A Gauliga (German pronunciation: [ˈɡaʊˌliːɡa]) was the highest level of play in German football from 1933 to 1945. The leagues were introduced in 1933, after the Nazi takeover of power by the Sports office of the Third Reich.

Replaced byOberliga
Country Germany
Level on pyramidLevel 1
Domestic cup(s)Tschammerpokal
Last championsDresdner SC


The German word Gauliga is composed of Gau, approximately meaning county or region, and Liga, or league. The plural is Gauligen. While the name Gauliga is not in use in German football any more, mainly because it is attached to the Nazi past, some sports in Germany still have Gauligen, like gymnastics and faustball.


The initial 16 districts of the Gauliga in 1933.

The Gauligen were formed in 1933 to replace the previously existing Bezirksligas in Weimar Germany. The Nazis initially introduced 16 regional Gauligen, some of them subdivided into groups. The introduction of the Gauligen was part of the Gleichschaltung process, whereby the Nazis completely revamped the domestic administration. The Gauligen were largely formed along the new Gaue, designed to replace the old German states, like Prussia and Bavaria, and therefore gain better control over the country.

This step came as a disappointment to many more forward thinking football officials, like the German national team managers Otto Nerz and Sepp Herberger,[1] who had hoped for a Reichsliga, a unified highest competition for all of Germany, like the ones already in place in countries like Italy (Serie A) and England (The Football League). Shortly before the Nazis came to power, the DFB started to seriously consider the establishment of such a national league. In a special session on 28 and 29 May 1933, a decision was to be made on the establishment of the Reichsliga as a professional league. Four weeks before that date, the session was cancelled, professionalism and Nazi ideology did not agree with each other.[2] With the disappointing performance of the German team at the 1938 FIFA World Cup, the debate about a Reichsliga was reopened. In August 1939, a meeting was to be held to decide on the creation of a league system of six Gauligas as a transition stage to the Reichsliga, but the outbreak of the Second World War shortly after ended this debate, too.[2] In reality, this step was not taken until 1963, when the Bundesliga was formed, for similar reason, after the disappointing performance at the 1962 FIFA World Cup.[3] It did, however, reduce the number of clubs in top leagues in the country considerably, from roughly 600 to 170.[4]

Beginning in 1935, with the re-admittance of the Saarland into Germany, the country and the leagues began to expand. With the aggressive expansion politics, and later, through the Second World War, Germany grew considerably in size. New or regained territories were incorporated into the Third Reich. In those regions incorporated into Germany, new Gauligen were formed.[5]

With the outbreak of the Second World War, football continued but competitions were reduced in size as many players were drafted to the German Wehrmacht. Most Gauligen split into subgroups to reduce travel, which became increasingly more difficult as the war went on.

Many clubs had to merge or form Kriegsgemeinschaften (war associations) due to lack of players. The competition became increasingly flawed as the list of available players to a club fluctuated on a weekly basis, depending on who was where at a time.

The last season, 1944–45, was never completed, as large parts of Germany were already under allied occupation and the German unconditional surrender on 8 May 1945 ended all sports competitions, the last official match having been played on 23 April.


Unlike most leagues today, where income is generated from sponsors and TV in addition to ticket sales, the Gauliga teams relied on ticket sales as the exclusive source of income. But while in today's leagues the hosting teams keep the cash from the ticket sales, this was handled differently in the Gauligen. In the regular season, in cup matches or other competitive matches, the money was shared between the German Football Association, who received 5% of the income, the hosting club and the visiting club. In particular, the hosting club received 10% for using their ground and 5% for administrative costs. The remaining 75% of the matchday income were shared between the two clubs. These relations changed for the play-offs for the German championship. Here the matches were usually played on neutral ground, therefore 15% of the income were allotted for renting the ground as well as administrative and travel costs for the teams. The remaining income was divided equally between the clubs and the DFB. For the semi-final and final matches, yet another distribution key was applied. In the semi-final, teams received 20% of the net income (that is, after rent, administrative and travel costs had been deducted) and in the final their share was reduced to 15%.[6]


While some areas took until 1947, to restart football competitions, in the south of Germany, a highest league was formed soon after the Nazi collapse. The new Oberligen took the place of the Gauligen from 1945, when six new leagues were gradually formed in what was left of Germany:

Influence of the Nazis in footballEdit

With the rise of the Nazis to power, the German Football Association came fully under the party's influence. All sport, including football, was controlled by the Reichssportführer (Reich Sports Leader) Hans von Tschammer und Osten. In 1935, the newly established German cup, the Tschammerpokal, now the DFB-Pokal, was named after him. The Nazis prohibited all workers sports clubs (Arbeiter Sportvereine) and, increasingly so, all Jewish sport associations. Jewish clubs were immediately removed from all national football competitions in 1933 and had to play their own tournaments. From 1938, all Jewish sport clubs were forbidden outright.[7]

Additionally, clubs with strong connections to Jews were punished and fell into disfavor, like Bayern Munich, who had a Jewish coach (Richard Dombi) and chairman (Kurt Landauer).[8] After the annexation of Austria in 1938, FK Austria Wien, another club with strong Jewish ties, suffered from persecution and many of the club's leaders, like its chairman Emanuel Schwarz, had to escape to survive the Nazi regime.[9] Apart from those two clubs, the VfR Mannheim, VfB Mühlburg, 1. FC Kaiserslautern, Stuttgarter Kickers, Eintracht Frankfurt and FSV Frankfurt had all benefited in their pre-1933 success from a strong Jewish membership in the clubs and found themselves initially unpopular with the Nazis. Even though Jews were soon removed from all these clubs, some retained a more open-minded attitude than others and continued to be out of favour with the Nazis. The players of Bayern Munich for example were heavily criticised for greeting their former chairman Landauer at a friendly at Servette Geneva in Switzerland.[10]

The Nazis were, however, interested in furthering sport, especially football, as success in the sport served their propaganda efforts. Hans von Tschammer und Osten specifically ordered that players from former workers' sports movements be integrated in the Nazi-approved clubs, as the Nazis could not afford to lose the country's best players. Upon his orders, teams were not selected by political criteria, but by performance criteria.

Despite this, the number of active players and clubs declined in regions like the Ruhr area, where the workers' movement was traditionally strong.[11]

The fact that some famous players, like FC Schalke 04's Tibulski, Kalwitzki, Fritz Szepan, and Ernst Kuzorra, had less-than-German-sounding names and were mostly descendants of Polish immigrants, was ignored by the Nazis. On the contrary, players like Szepan successfully represented Nazi Germany in the 1934 and 1938 World Cups.[12] Jewish players like the two former internationals Gottfried Fuchs and Julius Hirsch were not as welcome. Fuchs, who had scored an incredible 10 goals versus Russia in 1912, migrated to Canada, while Hirsch died in Auschwitz.[10]

In occupied territoriesEdit

The Nazis' position to football and its clubs in the occupied territories varied greatly. Local clubs in Eastern Europe, such as Polish and Czech clubs, were not permitted to compete in the Gauligen. The situation was different in Western Europe, where clubs from Alsace, Lorraine, and Luxembourg took part in the Gauliga system under Germanised names.

Clubs with a Czech majority, while part of the German Reich, played out their own national, Bohemia/Moravia championship in this time, parallel to the German Gauliga Böhmen und Mähren, but were racially segregated.[13]

German championshipEdit

The winners of the various Gauligen qualified for the finals of the German championship, held at the end of season.

From 1934 to 1938, the system was straight forward, as the 16 Gauliga champions were allocated in four groups of four teams. After a home-and-away round, the winners of the four groups played a semi-final on neutral ground. The two winners of the semi-finals went to the final to determine the German champion.

In the years 1939, 1940, and 1941, the number of groups was extended to compensate for the additional Gauligen created.

From 1942, the competition was played in a single-game knock-out format due to the worsening situation in the war.

While FC Schalke 04 was by far the most successful club in this era, however in 1941 the title went to Austria with Rapid Wien. Also, a Luxembourgian club, Stade Dudelange (renamed FV Stadt Düdelingen), managed to reach the first round of the championship and cup in 1942.

German championship finals under the Gauliga systemEdit

Year Champion Runner-Up Result Date Venue Attendance
1944 Dresdner SC LSV Hamburg 4–0 18 June 1944 Berlin 70,000
1943 Dresdner SC FV Saarbrücken 3–0 27 June 1943 Berlin 80,000
1942 FC Schalke 04 First Vienna FC 2–0 5 July 1942 Berlin 90,000
1941 Rapid Wien FC Schalke 04 4–3 22 June 1941 Berlin 95,000
1940 FC Schalke 04 Dresdner SC 1–0 21 July 1940 Berlin 95,000
1939 FC Schalke 04 Admira Wien 9–0 18 June 1939 Berlin 100,000
1938 Hannover 96 FC Schalke 04 3–3 aet
4–3 aet
26 June 1938
3 July 1938
1937 FC Schalke 04 1. FC Nürnberg 2–0 20 June 1937 Berlin 100,000
1936 1. FC Nürnberg Fortuna Düsseldorf 2–1 aet 21 June 1936 Berlin 45,000
1935 FC Schalke 04 VfB Stuttgart 6–4 23 June 1935 Cologne 74,000
1934 FC Schalke 04 1. FC Nürnberg 2–1 24 June 1934 Berlin 45,000

German cup finals under the Gauliga systemEdit

The German Cup competition was first played out in 1935 and ceased in 1943, only restarting again in 1953. During the Third Reich, it was called The von Tschammer und Osten Pokal.

Year Winner Finalist Result Date Venue Attendance
1943 First Vienna FC LSV Hamburg 3–2 aet 31 October 1943 Stuttgart 45,000
1942 TSV 1860 Munich FC Schalke 04 2–0 15 October 1942 Berlin 80,000
1941 Dresdner SC FC Schalke 04 2–1 2 October 1941 Berlin 65,000
1940 Dresdner SC 1. FC Nürnberg 2–1 aet 1 December 1940 Berlin 60,000
1939 1. FC Nürnberg SV Waldhof Mannheim 2–0 8 April 1940 Berlin 60,000
1938 Rapid Wien FSV Frankfurt 3–1 8 January 1939 Berlin 38,000
1937 FC Schalke 04 Fortuna Düsseldorf 2–1 9 January 1938 Köln 72,000
1936 VfB Leipzig FC Schalke 04 2–1 3 January 1937 Berlin 70,000
1935 1. FC Nürnberg FC Schalke 04 2–0 8 December 1935 Düsseldorf 55,000

List of GauligenEdit

Map of Nazi Germany showing its administrative subdivisions, the Reichsgaue

Original Gauligen in 1933Edit

Gauligen formed through subdivision of existing leaguesEdit

  • Gauliga Südhannover-Braunschweig: formed when the Gauliga Niedersachsen split in 1942, covering the eastern half of its region, the Gauliga Ost-Hannover split from it in 1943, split into regional groups in 1944
  • Gauliga Hamburg: formed when the Gauliga Nordmark was split in 1942
  • Gauliga Hessen-Nassau: formed when the Gauliga Südwest/Mainhessen was split in 1941, covering the region now part of the federal state of Hesse
  • Gauliga Köln-Aachen: formed when the Gauliga Mittelrhein was split in 1941
  • Gauliga Mecklenburg: formed when the Gauliga Nordmark was split in 1942
  • Gauliga Moselland: formed when the Gauliga Mittelrhein was split in 1941, played in two regional groups and included clubs from Luxembourg
  • Gauliga Niederschlesien: formed when the Gauliga Schlesien was split in 1941, covering the north-western half of the region
  • Gauliga Oberschlesien: formed when the Gauliga Schlesien was split in 1941, covering the south-eastern half of the region
  • Gauliga Osthannover, split from the Gauliga Südhannover-Braunschweig in 1943
  • Gauliga Schleswig-Holstein: formed when the Gauliga Nordmark was split in 1942
  • Gauliga Weser-Ems: formed when the Gauliga Niedersachsen split in 1942, covering the western half of its region, split into regional groups from 1943
  • Gauliga Westmark: formed when the Gauliga Südwest/Mainhessen was split in 1941, covering the region now part of the federal states of Saarland and Rhineland-Pfalz, also included the FC Metz from the Lorraine region

Gauligen formed after German expansionEdit

Map of Nazi Germany showing its expansion 1938 -1945

Clubs in the Gauligen from annexed territoriesEdit

Three of the Gauligen contained clubs from regions occupied and annexed by Germany after the start of the Second World War in 1939.

The Gauliga Elsaß was completely made up of French clubs from Alsace, who had to Germanise their names, like RC Strasbourg, which became Rasen SC Straßburg.

In the Gauliga Westmark three clubs from the French Lorraine region played under their German names:

In the Gauliga Moselland, clubs from Luxembourg took part in the competition, including:

In the Gauliga Schlesien, later the Gauliga Oberschlesien, a number of clubs from Poland played under their German names:

Gauliga timelineEdit

This timeline shows the length of time periods certain Gauligen existed. Note however, that all Gauligen were severely restricted after 1944 and none finished the 1944–45 season. Due to the German military collapse, information on the last season is generally limited, especially in the occupied areas.

See alsoEdit

In popular cultureEdit

Das große Spiel (The big game), a movie about a fictitious German football team, Gloria 03, directed by Robert Stemmle, released in 1942. The scenes at the final were filmed at the 1941 German championship final Rapid Wien versus FC Schalke 04.[14]


  1. ^ „Fußball ist unser Leben“ – Beobachtungen zu einem Jahrhundert deutschen Spitzenfußballs Archived 2007-08-13 at the Wayback Machine (in German) author: Peter März, publisher: Die Bayerische Landeszentrale, accessed: 24 June 2008
  2. ^ a b Sport und Kommerzialisierung: Das Beispiel der Fußballbundesliga (in German) Article on the Bundesliga and its predecessesors, accessed: 20 April 2009
  3. ^ Karl-Heinz Huba. Fussball Weltgeschichte: Bilder, Daten, Fakten von 1846 bis heute. Copress Sport. (in German)
  4. ^ Soccer in the Third Reich: 1933–1945. The Abseits Guide to Germany. Accessed 14 May 2008.
  5. ^ DerErsteZug.com. Fußball, by Tait Galbraith. Accessed 15 May 2008
  6. ^ "Meisterschaft, Pokal, Pflichtspiele", Saale-Zeitung (in German), p. 6, 1933-08-07
  7. ^ Jewish Teams Worldwide at RSSSF.com. Accessed 15 May 2008.
  8. ^ German Jews and football history European Jewish Press, 4 July 2006, Accessed 15 May 2008
  9. ^ Fußball unterm Hakenkreuz – »Wer's trotzdem blieb« – die Austria (in German) author: David Forster and Georg Spitaler, published: 10 March 2008, accessed: 24 June 2008
  10. ^ a b „Fußball ist unser Leben“ – Beobachtungen zu einem Jahrhundert deutschen Spitzenfußballs – Juden und Fußball Archived 2007-08-13 at the Wayback Machine (in German) author: Peter März, publisher: Die Bayerische Landeszentrale, accessed: 24 June 2008
  11. ^ Dietrich Schulze-Marmeling. "Fußball unterm Hakenkreuz". ak – Zeitung für linke Debatte und Praxis. Accessed 15 May 2008. (in German)
  12. ^ Dirk Bitzer, Bernd Wilting. Stürmen für Deutschland: Die Geschichte des deutschen Fußballs von 1933 bis 1954. Campus Verlag, pp. 60–64. Google Books. Accessed 15 May 2008 (in German).
  13. ^ Bohemia/Moravia and Slovakia 1938–1944. RSSSF.com. Accessed 31 May 2008.
  14. ^ Goethe Institut – Das große Spiel accessed: 24 June 2008

Further readingEdit

  • Matthias Marschik. "Between Manipulation and Resistance: Viennese Football in the Nazi Era". Journal of Contemporary History, Vol. 34, No. 2 (April 1999), pp. 215–229
  • Sturmer Fur Hitler : Vom Zusammenspiel Zwischen Fussball Und Nationalsozialismus, by Gerhard Fischer, Ulrich Lindner, Dietrich Schulze-Marmeling, Werner Skrentny, published by Die Werkstatt, ISBN 3-89533-241-0
  • Fussball unterm Hakenkreuz, Nils Havemann and Klaus Hildebrand, Campus Verlag, ISBN 3-593-37906-6

External linksEdit