German Jewish leader criticizes national soccer coach over Holocaust commemoration


HAMBURG, Germany (JTA) — Germany’s top Jewish leader lashed out at the country’s national soccer team manager for failing to properly commemorate the Holocaust ahead of the Euro 2012 soccer championship in Poland and Ukraine.

Dieter Graumann, head of the Central Council of Jews in Germany, said he wished team manager Oliver Bierhoff had heeded his advice to bring the entire team to Auschwitz last week, in order to send a message to thousands of young German fans.

Bierhoff visited the site with three athletes, in addition to Germany’s ambassador to Poland, Rüdiger Freiherr von Fritsch, and Charlotte Knobloch, former head of the Central Council of Jews in Germany.

"It would have been nice if it had not been a secret commando, but a bit more open," Graumann said in Hamburg on Sunday, after meetings with some 240 representatives of Jewish communities from across the country. 

He said the German Football Association, or DFB, had rejected the idea, with the excuse that the German players were "too sensitive" to visit as an entire team, as the British national team plans to do.

Graumann said Bierhoff told him he "could not demand that the team do this." As an alternative, Bierhoff suggested "a fireside chat" on the Holocaust with the team. 

Those words betrayed a "colossal insensitivity," said Graumann, explaining that the German term "Kamingespraech" is close to the word for chimney, Kamin, which "brings up certain associations: people were gassed, burned and sent up the ‘Kamine’ — including my grandparents."

Graumann conceded that the German Football Association continues to do good work, he said, noting that the Central Council bestowed its highest honor, the Leo-Baeck Prize, on association head Theo Zwanziger in 2009, for his commitment to fighting right-wing extremism in sport.

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