An anti-Semitic campaign by far-right Italian football supporters appears to have spread to Germany, after stickers featuring murdered Jewish child diarist Anne Frank wearing a Schalke 04 football jersey have appeared in social media posts and stuck up around Düsseldorf, near the cities of Dortmund and Gelsenkirchen, where the club Schalke is based.
The fake Panini-style stickers were first reported by local blog Ruhrbarone, which published a photo of them it said had been found on the Facebook profile of a neo-Nazi active in the local far-right scene.
No one has taken responsibility for creating the image, but the fact that Anne Frank is pictured wearing the jersey of Schalke 04, biggest rival of football club Borussia Dortmund (BVB), seems to corroborate Ruhrbarone's speculation that the neo-Nazis are BVB supporters.
In recent seasons, new Dortmund hooligan group "RIOT 0231," named after the city’s dialing code, has threatened left-leaning BVB ultras and sung anti-Semitic songs on a train to the 2016 German Cup final. The group also issued death threats against a supporter liaison officer and club CEO Hans-Joachim Watzke before announcing their official dissolution in July 2017.
The city of Dortmund is also known to have a particularly active far-right scene, and neo-Nazi political parties the National Democratic Party (NPD) and "Die Rechte" both have seats on the local city council.
But Schalke has other rivals in the industrial Ruhr region of Germany, and BVB told the Rheinische Post newspaper that they had no information on the origin of the Facebook post.
But the club also added, "These stickers can barely be surpassed in their tastelessness. We distance ourselves from this action in the extreme." BVB also pointed out that it works with supporters' groups to combat anti-Semitism and racism in the city and organizes trips to former Nazi concentration camps.
But the new trend appears to be spreading in Germany. A supporter of Lokomotive Leipzig posted the same Anne Frank image on Instagram, with the Holocaust victim wearing the jersey of Chemie Leipizig, city rivals who Lok are due to play in the regional league in November. The post, re-posted on Twitter by anti-fascist journalist Sören Kuhlhuber, included the caption "Looking forward to it" as well as the abbreviation "JDN CHM," for "Juden Chemie" (Chemie Jews).
Lok Leipzig swiftly issued a statement condemning the image, saying that it had filed criminal charges. "Before someone actually gets the completely absurd idea that 1. FC Lok has anything to do with such vileness, we would like to make it clear once again: 1. FC Lokomotive Leipzig distances itself with all severity from all forms of anti-Semitism and fascism … Anyone who doesn't want to accept that can have nothing to do with our club. Period."
The German stickers appear to be a direct reference to an image distributed by fascist fans of the Rome football club Lazio, who stuck them around the stadium of their city rivals Roma.
In response, Lazio promised to take 200 of their fans to visit Auschwitz concentration camp, while club president Claudio Lotito laid a wreath in a Rome synagogue as a symbolic apology. The Italian club also had excerpts from Anne Frank's diary read in the stadium before last weekend's game, while players came out wearing t-shirts condemning anti-Semitism.
Police in Germany are investigating another anti-Semitic incident - on Sunday, two representations of Jewish athletes were vandalized outside the National Football Museum in Dortmund, which is currently hosting an exhibition on Jewish sports stars persecuted by the Nazis.
Museum director Manuel Neukirchner told Bild newspaper he was "shocked," but said "this will not prevent us from engaging intensively with this chapter in German history."
The German Jewish Anne Frank was murdered in Bergen-Belsen concentration camp in March 1945 at the age of 15. Her diary, published after World War II by her father Otto Frank, documented her family's attempt to hide from German soldiers in Nazi-occupied Amsterdam during World War II.