On Holocaust Memorial Day let’s commit to ridding football of antisemitism
If you have visited Stamford Bridge over the past years, you may well have spotted a 12-metre-tall mural, hanging high on the West Stand wall. Painted by the British-Israeli street artist Solomon Souza, it depicts three footballers: Julius Hirsch and Árpád Weisz, Jewish players murdered at Auschwitz, and Ron Jones, an English POW and Auschwitz survivor.
Today, on the 77th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz concentration camp, the world commemorates International Holocaust Remembrance Day. We honour Hirsch, Weisz and the millions of people who were brutally murdered, alongside the millions of others targeted and killed by the Nazis and their collaborators.
International Holocaust Remembrance Day is a stark reminder of where hate and antisemitism can lead if not countered. Worryingly, this year’s commemoration efforts on 27 January will take place against a backdrop of rising antisemitism and Holocaust distortion all over the world.
The world of football is not immune to this trend. Antisemitic chants can still be heard from football stands across Europe. Over the past year, incidents have been recorded of Jewish fans being abused. Nazi salutes have been used at football matches, and antisemitic slurs continue to plague football-related discussions online.
Because understanding the history of the Holocaust plays a vital role in changing attitudes, Chelsea have partnered with the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA) to honour the victims and survivors of the Holocaust, and to shine light upon this dark history and its impact on the world of football.
As the story of Julius Hirsch teaches us, antisemitism has a long history in the sport. Hirsch was a German-Jewish professional footballer who played for the German national team. In 1933, shortly after the Nazis came to power, he sat down to pen a painful letter to Karlsruhe Football Club (KFV), the club he had been loyal to since the age of 10. “Today I read in the Stuttgart Sports Report that the major clubs, including the KFV, have made a decision that Jews should be removed from the sports clubs,” he wrote. “Unfortunately, I must now announce my resignation from my dear KFV with a heavy heart, a club to which I have belonged since 1902.”
Hirsch endured years of persecution, forced labour and isolation. He was deported to Auschwitz in 1943, where he was murdered.
His story reflects the experiences of thousands of other Jewish players around Europe who were persecuted and murdered. After the Nazi rise to power, sports clubs voluntarily excluded Jews from participation, local ordinances barred them from setting foot on the pitch, Jewish sports clubs were banned and their offices vandalised. Jewish athletes were eventually arrested, deported and murdered. Exclusion from sports played a major role in excluding Jews from society.
Today, we are doing all we can to make sure this never happens again.
Since 2018, Chelsea have run Say No To Antisemitism, a global awareness campaign to not only rid football of antisemitism but also to use our platforms to educate our audiences about the Holocaust and antisemitism, and to promote tolerance and acceptance.
Chelsea first partnered with the IHRA in 2020 when they became the first sports team in the world to adopt its working definition of antisemitism. Many clubs and leagues have since followed suit, building educational and training programmes for players and fans that address antisemitism in football. These developments are positive, and we call upon more clubs and leagues around the world to join this coalition and commit to getting rid of antisemitism from our stadiums.
This month, the IHRA and Chelsea are launching a campaign to encourage people to reflect upon stories like Julius Hirsch’s using #WhyWeRemember. Chelsea FC have long commemorated the Holocaust, through ceremonies at the stadium and during match days. For two consecutive years commemorative activities have focused on honouring sportsmen and women who, like Julius Hirsch, lost their lives in the Holocaust.
Hirsch’s story, memorialised on the wall of Stamford Bridge, reminds us that we all have a responsibility to remember and to act. Hate in the stadium doesn’t stay in the stadium. We know where it can lead us. We must do everything we can to make sure it never happens again. We must never turn a blind eye to hate or antisemitism – on International Holocaust Remembrance Day and every day thereafter.
Simon Taylor is head of the Chelsea Foundation and Dr Kathrin Meyer is secretary general of the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance