Oskar Rohr – A Genius Caught Between Enemy Lines

by Niklas Wildhagen

Some careers are ruined by injuries, others by the lack of talent, but in some cases there are a number of unfortunate circumstances out of the player’s hand that can influence a career. Oskar Rohr’s career was certainly influenced a lot by the politics of the 1930s and 1940s, and may have turned differently given another political climate at the time.

He was probably one of the most gifted strikers of his time. Oskar Rohr started his career at Phönix Mannheim, before moving to their local rival’s VfR Mannheim. Quick, unpredictable and simply magnificent in front of goal were some of the attributes Rohr brought to the teams he played for throughout his career. Bayern coach Richard “Little” Dombi managed to pull of quite the transfer coup when he managed to convince the 18-year-old youngster to join his team. A few select football fans in Mannheim are to this very day certain about Dombi offering Rohr other incentives than just playing time, namely money(sign on fees were forbidden back then).

Bayern president Kurt Landauer’s ambitions of turning his side into a championship winning team was soon turned into a reality, partly because of master coach Dombi, and partly because of the excellent players who played for the Bavarians at the time. Oskar Rohr, commonly known as “Ossi” to his teammates, played a major role in that development. After arriving in Munich Rohr showed little or no respect to the older and more experienced players facing him in the Gauliga Bayern. The youngster’s goals were amongst the main factors which saw Bayern München progress to the final of the German championship in the 1931/32 season. After having defeated Minerva 1893 Berlin, Polizei SV Chemnitz and arch rivals 1. FC Nürnberg, Bayern were to play the final against Eintracht Frankfurt in Nürnberg.

The first goal of the game came from a penalty kick taken by Oskar Rohr. Bayern’s usual Konrad Heidkamp was simply not able to execute the kick according to Rohr after the match.

Ossi, you have to shoot, I simply don’t have the nerve to do it.

The 20-year-old striker didn’t have to be asked twice, and went up against Eintracht keeper Ludwig Schmitt. Shortly before hitting the ball, Rohr’s foot touched the ground, causing a huge cloud of chalk to get sparked in the air, and furthermore, causing the kick to be placed above the Eintracht keeper in the back of the net. It is still believed that Rohr’s kick would have hit Schmitt straight in his stomach instead of going over him had Rohr’s foot not slithered across grass.

Rohr’s exploits had not gone unnoticed by the DFB. National team coach Otto Nerz decided to play the striker in the match Switzerland on March 6th 1932. Rohr didn’t manage to get on the score sheet for Germany’s 2-0 win over the Nati, but in his following three matches for the DFB selection against Sweden, Italy and France Rohr managed to rack up an impressive total of 5 goals.

Betraying the Vaterland

It was Rohr’s ambitions that had caused him to move away from his place of birth in Mannheim to join Bayern München. The striker was determined to make a living playing football, but the political climate at the time wasn’t in his favor. DFB president Felix Linnemann was very much a champion of keeping football an amateur sport, and managed to convince the, by the Nazis, newly instated Reichssportsführer Hans von Tschammer und Osten to follow the same line.

Professional football was a long way off in Germany, and the frustrated Rohr chose to leave Bayern and German football joining Grasshopper Zürich in 1933. This move meant that the striker wouldn’t be eligible for the German national team, because the DFB had strict rules of ignoring German players who were playing abroad.

After having won the Swiss cup in 1934 Rohr moved on to join RC Strasbourg. The striker was given a Citroën convertible as sign on bonus, and was living a luxurious life near the German border according to himself:

My 4,000 Reichsmark salary made me one of the best paid players at the club during my time in Strasbourg.

Rohr’s decision to leave Germany made him a very unpopular man in Nazi Germany, however. The popular paper Fussball calls Rohr a “Gladiator, who sells his services abroad.” Kicker went even further, stating:

A huge talent as a player – but, his character? There are no good things to be said about somebody who betrayed his Vaterland.

The striker himself probably didn’t care too much about the way the German media portrayed him. Rohr managed to score an incredible 117 goals for Racing between 1934 and 1939, a club record which still stands to this very day.

The trial against Rohr

Hitler’s lust for war against the rest of Europe certainly had an impact on Rohr as well. After the war broke out Rohr simply had to move, given that he had become a persona non grata in his former home of Germany. Upon the Wehrmacht’s occupation, Rohr moved to Sète, a small town close to Montpellier, joining FC Sète. It is unclear if Rohr competed in any of his new team’s matches, given the lack of statistics from this period.

Rohr didn’t manage to escape his countrymen for the reminder of the war, however. The striker was arrested by the French authorities whilst staying in a small pension in Marseille. Rohr, who was said to be an apolitical person, was charged with the distribution of anti-French and communistic flyers, which had been found in his room. Rohr’s landlady stated in court that two men with German accents had been in Rohr’s room prior to his arrest. The striker was sentenced to a three month sentence in prison. Rohr served a small portion of it in a jail in Strasbourg, before he was taken back to Germany to serve the reminder of the sentence in the former concentration camp of Kislau.

Upon his release Rohr was granted three days of freedom, before he was sent to the Eastern front as an infantryman. The striker’s grandnephew, Gernot Rohr (a rather successful footballer and coach himself), stated in an interview that German authorities willingly sent him into a battle where he was likely to get killed.

Rohr’s past achievements at Bayern may have saved his life, as it turned out. The striker was flown out of the war zone with a minor injury. The captain of the plane was a Bayern fan from Munich, and had recognized the former German international.

Moving back to Mannheim

After escaping the war Rohr returned to the football pitch in his city of birth, Mannheim. After 3 goals in 7 matches for VfR Mannheim the striker moved on another three times, playing for TSV Schwaben Augsburg, FK Pirmasens, and finishing his career at SV Waldhof Mannheim.

After he retired from football in 1949 Rohr managed to secure a job at the city council. Rohr died on November 8th 1988. His achievements as a footballer haven’t been forgotten, however. On the striker’s 100th birthday a group of fans from the FC Bayern München ultra group Schickeria visited his grave in Mannheim, putting a coronal on his grave.

Many footballers are often haunted by the question of ”what if?” This was probably not the case for one of German football’s most talented strikers throughout history. Oskar Rohr managed to make the best out of his career, despite the political currents at the time. The fans of RC Strasbourg still regard the German as a club legend. Even to this very day some of Bayern München’s fans are very aware of the fact that it was Rohr’s penalty, and his many goals leading up to the German championship final in 1032, which were vital in securing Bayern their first title.

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Author:Niklas Wildhagen

Niklas is a 27-year-old football writer and podcaster who has been following the Bundesliga and German football since the early 90s. You can follow him on Twitter, @normusings, and listen to his opinions on @TalkingFussball and on the @AufstiegPod.
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