Opinion: German football supporters send vital message on Holocaust Memorial Day | Sports| German football and major international sports news | DW | 27.01.2019
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Opinion: German football supporters send vital message on Holocaust Memorial Day

On the 74th anniversary of the liberation of the Auschwitz concentration camp, German football fans are among those saying: Never again. DW's Matt Ford thinks the message has never been more important.

From the Bundesliga to the regional leagues, football clubs and supporters across Germany took part in commemorations to mark Holocaust Memorial Day.

Seventy-four years on from the liberation of Auschwitz-Birkenau concentration camp on January 27, 1945, fan groups across the country displayed messages featuring the phrase "Nie wieder!" (Never again!)

"Auschwitz represents the destruction of all human values," read one message displayed by supporters of Carl Zeiss Jena ahead of their third-division game against Preussen Münster on Saturday. "Never forgive, never forget!"

In Freiburg, a banner reading "Remembrance is not enough" was accompanied by further demands, including: "Get nationalism out of your heads," "Fight sexism," "No more racism" and "Against all forms of anti-Semitism."

And on Borussia Dortmund's Yellow Wall, members of the Ballspiel.Vereint anti-discrimination initiative displayed a banner reading: "Their fate — our warning — never again!" The significance of the message should not be underestimated.

Matt Ford

DW's Matt Ford

'Football mirrors society like nothing else in this country'

Of all clubs, Borussia Dortmund have fought one of the hardest battles against far-right extremism.

The club's ultras, together with the state-financed fan project (Fan-Projekt Dortmund) and official club fan department, have been largely credited with expelling right-wing ideologies from the terraces. But the appearance of two well-known neo-Nazi hooligans ahead of the Bundesliga game against Bayern Munich in November was a reminder that the battle is never completely won.

As CEO Hans-Joachim Watzke pointed out in an interview with German football magazine 11 Freunde this month, around 2 percent of people in Dortmund have voted for far-right parties. Applied to Dortmund's 82,000-capacity Westfalenstadion, that suggests around 1,600 people with far-right tendencies in Germany's largest stadium on any given matchday.

"The Ruhr region has become a social flashpoint," said Watzke. "And football mirrors society like nothing else in this country."

He's right. While German sports fans may rally around the intermittent successes of the country's ice hockey team or handball players for a couple of weeks, no cultural arena reflects German society more accurately and more consistently than the nation's football stadiums.

As we've seen in Dortmund, those who would seek to infest those arenas, and the communities they represent, with the ideology that made Auschwitz possible know this.

So often stereotyped as hooligans and troublemakers, active football supporters and ultras have also made their voices heard on some of the most important issues facing our society. They deserve to be listened to — not just on Holocaust Memorial Day, but every day.

Fußball Bundesliga | 19. Spieltag | Borussia Dortmund - Hannover 96 (Getty Images/Bongarts/C. Koepsel)

'Their fate — our warning — never again'

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