March 24, 2012
A row has broken out between the German national football team and the country’s leading Jewish organisation over whether the players should visit Auschwitz during this summer’s European championships.
Dieter Graumann, the head of the Central Council of Jews in Germanyhas called on the team to “demonstrate their historical responsibility” and travel to the former Nazi concentration camp close to Krakow in southern Poland, which is hosting the championships together with Ukraine.
Graumann has said a visit by the team of the nation which perpetrated the Holocaust would “be more effective than a thousand commemorative speeches”, and that their failure to go to the camp where 1.2 million people were murdered would be “inconceivable”.
“By doing this they would be showing the whole world that they are prepared to carry a certain amount of responsibility on their shoulders,” Graumann told a German sports magazine in an interview.
But the team’s management and the DFB (German Football Federation) has bristled at the suggestion. It has said while the team is preparing to pay tribute to the victims of the Holocaust, no decision has yet been made as to whether they will travel to the former death camp, which is now a museum.
“Of course we’ll be dealing with this topic with the players, but what form this will take has not been finally decided upon,” said Oliver Bierhoff, the team’s manager.
Henryk Broder, a Polish-born German-Jewish commentator, has waded into the debate with the suggestion that a visit to Auschwitz should be dismissed, not least because it might put the footballers off their game.
“What are the footballers supposed to do in Auschwitz? Swear that they’re sorry? Explain that this sort of thing can “never happen again?” he wrote in an essay in Spiegel. “And has anyone thought about what would happen if the German players visited Auschwitz and became so overcome by emotion that they lost the tournament?”
He added: “The German footballers have no business going to Auschwitz. That is, unless some of them choose to go there on their own and without the cameras, for personal reasons that would make them accountable to no one.”
But Graumann has said it would be of international embarrassment for the German team to avoid Auschwitz, particularly because – as has been reported in the German media, the England team which will be based in nearby Krakow, is planning to visit it during the tournament.
“As a German and a Jew I’d consider it a fatal sign if the English national team visited the former death camp, but the German team stayed away from this place,” he said.
But while the England team will have its championship headquarters in Krakow, which is just 70km (43 miles) away from Auschwitz, the DFB has pointed out that the German team will be based far away in the Baltic Sea port city of Gdansk, which is around 550km (342 miles) north of the concentration camp, making a visit impractical.
• This article was amended on 23 March 2012. The original referred to the Baltic Sea port city of Danzig. This has been corrected.