An educational resource for secondary schools inspired by the visit of the England football squad to Auschwitz-Birkenau last year was launched on Monday by Football Association chairman David Bernstein.
A jointly funded collaboration between the FA and the Holocaust Educational Trust, it is seen as a different way of engaging pupils in Holocaust studies.
The free educational pack — which has been sent to schools across England — features a DVD on the footballers’ trip to the death camp site, interspersed with archive images and survivor testimony. Hermann Hirschberger recalls his parents as “normal decent people” who had “paid the price” for being Jewish. Josef Perl speaks of witnessing his “mother and four of my sisters being shot”.
Players interviewed included goalkeeper Joe Hart, who was taken aback by the scale of systematic killing — the number of people who “walked through these doors with absolutely no hope of living”.
Phil Jagielka was moved by the exhibits of victims’ hair, suitcases and shoes. “We saw probably 40,000 pairs of shoes, but that would have been nothing compared to the amount of people that obviously died.”
England manager Roy Hodgson said the visit had been a “harrowing experience. It’s very difficult to imagine this type of inhumanity, but to see it so clearly documented and have the guide explain so graphically how everything took place and the scale... It’s still very worrying today.”
The DVD also covers the pre-visit talk to the players by survivors Zigi Shipper and Ben Helfgott. Joleon Lescott said it was “an honour to meet them. We are footballers but they are what you call heroes.”
England skipper Steven Gerrard said that hearing their testimony had “given me a huge lift. They’re very inspirational people.”
Mr Shipper and Mr Helfgott joined Mr Bernstein at the launch event at the Park School in Stanmore, where the DVD was shown as part of an educational session for 60 pupils. Speaking afterwards, Mr Bernstein said the Holocaust had been “an overpowering event in my life. So to use the power of football to bring interest in the subject has really been a great privilege.
“To go to Auschwitz was extraordinary. I have photographs of then and now, photographs of people being carried off the trains on the very spot where we stood. In a way it is quite unbelievable and you have to take a step back and think: ‘Did this really happen?’ And of course it did.”
He had told the HET he would be willing to take the message to other schools. “I feel so strongly about it”.
Many of the England squad knew little about Auschwitz before the visit. “But they were very moved and it really had a great impact on them.”
HET chief executive Karen Pollock said it was important to find creative ways to bring the topic to a young audience. “What could be better than having famous footballers talk about it?”
A copy of the resource has also been sent to the Department for Education, where a spokesperson said: “Every young person should learn about the catastrophic events that took place during the Holocaust.”