NS) publicly offered apologies to everyone involved, for their role in these matters. The apologies were not judicially but on moral grounds, as sorrow never expires. This meant that the Dutch Railways provided Jewish holocaust survivors financial compensation for the train tickets to transit camp Westerbork. The NS always knew the Jews were traveling on a single way ticket, but still they invoiced the tickets with the Nazi regime, earning money with these ‘death rides’. Until this day Salo is continuing his battle, this time in Germany. So far, the Railways and the German state did not come with the same financial compensation as the Dutch Railways. 

Thinking points

  • As sorrow never expires, what other historical things can you think of besides this one,  that should be compensated for on ethical grounds?
  • How should football clubs honour the legacy of important club contributors that weren’t footballers themselves?

Find Out More

Salo Muller published an intriguing biography in 2022 about his hiding years, his years at Ajax and his battle against the NS. Furthermore he wrote a reflective blog about his relationship with Ajax. The New York Times wrote a news article about the millions of dollars that were paid by the Dutch Railway to Holocaust survivors.

Photo Gallery

From taking care of Cruijff’s legs to seeking justice.

Life Story 116

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Salo Muller (crop), 1969 (photo: Eric Koch for Anefo).
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