Ahead of 2012, Ukraine reclaims iconographic and football treasures

Jewish memorial books, called Yizkor, preserve extraordinary tales of sides negotiating their outsider status. Ha-koach of Nadworna played regular Sunday matches against local teams—“branches of the Goyim”—and nearby towns. Israel Grauer recalls fights, one starting after injury to the Ha-koach goalkeeper, that “continued for a few days after the game … moved to the streets of the city and even to the city center.”

Football insinuated itself into everyday life. Ha-koach Nadworna raised money with costume parties at Purim. Other Yizkor chroniclers have no trouble re-creating lineups, in 2-3-5 formation, from big games. Gaining legitimacy from sport administrators and acquiring space to train presented familiar obstacles. Natanel Farber in the memory book for Podvolochisk, Ukraine, writes that the local Maccabi side would “play soccer in the field between the ‘Temple’ and the new park. … The grass was low and the ground smooth. The field had just one drawback: it was on an incline. The team which played on the higher side during the first half would always win.”

Most stunning is a 5,000-word remembrance from Leopold Held concerning sporting culture in Borislav (Boryslaw), southwest of L’viv. Within a privately published manuscript, A Tysmienica nadal plynie (The Tysmienica Still Flows), named for the river that gurgled with crude after oil was discovered in the 19th century, Held compiles a unique football history. The story congeals around a field on which boys threw bricks, stones and bottles at each other until teenagers took to kicking around a rag-ball (shmacianka):

A shmacianka was usually made of a long sock, stuffed with old shmatas [rags], and formed into a ball with a thread and a rope. It was a very popular game. The kids divided into teams and scored goals. The goal line was defined by two large stones placed seven and a half steps away from each other, the steps measured by the tallest player.

Ha-koach of Khorostkiv, Ukraine

Ha-koach of Khorostkiv, Ukraine. Undated photo.

The field became a stadium. Rag-balls after World War I became cows’ bladders, then a leather ball that presaged the first sport club. Held lists the club’s first team: Chayim Aberbach, Marian Bauer, Lipa Buchwalter, Ulek Dienstag, Blum Eisenstein, Munio Hauser, Hebik Heimberg, Srulek Littman, Józek Luks, Hertz Schaller, Hertz Schmer, Munio Seidman, Adolf Wagner, and Kuba Weitz.

We could write whole chapters about each of them, four physicians, four engineers, and other highly qualified professionals. The surviving members of our generation of old-towners who survived the war and in their sixth and seventh decade know and remember these names and know who is who or who was who.

The club was renamed Ha-koach, relocated to a green field owned by Jewish oil men who vacillated over allowing football on the Sabbath, who then relented, and developed an administrative apparatus on the way to the top level of Polish football. Originally, the team included Gentiles, but Held later recounts players intentionally losing a match to a team from L’viv in order to avoid anti-Semitic recriminations. Despite a 3–2 victory, L’viv supporters smash windows of the Borislav bus. “This is what happens when nationalism enters into sports,” Held concludes.

In narratives from a time when football was young, Held and others demonstrate how the sport both defined and separated peoples. And despite the pluralist language of Ukraine’s modern constitution, anti-Semitism lingers in a nation with the world’s fifth-largest Jewish population. A 2006 report states that Nazi and anti-Semitic symbolism remain in evidence weekly in Ukraine’s football stadiums.

Page 3 of 4 | Previous page | Next page