Anne Frank, European Soccer and Anti-Semitism.
The vile act that took place in Rome isn’t something new.
Over the years, soccer fans in Europe have taunted rival teams and their fans with anti-Semitic slurs. Some fans in Rome recently left shocking stickers of a doctored photo of Anne Frank wearing the uniform of Italy's Roma soccer team in Rome's stadium Stadio Olimpico. Fans of the Lazio soccer team were insulting their rival Roma team by calling them Jews.
Many soccer teams now have groups of “ultra” fans, often violent supporters, many of whom identify with neo-Nazism and extreme forms of anti-Semitism and racism. At the same time, some European soccer clubs have become identified with Jews, even when no obvious connection exists between Jews and the teams. These so-called “Jewish” teams and their supporters have become a target for intense anti-Semitic abuse.
In the Netherlands, Amsterdam’s soccer team Ajax is identified with Jews, possibly because of the small but long-established Jewish community that lives in the city. Some Ajax fans embrace the link, waving Israeli flags at games and sometimes singing Jewish songs like Hava Nagila. But for some fans of opposing teams, Ajax’s Jewish connotations are an excuse for displays of hardcore Jew-hatred during games.
Just a few days before the Anne Frank stickers were discovered in Rome’s stadium, Dutch soccer fans used a picture of other Jewish children who were murdered by the Nazis to taunt Ajax fans. Fans of the Feyenoord soccer team in Rotterdam sent Images of Avram and Emanuel Rosenthal, who were just five and two years old when they were murdered in 1944, to rival fans on social media. The boys in the photos are each wearing a Jewish star on their coats; the caption read “When 020 (the area code for Amsterdam) had only one star”.
Fans sang, “My father was in the commandos, my mother was in the SS, together they burned Jews ‘cause Jews burn the best.”
In a 2015 match between Ajax and Utrecht, dozens of Utrecht supporters taunted Ajax fans, singing “My father was in the commandos, my mother was in the SS, together they burned Jews ‘cause Jews burn the best” and “Hamas, Hamas, Jews to the gas.” The game went on despite the anti-Semitic slurs.
In Britain, the Tottenham Hotspurs are identified with Jews. While some Spurs fans embrace the term, calling themselves “Yids”, some of their fans shout anti-Jewish insults during games. Kick It Out, a watchdog organization that monitors anti-Semitic and racist abuse in British soccer, has recorded rising numbers of anti-Semitic abuse at British soccer games, with dozens of incidents reported in a typical year.
In 1998 Lazio fans displayed banners from the stands reading "Auschwitz is Your Homeland. The Ovens are Your Homes"
Not all countries take anti-Semitism at soccer games seriously. In Poland, when Lech Poznan fans taunted players from Widzew Lodz, a rival team from the city of Lodz which was home to a thriving Jewish community before the Holocaust, shouts of “Move on, Jews! Your home is at Auschwitz! Send you to the gas!” rang out from the stands. A 2014 complaint about the virulence of the anti-Semitic chants failed to move Poland’s municipal prosecutor in Poznan, where the slurs took place. The office declined to press charges, cautioning that the taunts didn’t constitute criminal offenses.
Anti-Semitism in Italian soccer goes back decades and is no less virulent. In one memorable 1998 game between Lazio and Roma, Lazio fans unfurled two enormous printed banners, spreading over dozens of seats, reading “Auschwitz is Your Homeland. The Ovens are Your Homes”. Many fans held the signs aloft, taunting Roma fans in seats across the stadium.
But with the Anne Frank stickers officials may finally have had enough. Italy’s President Sergio Mattarella called the stickers “inhumane” and described them as an “insult and a threat”.
Lazio’s president Claudio Lotito swung into action to try and limit the damage to his team’s reputation. The day after the stickers were discovered, he visited a synagogue in Rome and presented the congregation with a wreath of flowers. He promised to take 200 young Lazio supporters to visit Auschwitz each year. He instructed his players to warm up for an away game in Bologna wearing T-shirts with a picture of Anne Frank on them and the slogan “No to Anti-Semitism”.
On October 25, all Italian soccer games in Italy began with a minute of silence to commemorate the victims of the Holocaust. Then a passage of Anne Frank’s famous diary, written while she was hiding from the Nazis in an Amsterdam garret, was read out. In some stadiums, copies of Anne Frank’s diary were given out to fans.
Not all soccer fans condemned anti-Semitism. At the Bologna match, 500 Lazio supporters outside the stadium gave Nazi salutes and sang Nazi songs during the ceremony. In Turin, some fans of the Juventus team turned their backs during the reading of the diary and sang Italy’s national anthem in protest. In Rome’s Olympia Stadio Olimpico where the stickers were first found, fans of the Calabria-based team Crotone who were playing Roma shouted team chants during the reading.
Even Claudio Lotito, Lazio’s president, has come in for criticism for his handling of the stickers. An Italian newspaper released a recording of him calling his visit to the Rome synagogue “a charade”. Before he visited he purportedly said, “Let’s put on this performance,” and also said of Jews: “These people don’t count a damn.” The wreath he laid in the synagogue was later found floating in the Tiber River. Rome’s Chief Rabbi Riccardo Di Segni criticized the visit as a “publicity stunt”, noting that anti-Semitism remains a serious problem among Lazio supporters and others.
While Mr. Lotito disputes that it is his voice in the leaked recording, soccer fans throughout Italy and across Europe have a great deal to do to combat anti-Semitism. They could do worse than listening and learning from the full passage of Anne Frank’s diary that was read in stadiums across Italy:
I see the world being slowly transformed into a wilderness, I hear the approaching thunder that, one day, will destroy us too, I feel the suffering of millions. And yet, when I look up at the sky, I somehow feel that everything will change for the better, that this cruelty too shall end, that peace and tranquility will return once more.