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‘kick It Like Kissinger': Soccer Fever Hitting Jewish Museums in Germany

Jewish museums have caught the soccer fever sweeping through Germany, which is hosting this year’s World Cup. Two exhibits have opened on the theme of Jews in German soccer history and will be open throughout the World Cup, which runs through early July, and a third is planned for the fall.

“Kick it Like Kissinger” — yes, former German schoolboy Henry Kissinger — is an exhibit with two venues: the Frankfurt Jewish Museum and the Jewish Museum of Franken, in Furth — the city where President Nixon’s Jewish secretary of state grew up. It will run in both places through September.

When they leave, Berlin will pick up with “Kickers, Fighters and Legends — Jews in German Soccer.”

Hermann Simon, director of the Foundation New Synagogue — Centrum Judaicum, which will host the Berlin exhibit, recently stressed the importance of not letting the “tumult over the World Cup drown out the theme” of Jews in the sport.

Did you know that a Jew — Walther Bensemann — is considered the founding father of German soccer? He learned the game from British students at his Swiss boarding school, and later started several soccer clubs, including the forerunners of some of Germany’s best teams today. In 1920 he also founded soccer magazine Der Kicker.

Sports facts are interspersed with artifacts. “We even show kitsch objects, like mezuzot with football themes,” said Raphael Gross, new director of the Frankfurt Jewish Museum.

The exhibits also include the dark side: the fate of Jewish athletes and team sports in the Nazi period.

Soccer player Julius Hirsch was forced off the Karlsruhe team in 1933, and murdered in 1943 in Auschwitz. Gottfried Fuchs managed to escape Germany to Canada. When his team invited him back after the war, Fuchs said no as a protest against Hirsch’s fate. Their stories are among those to be told at the Berlin exhibit.

Nazi propaganda chief Joseph Goebbels was a soccer fan and, in time for the 1936 Olympics, he used one of Bensemann’s former publications, Kicker Bilder Welt, or Kicker Photo World, to profile German soccer players from 1900 onward — all except the Jewish ones, said Daniela Eisenstein, director of the museum in Franken.

“Goebbels wanted to get rid of any trace of Jews in soccer,” she said. “We opened the book to the ‘H’ page, where Hirsch should be.”

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