Italy rediscovers a hero of football, lost to Shoah

By Rossella Tercatin, September 15, 2013
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Arpad Weisz

Arpad Weisz

Some have compared Arpad Weisz to Josè Mourinho, for their extraordinary relationship with their players, their innovative leadership styles and the attention paid to the psychological aspects of coaching a football team.

Not to mention the fact that Arpad Weisz was also a winner — the Hungarian Jew led Bologna FC and Inter Milan to championship victories in the 1920s and the 1930s.

Weisz even played a part in Chelsea’s history. In 1937, during the Tournoi international de l’Exposition Universelle, a precursor of the Champions League, Chelsea was beaten in the final by Weisz’s Bologna FC in Paris.

A little over a year later, Weisz, as a foreign Jew, left Italy to escape Benito Mussolini’s antisemitic laws. He fled to the Netherlands, but after the Nazi invasion he was deported to Auschwitz together with his wife and two children. Nobody survived.

He had been forgotten for many decades but, over the past few years, Weisz has been rediscovered as a key figure not only in Bologna, with whose club he won two championships in 1935 and 1936, but also by Inter Milan. Weisz was coaching the Nerazzurri when they won the championship in 1930. Moreover, Weisz discovered one of the greatest Italian players ever, Giuseppe Meazza.

Pagine Ebraiche, the magazine of Italian Jewry, dedicated a section in its August issue to Weisz. It recorded the initiatives created to remember him — the memorial plaque unveiled in Milan’s San Siro stadium on Holocaust Memorial Day in 2012; and the Italian Cup match between Inter and Bologna dedicated to him in 2013, when the players arrived on the field wearing t-shirts with his portrait and the caption “No racism, for Arpad Weisz”.

“Arpad Weisz belongs to the history of Inter. He was an innovator, a model of competence and seriousness. And, of course, the value of his figure goes beyond football, when one thinks of the tragedy that befell him,” said Inter Milan president Massimo Moratti.

“We must not forget that he was still our coach when he was compelled to flee from Italy. It’s hard to believe that a personality like him, so little time ago, met such a horrible destiny,” said Bologna FC president Albano Guaraldi .

On September 26, under-17 teams from Inter, Bologna and AC Milan will take part in a friendly tournament dedicated to Weisz, to be played every year. Hundreds of students and young athletes have been invited to attend the event and take in its message about racism and antisemitism.

“When I speak in schools, it’s touching to see how students are moved by the story of Weisz,” says Matteo Marani, editor-in-chief of the Bolognese sports paper Guerin Sportivo and author of the Jewish coach biography Dallo scudetto ad Auschwitz (“From championship to Auschwitz”) which brought Weisz back into public view after decades of being forgotten.

“The coach’s authority derives not from coercion but from the high esteem and respect from his players he will be able to gain. Woe betide the one who will not be able to have a positive moral influence on the men he is supposed to train!” wrote Weisz. This remains true 80 years on, as Mourinho would probably confirm.

Last updated: 10:45am, September 15 2013