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Euro 2012 Soccer Championship Stirs Up the Ghost of Anti-Semitism

Submitted by on June 19, 2012 – 6:29 pm 27 Comments |  

Like the upcoming London Olympics this year and the planned Sochi Olympics in 2014, the Euro 2012 has attracted worldwide attention to a political topic seemingly unrelated to soccer: anti-Semitism and the Holocaust. The main reason is the choice the venues: Poland’s Warsaw, Gdańsk, Wrocław, and Poznań, and Ukraine’s Kiev, Lviv, Donetsk and Kharkiv. These cities are not necessarily popular tourist destinations, but they were sites of important Jewish communities that suffered terribly during World War II and of concentration camps where both Jews and non-Jews were exterminated in staggering numbers. Warsaw Ghetto was the site of the infamous Warsaw Ghetto Uprising in the spring of 1943, the largest single revolt by the Jews during World War II. The majority of the Jews from Gdańsk—known as the Free City of Danzig under the protection of the League of Nations—were able to leave in the wake of the Kristallnacht riots in November 1938, most of them to Palestine. Those who remained until the city fell to the Germans were murdered in the Holocaust. Many of Wrocław’s 10,000 Jews were sent to concentration camps and killed, and a network of brutal camps was established around the city, known as Breslau in German. Poznań too was a site of a concentration camp, and its pre-war Jewish population of about 2,000 were mostly murdered in the Holocaust. Kiev’s Jews—nearly 34,000 men, women, and children—were rounded up by the Germans and massacred at Babi Yar on September 29-30, 1941; this tragedy became subject of a famous poem by Yevgeny Yevtushenko and of Dmitri Shostakovich’s Symphony No. 13. In Lviv, Jews were subject to prosecution by Germans, Poles, Ukrainian nationalists, and the Soviet authorities alike. In Donetsk, 3,000 Jews died in the ghetto and 92,000 Jews and non-Jews were killed in the local concentration camp. Kharkiv was the largest Soviet city to be occupied by the Nazis; its Jewish community, which prided itself with the second largest synagogue in Europe, suffered greatly as well: an estimated 30,000 people were killed between December 1941 and January 1942 and buried in a mass grave by the Germans in a ravine outside of town named Drobitsky Yar.

Israeli students have launched a social media campaign to use the Euro 2012 soccer games to commemorate the Holocaust. The campaign, consisting of a website, smartphone applications and Facebook, Twitter and Instagram accounts, is titled Euro1945 and its graphics echo the official advertising campaign of Euro2012. The welcome page of the site (see screen shot above) displays a map where each EUFA 2012 hosting city and stadium is marked with a Jewish tombstone. A click on the icon produces a summary about the local pre-Holocaust Jewish community. Some of the text on the Euro1945 website relates soccer to the Holocaust more directly, such as the note on Poznan’s first Jewish labor camp set up where the city’s Municipal Stadium now stands, or the story the Kiev Death Match, held in August 1942 at Zenit Stadium: a team of German soldiers lost the game 3:5 to local players, but the Germans sent the victorious team to a concentration camp. At times, the Nazis used soccer for propaganda, as when they had the popular Jewish German actor/director Kurt Gerron direct a film about life in the Theresientadt camp and give an on-screen appearance testifying to the camp’s humane conditions. A long scene shows a soccer game played in September 1944 on a field within walking distance to a crematorium at its apogee of productivity. After the film was completed, Gerron, as well as the Theresientadt jazz band “Ghetto Swingers”, were transported to the gas chambers at Auschwitz.

Unlike the aforementioned London and Sochi Olympics, which refuse to address such political issues, Euro2012 has been willing to confront this legacy. Official visits to the Auschwitz-Birkenau extermination camp were conducted by four out of sixteen Euro2012 teams. Players and coaches from Germany, Italy, England and the Netherlands, accompanied by the Holocaust survivors from their respective countries, paid tribute to the victims, while warning against prejudice and violence on today’s field. “Our generations are fortunate in that we’ve only seen these horrors in films and books,” Italian defender Giorgio Chiellini said.

But for some Jews living in Euro2012 host cities, especially in Ukraine, anti-Semitism is alive and kicking. As pointed out by Efraim Zuroff of The Times of Israel, Lviv is the capital of Ukrainian ultranationalism, historically linked with anti-Semitism. The names of Bohdan Khmelnytsky and Stepan Bandera are associated not only with Ukrainian nationalist movement but also with mass killings of Jews. Khmelnytsky was the nationalist leader of the Cossack uprising against Polish rule in Ukraine in 1648. Though his primary aim was to establish an autonomous Ukraine, he also aimed at eradicating Jews from the country. The precise number of Jews killed at the hand of Khmelnytsky’s Cossacks is not known, but historians today estimate it in the tens of thousand (Jerome A. Chanes Antisemitism: A Reference Handbook). Stepan Bandera, the head of the Organization of Ukrainian Nationalists (OUN), is a highly controversial figure in contemporary Ukraine, due to his cooperation with Nazi Germany in 1939-1941. OUN perceived the Jews as “the most faithful support of the ruling Bolshevik regime, and the vanguard of Muscovite imperialism in Ukraine” (from the OUN Krakow declaration made in 1941). As a result, the Minority Policy document ordered that “Jews must be isolated, removed from governmental positions in order to prevent sabotage, those who are deemed necessary may only work with an overseer… Jewish assimilation is not possible”. The controversy surrounding Bandera and OUN was stirred anew in January 2010, when the outgoing President of Ukraine Viktor Yushchenko awarded to Bandera the title of Hero of Ukraine. The award was condemned by Jewish organizations and Russia’s Foreign Ministry and was declared illegal by a Ukrainian court in April 2010. In January 2011, under President Viktor Yanukovych, the award was officially annulled.

In recent years, the ultranationalist ideas in Ukraine have been carried forward by the Svoboda (“Freedom”) party, originally known as the Social-National Party, which is rooted in Nazi collaboration. Svoboda is now the largest party on Lviv city council and in the regional council. It has taken power in other major urban centers of western Ukraine, including Ternopil and Ivano-Frankivsk. In October 2012, when the country holds national elections, Svoboda is expected to move up to the next level and win seats in the Verkhovna Rada, the national parliament, for the first time. This is in part because the moderate nationalist politicians, such as the leaders of the Orange Revolution Yulia Timoshenko and Viktor Yuschenko, quickly fell out among themselves and are now seen as shrowded in a “blizzard of allegations of corruption”, in the words of Efraim Zuroff. Yulia Tymoshenko is in prison, convicted of “abuse of office”, although rights groups say her incarceration is politically motivated.

Even though there are almost no traces of Judaism remaining in Lviv, soccer teams and fans coming to Lviv are likely to encounter manifestations of anti-Semitism. The city’s most elegant hotel, the Citadel Inn, which hosts many guests for the Euro 2012 matches, was built on the site of the mass murder of tens of thousands of Jews and non-Jews. Two restaurants in the center of town have brazenly anti-Semitic themes. The first, “At the Golden Rose,” located near the site of the Golden Rose Synagogue, which was destroyed by the Nazis in 1941 with numerous Jews inside, offers its guests black hats like the ones worn by Hassidim, along with payot (sidelocks). If that’s not enough, the prices of the dishes on its menu are not listed, since Jews are expected to haggle over the (highly inflated) prices, a notorious anti-Semitic stereotype prevalent in Eastern Europe. The second eating establishment is named Kryivka, or “Hiding Place,” which recreates a bunker used by Ukrainian ultranationalist “partisans” allied to Stepan Bandera who actively participated in the murder of Jews in 1941. To enter, the password is “Glory to Ukraine”, but there is no room for Jews or other minorities in the Ukraine as envisaged by Ukrainian ultranationalists.

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  • James T. Wilson

    Some of this actually presents what I find to be a rather tricky situation.  The idea of using an international soccer match as a venue for commemorating the Holocaust sounds ludicrous to me.  I am reminded of the French synchronized swimming team who had a Holocaust-themed number they wanted to perform at the 1996 Olympics.  Most people–myself included–did not find that even remotely appropriate.  Personally, I think a soccer competition should simply be allowed to be a soccer competition.  Let’s take prejudice out, but not put some sort of required moral philosophy lesson in.

    As to the drinking establishments, we must distinguish between intentional offense and negligent ignorance.  The hat and forelocks and lack of prices remind me of Mexican restaurants with sombreros and small businesses that evoke Scottish themes to indicate their low prices–offensive attempts at a theme that the perpetrator may even come from some ignorant, misplaced admiration.  I am reminded of my 76-year-old aunt, who still uses the verb “to jew someone out of something.”  When I explained to her how offensive this was, she was very surprised, because she was always happy when she had done it, in a card game, for instance.

    Finally, I think the area of national heroes is a minefield one should tread in lightly.  I am always happy to point out that Washington owned slaves and Jefferson not only owned them, but also felt that Africans were probably biologically inferior to Europeans.  That said, I have no qualms about presenting Washington as a national hero and overall would vote for the man today.  I have reverently visited both the Washington Monument and Mount Vernon.  Does that make me a racist?  I would say not.  Indeed, if there were a movement to pull down the Washington Monument and take him of the one dollar bill because he owned slaves, I think it would probably provoke more racism than before.  The Ukrainians, I am afraid, do not have that many national heroes to choose from.  If they cannot honor any that were also anti-semites, they will have none.  It would be good if they learned to acknowledge the dark side of their heroes, as most Americans have learned to do, while still honoring them.  If we require that they not be honored, we will be setting up a dichotomy between Ukrainian nationhood and philo-semitism that can only have disastrous results.

    • Asya Pereltsvaig

      Thank you for your interesting thoughts, Jim! I have to disagree with you though.

      When it comes to restaurants with anti-Semitic themes, they are not simply tacky as are Mexican restaurants with sombreros or Russian restaurants with matryoshkas and the like. Note: these are not *Jewish* restaurants with ultra-Orthodox hats and forelocks. Nor can I think of any Jewish restaurant anywhere that would use such imagery (or have a haggling for price as a policy), as these are not images that typify Jews, for Jews. But they are stereotypical anti-semitic images. I am not sure if I am making myself clear here, but let me try some analogies. I hope you see a difference between a Mexican restaurant with sombreros and cactuses (cactii?) and a Mexican restaurant with a drive-through shooting by drug gangs for entertainment. What fewer people see is the difference between a Russian restaurant with matryoshkas and a Russian restaurant with Soviet/KGB paraphernalia. The latter disgusts me as much as would a German restaurant decorated with swastikas and such. A Mexican restaurant with sombreros, mariachi music, tequila shots and
      the like does celebrate Mexican culture. Yes, all very touristy and stereotypical, but nonetheless Mexican culture. My point is that the establishments I describe in the post are not doing their gimmicks simply to attract more customers and to celebrate some aspect of Jewish culture, but quite the opposite.

      When it comes to Ukrainian national heros, I hear your point about Washington and Jefferson. There is, however, an important distinction. Washington and Jefferson held beliefs that were typical of their time. If they lived today, it is easy to imagine that they would not have thought the same of slavery and racial issues. The point about Ukrainian (ultra)nationalism is that it hasn’t changed a bit. Bohdan Khmelnytsky or Stepan Bandera would feel perfectly at home today with their ideologies being exactly the same. Also, while Washington and Jefferson stood for something besides slavery, anti-Semitism appears to be at the core of Ukrainian (ultra)nationalism: “Ukraine uber alles” (ironically, of course, as the Nazis didn’t think that highly of the Slavs, Ukrainians included). The controversial nature of figures like Stepan Bandera comes from the fact that in this part of the world, alliances were often made not because of shared affinity, but because of shared enmity. While for us the question of who was worse, Hitler or Stalin, is purely academic, to Bandera and the like it was a real policy decision. This is probably why a more moderate nationalist Yuschenko gave him the award, while the pro-Russian Yanukovych cancelled it.

      • James T. Wilson

        Don’t get me wrong, Asya, the first restaurant is in particularly bad taste and one should certainly point that out.  I am not familiar enough with the Ukrainian situation to know whether the hats and haggling would be known to be insulting.  Were such a restaurant to appear in Chicago, I would say it was blatant and intentional anti-Semitism, whereas if it appeared in Tokyo, I would say it was unfortunate ignorance (like the publication a few years ago of a book suggesting Japanese businessmen model themselves on Adolph Hitler).

        I am also no expert on Ukrainian history, but I struggle to think of a Ukrainian national hero who would not also be an anti-Semite.  I suppose we might forgive some very early figure, like St. Vladimir, but whether he was Ukrainian might also be questioned.  I personally am not willing to forgive Washington and Jefferson, since there were writers arguing against slavery at the time–indeed, we know Jefferson had read some of them.  I find it much more productive to accept that even in figures that I admire very much there are aspects I find unacceptable.  If the Ukrainians cannot find someone whom they can admire as a national culture hero, while recognizing that he also did some detestable things, will they be able to construct any sort of national history at all?  My worry is that, if we require that they only commemorate culture heroes that never did anything modern liberal democrats find unacceptable, they may simply conclude that to be Ukrainian means to reject liberalism.

        • Asya Pereltsvaig

          To answer your first point, I would say that if such a restaurant is unacceptable in Chicago, it is even less acceptable in Ukraine, where there is a lot more of the history of anti-Semitism and persecution of Jews. The weak attempts by some local politicians to pretend that Lviv is Tokyo (in this respect, and to use your analogy) that I find in bad taste.

          As for the issue of Ukrainian national heros, I can’t think of any (ultra)nationalist figure that is not also a vile anti-Semite. But that tells you something too, doesn’t it? The more moderate politicians/views I am fine with, but the ultra-nationalism that leaves no room but for Ukrainians, I do have a problem with.

          More generally, it seems to me that this sort of ultranationalism pervades that whole region. Curiously, comments from readers, both here on GeoCurrents and on my other blog where I’ve written on Latvia’s language referendum, whether they are Poles, Ukrainians, Latvians, Russians or whatever, seem to confirm that point…

          • James T. Wilson

            The very linguistic heterogeneity of the region, and the late start in equating the state with the nation definitely lent itself to the development of “ultranationalism.”  In Hungary, some of this nationalism was certainly of the “ethnic purity” type, as epitomized by the Nyilaskereszt Part, but there was also a strain of ultranationalism that welcomed anyone who would adopt the magyar identity.  Indeed, early twentieth-century nationalists particularly insisted on the category of “zsidovallasu magyarok,” or Hungarians of the Jewish faith, in order to maximize the magyar population in the Kingdom.  I believe some of the Czech, Slovak, and Polish nationalist leaders had similar assimilationist ideas.  As you point out, though, that strain doesn’t seem to have been very evident in the Ukraine.  I wonder why.

          • Asya Pereltsvaig

            I am not sure that “lingusitic heterogeneity” plays such a big part, as many of the region’s languages are closely related. Ukrainian nationalist’s biggest foe is “moskal” (the Moskovite) but the Russian and Ukrainian languages are extremely close. But Eastern European nationalism (ultra or otherwise) definitely has a very different flavor from its Western European counterpart. Something that’s worth exploring further, for sure.

            Funny you’d mention Hungarian nationalism — I am working on a post on this very issue, to be published tomorrow or Friday, I think. So stay tuned.

            As for your last question on why Ukrainian nationalism does not have an assimilationist trend, that’s an excellent question. I don’t have a ready-made answer. “More research is needed”, as we like to say in academic circles ;)

          • James T. Wilson

            Well, I think in the Austro-Hungarian “prison of nations,” state-centered nationalism was not as likely as to develop as, say, Sweden.  The same may also be said, I think, of the eastern part of the Russian Empire.  Johann Gottfried von Herder was a German living in Livonia, I believe, and his insistence that language is the soul of the nation and a man can only thrive among his own nation is something I always thought might be more characteristic of a member of a linguistic minority than, say, a German in Prussia or Saxony.  I had always thought Ukrainian nationalism in the nineteenth century developed in the West, where they were in contact with Poles, Slovaks, Ukrainians, and Moldavians, as opposed to in the East, where Ukrainian was simply the local expression of an East Slavic language continuum.

  • Maxim Maximov

     Are you insane? Thousands of Russian victims were brutally beaten up by polish nazis few days ago. Were you blind? What jews? What Bandera?

    • Asya Pereltsvaig

      You might want to watch your language, Maxim. And how does the fact that Russians got beaten up negate everything else that has happened in history?

      • Maxim Maximov
        • Asya Pereltsvaig

          Yep, “Russian flag with imperial symbols” would have been a more precise if more cumbersome wording.

          But I am still waiting to hear about relevance of this to the topic at hand, the Holocaust.

          • Maxim Maximov

            There are no ghosts of jew-hate in modern Poland, there is gigantic anti-russian nazism, completely supported by both catholic church and “independent” media.
            There was not a single word about jews for decades in Poland. The only thing they spoke about was their hatred towards russians. Polish media described tourists from Russia as “KGB agents trained to spy against Poland”.
            Result of such articles was massive assault on russian families, who were totally unaware of polish madness.
            It’s russians and only russians were under attack in Poland. First it was verbal assault, when polish people in the street yelled “ruska kurva” and other curse to any russian victim in sight. Russians literally couldn’t pass down the street without being threaten with death. But that was just the beginning of horror. Russians never responded to these savages and such correct and polite behaviour made polish nazis really mad. Poles started actual massacre. At first poles
            just spitted and yelled at russians, throwing stones and bricks. Then thousands of criminals attacked russian families everywhere in Poland, beating up victims so brutally like their only goal was to kill as
            more russians as possible. Most shocking was police did nothing to stop polish murderers at all.
            You write about “ghost of holocaust” while actual violence was only directed against defenceless russian families. Granting polish savages a right to host major sport event was one huge mistake. It’s a miracle people could escape nazi Poland alive.

          • Asya Pereltsvaig

            Violence at sporting events is deplorable indeed, whether directed at athletes, spectators, or innocent bystanders. I wonder what it is about soccer that elicits particularly beastly behaviors.

            I agree that Poland has done well in terms of combatting anti-Semitism. They also have hardly any Jews left, though, a mere 3,000 or so, where it used to be millions. In the article I purposefully focused on Ukraine, because there the “ghost” seems very much alive still.

          • James T. Wilson

            A Russian imperial flag may be neither here nor there, but a “This is Russia” banner is in very bad taste in either Warsaw or Kiev.  I cannot imagine the outrage a “This is the British Empire” banner at an event in New Delhi or Lagos would stoke up worldwide, but most of the world may know less about the history of Eastern Europe.

          • Maxim Maximov

            Bad taste is when british freaks urinate and vomit in public everywhere they travel.

    • Asya Pereltsvaig

      The New York Times has already beat us to some coverage of the topic of Russian-Polish soccer fan clashes:

      We might still go into the history Russian-Polish relations, including the partitions of Poland, the events of 1830, and Katyn (to mention just a few highlights)… or we might move on to other topics.

      • Maxim Maximov

        So Katyn gives right to beat up thousands of russian tourists including women and elderly victims for several days? What next? Dismembering and selling russians in slavery like in Chechnia?

        • Asya Pereltsvaig

          We do not condone violence; however, there is much more context to the events in Warsaw that your remarks would suggest, which is what I pointed out. Our goal is to elucidate geographical and historical context for current events, and if I were writing about the Russian-Polish fan clashes, Katyn would certainly come into it, as would other historical events. I did choose to write about a different topic, and I don’t see what justifies your rather rude remark suggesting that the Russian-Polish issue overrides the one I chose to write about.

          As for Chechnya, you might want to read our series on the Caucasus:

          • Maxim Maximov

            I had friends who escaped anti-russian genocide in Chechnia and Central Asia republics. Keep your propaganda articles that glorify these chechen monsters for your students.
            It’s russian families with kids were under attack from the beginning of Euro-2012 and you speak about “fan clash”. Shame on you.

          • Asya Pereltsvaig

            None of the reports, including in the Russian media, mention anything like what you are describing—thousands of innocent Russian families with kids beated up by Polish nazis. There were clashes between soccer fans (waving Russian *imperial* flags as in the image attached), a group of Poles attacking a car (hardly thousands of Russians in it?!), a brawl between soccer fans in a bar (were the families with kids you are talking about in the bar?), and an incident at the stadium, where Russian fans beat up a soccer referee to a pulp. So I am not exactly sure what you are talking about. If you have specific documented incidents in mind, do send us reports, photos, videos, anything that is documentary evidence, and we’ll be happy to write a news post about it. If we only have your word for it, we’ll pass.

            Nor do we glorify this or that side in any of the conflicts we describe. But what you seem to expect is that we glorify the Russian side—there seems to be no need as the Russian government-run media is doing a pretty good job at it.

            Most importantly, you still haven’t explained to me how any of this diminishes the significance of the Holocaust. I am waiting to hear from you on this one…



  • Asya Pereltsvaig

    In reply to James T. Wilson:

    You are absolutely right about Ukrainian nationalism being focused in the West of the country. The maps above depicting the growth of the Svoboda party illustrate that beautifully. In fact, Ukrainian language and pro-Ukrainian (as opposed to pro-Russian) voting are focused in the western part of the country as well, as I wrote here:

    There are some maps in that post to illustrate the correlation between Ukrainian/Russian language and voting patterns. I find it especially fascinating that the voting split arose in the wake of the Orange Revolution, which brought the issues of the Ukrainian nationalism to the fore. The split has persisted through every election since then!

    This is, actually, something that Martin and I will be talking about in our class on Monday (our first jointly taught class, of many I hope!). Too bad you are too far to attend.

    • James T. Wilson

      Your class is the first thing that has ever made me wish I lived in California.

      • Asya Pereltsvaig

        To tell you the truth, it’s almost the only thing that makes me glad that I do.

  • Kobben

    “the Neatherlands”…? I guess that’s  where the Neandertal people came from… ;-)

    • Asya Pereltsvaig

      Sorry, no offense intended, Kobben. Just a typo. I’ll correct the post.

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  • David Schwartz

    I’m just writing to express my thanks for your post and the mostly interesting conversation  that followed it that explored the complexities of the issue insightfully.  I’m sorry that you got trolled, so I wanted to express that as a Jew I find the subject interesting and welcome.  So thank you for showing the world to us.