Chief Rabbi leads service honouring German Jewish footballer killed in the Holocaust

Ahead of their crucial Champions League game, Chelsea FC and Borussia Dortmund FC rededicated themselves to the fight against antisemitism


Although a crucial Champions League match for both teams was a mere hour away, last night the leadership of both Chelsea FC and Borussia Dortmund FC joined the Chief Rabbi for a service commemorating the life of a German-Jewish footballer who fought for his country in World War I but was then murdered by the Nazis in World War II.

Joined by Jonathan Goldstein, a director and co-owner of Chelsea, and Carsten Cramer, a director of Borussia Dortmund, Chief Rabbi Sir Ephraim Mirvis led a service remembering the life of Julius Hirsch, a highly accomplished German footballer whose life was taken simply because he was Jewish.

The Chief Rabbi said a prayer in memory of Mr Hirsch, and the leadership of both clubs paid tribute to him and re-dedicated themselves to combatting antisemitism and racism in all its forms.

Opening the service was Jonathan Goldstein, a Jewish solicitor and entrepreneur who leads Chelsea football club. He told gathered dignitaries: “March 2023 marks 80 years since the death of Julius Hirsch. Julius was a renowned footballer in Germany, played for multiple clubs and the German national team, and even once here at Stamford Bridge. Despite these accolades, Julius’ position as a Jewish man in Nazi Germany meant he was deported to Auschwitz-Birkenau where he died on 1st of March 1943.

“Today's ceremony is to honour Julius’ life, and to celebrate Chelsea and Dortmund's shared commitment to combating antisemitism and memorialising Jewish athletes who lost their lives in the Holocaust.”

Carsten Cramer, a director at Borussia Dortmund also paid tribute to Hirsch, saying: “Julius Hirsch is a person who is really recommended as someone who's deeply connected to our club, we feel highly committed to what he has done."

Mr Cramer then read out a message from Andreas Hirsch, the grandson of Julius, who said: “Every morning when I drink my coffee I think of my grandfather. His life, and his death, teach us that this can happen to anyone; a hero of war, a famous football player. If we let antisemitism and racism grow, anyone can become a victim. It is therefore our duty to always stand up against antisemitism, racism, and hate.”

The Chief Rabbi lit a candle in memory of Hirsch and said a prayer for him and the six million Jews murdered in the Holocaust.

Speaking after the ceremony, the Chief Rabbi said: “The statement that is being made this evening is enormous because the more we articulate our denouncing of antisemitism, of all forms of xenophobia and racism, the more it's going to be heard.

“We've seen here in Stamford Bridge a significant improvement over the past number of years, together with other stadiums. This is as a direct consequence of the proactive stance that's been taken by this club, and some others. Well done, Chelsea.”

In 2018, Chelsea FC launched its “Say No to Antisemitism” campaign, and a mural of three footballers murdered in the Holocaust, including Julius Hirsch, was displayed on Stamford Bridge stadium for two years, before it was moved to The National Holocaust Centre and Museum. The club has also been working with the centre to create an antisemitism education program for secondary schools, which held its first session at the iconic stadium last week.

Lord John Mann, the government’s independent adviser on antisemitism, also praised the work of both Chelsea and Borussia Dortmund, telling the gathered dignitaries: “In Germany, without question, having worked with Dortmund for many years now, Dortmund does more than others. It does more than its little bit. And that's having a profound influence on others.

“In the UK, Chelsea does more than anybody else. And that's having a profound implication on us, and it's particularly important and pleasing to see that work continue through an entire change of ownership and leadership of the club.

“Of the 6 million who were murdered, there were very many footballers, and their stories are starting to be told. And it's Chelsea Football Club and it’s Borussia Dortmund Football Club who have led the way in that.”

After the unity of the service, the two clubs battled it out for a place in the Champions League quarterfinals, and Chelsea was victorious with a 2-0 win (2-1 on aggregate).

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