Taking a Break from World Cup, Soccer Fans Visit Dachau Memorial

Taking a break from the World Cup soccer tournament under way in Germany, an international group of soccer fans visited the former Dachau concentration camp to make a statement about hate.

Wearing their team shirts, some 150 non-Jewish sports fans from Great Britain, Germany and Poland visited the Dachau memorial outside Munich last Friday in a program co-organized by Maccabi of Great Britain and the anti-racism initiative of LondonEnglandFans.

“We want to show our fanship and we want to show the world that we will never again let things be done which have been done more than 60 years ago,” said Herbert Schroeger, 46, of Munich, a member of Munich 1860 Against Racism.

“We want to show that we football fans are not necessarily ultra right-wing hooligans,” he added. “We are decent people. We are people with different opinions, but we share our opinions against racism.”

“It is a very important moment for football fans,” agreed Peter Schuengel, 32, of Dortmund, Germany. “You don’t expect football fans to go to Dachau and remember the past and say ‘OK, never again.’ People expect us to be drinking beer and shouting and making some trouble.”

Such fans are reachable, too, Schuengel said, but “only fans can reach fans.”

The trip took place at the height of the World Cup. The games have been largely peaceful and the event has lived up to its motto, “A time to make friends.”

But concerns about racism and right-wing extremist symbolism among some fans continue to haunt soccer, particularly in Europe.

The visit to Dachau “was an emotional experience and I think an educational experience,” Martin Berliner, chief executive of Maccabi GB, told JTA in a telephone interview. He said he had asked participants, both children and adults, to write a message on a postcard bearing the British flag and the words “Never Forget, Never Again.”

It was the first visit to Dachau specifically geared to soccer fans during the World Cup, said Michael Franke, a spokesperson for the memorial. In addition to visiting the memorial and museum, the guests spoke with Holocaust survivors Max Mannheimer and Ernst Grube, both of whom live nearby. The visitors also placed wreaths at the site.

They day concluded with a visit to the memorial to the White Rose German student resistance movement, and a barbecue in the evening.

The initiative was the brainchild of Mark Perryman of LondonEnglandFans and was supported by football’s anti-racism campaign in the United Kingdom, Kick It Out. Funding came from the British-based Pears Foundation, a private organization that supports Holocaust education in the United Kingdom.

Perryman, who is not Jewish, said his idea grew out of concern about hooliganism, xenophobia and anti-Semitism among some British soccer fans.

“Obviously we are here in Germany for football, but we are human beings as well, and today was an opportunity to bear witness,” Perryman said in a phone interview. He said British fans also made a point of visiting the Auschwitz memorial during the 2004 games in Katowice, Poland.

The visit to the memorial “changes your life,” he said. “You realize what hatred can create. I have written hundreds of thousands of words about football, but what Dachau means is industrialized murder.”

Berliner, who was accompanied on the trip by Estella Syrkin of Maccabi Europe, said the visit – his first to a concentration camp memorial – had not been easy for him, though he had been to Germany before.

His paternal grandparents, who were German Jews, died in the Holocaust. Berliner’s late father, Gus, escaped to England as a child on the Kindertransport in 1939.

His father “never recovered” from the loss of his parents, Berliner said. “So my coming here was for them.”

Peter Schuengel of the Byorussia Dortmund fan club said he came to Dachau for all the other fans who couldn’t be there.

It was impressive, he said, to “be here with the English and Polish fans and recognize that we are rivals and friends together, having this time to look back in history and say, ‘OK, we have a common future together and we will be very careful that something like this will never happen again.’ I am missing the words to tell you how it felt. It is a very important moment for football fans.”

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