Resistance Fighter & Referee: The Life & Times Of Leo Horn – Part One

BTLM is pleased to welcome back Hungarian football historian David AJ Reynolds with another fascinating long-form piece, this one about the remarkable life and times of the Dutch referee Leo Horn – the man famous among other things for his role in the Dutch WW2 Resistance and officiating at the historic England v Hungary fixture of 1953. David’s article is split over two posts and you can read its concluding second part later this week.

As Billy Wright and Ferenc Puskas exchanged pennants and pleasantries before the cameras on that famous Middlesex afternoon, it was a unique figure that stood between them. Even in black and white, it could be clearly seen that the imposing-looking referee was not attired in the usual hue, but was in greys, his white collar nattily protruding. Reputation and honour in the football world was at stake on November 25, 1953. Yet it was not just a privilege to play in this game; for a referee, being handed the whistle that Wednesday came with a prestige which today would only attend the World Cup Final itself.

Even before the game kicked off, England-Hungary was widely hailed as the match of the century and an unofficial world championship decider. The World Cup had not attained the unquestioned prestige it now enjoys, with only thirteen teams competing in Brazil for the 1950 title; what we now call “friendlies” were often highlights of the international calendar. Despite England’s poor performance in that 1950 tournament, the first World Cup it had deigned to attend, the sheen of being the game’s founders and proselytes still clung to the home team, especially at the majestic Empire Stadium, where a non-home nation visitor had never triumphed. Meanwhile, since 1950, the Hungarian team had emerged as football’s new wonders, stylishly winning gold at the 1952 Helsinki Olympics.

Only five weeks before, when attending the England-Rest of the World fixture (4-4) at the same stadium, did Leo Horn get the first inkling that he might be placed in charge of the forthcoming Hungary game. In some ways, Horn was an unlikely choice, having only been on the FIFA list for two years. But he had come to the attention of the venerable Sir Stanley Rous in at least two ways. Rous, who was himself a former international referee, had helped amend the laws of the game before becoming FA Secretary and was influential in selecting referees for FIFA (he would become FIFA President in 1961).

Firstly, shortly after gaining his FIFA badge, Horn had refereed a match in Amsterdam between the Netherlands and England B. Impressed by Horn’s performance, Rous commended him afterwards, adding that he hoped to see him referee a game at Wembley soon. But Horn had already been suggested to Rous when, after Horn refereed an April 1951 match between Sunderland and a Netherlands XI in Rotterdam, the Sunderland manager Bill Murray told Rous, according to The Sunderland Echo, that “he had seen one of the best ever continental officials and recommended him strongly for consideration by the English FA”. Sure enough, on November 26, 1952, Horn refereed his first England international, presiding over a 5-0 England win over Belgium that featured a Nat Lofthouse double.

Eleven months later, Horn had not long been back in the Netherlands when he received the phone call confirming what had been hinted at in London; he would referee what the Dutch were also calling the ‘wedstrijd van de eeuw’. Such was the weight of the game that Horn determined he needed to lose some of his own. Putting himself through a rigorous training regime, Horn was seventeen pounds lighter when he whistled the Aranycsapat into action at Wembley. He was soon chasing the red shirts into the England half, where, less than a minute into the game, Hidegkuti collected the ball in the unconventional position that would bedevil England’s backline all day, pivoted right, and rifled a shot past Merrick. By the time Horn awarded England a penalty in the fifty-seventh minute, dispatched by Alf Ramsay, Hungary had already scored six, and the shock that would soon spread around the world had settled on a beaten home team. Though it would not be the referee which the crowds would remember, for Horn this was the high point of a renowned refereeing career, much of which still lay ahead. But it was far from the greatest thing Leo Horn did in his life.

Eusébio & Leo Horn (1963)


Far to the south-east of the capital, in the tail of the Netherlands that protrudes into Belgium, was where Leo grew up. But in 1928, the Horns moved, on the insistence of Leo’s mother, from the cramped and curved Begijnenhofstraat of inner-city Sittard to the more salubrious Plantage neighbourhood of Amsterdam. Going from a provincial Catholic city to the nation’s metropolis would have been a big change for anyone, but for a Jewish family like the Horns it also came with the benefits of settling in the vibrant heart of Dutch-Jewish life. Their new home at Plantage Badlaan 20 lay between the traditional Jewish neighbourhoods of old East Amsterdam to the west and the newer suburbs further east, such as Transvaalbuurt and the greener expanses of Watergraafsmeer, where many Jewish and Gentile Amsterdammers were moving at the time when the Horns arrived.

Particularly for twelve-year-old Leo, the move also opened up sporting opportunities. Since he was six, he had been playing in Sittard for VVS. As was typical in the development of Dutch football, VVS would later merge with Sittardse Boys to form Sittardia, before, in 1968, an amalgamation of that club and Fortuna ’54 brought Sittard’s current footballing standard bearer, Fortuna Sittard, into being. But in his new home, Leo not only found a developing football culture, but specifically Jewish football clubs in the surrounding neighbourhoods.

Located deep into Watergraafsmeer to the south-east along the Middenweg, Ajax was a relatively big club (having already been twice crowned Dutch champions) whose future fans’ ostentatious embrace of Jewish identity has tended to obscure the history of the more authentically Jewish clubs of Amsterdam East. Around Leo’s new home, virtuously and verbosely named football clubs such as ODE (Overwinning Door Eenheid – Victory Through Unity), AED (Allen Één Doel – One Goal for All), and EDW (Eendracht Doet Winnen – Concord Wins) were established in the early twentieth century, attracting Jewish boys and young men from the streets around their home turf. It was to another, Wilhelmina Vooruit, formed in 1908, that Leo was taken by a neighbour and for whom he began to play, working his way up through the junior ranks to the second team and some substitute appearances for the first eleven.

Even before his knee injury at the age of seventeen, however, it was already clear that there would be a limit to Leo’s progress in football. Leo’s father, who according to his son was not only a great football fan but something of a connoisseur, had told him back in Sittard that he would not amount to much as a player. And Leo himself could later admit that, for all his hard work and enthusiasm on the field, he “was never a good footballer”. So it seemed fortuitous—when the premature injury forced his hand—that the Amsterdamse Voetbal Bond (AVB; the Amsterdam FA) was in need of referees for youth team matches and offering a training course. A few months later, on the same day as his older brother Edgar, Leo was able to register as an AVB referee. Soon, not yet eighteen, he was refereeing his first match, between the youth teams of Blauw-Wit and TABA.

The first match did not go well and, by the time he had cycled home, Leo decided that refereeing was not for him. But overcoming the temptation to quit, he persisted. His second match saw a great improvement and Leo began ascending the ladder, going from vierde klasse (fourth class) to eerste klasse (first class) games in the AVB before, in 1938 at just twenty-two, refereeing the AVB Championship game. In that same year, he took the next step, starting to referee for the KNVB (the Dutch FA). Hard though it is for most of us to imagine, refereeing was his relaxation and enjoyment; during the day, Leo worked for the textile company Lehman & Co., who had hired him when he left school. But it was not long before such simple things as careers and hobbies would become impossible for Leo Horn.


After Nazi Germany invaded and rapidly seized control of the Netherlands in early May 1940, the persecution of Dutch Jews proceeded incrementally. At the beginning of 1941, the occupation regime mandated all Jews to register, and, over the course of the year, anti-Semitic policies and regulations accumulated, slowly constricting the lives of the 140,000-strong Jewish population. For example, from September the 15th, 1941, Jews could no longer participate in sport, devastating proud Jewish clubs like Wilhelmina Vooruit. But the decisive point for the Jews of the Netherlands, as it was for the Holocaust in general, came in the summer of 1942 when the systematic deportation of European Jews to extermination camps in Poland—a process known by the Nazis as the Final Solution—began.

On Sunday, July 5, 1942 orders were dispatched by courier to four thousand Jews in the Netherlands, requiring them to report for transportation to ‘labour service’ in ‘Germany’. Once this had begun, with the occupation regime having to resort to surprise raids and round-ups to fill their weekly quotas, there were two main options for Dutch Jews attempting to avoid deportation first to Westerbork in the east of the country (or Vught) and, ultimately for most sent there, Auschwitz-Birkenau and Sobibor. The first option is exemplified by the famous recipient of one of those four thousand initial orders of July 5—Margot Frank, older sister of Anne. That very same day, the Frank family responded by implementing the plan they had concocted with Otto Frank’s employees, going into hiding in their achterhuis (annex) on the Prinsengracht. Eventually, around 25,000 Dutch Jews likewise became what the Dutch call onderduikers (literally, divers) during the occupation. Like Anne and Margot Frank, many still did not survive.

A second route was to be found in the exemptions issued through the Jewish Council (Joodse Raad), resulting in a stamp in one’s ID that declared the bearer “until further notice exempt from the labour force”. Initially, around 40,000 Jews in the Netherlands received these coveted stamps, based on, for example, their work for the Jewish Council or their participation in a militarily vital industry. But the second means of avoiding deportation often led to the first, as the various categories of exemption were withdrawn or reduced until, in September 1943, virtually no officially exempted Jews remained.

But Horn settled on neither of these options. Before the summer of 1942, he had surprisingly survived in the textile trade. As a Jewish-owned business, Leo’s employers, Lehman & Co., were subject to October 1940 regulations that placed it under a Verwalter—an occupation regime-appointed overseer through whom all company business had to be funnelled. When Lehman received its Verwalter in 1941, Leo lost his job, but immediately set up his own textile business, along with other fired Lehman employees, under the name of a gentile friend from the refereeing world. Even such sleights of hand became impossible to maintain with the beginning of weekly deportations and the attendant constrictions and dangers. Yet Leo chose the boldest and riskiest option of all—along with his new wife Catharina (Ina) Boekbinder—they took on false identities and joined the resistance.


In an age when the insignificant boast incessantly about the inconsequential, it is startling how reticent the men and women who risked their lives for others during the war were to speak of it afterwards. To have done what was necessary and right was enough. And there was a tremendous desire to put what Horn would call “die rot-oorlog” (that rotten war) behind them. Yet, slowly, through the testimony of those saved as well as old-age reminiscences, the experiences of the quietly heroic have been pieced together.

Leo Horn (3rd from the left) posing with other members of his resistance group STANZ, including its leader Tonny van Renterghem (2nd from left), after the war

“Jews who decided to resist took enormous risks,” explain historians Yehudi Lindeman and Hans de Vries. But the fragility of their “brand-new life in which they had to adopt a completely new, false identity . . . had its advantages too. It meant contacts with people who knew how to forge documents and could even lead to the permanent availability of one or more hiding places.” So it was for Ina, under the pseudonym Catharina Weesing, and Leo, who had to go their separate ways in the resistance. Leo became part of the group named STANZ (Stormgroep Amsterdam Nieuw Zuid), formed by Tonny van Renterghem under the auspices of one of the main resistance organizations, OD (Orde Dienst – Order Service), which itself had been founded by former Dutch Army officers.

Van Renterghem, whose father Antonie actually played international football for the Netherlands, was an extraordinary individual in his own right. Recognized as Righteous Among the Gentiles by Yad Vashem in 1987 for his efforts to hide Jews, Tonny spearheaded a wide range of resistance activities. With Fritz Kahlenberg and others, Van Renterghem even secretly took photographs to document the occupation. After the war, he would end up in California, where he worked as a cameraman and technical adviser on films, including The Diary of Anne Frank.

As Leo likewise risked his life to hide Jews and others, his own family came under his protection. Through Leo, his younger brother George found a hiding place with Kuki Krol, whose son Ruud would be a seventies star of Ajax and Oranje. Krol at one time hid as many as thirteen Dutch Jews in his flat above a Ten Katestraat café in Amsterdam West. But while George survived the war in hiding, Leo’s other two siblings were not as fortunate. Edgar was betrayed by the daughter of the family he was sheltered by, which led to his deportation to Sobibor, where he was killed in April 1943. The spring and summer of 1943 saw a pause in deportations to Auschwitz-Birkenau, but Jews from the Netherlands continued to be sent to their deaths at Sobibor, which unlike Auschwitz, with its array of slave labour camps, was purely an extermination camp. Edgar was one of 34,000 Dutch Jews murdered at Sobibor in three months.

The forged identity papers of Horn’s wife, Ina Boekbinder, bearing her wartime pseudonym, Catharina Weesing.

Resistance work in the Netherlands came into its own in that spring and summer of 1943. This was partly because some organisations, such as the prominent LO (Landelijke Organizatie), had been spurred into action by the beginning of the Final Solution the previous summer. But sophisticated systems and networks were slow to develop; hiding even one person was usually a complex operation requiring multiple players and procedures. More than one hiding place was almost always needed for an onderduiker, while agents were required to take them from one haven to the next as well as regularly deliver supplies. For the latter to occur, identity cards and ration cards had to be stolen and forged—an unending task for the resistance. This was also the period when the Nazis called up all 300,000 former members of the Dutch Army for slave labour in Germany, later extending the order to all men aged between 18 and 50, sending hundreds of thousands of gentile Dutchmen into hiding, while driving others into the resistance. From this point until the end of the war, the Dutch countryside became the focus of resistance. And it was in this context that Leo was able to save his young nephews.

Back in 1942, Leo Koster, the husband of Horn’s sister Sophie, had been deported. He would die at Monowitz, the large sub-camp of Auschwitz for the slave labourers of the IG Farben plant, in January 1944. Sophie herself, who had found hiding through Horn, was detained in 1943 by the Dutch bounty-hunter, Chris Bout, and also sent eastwards by the Nazi occupiers. Men like Bout spent the war reaping the large financial rewards available to those willing to hunt down and hand over Jews in hiding to the Nazi regime, considerably multiplying the risks and difficulties for every Jewish onderduiker. But Horn found a hiding place for Sophie’s two boys, Marcel and Paul Koster, deep in the north-western province of Friesland.

The whole Schipper family of rural Spanbroek in Friesland were involved in the resistance, and so, even though Cornelis (Cees) Schipper already had four children from his first marriage and his wife Margaretha (Grietje) Schipper-Pronk was pregnant, they agreed to take in four-year-old Paul and seven-year-old Marcel from Leo. For eighteen months, the boys lived happily on the farm with the Schippers until a raid forced Cees and Grietje themselves into hiding and the return of the Koster boys to Amsterdam, where they hid with Leo until the end of the war. Amazingly, despite the attention the Spanbroek farm had received in the raid, the family property became a major covert dropping zone of Allied arms and agents that autumn, under the direction of Cees’ relative, Hil Schippers.

The first such drop occurred in Spanbroek on Saturday, September 9, 1944, during which twelve containers of weapons, radio equipment, and two agents came down on those Frisian fields that had sheltered the Kosters. Many years after the war, in 2002, Cees and Grietje were recognized as Righteous Among the Gentiles for their lifesaving efforts.

Weapons and motorbikes stolen from the ARM garage by STANZ and stored in the Havenstraat tram depot.

Back in Amsterdam, Leo was also engaged in sabotage sorties, the most dramatic of which occurred in February 1945. After STANZ received a tip from a mechanic that the Wehrmacht was storing wagons of weapons in a south-west Amsterdam garage before conveying them to the front, Horn led a team of twelve on a daring night-time raid. The garage in question was the huge ARM (Amsterdamse Rijtuig Maatschappij – Amsterdam Carriage Company) building on the Overtoom boulevard. Approaching it from the back, having crept northwards through Vondelpark, Leo’s team crawled through a window that had been left open for them and caught the German guards entirely by surprise. After overpowering and tying up the ten German soldiers present, Leo’s team drove the wagons to the nearby secluded tram depot in Havenstraat, just north of the Olympic Stadium, where the weapons could be distributed to the resistance.

Part Two of David’s story will be published later this week.

3 thoughts on “Resistance Fighter & Referee: The Life & Times Of Leo Horn – Part One

  1. Dear David,
    My name is Koos Schipper. I am very interested in the history of my family, particular during the second World War. Kees Schipper were the uncle of my dad, his name is also Kees Schipper, and they lived in thise period nearly next door. For that reason I read your article about Leo Horn. All the things you wrote about the Schipper family are right but there are two points to change in your article.
    1. The province where Marcel and Paul Koster were hidden wasn’t Friesland. It was the province Noord-Holland (North-Holland) and Westfriesland is a part of that province. More people does think that Westfriesland is a part of Friesland but it isn’t.
    2. You wrote the name Hil Schippers. It is Hil Schipper, without the last letter s.

    Whith respect for your informative document and with kind regards
    Koos Schipper

    1. Dear Koos,

      Thank you very much indeed for reading and commenting upon my article. I have so much admiration for the noble bravery of your family during the war, and so it is wonderful for me to be able to correspond with you about this.

      I am very grateful for your two corrections – these are details that I care about, and so I am very happy when informed people such as yourself kindly take the time to correct my mistakes.

      There was so much interesting information about the resistance in the Spanbroek area that I was not able to include in this piece, but this deserves its own article. Speaking of which, did you ever have a chance to see this documentary about events there soon after the Koster boys left: This is a most interesting chapter of the war.

      Thank you again for your corrections and for kindly taking the time to write.

      with greetings to your family and kind regards, David

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