Football Rebels

Saturnino Navazo: Spanish survivor of a Nazi concentration camp

The story of a man who fought against fascism in the Spanish Civil War and then survived a Nazi concentration camp by playing football.

During the Spanish Civil War, Saturnino Navazo hung up his football boots to fight on the Republican side, a left-wing coalition that supported the government against the rebel, pro-fascist Nationalists of General Franco.

When the Republicans lost in 1939, he fled to France where he was detained in a refugee camp. He escaped and joined a group resisting the Nazi German advance in eastern France. In June 1940, he was taken prisoner by German troops and eventually found himself in the Nazi concentration camp at Mauthausen in Austria.

Many Spaniards died in the camp – so to save his own life, Navazo started a football team. The German camp commander was a football fan and allowed the detainees to play. Navazo also adopted a young German boy whose parents had been killed. He told him to say that Navazo was his father, enabling the boy to survive in the camp. But it was football that kept Navazo alive. For him, it really was a matter of life or death.