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Soccer in the Shadow of Auschwitz

Jun 10, 2012 at 03:19:38 PM

Mention "Poland" and many people think of the millions of Jews decimated there by the Nazis.

If you're a European soccer fan, you think of Poland as the site of Euro 2012, the European soccer championship currently underway.

One curious side effect is that athletes are taking time off to see the local sites. The national squads of England, Netherlands and Italy are all based in Krakow – and went to visit the Auschwitz death camp.

"Most youngsters today have a glorified image of a ghetto, but the ghettos we have learned about today are not like that," British player Joleon Lescott is quoted in Sports Illustrated. "I did not have a full understanding of what the word means… You see it in films and learn about it in music but to learn the origins of the word ghetto opens your eyes."

While Holocaust education is standard in most of the civilized world, the experience of being at the death camps makes it much more real. As the Talmud says: Aino domeh r'iya l'shmiya – there is no comparison between hearing about something and actually seeing it.

"You see the children's clothes and shoes, it's really sad," British player Wayne Rooney told AP. "You have to see it firsthand. It puts football (soccer) into perspective."

England team manager Roy Hodgson donned a kippah and lit a memorial candle at the site. "There are so many lessons to be learnt and understood from the Holocaust, and we believe football (soccer) can play its part in encouraging society to speak out against intolerance in all its forms," Hodgson told AP.

Those lessons came to the fore for the Holland squad. The day after returning from Auschwitz, at a practice session attended by 25,000 spectators in Krakow, the team's black players were subjected to monkey noises and loud jeers. Unfortunately, hatred and intolerance are still rife today.

June 10, 2012

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