German Soccer Team’s Visit to Auschwitz Sparks Controversy

June 5, 2012  

A prominent German Jewish leader has criticized a visit by members of the German national soccer team to the Auschwitz death camp.

Dieter Graumann, the president of the Central Council of Jews in Germany, expressed dismay on Sunday that only three players from the national team made the trip, saying the whole team should have taken part, Speiegel Online reported Monday.

The delegation, which included the team’s coach and president along with the captain and two Polish-born players, visited the Nazi death camp on Friday.

Other teams have also announced plans to visit the site ahead of the Euro 2012 championships, which is being hosted by Ukraine and Poland.

“If the whole national team had come, one could have reached hundreds of thousands of young people — more than a thousand memorial speeches” could reach, the news site quoted Mr. Graumann as saying.

Mr. Graumann earlier took issue with remarks made by the team’s director, Oliver Bierhoff, who suggested he might use the opportunity of visiting the camp site, where over a million Jews were killed, to hold a “fireside chat” about Germany’s Nazi history.

Mr. Bierhoff used the word “Kamingespräch” in German, which contains a word that can mean ‘chimney.’ Mr. Graumann said the word choice displayed “colossal insensitivity and tastelessness” because it evoked the Nazi gas charmers

“People in Auschwitz, my grandparents for example, were gassed, incinerated and sent up the chimney,” Mr. Graumann said.

In a video of the delegation’s visit published on the national team’s website, players and soccer officials placed candles and a wreath at the memorial site.

“It is our duty to pay very close attention and above all to keep conveying to young players in our clubs that there must be no room for anti-Semitism, racism and intolerance,” Wolfgang Niersbach, president of the German Football Federation said, according to a Spiegel translation.

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