Dutch Identity, Judaism, and Football

By Jen Chiappone

Both Simon Kuper and David Winner elaborate on the Post Holocaust Dutch world of intolerance by focusing on football (soccer) culture and history. Both Kuper and Winner discussed the Jewish history of the Ajax Soccer club post war and their fan association with Jews. What really shocked me was the tolerance of the football chants and songs being allowed to be said publically. Besides Ajax fans calling themselves “Jews,” opposing team’s fans (such as fans from Feyenoord club from Rotterdam) call out atrocities about Jews going to the gas chambers and other horrible chants associating with the Holocaust and the Nazi regime. This is not meant literally, meant just as against Ajax the team. In a way the two opposing teams are taking historical metaphors for their football rivalry. However, going along with this analogy, wouldn’t that make the Feyenoord club the bad guys in this and Ajax the innocent culture?

Kuper mentions that not many were thoroughly taught about the Holocaust. With Jewish culture and history being in popular Dutch culture, the lost Jews of World War II are not forgotten and are revived in memory. While this kind of publicity sounds offensive, it brought the Holocaust and Jewish culture into the mainstream pop culture.  It was something being remembered and expressed. This reminds me of Zwarte Piet. While something seems horribly offensive and not right, it is a Dutch tradition that is part of their identity. While some of this hate speech is regulated, it is often not stopped because it is too widespread and not meant in a malicious way. As I said in my first weekly blog post: Although not meant to be racist, is Zwarte Piet still racist? To me, the answer is yes. The same can be said about the football chants. While is may not be meant as anti-semitic, it still is.

I enjoyed Kuper’s overall historical narrative more than Winner’s close soccer focus. I found myself lost in a sea of club member names. Winner wondered why the Dutch have chosen the Jews as their “mascot”? To Winner, it may be about the remorse for the horrors that occurred during World War II. They wanted to be remembered as anti-Nazi and as resistance fighters, fighting for their Jews. Ajax’s Jewish association may be “some unconscious act of post-Holocaust solidarity with the city’s murdered, missing Jews.” (Winner 219).

The class name “City as Museum” can be seen in such settings such as a football stadium, the city streets, etc. When learning about a culture, a museum is not confined to a gallery space. Everything from the arts, sports, architecture, canals/road construction, and traditions all create a city’s culture and meaning. An entire city, such as Amsterdam or Rotterdam, can be museums because every human interaction with a tradition or aspect of culture is special and tells a story of those people. For example, Amsterdam is quaint and gives off a different historical and traditional vibe than bustling, architectural Rotterdam. However different, they both express the Dutch traditions and culture. Somethings cannot be found in the confines of a brick-and-mortar museum.

Kuper, Simon. AJAX: The Dutch, The War: The Strange Tale of Soccer During Europe’s Darkest Hour. New York: Nation Books, 2012. Print.

Winner, David. Brilliant Orange: The Neurotic Genius of Dutch Soccer. New York: The Overlook Press, 2008. Print.

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One thought on “Dutch Identity, Judaism, and Football

  1. I like your thinking through what counts as racist here: how do we assess non-intentional racism? Is it always clear that Feyernoord fans are not being also anti-semitic? that there is some glee in “getting” to use these clearly offensive and macabre taunts? Alternately, is there some way in which those Ajax fans could be seen in the light both Kuper and Winner seem to work towards–remembering that Israelis also hold an esteemed place for Ajax due to its fans “Jewish” identity. Or are they like Washington “Redskins” fans who don’t really get how their positive identity might be read as inappropriate appropriation by people whose history and identity is represented and used?

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