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Ajax, the Dutch, the War: The Strange Tale of Soccer During Europe's Darkest Hour [Kindle Edition]

Simon Kuper
4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (13 customer reviews)

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Book Description

When most people think about the Netherlands, images of tulips and peaceful pot smoking residents spring to mind. Bring up soccer, and most will think of Johan Cruyuff, the Dutch player thought to rival Pele in preternatural skill, and Ajax, one of the most influential soccer clubs in the world whose academy system for young athletes has been replicated around the globe (and most notably by Barcelona and the 2010 world champions, Spain).

But as international bestselling author Simon Kuper writes in Ajax, The Dutch, The War: Soccer in Europe During the Second World War, the story of soccer in Holland cannot be understood without investigating what really occurred in this country during WWII. For decades, the Dutch have enjoyed the reputation of having a “good war.” The myth is even resonant in Israel where Ajax is celebrated. The fact is, the Jews suffered shocking persecution at the hands of Dutch collaborators. Holland had the second largest Nazi movement in Europe outside Germany, and in no other country except Poland was so high a percentage of Jews deported.

Kuper challenges Holland’s historical amnesia and uses soccer—particularly the experience of Ajax, a club long supported by Amsterdam’s Jews—as a window on wartime Holland and Europe. Through interviews with Resistance fighters, survivors, wartime soccer players and more, Kuper uncovers this history that has been ignored, and also finds out why the Holocaust had a profound effect on soccer in the country.

Ajax produced Cruyuff but was also built by members of the Dutch resistance and Holocaust survivors. It became a surrogate family for many who survived the war and its method for producing unparalleled talent became the envy of clubs around the world. In this passionate, haunting and moving work of forensic reporting, Kuper tells the breathtaking story of how Dutch Jews survived the unspeakable and came to play a strong role in the rise of the most exciting and revolutionary style of soccer — “Total Football” — the world had ever seen.


Editorial Reviews

Review

Booklist(Published in the UK by Orion)“Kuper’s journalism is always about more than just the game itself….It’s a fascinating exploration by a journalist who holds no truths to be self-evident but wants the facts behind the national myths we so eagerly embrace. Likely to interest WWII and Holocaust scholars as much as—if not more than—soccer fans.” The Classical“Ajax is an absorbing, thoughtful read, driven by a moral intelligence not typically found in sports books…. The resulting book is not about 4-4-2 formations, transfers, or sporting glory—Kuper instead uses the game as a lever to open up a serious but engaging discussion of collective memory, group identity, the legacy of the Holocaust and the war, and what games can stand for beyond the pitch. Any intelligent sports fan not familiar with Kuper's work is missing out, and Ajax more than lives up to his high standard.” Tobias Carroll, Vol. 1 Brooklyn“[W]orthy (and decidedly different) nonfiction…. Simon Kuper’s Ajax, The Dutch, The War: The Strange Tale of Soccer During Europe’s Darkest Hour is a smart, sometimes horrifying look at soccer in the 1930s and 1940s, primarily in nations occupied by the Nazis. I’ve read a couple of Kuper’s other books, and as with them, I was impressed with his ability to place compelling sports narratives into a larger geopolitical context.” International Soccer Network“Another masterpiece from Simon Kuper….Kuper, one of the most prominent writers in the soccer business, tackles the difficult task of finding out the truth behind what the Dutch did and didn’t do in WWII and the role soccer may have played in the grand scheme of things. Kuper becomes historian, investigative journalist, and storyteller all wrapped into one….Simply put this text is extremely powerful….It is impossible to truly understand Dutch soccer without first reading this book. If you liked David Winner’s Brilliant Orange, you will absolutely fall in love with Kuper’s Ajax, the Dutch, the War. It’s that good.” The Volunteer“[Kuper] is a tenacious digger….his work is indispensable today.” Kirkus Reviews“Though Kuper’s book promises to explore the history of Ajax and other soccer clubs, it goes much deeper….[Kuper] kicks topics around the way Maradona smacks a ball, sometimes with a great roundabout curve to it—but always hitting the goal….fascinating.” Franklin Foer, author of How Soccer Explains the World“This book is filled with reporting that will break your heart and analysis that will change the way you watch the game.” Daily Telegraph“His fresh-eyed survey has a familiar theme but never palls, crowded with a gallery of unlikely figures…whose stories weave through the book.” The Times“I have only bought one football book recently and it’s an absolute belter…heartily recommended.” Glasgow Herald“Gripping and brilliant.” Financial Times“An intriguing social history, full of quirky anecdotes, written with a winning geniality and the dash of a Brazilian forward…a beguiling book.” Spectator“A fascinating tale, which Kuper describes particularly well.” GQ“Kuper’s poignant and perceptive account again proves there can be more to football writing than fanzines and pale Hornby imitations.” Telegraph“A fascinating history, full of startling facts and sobering detail.” Time Out“Kuper has fashioned a work which brilliantly juxtaposes the everyday life of football clubs with the awful fate suffered by so many of their Jewish players, officials, and supporters.” Independent
“An intriguing work.”

The Forward“[Kuper] is the world expert on the intersection of soccer, culture and politics.”
World Football Commentaries
“[A] provocative, well-researched and captivating book. The author takes you down a road less-traveled to unearth a rich trove of remembrances: Memories that were previously hidden from public view but never forgotten by their protagonists….The author’s writing style is detailed, journalistic and captivating….Mr. Kuper told a story that needed to be shared with a larger audience….This seminal work is not only about soccer, a country and a people, but rather the good and bad qualities found in human nature.”

Sacramento/San Francisco Book Review

“[A] poignant tribute.”

Jewish Book World
“[A] bold and comprehensive book.... [Kuper] deepens our understanding of Europe’s darkest hour.”

About the Author

Simon Kuper is one of the world’s leading writers on soccer. The winner of the William Hill prize for sports book of the year in England, Kuper writes a weekly column for the Financial Times.

Product Details

  • File Size: 1076 KB
  • Print Length: 298 pages
  • Page Numbers Source ISBN: 1568587236
  • Publisher: Nation Books; First Trade Paper Edition edition (September 11, 2012)
  • Sold by: Amazon Digital Services, Inc.
  • Language: English
  • ASIN: B008WPRAA8
  • Text-to-Speech: Enabled
  • X-Ray:
  • Word Wise: Not Enabled
  • Lending: Not Enabled
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #537,717 Paid in Kindle Store (See Top 100 Paid in Kindle Store)
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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews
3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Very interesting November 15, 2012
By Archie
Format:Kindle Edition|Verified Purchase
A history of Dutch anti semitism from a very unexpected view point. I read this book in one sitting. Highly recommended
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A fascinating read February 19, 2013
Format:Paperback
I bought this book because it covered two topics that fascinate me: soccer and Holland in WWII (my late grandparents were teenagers in the Netherlands during Nazi Occupation). It did not disappoint. While it did focus more on Dutch Jewish history than I expected, the stories Kuper told in this book were riveting. I thoroughly enjoyed it.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A walk through history and sport March 4, 2013
Format:Kindle Edition|Verified Purchase
- A non-biased view of the pre-WW II and WW II football in Europe;
- Demythization of some sensible prejudices;
- A lot of useful information;
- Recommended to all football and history lovers.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Ajax, soccer, and the war February 5, 2013
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
The war, any war, has its share of heroism and valor as well as betrayal, secrets, suffering and sin. Sport is too often framed in heroic metaphor but it contains all the parts of human nature seen in war (lacking only women, until Title 10.) This book tells the familiar story one more time and it is so worth it. Human Nature is what it is all about!
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2 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Dutch Tears June 10, 2013
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
To say that Simon Kuper was meant to write this book is to ignore history. He wrote this book earlier in Dutch, and then decided (or was encouraged) to re-write (and add more) in English. And none of that matters.

More than any other Western European country Holland welcomed the Nazi if for no other reason than to make their occupation go smoothly. But when the war ended many in Dutch society tried to deny their past and act like they couldn't be blamed. It took a new generation, coming of age in the 60's to force the Dutch to live up to their past.

Kuper chooses Holland's most famous club, Ajax of Amsterdam. The Ajax stadium was located inside the Jewish section of the city. Many of the clubs directors and back room staff were Jews. No club suffered more at the hands of the Nazis and their compliant Dutch hosts. Kuper finds the survivors and gets their stories. I cried.

As Dutch society changed, driven by the post war generation, Ajax was reborn through a combination of English and Dutch coaches. They found and developed Europe's greatest ever player Johan Cruyff. Cruyff took his teammates to the heights of the European game with 3 consecutive European Cups and a runner up spot in the 1974 World Cup. He then left for Barcelona as a player and a manager. Spain has won the last two European Nation's Cup and the last World Cup, playing a system created and taught by Cruyff. Because of his time at Ajax it was assumed by many (especially Cruyff's many critics) that he came from a Jewish family. Cruyff denied that. Kuper suggests that those who made those claims were in fact the the the inheritors of the Nazi collaborators during the war, willing to trash the reputation of the country's greatest sporting hero to preserve anti-Semitic prejudices from the past.
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5.0 out of 5 stars Another outstqanding Simon Kuper book. April 9, 2014
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
For me, born a Dutch citizen, sometime before Simon Kuper, I really relate to this work. I am a life-long Ajax-fan, and witnessed the golden years of the club, from the mid 1960's to the early 1980's, and Mr. Kuper clearly understands the Netherlands like a citizen of it. He has written only great books about soccer, and they are all must-reads.
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5.0 out of 5 stars Very interesting book December 24, 2012
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
Very interesting book. Lots of insights. Contains a variety of facts about life in Holland during and after the war.
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