German football trip to Auschwitz sparks row

By Toby Axelrod, March 29, 2012

Football fans in Germany are known for their "Auschwitz song", in which they vow to send the opposing team on a train ride to the death camp.

Now, a proposal to send Germany's national team to visit Auschwitz during this summer's Euro 2012 tournament in Poland and Ukraine has run into opposition, despite the best intentions of Germany's Jewish leadership.

Dieter Graumann, head of the Central Council of Jews in Germany, recently suggested that the national team - "role models, especially for the younger generation" - should go to the death camp memorial while in Poland as a sign of tolerance and in recognition of Germany's wartime guilt.

Alternatively, the players could visit the site of the 1941 Babi Yar massacre near Kiev, Mr Graumann told the Sport-Bild tabloid.

Wolfgang Niersbach, president of the German Football Club, said such a visit is possible, although he refused to commit to it.

However, Jewish journalist Henryk Broder questioned the proposal in a recent column in Spiegel Online.

"It isn't about the players visiting Auschwitz," wrote Mr Broder. "It's about the images of the visit that will be broadcast to the rest of the world afterwards - as if they were touring an SOS Children's Village in Africa to draw the world's attention to the misery of war orphans."

Rather, he said, the athletes should go alone and without TV cameras, "for personal reasons that would make them accountable to no one".

On the contrary, publicity is good, argued historian Andreas Nachama, director of the Topography of Terror archive and memorial in Berlin. "It brings attention to a place of memory," he said. "The sad thing is that sport is supposed to bring people together, but it is not always the reality… That is why it is so important that famous athletes be role models."

However, Germany-based Israeli scholar Roy Siny, who is studying racism in football, said that many right-wing Germans are not attached to their national team because of its multi-ethnic make-up. "We can send the national team in a big symbolic act to Auschwitz, but there is antisemitism at games every week in Germany," he said.

Last updated: 1:31pm, March 29 2012