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Thursday, 24 February 2011

Auschwitz United: Soccer & gas chambers

"A football pitch, on a big clearing immediately to the right of the road, was particularly welcome. Green turf, the requisite white goalposts, the chalked lines of the field of play — it was all there, inviting, fresh, pristine, in perfect order. This was latched onto straightaway by the boys as well: Look here! A place for us to play soccer after work."
— Imre Kertész, Hungarian Jew, Holocaust survivor and Nobel Prize winner, on his reaction to first seeing the Auschwitz-Birkenau football pitch in 1944 aged 14
Kertész, Imre. Fatelessness. Harvil Publishers, London. 2005 (originally 1975 in Hungarian). p.89.

Immediately next to main Auschwitz-Birkenau gas chambers,
in Compound B2F, was the Auschwitz football (soccer) pitch.

Auschwitz survivor Joseph Zalman Kleinman testified at the 1961 Adolf Eichmann trial, where he mentioned an horrific incident on the Auschwitz-Birkenau football pitch. Dr. Mengele "the Angel of Death" arrived on his bicycle, arranges for a plank of wood to be nailed to one of the goalpost, and sends a 1000 boys to be gassed for being too short. Cleverly, Kleinman put stones in his shoes to make himself taller.

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Edited highlights can be watched on this 1 minute video, as Kleinman's story was so long-winded, the chief prosecutor Gideon Hausner almost spoiled it, just as it was reaching the crescendo. But the mentions of the football pitch from the trial transcript follow: 
We had hardly managed to get inside the barracks when a new order was given - all the boys were to go to the football field. There was a football field in the camp which evidently was intended for the Gypsies who had previously been in this camp and who were put to death a few weeks before. Each hut commander brought his boys to the football field.
Dr. Mengele went up to him, grabbed him by the shoulder and took him to the goal-post on the football field. There were two goal-posts for a game of football. He led him by the shoulder, and the man with the tools walked with him. He stood him against one of the goal-posts and gave orders to knock this plank in at a height above the boy's head so that he formed a kind of inverted "L." And then Dr. Mengele gave orders for the first group to pass underneath this plank.

According to Jewish American author Gearld Posner, of whom it says in his own book: "is recognised as the world's leading authority on Mengele", in 1981 the West German government issued an arrest warrant for Mengele on January 19, 1981. It contained 78 separate indictments, one of which is a Joseph Zalman Kleinman's tale about the football pitch, according to Posner, that indictment read: 
"... on the Jewish Yom Kippur 1944 in camp B2E in Birkenau he hung a batten between the goalposts of a football pitch and those approximately 1000 children who were not the required height were sent to the gas chamber."
Posner also said of Auschwitz: "The camp had its own soccer stadium." And a brothel named "The Puff,"
St. Joseph Gazette (Missouri) Thursday, June 18, 1981. p.3.
Poser, Gearld. Ware, John. Mengele: The Complete Story. Futura Publications, London. 1987 edition. p.24 & 51. 

Polish Auschwitz survivor Tadeuz Borowski's 1959 book, which was published in English in 1967 as This Way for the Gas, Ladies and Gentlemen, is described on wikipedia as "a collection of short stories ... inspired by the author's concentration camp experience... The short stories are linked by the themes as well as the presence of the main character Tadek, who serves the role of the narrator as well ..." Borowski's wrote of a soccer match at Auschwitz, and the Nazis gassing people next to the pitch: 
"Between two throw-ins in a soccer game, right behind my back, three thousand people had been put to death."

The memoirs of Polish gentile & Auschwitz survivor John Wiernicki were published in 2001, he mentions not only the Auschwitz-Birkenau football pitch, but even names the groundsman:
 ... Tato, who was responsible for recent street improvements and also supervised the work for the grading of the soccer field, which was used occasionally on Sundays by the prisoner hospital staff to play football. This job was Tato's favourite project and he was very proud of it.
Wiernicki, John. War in the Shadow of Auschwitz: Memoirs of a Polish Resistance
Fighter and Survivor of the Death Camps. Syracuse University Press. 2001. p.153.

The 1976 book From the History of KL Auschwitz, published by the Auschwitz State Museum, has the following to say on the Auschwitz-Birkenau football pitch: 
Somewhat later a football ground was arranged in an empty lot of sector BIIf, adjoining the railway ramp and the area of crematorium III. Prisoners from the service staffs of hospital blocks, directed by Lagercapo Bernacik, did the levelling of the ground. Several football matches were played there, the teams consisting of prisoners from the service staffs of hospital blocks, representants of prisoners from the gypsy camp (BIIe) and representants of prisoners from men's camp (BIId).
Smoleń, Kazimierz. From the History of KL Auschwitz. Auschwitz State Museum. 1976. p.65.

Leo Goldstein, who went on to become a professional football referee in the US, and a linesman at the 1962 World Cup in Chile, was only spared being gassed at Auschwitz as he'd once read the football rules.

Details of Leo Goldstein are not easily found online, he was a Polish Jew, 5 feet tall and was aged 42 in 1967. The above cartoon accompanies a newspaper story from 1967, when Goldstein was attacked by football fans during a match in New York. Another story from 1959, says Goldstein was kicked by a Hatai player before the entire team walked-off the pitch midway through their game against Argentina, in protest of a Goldstein refereeing decision.
I've found two slightly different versions of how Goldstein escaped being gassed at Auschwitz: 
Refereeing saved Goldstein's life. He was in a concentration camp, being marched with his family towards the gas chambers, when a guard shouted out whether anyone present could referee. Goldstein had no experience but replied that he could, and was soon overseeing a game between two German teams.
The other version is longer, so I'll paraphrase it, but it can be read in full on the link below: 
Goldstein was queuing up with other naked people to be gassed, (his family aren't mentioned in this account). Otto, an Auschwitz gas chamber guard, who also happened to be a German international footballer, orders Goldstein back to his barracks.
Weeks earlier, Otto the gas chamber guard/international footballer had asked the men in Goldstein's barrack if any of them were familiar with the rules of football, to which Goldstein finally murmured "I once read the rule book." Otto the gas chamber guard/international footballer had a matched arranged against other Nazis who gassed Jews in other Factories of Death, and he needed a referee, and Goldstein was his man.
Risolo, Donn. Soccer Stories: Anecdotes, Oddities, Lore, and Amazing Feats. University of Nebraska Press. 2010. p.167-8.

William (Willy) Schick (1920 - 2011) a Czech Jew and semi-professional footballer player prior to WW2. He bumped into his mother at Auschwitz, he played the trumpet in the Auschwitz orchestra until it was discovered he wasn't very good, cheated the gas chambers twice, and spoke about football at Auschwitz-Birkenau: 
The German commander of Camp B2B was a prisoner himself. He wore a black triangle on the front of his uniform. He murdered someone in Germany before the war.
"He was very, very nice to the prisoners," Schick said. "He never beat anyone in his camp and after the war a number of his former prisoners spoke up for him and told authorities how he protected them. Eventually he was honored by Israel as a 'Righteous Gentile' who helped Jews in their time of need.
"He came into our camp one day and asked if any of us played soccer. I was a soccer player," Schick said. "I raised my hand because I had been part of a semi-pro soccer team in Prague before the war."
He formed a soccer team in B2B. The team played another soccer team from one of the other camps in Auschwitz. "After we won the match he gave each one of the members of our team a 6-inch piece of salami," Schick recalled with a smile. "We had to be careful with the salami. If you ate all of it at one time you could die. Our stomachs were not use to such rich food."

The memoirs of Auschwitz-Birkenau survivor and German Gypsy Walter Stanoski Winter, includes a chapter entitled Football Matches. An SS man, the Roll Call Leader, appointed Winter as trainer of the Gypsy team, which included one short, bowed-legged Jew as a winger
The first match was arranged: Auschwitz Main Camp v. Gypsies. There were six Polish national players in the main Camp team. Kick off. Only a reduced SS presence remained in the camp, all the other SS men were at the sports field. SS lined the field on all sides as no prisoners were allowed to watch. Oucr camp lay directly adjacent to this sports field so we were able to watch. The electric currect was switched off on the perimeter fence on the sports-field side. Everyone ran to the fence — the entire Gypsy Camp stoof at the fence as spectators, with kith and kin, as the saying goes, or on the roofs of the blocks. The match began. We attacked from the start and scored the first goal after ten minutes.
Walter Stanoski Winter, Struan Robertson. Winter Time: Memoirs of a German Sinto
who Survived Auschwitz. University of Hertfordshire Press. 2004. p.54-56

The above photo appeared in the Jewish Chronicle on January 14, 2010. It is of the 'England' soccer team at Auschwitz, made up of British Prisoners of War. The POW camp at Auschwitz was "400 yards from the Monowitz concentration camp."

The following was written by a British POW held at Auschwitz: 
The one escape for the POWs was football. Sunday was their rest day and four teams were selected from hundreds of men — each eleven-man team would be made up of either Welsh, English or Scottish players. Doug would play in goal and one of the German factory foremen would often try to sneak him an extra half loaf of bread to keep his strength up for the matches.
Hundreds of people would come to watch. Prisoners and local people (who worked in the factory) made up the spectators. The event gave the British a much needed moral lift and a clear respite from the horros they were witnessing on a daily basis. The field was outside of their camp's perimeters and a clear mile from the concentration camps.
Their kit was supplied by the Red Cross and consisted of shirts, shorts and football boots. Each team had their own colours - reds for Welsh, blues for Scots and white shirts for the English players.
Little, Duncan. Allies in Auschwitz: The Untold Story of British POWs Held Captive in
the Nazis' Most Infamous Death Camp. Clairview Books, London. 2009. p.1 & p.41.

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Two Jewish Holocaust survivors discuss football at Auschwitz-Monowitz and Gross-Rosen.

Posted by The Black Rabbit of Inlé at 18:20

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