By Julian Voloj
MUNICH — In May, the Bundesliga, Germany’s top soccer league, concluded its season on what has become a familiar note: the Bayern Munich club won its 10th straight league title, an unprecedented feat in any of the top European soccer leagues.
Although the club has become the most successful team in German soccer history, it wasn’t always a juggernaut. The seeds of its domination were planted in the early 20th century by Kurt Landauer, an early Jewish president of the team who survived the Holocaust and returned to head the team again in the late 1940s.
Last month, Bayern Munich — also known as FCBayern — celebrated Landauer’s crowning achievement — the club’s first national championship win in 1932. But recognition of his influence and status among the club’s hallowed figures was a decades-long process.
Born in 1884 in Planegg, a suburb of Munich, Landauer joined the club a year after its founding in 1900, first as a player, becoming the goalkeeper for its second (or backup) team, and later as an executive. He became the club’s president in 1913.
His first term was interrupted by WW I, during which he fought in the German army, receiving the Iron Cross.
After the war, Landauer was again elected as president of the club and proceeded to lead the team into a period of historic growth.
Landauer was an advocate of professionalizing soccer and put an emphasis on the team’s youth academy, which was led in part by Otto Albert Beer, a Jewish FC Bayern official who was later murdered in Auschwitz.
Landauer brought in one of the top coaches at the time, the Austrian Richard Dombi (born Kahn), who was also Jewish. Under Landauer’s leadership and Dombi’s coaching, FC Bayern won two South German championships.
The 1932 champions were widely considered the team of the future, but half a year later, German President Paul von Hindenburg appointed Adolf Hitler chancellor of Germany.
Key figures left the club, among them Coach Dombi, who would continue his career with a number of prominent clubs, including Grasshoppers Zurich, FC Barcelona and Feyenoord Rotterdam.
Anticipating the harm that a Jewish presidency would bringFC Bayern, Landauer resigned from his position in March, 1933.
He remained in Munich and, in 1938, a day after Kristallnacht, he was interned in the Dachau concentration camp. He was released after 33 days, perhaps because of his WW I service.
He fled to Switzerland in May, 1939, where he would survive the Holocaust. Four of his siblings were murdered by the Nazis.
Landauer returned to Munich in June, 1947, and less two months later again became president of FC Bayern Munich. He recruited new talent and was instrumental in finding a permanent practice area in the city, now called the Säbener Strasse, FC Bayern’s premises ever since.
The club celebrated its 50th anniversary, in 1950, under his presidency. In the aftermath of the war, Landauer’s status as a Jew boosted the club’s reputation, especially with Western fans. Then, in 1951, he was surprisingly voted out of the presidency. He died in 1961.
For decades, Landauer’s legacy fell into obscurity. In 1993, when working on a book on soccer and racism, the German historian Dietrich Schulze-Marmeling rediscovered his story.
“I was writing a chapter on Jews and anti-Semitism in soccer. Jewish citizens and their contributions were written out of history from 1933 onwards — and were not written back in after 1945,” Schulze-Marmeling said.
Like many other Germans, Simon Mueller, a member of the Bayern fan club Schickeria, learned about Landauer from Schulze-Marmeling’s book.
“For a long time, the memory of the club’s own history and especially that of the Holocaust did not play a major role at FC Bayern,” Mueller said.
“This was not handled differently than in other areas of society in Germany, but it was highly problematic because sport was and is neither apolitical nor innocent. It bears social responsibility.”
In 2006, the year Germany hosted the World Cup, Schickeria launched an anti-racism fan tournament named in honor of Landauer.
“The tournament played a major role in the fact that the name Kurt Landauer and his story have become central elements in the identification with FC Bayern for many fans,” said Mueller, who is not Jewish.
“Dealing with the past and especially the Holocaust is enormously important. Kurt Landauer’s biography offers an interesting approach because you can learn so much from it.”
Club officials soon took notice. When the club opened a museum in 2012, the permanent exhibition included Kurt Landauer prominently.
In 2015, the team renamed the plaza in front of the stadium Kurt Landauer Platz and erected a memorial plaque of his face.
Meanwhile, FC Bayern fans, led by Mueller, created the Kurt Landauer Foundation, coordinating and promoting projects related to remembrance work and the history of the club.
Their first initiative was a fundraising campaign to build a statue of Landauer — money for the nearly $80,000 sculpture was raised entirely by fans. The statue was erected at the club’s headquarters, overseeing the training grounds, in May, 2019.
Asked what Kurt Landauer means for the club, Andreas Wittner, the archivist of the FC Bayern Museum, shared a quote from Landauer himself, published in the first post-war issue of the club’s newsletter on Nov. 1, 1949: “FC Bayern and I belong together and are inseparable from each other.”