I was struck by the photograph of the English team giving the Nazi salute before the kickoff of a friendly in Berlin on May 15th, 1938.
At first glance, it is easy to quickly judge this as a traitorous act. However, Kuper provides context to this photograph in Ajax The Dutch, The War:. A constant theme of this book is that most acts are not inherently “goed or faut” – the truth usually lies somewhere in the middle.
The English soccer team was in an unenviable position. British political officials were evaluating the “salute or no salute decision” without any consultation with the players. Germany had annexed Austria a few weeks before the games. The highest levels of British government, including Neville Chamberlin, wanted to appease Hitler. These young men were just soccer players, not diplomats or government officials. They likely felt that it was their patriotic duty to follow the wishes of their government leaders.
This salute was a shameful memory that haunted each player for the rest of their lives. As this picture was taken, none of them had any idea of the consequences.