Borussia Dortmund and its fight against antisemitism: A story of perseverance to make lost souls immortal |

The German giants are leaving no stone unturned to fight antisemitism in Europe…

“It’s not interesting to find out why bad people do bad things. The interesting question is,

Why do good people do evil? Or why do good people allow evil?” ~ Historian Peter Hayes

Auschwitz. The name still strikes horror amongst the holocaust survivors.

At just 12, Eva Szepesi, a Hungarian, who fled to Slovakia to escape the Nazi forces was found and thrown into Auschwitz. Fortunately, there was no ‘selection’ that evening. She could live a day more. 

In the next morning, she was called for registration. Suddenly, a guard whispered in her ears, ‘you are 16. Don’t pretend to be younger.’ 

Within seconds her name rang in her ears like a clarion call from the registration desk. 

“How old are you? I didn’t say anything. She yelled at me. How old are you?  So I said 16, without thinking. I don’t know why I said 16. But later, yes, then I found out you could work at 16,” reminisced Eva while narrating the tale. 

A26877 was tattooed on her left arm. Till today, she carries that number with her. 

(BVB CEO Hans-Joachim Watzke) 

The city of Dortmund also has its fair share of connection with Auschwitz as well. The former Dortmund-Süd train station was the starting point for the deportation of around 1000 Dortmund citizens in the 1940s. Every year BVB fans and employees remember the crimes in Dortmund. They fight proactively against antisemitism and work tirelessly to preserve the memories of the souls that faced the evil wrath of Hitler. 

In April 2019, Dortmund CEO, Hans-JoachimWatzke visited Yad Vashem to donate and lay the foundation stone for a new subterranean center to house and conserve millions of artefacts from the Holocaust. 

“We have to make sure we get away from the idea that lip service is enough to do something good. It is not enough. If you donate a seven-figure amount, it’s a financial matter as well. But it was a sign for us of course. A sign to not just talk, but also act in concrete terms. And to be able to reach the public, through something like that. But you always have to embed it in sustainability. These one-off promotions, I’m not a fan of them,” stated Watzke. 

It’s a yearly ritual for select BVB fans to take a trip to Auschwitz. But this time it was different. The club employees and Evonik officials had undertaken a journey together to soak in the brutal history the place reeks of. 

“In March 2017 we went to Auschwitz for four days. And that changed a lot for us. We have developed a very high level of acceptance in the company, about the topic of dealing with the Nazi past, studying the lessons and learning for the present. Those who have been to Auschwitz have become important disseminators. For us, with our predecessor company, it’s part of our history. For BVB, it has not been part of their own history. They don’t have to get involved. But they do,” said Marcus Langer, Head of Corporate Identity, Evonik, a company committed to ensuring that the Nazis’ crimes and their victims never fade from the public’s memory.

Haaland Dortumund Brugge 2020

The chemical giants helped in the expansion of the Jewish Museum in Frankfurt. They also support the first and only academic chair in Germany dedicated exclusively to researching the holocaust by helping to fund the students’ annual tour of memorial sites.

After Hitler came to power in 1933, they soon tried to bring sport into line as well. So, the Swastika flag flew at Borussiaplatz. Two black and yellow fans, Heinrich Czerkus and Franz Hippler were in the blacklist and both were persecuted in 1933. Currently, there’s a fan club named after Czerkus. Moreover, a memorial walk has been organised every year on Good Friday with the support of BVB and the fan project, and over 1000 fans come together. 

Apart from the two fans, there was a Jewish Orlean family who hailed from the Polish area of Russia and arrived in Dortmund during the first World War. They were closely related to the club as they would place advertisements in the monthly periodical in the 1920s. 

“The history of the Orlean family is like that of the other Jewish families in Dortmund and all of Germany at the time. A story of flight, displacement,  persecution and finally murder,” stated Rolf Fischer, a historian and a BVB faithful for the past 50 years. 

The club has ensured that the story of the Orlean family lives on by laying memorial stones for them as well. 

During the Yad Vashem trip, Carsten Cramer, BVB Managing Director and Head of Marketing, also accompanied Watzke. He visited and spent time with various Holocaust survivors.

“It really affects you, but these impressions (Yad Vashem) are something I wouldn’t have missed for the world. I believe this experience of talking to someone who was bereaved, seeing that, feeling that, experiencing that, should really make it clear to the very last person what happened there. This is certainly a problem for the next generation, who will no longer be able to do this. That is one of the reasons why we are committed to Yad Vashem. To make sure the memories will be as tangible, as real as possible,” stated Cramer. 

BVB have extended their hand to other European football giants in their fight against antisemitism. Chelsea happens to be one of the clubs who work in this field and are eager to forge a partnership with the German outfit.

“At the moment, it’s been a matter of comparing what we’ve done and figuring out what best practices are and should be. But to be perfectly honest, I think it would be great if we could get together, your club and our club, in a project, in a public project that could really have some impact in European leagues and our communities at the same time,” suggested Bruce Buck, Chelsea Chairman.

Hans-Joachim Watzke

The club ethos is to transcend everything that discriminatory and unite people. The club anthem firmly reflects this message as it begins Wir halten fest und treu zusammen. Ball Heil Hurra, Borussia! (We firmly and faithfully stick together. Ball Heil Hurray, Borussia!) The yellow wall is the embodiment of unity, a rallying cry of 20000 people who stick together behind their team through every thick and thin.

On January 27, 1945, Soviet soldiers marched into Auschwitz and put an end to the horrors. 7000 prisoners including 700 children were rescued. And one of them was Eva who had beaten the death march.

“I was lying there with dead and half-dead people. I remember that someone, I don’t know who it was, fed me snow. I’d passed out. I had feverish lips. The snow worked wonders. I just ate the snow,” she narrated from the Jewish museum in Frankfurt during a chat with BVB’s Daniel Lörcher, Head of Corporate Responsibility division.

For 50 years, she did not speak a word about Auschwitz. In 1995, she went back there on the insistence of her daughters. She even discovered her name on the Hungarian barracks listed among the dead, Diamant Eva (her maiden name).

“It wasn’t me. That was another Diamant Eva.”

In the end, it was Auschwitz who ran out of gas to stifle Eva Diamant, born on September 29, 1932, daughter of Valery and Karoly Sezepesi.

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