Silent Heroes of Football – Part 2

Saturnino Navazo’s boots took him across the Pyrenees to Toulouse, France, to seek exile. Unfortunately, he went from the frying pan into the fire! escaping the horrors of one war to end up enrolling in the French Armada to fight the Nazis. In 1940, he was captured and taken to the most notorious of all concentration camps, Mauthausen in Austria.

There, the name Saturnino Navazo disappeared and the Spanish midfielder became number 5,656. Two hundred thousand prisoners of differing nationalities passed through Mauthausen, ten thousand of which were Spanish Republicans. Fortunately for Navazo, he was one of the eighty thousand that survived the horrors of the concentration camp. Despite starvation and disease, despite executions, and barbarious torture, the Spanish midfielder survived, thanks to football.

Navazo, just like the other inmates, was subject to heaving heavy slabs of stone from the camp quarry up one hundred and eighty-six steps which were known as the Stairway to Death. His daily life was shaped by hunger and brutality and a bleak future seemed to await him. Yet, the unimaginable happened one Sunday, the prisoners’ one and only free from slave labour. Navazo was spotted kicking a ball he had made from rags by Georg Bachmayer, known as the butcher. He liked and admired Navazo’s style so much that he ordered him to organise teams and tournaments amongst the prisoners and the German officers.

The Spanish midfielder willingly obeyed the order and from then on, each and every Sunday the concentration camp was converted into a makeshift football stadium. Shouts of Viva España and Olé Olé rang through the gelid air giving the prisoners strength and a determination to survive…….

To be continued.