Rommel's field

Rommel's field, or Sportsbahn Feldmarschall Rommel

East of Ranuantie is a sports field called Rommel's field. The field was built in 1943 by men from the bakery company 602 of the German Army and the adjacent Army transport corps as a recreation area. The field was given the grandiose name Sportsbahn Feldmarschall Rommel, or Field Marshal Rommel's sports field. The name was written on the top board of the main gate. Field Marshal Erwin Rommel, nicknamed "The Desert Fox" was the most famous German officer and war hero of WW2. Rommel was involved in some way in Hitler's assassination attempt in 1944 and, because he was a national hero, instead of sentencing him to hanging and tarnishing his reputation, Hitler allowed Rommel to commit suicide to save his family and their fortunes. What also played a role was that having Rommel's name linked to Hitler's assassination plot would have been embarrassing for Hitler and would certainly have caused turmoil in Germany. Rommel reportedly died from injuries sustained in a plane attack and was buried with honours. Rommel himself never visited Finland.

The opening ceremony of Rommel's field was held on 18 July 1943. The day included a football tournament between eight German teams and a match between two German handball teams. Generaloberst Eduard Dietl inaugurated the field and presented the awards for the best players. The field was also used to host some number of bandy and football matches between Germans and Finns. At the time, the field was surrounded by a birch fence, and Generaloberst Dietl occasionally sat to watch the games in the honorary stand made of birch. At best, the matches drew more than 1,000 spectators. The next major sporting event on the field was the Wehrmacht sportfest on 16 September 1943, in which 18 teams from different units participated.

In 1942, 1943 and 1944, the German troops became more active in sports as the front lines froze to a standstill. Dietl was an avid sportsman and wanted his soldiers to stay refreshed and fit through sports. Of course, this also helped keep the morale of the troops high, especially as fighting on the Eastern Front took a turn for the worse for the Germans. In addition to matches at Rommel's field and winter sports, by order of General Ferdinand Schörner, a football cup tournament and grand final, a handball competition for the Tundra-Pokal and many other sports events were held in Northern Lapland at least in the summers of 1942 and 1943.
According to the 1946 annual report of the town of Rovaniemi, the field was a poorly made and slanted. It was also paved with soft sand and would kick up dust from the slightest touch. The renovated field is still in use in the Kiiruna district. Rommel's sports field is the only place name in Rovaniemi remembering the German wartime presence. For decades, the name Rommel's field lived on only as an oral tradition among local residents and youngsters involved in sports, as the city, ashamed of the past German involvement, did not approve the name on the town plan until the early 2000s.
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