This year Israel sent more fans to the World Cup than any other country (except Canada) that had no team playing there.
But Jewish passion for soccer is nothing new: the sport was popular among Jews in Europe in the years before and after World War II. In fact it was a major recreational outlet in Displaced Persons camps, among Jewish refugees in Shanghai and even at an Italian deportation camp where, a February 1941 JTA article noted, the camps’ residents formed “all stars” teams that have “several times engaged, and usually beaten, local village soccer teams.”
The fondness for soccer endured despite numerous violent and tragic incidents that occurred on European soccer fields. During a September 1935 match in southern Poland, a Jewish soccer player for a Polish team competing against a German was killed after a mob of Nazis attacked him yelling “Come out, Jew!” and “Perish the Jew!”
A month later, a soccer match in Poland ended in a riot, when a mob of 500 attacked the Jewish Maccabi team and Jewish spectators. And in May 1946, tensions between Jewish and Polish refugees, who were both being housed at Bergen-Belsen (which had been converted from concentration camp to British-administered DP camp), erupted during a soccer match there, with Polish displaced persons stabbing eight Jews and shooting another.
Below are more World War II-era photos, courtesy of the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee Archives, of Jewish refugees and displaced persons playing soccer. For more Jewish soccer photos, click here.