Let’s work on Holocaust Memorial Day to rid football of anti-Semitism | Football

IIf you’ve visited Stamford Bridge in recent years, you may have seen a 12-foot-tall mural hanging high on the West Stand wall. Painted by British-Israeli street artist Solomon Souza, it depicts three football players: Julius Hirsch and Árpád Weisz, Jewish players murdered in Auschwitz, and Ron Jones, an English prisoner of war and survivor of Auschwitz.

Today, on the 77th anniversary of the liberation of the Auschwitz concentration camp, the world commemorates International Holocaust Remembrance Day. We honor Hirsch, Weisz and the millions of people who were brutally murdered, as well as the millions more who were targeted and killed by the Nazis and their associates.

International Holocaust Remembrance Day is a stark reminder of what hatred and anti-Semitism can lead to if left unchecked. Worryingly, this year’s commemoration efforts are taking place on January 27 against a backdrop of rising anti-Semitism and Holocaust distortion around the world.

The football world is not immune to this trend. Anti-Semitic chants can still be heard from football stands across Europe. Over the past year, incidents of mistreatment of Jewish fans have been recorded. Nazi salutes have been used at football games and anti-Semitic insults continue to plague football-related discussions online.

Because understanding the history of the Holocaust plays a vital role in changing attitudes, Chelsea has partnered with the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA) to honor the victims and survivors of the Holocaust and shed light on this dark history and its impact on the world of football.

As the story of Julius Hirsch teaches us, anti-Semitism has a long history in sports. Hirsch was a German-Jewish professional footballer who played for the German national team. In 1933, shortly after the Nazis came to power, he sat down to write a painful letter to the Karlsruhe Football Club (KFV), the club to which he had been loyal since he was ten. “Today I read in the Stuttgart Sports Report that the big clubs, including the KFV, have decided that Jews should be removed from the sports clubs,” he wrote. “Unfortunately, it is with a heavy heart that I now have to announce my resignation from my dear KFV, a club to which I have belonged since 1902.”

Hirsch endured years of persecution, forced labor and isolation. In 1943 he was deported to Auschwitz, where he was murdered.

His story reflects the experiences of thousands of other Jewish players across Europe who were persecuted and murdered. After the Nazis came to power, sports clubs voluntarily barred Jews from participating, local ordinances prohibited them from entering the field, Jewish sports clubs were banned and their offices were vandalized. Jewish athletes were eventually arrested, deported and murdered. Exclusion from sports played a major role in the exclusion of Jews from society.

Today we are doing everything we can to make sure this never happens again.

Since 2018, Chelsea has been running Say No To Antisemitism, a global awareness campaign to not only remove antisemitism from football, but also use our platforms to educate our public about the Holocaust and antisemitism, as well as promote tolerance and acceptance.

Chelsea’s César Azpilicueta (left) and Ruben Loftus-Cheek at the club’s Say No To Antisemitism event in January 2020. Photo: Shahar Azran/Shutterstock

Chelsea first partnered with the IHRA in 2020, when they became the first sports team in the world to adopt the working definition of anti-Semitism. Many clubs and leagues have since followed suit, developing educational and training programs for players and fans tackling anti-Semitism in football. These developments are positive and we are calling on more clubs and leagues around the world to join this coalition and work to eradicate anti-Semitism from our stadiums.

This month, the IHRA and Chelsea are launching a campaign to encourage people to think about stories like Julius Hirsch’s using #WhyWeRemember. Chelsea FC has long commemorated the Holocaust, through stadium ceremonies and on match days. For two consecutive years, memorial activities focused on honoring athletes who, like Julius Hirsch, lost their lives in the Holocaust.

Hirsch’s story, commemorated on the wall of Stamford Bridge, reminds us that we all have a responsibility to remember and act. Hatred in the stadium doesn’t stay in the stadium. We know where it can lead us. We must do everything we can to ensure that this never happens again. We must never turn a blind eye to hatred or anti-Semitism – on International Holocaust Remembrance Day and every day thereafter.

Simon Taylor is Head of the Chelsea Foundation and Dr Kathrin Meyer is Secretary General of the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance

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