Editor’s note: Today marks the 72nd anniversary of the infamous “Death Match”.
On the 9th of August 1942, a group of men who worked at Kiev’s Bakery #3 took on the might of the Nazi Luftwaffe team and triumphed. The game was dubbed the “Death Match”. It was a match that went down in legend and folklore. It was a match that was used for Soviet propaganda. It was a match that provided the inspiration for the 1981 film Escape to Victory. It was a match where the events surrounding the game are still being discussed and debated. It was a match that came about because of the remarkable feats of F.C. Start.
On the 19th of September 1941 the Nazis successfully invaded and captured Kiev. A few days after they took over the city, the Nazis slaughtered over 33,000 Jews at the ravine of Babi Yar.
In their attempts to keep the local population under control the Nazi rulers decided to introduce a series of football matches in June 1942. It was part of an effort to distract and pacify the populace with a sense of “normality.” Little did they know that a group of former Dynamo and Lokomotiv Kiev players who worked at a bakery would turn into a symbol of resistance for the people of Kiev.
The formation of F.C. Start effectively began with Nikolai Trusevich. Trusevich was the goalkeeper of Dynamo Kiev before the outbreak of World War II. He enlisted in the army to defend Kiev but soon became a prisoner of war and was held in the Darnitsa camp after the Nazi’s captured the city. Trusevich was eventually released, after signing papers pledging loyalty to the new regime (not that he had much choice considering the alternative), and returned to Kiev.
Trusevich found work as a sweeper at Kiev’s Bakery #3 and was given his job by Josef Kordik. Though he was Czech, Kordik spoke fluent German and convinced the Nazis that he was an Austrian with a Ukrainian wife. He found favor with the Nazis as they allowed him to run Bakery #3. Kordik’s initial meeting with Trusevich happened to be a chance encounter when the former recognized the latter, hungry and looking for work, on the streets of Kiev.
Kordik, was purportedly a fan of the Dynamo side that Trusevich kept goal for and the pair soon looked for other members of the team with the promise of work, food and shelter. Soon Bakery #3 employed a talented and formidable side containing ex-players from Dynamo and Lokomotiv Kiev.