FROM HERO TO VILLAIN: it is a line written by countless sports journalists hundreds of times throughout a season. It is a heading so common that it has in many ways lost all meaning; it is like the over use of the word ‘legend’, you’ve heard it so many times that its resonance has lost all effect.
In the case of Gejus van der Meulen, however, it is suitably apt. Rarely has the journey from hero to villain been so stark than during the life of this son of the Netherlands.
Gejus was born on January 23, 1903, in the city sometimes known as the ‘Venice of the North’, Amsterdam. At the age of 19, after showcasing his goalkeeping talents in local league games, the young man was signed by HFC – who are based in the city of Haarlem – only a short hop from his home in Amsterdam.
The club, who are the oldest in the Netherlands having been founded in 1879, and who had the unique honour of being bestowed with the title Koninklijke (Royal) in 1959, is where Gejus would spend all of his 13-year playing career.
His performances with HFC soon brought him to national attention and on the April 27, 1924, he would win his first cap for his country in a friendly against neighbours Belgium. The match, played in Antwerp, would finish 1-1 and be quickly forgotten about, but for Gejus it was the beginning of a record-breaking international career.
Exactly one month later he would win his second cap for the Netherlands at the 1924 Olympics in Paris. He would play four more matches at the Games where the Dutch side would come away with a record of two wins, one draw and two losses.
Despite the less-than-stellar results for his country, van der Meulen’s performances saw him become a permanent fixture in the team. Four years later he would represent the side again at the Olympics, this time in his home city of Amsterdam.
Yet again the national side would flatter to deceive, but Gejus’s displays between the posts saw his celebrity rise throughout the nation. He was now one of the most recognisable and popular athletes in the Netherlands. News of his marriage even made it onto the popular Polygon Journal newsreel, a key link to what was happening in the world for many Dutch citizens.
Gejus would continue manning the posts for both Koninklijke HFC and the Netherlands right up until the end of 1933. It was at this point that he decided to hang up his gloves for good and focus all of his energy on his burgeoning medical practice.
In a surprise development, however, he was called out of international retirement to play for his country at the 1934 World Cup. It was a move that caused disgruntlement within the camp, and as such the Dutch side lost their one and only match 3-2 to Switzerland.
That match was absolutely the end for van der Meulen, and he soon went back to his work as a doctor. In total Gejus represented the Oranje on 54 occasions, a record for a Dutch keeper that would not be surpassed until June 1990 by Hans van Breukelen. The career of one of the Netherlands first sporting superstars had finally come to its conclusion.
As Gejus went back to his medical work the world around him was beginning to change. It was barely a year before that Adolf Hitler and the Nazi party had risen to power in Germany. Unbeknownst to the Dutch public, the biggest war the world had ever seen was only five years away.
That faithful day came on September 3, 1939, when Britain and France declared war on Germany, two days after it had invaded Poland. Much like World War One, the Dutch government proclaimed the country’s neutrality. This was not to everyone’s liking, however, including one Gejus van der Meulen. Gejus was not for joining the British and French in the war effort – quite the opposite in fact. As the early months of the war moved on, Jewish patients were no longer welcomed at his clinic as his Nazi sympathies came to the fore.
Then, on 10 May 1940, despite the Netherlands declaring its neutrality, German forces invaded. Within six days the country had capitulated and was under Nazi control. By now, Gejus’s political leanings were out in the open. A friend of Gejus said that the once-Dutch goalkeeper had proclaimed to him the “beauty of the Nazi’s sterilization laws”.
“We doctors are fighting for a healthy human race. Now Hitler says we have to intervene in the risk of unhealthy children.”
In September 1940 Gejus joined the National Socialist Movement (NSB) in the Netherlands. The party had been founded back in 1931 by Anton Mussert. Although it achieved very little pre-war success, it soon found favour with the conquering Nazi’s who made it the sole party in the country. As such, the party encouraged Dutch citizens to embrace the Germans as they themselves began to openly collaborate with the Nazis. With Germany’s defeat at the end of the war the party was quickly banned, and its leader Mussert executed in May 1946.
Gejus, however, was not just satisfied with being part of the NSB, and in 1941 he joined the SS Vrijwilligers Legioen Nederland (Dutch Volunteer Legion). The SS oath read as follows:
“I vow to you Adolf Hitler, as Fuhrer and Chancellor of the German Reich, loyalty and bravery. I vow to you and to the leaders you set me, absolute allegiance until death. So help me God.”
It is estimated that some 25,000 Dutch men fought voluntarily for the SS during the war. As for Gejus, he received training as a wartime medical doctor in Oranienburg, Germany, before being sent to the eastern front in 1942. It is unclear how great a role Gejus played in the war, whether he saw any fighting at all, or how much he was involved with any of the atrocities involving the SS; that he just remained a doctor seems most likely.
An anonymous SS officer after the war recalled a meeting with a Dutch doctor on the eastern front, he believed to be Gejus:
“I was injured and was visited by the staff physician. The Hauptstrumfuhrer spoke Dutch and was surrounded by nurses and German doctors. It was clear that this doctor was highly regarded.”
On another occasion a war time reporter for De Telegraaf confronted him, claiming that his face looked familiar, only for van der Meulen to brush him aside and shout, “We’re on the offensive, there is much to do.” Gejus would go on to survive the war, but four days after the Dutch liberation he was arrested.
In June 1947 he was tried as a Nazi collaborator. It is said that he showed no remorse for his actions throughout the trial. In the end Gejus received eight years imprisonment. In March 1948 he appealed against his conviction. Reporter Hernan Kuiphof who was at the appeal, described Gejus as “… a mental wreck, a beaten dog, he barely tried to defend himself.”
Van der Meulen was not without his supporters, however. Dutch chess champion Max Euwe believed that he had joined the NSB with the noblest of intentions, while fellow doctor Job Pannekoek from Deventer thought that he had made his choices due to financial problems. His practice, he said, was failing; this in turn made him lean on his father for financial dependence and that it was his father who drew him into the NSB.
Whatever the truth, Gejus’s appeal was not overturned his eight year sentence stood. However just over a year later, in August 1949, he was pardoned and released. Gejus was now a broken man, the consequences of his decisions during the war had taken their toll. He tried to get his medical practice back off the ground, but no patients wanted to be treated by a known Nazi collaborator. In the end he ended up exclusively treating former members of the NSB. Later he contacted his former club HFC to see if he could get a place for his son in the academy. His request was ignored.
A beaten and broken man, Gejus van der Meulen would die at the age of 69 in July 1972. From one of the most lauded sports stars in the Netherlands to the most vilified. The hero had become the villain. And that’s how he has remained ever since.
By Kevin Nolan. Follow @KevinNolan11