We are all slaves of our time. While we look down on those who act in racist, fascist, or discriminatory ways today we must all realize that we are products of our upbringing. Racism is an atrocity that is borne by ignorance. The only way to overcome it is to no longer ignore it and to prioritize education above all else so that people can see the error of their ways. One of the best examples of this comes from the life story of Bert Trautmann, one of the greatest goalkeepers in the history of football.
Bert Trautmann was a nazi. He was born in 1923 and had blonde hair and blue eyes. The poster boy for the Aryan race. He was raised during the tough times following World War 1 in Germany and talks about how hard it was growing up in this time. To be told at the time when you were an innocent youth that you were a member of the master race was something that anyone would have happily believed in his circumstances, and so did he.
He joined the Hitler Youth party but as he describes it this was no act of evil, it was an act of ignorance. He was a child who just joining the equivalent of the scouts in his mind. He never realized what was at stake at that time. He went on from the Hitler Youth to become a full member of the Nazi army. The country was in turmoil and Hitler promised to make everything right. Trautmann like so many fell for the propaganda that was offered.
Then one day when he was on duty, the SS was conducting a mass execution. They were getting people to lay down in a graveside by side, 50 at a time, and shooting them. Then asking 50 more to lie on top of them. He was shocked. Suddenly the life he thought he was living came into question. He wanted out. He could not escape his own army as the SS would have him killed but when the opportunity came later, he fled.
He was later captured close to his home by British soldiers and sent to Britain to a POW camp. There he finally ended his ignorance. He was educated about the horrors of the Nazi party, the holocaust, and Hitler. He realized what travesties he was part of and hated that the people of his country were responsible for such a thing. While learning to leave Nazi ideology behind he started to play football again. He had been a promising athlete as a young man and soon was making a name for himself again. Due to an injury he had to play in goal but it only made him more renowned. Soon Manchester city signed him up.
He was booed by all in his early games. No one wanted to watch a Nazi playing football in England and no Man City supported wanted to cheer his name. Yet a Jewish rabbi in the city soon addressed the people in a newspaper publication. He said that it was wrong to treat the man with hate just because of where he was from. He pointed to the man’s current beliefs and that he should be treated as a good person.
It was difficult for most but when they saw how many saves he could make, they soon got on board. He became one of the greatest goalkeepers of all time, the first in his position to win Footballer of the Year. If that is not impressive enough, in the same year he broke his neck and managed to finish playing the game for 15 more minutes.
Trautmann soon became known for his efforts to repair the relationships between British and German people after the war. He is a symbol not of the hatred that came out of that country but of the potential for good, for humanity. There is a lesson Trautmann can teach us all. We can learn from his youth that we must question our surroundings and always try and do the right thing. We can learn from his adult years that our past does not define us and it is never too late to do that right thing. We can also learn the ability to forgive others for their ignorance and try to educate them on a better way to live.