''BORUSSIA unites! Together we remember. Together against Anti-Semitism.'' It is under this motto that Borussia Dortmund organises educational trips to memorial sites at the places where some of the worst atrocities committed by the Nazi regime occurred. Since 2011, the trips to Oświęcim (Auschwitz) and Lublin have given fans the chance to confront the horrors of the Holocaust and learn about the barbarity of the national-socialist ideology. Annual trips are also organised for members of staff at both the club as well as its main sponsor Evonik.
A visit to the Auschwitz concentration camp, a place where the most incomprehensible and unspeakable evil occurred, is an important educational tool which helps people come to terms with the darkest chapter of German history. All those who experience it first hand feel compelled to bear a special responsibility: to never forget, and to resolutely resist right-wing tendencies. Racism, Anti-Semitism and all other forms of discrimination have no place in our society. The following article is an excerpt from a personal report written by Dr. Kay-Uwe Hoffmann, one of the participants in this year's BVB educational trip to Auschwitz. Generally speaking, the club magazine BORUSSIA only publishes works written by professional writers. In this instance, we thought it best to allow Dr. Kay-Uwe Hoffmann to give his personal account of his impressions from his visit to Auschwitz.
Dr. Kay-Uwe Hoffmann (63) is an orthopaedist. A native of Bad Dürkheim in the Palatinate region, he supported both Borussia Dortmund and 1. FC Kaiserslautern as a child. His career took him to Düsseldorf, Cologne and then to the Hellersen Sports Clinic in Lüdenscheid, where as head physician he established the Department of Foot Surgery. Dr. Hoffmann now works on a freelance basis and resides in Dortmund, where he is ''just a stone's throw from the stadium.'' As a BVB season ticket holder, he takes his seat every other weekend in block 14 of the south stand.
When a game of football becomes unimportant
Throughout his life he had read a lot about National Socialism, the persecution of the Jews and Auschwitz. He and his partner attended an event in Steinwache at which they were "immersed in this topic". This experience gave rise to the idea of visiting a concentration camp for the first time. In this text, Kay-Uwe Hoffmann describes his personal impressions. These are the words of a fan, a normal participant in one of our workshops; they are not those of a professional writer. "It was very emotional for all of us." After returning from the educational trip, Hoffmann decided not to attend the headline Supercup encounter between BVB and Bayern Munich. "If you come back from Auschwitz on a Friday, a football match on Saturday suddenly seems completely unimportant."
Oświęcim – this is the Polish name for the town of Auschwitz, which, more than anywhere else, is a symbol for the millions of murders committed by the Nazis. The trip, which was organised through a collaboration between BVB, the official club Fan Department, the Dortmund Fan Project and the Bildungswerk Stanisław Hantz, took place from 27 July to 2 August. Preparations began on 20 July with an introductory meeting held in the Weiße Wiese function room in the stadium. It was here that the 20 participants first got to know each other and learned more about the reasons for going to Auschwitz. Irina M. told pf how her grandfather, a member of the Communist Party of Germany, was one of the 300 men and women murdered by the Nazis in the Bittermark region shortly before the end of the war. A commemoration ceremony at the memorial in the Bittermark and the Heinrich Czerkus memorial run initiated by BVB fans commemorate this terrible crime every year on Good Friday.
The participants not only came from Dortmund, but also from Wolfsburg, Hanover and Osnabrück. What united them all was their support of Borussia Dortmund, with three quarters of them possessing season tickets on the south stand. Given that the trip was organised to be barrier-free for the first time ever, six fans with hearing impairments and deafness were also able to take part. At the end of the intensive six-hour workshop, all of the participants were under no illusions about the extent to which the upcoming trip would push them to the very limit of their emotional capacity.
History up close
Flight W6 1092 to Katowice left the runway at 6:30 a.m. on 27 July. As we made our way to the bus with our wheeled suitcases, a thought flashed through my mind: what a comfortable journey we had just had - and what a horrific one the victims of the Nazis must have had in the deportation trains. As we were greeted by BVB employees Amelie Gordon and Daniel Lörcher and historian Andreas Kahrs in the International Youth Meeting Center in Auschwitz, the group spirit that would remain a constant companion for the next few days quickly made itself felt. Andreas Kahrs gave us a quick overview of the history of the Auschwitz camp, starting from its construction and going all the way through to its liberation by Soviet soldiers on January 27, 1945.
As we went on a tour of the town on the first day, we witnessed the laying of the first ever Stolperstein in Auschwitz. A Stolperstein (stumbling block in German) is a concrete cube bearing a brass plate inscribed with the name and life dates of victims of Nazi extermination or persecution. As always, this ceremony was performed by Gunter Demning. He told of how over 73,000 Stolpersteine have been laid in 26 different countries - with 95 percent of them being laid by him. This triggered the first major moment of emotion. We took the time to remember Franziska Henryka Haberfeld, who was born in 1937. Her parents Felicia and Alfons lived in ̨Auschwitz; Alfons was heir and director of the "Steam Factory of Fine Liquors". In July 1939, the couple travelled to New York for the World Fair. Felicia Henryka, then two years old, was to stay with her grandparents in Krakow until her parents returned.
But as the couple made the trip back across the Atlantic, war broke out. It became impossible to return to Poland. After stops in Inverness and Newcastle-upon-Tyne, the ship went back to the United States. In 1942, one last memento of their daughter made it to America from Krakow: a postcard. At just five years of age, Felicia Henryka fell victim to the Nazi regime. Upon the laying of the Stolperstein, silence filled the air. I thought of my youngest daughter Franziska. Many of us struggled to hold back the tears.
Guided tours through the town and the concentration camp
As we made our way through today’s Auschwitz, we soon arrived at the old synagogue. Although 40,000 people call the town home, not a single Jewish resident remains. The last Jewish resident, Szymon Kluger, was laid to rest in the Jewish cemetery in 2003. An important part of these trips to memorial sites is the group discussion sessions held in the evening, where everyone takes turns to share their impressions of the day’s events and help the group process what they’ve seen. We were also given additional information on the political and historical context, learnt the personal stories of various Holocaust victims and prepared ourselves for that which awaited us the following day.
On the third day, we visited the concentration camp itself. The deeply cynical slogan hanging over the gateway - ''Arbeit macht frei'' (work sets you free) - greeted us as we arrived. Janusz Włosiak, a former German teacher, would be our guide for the day. He told us of how the main camp served primarily as a labour camp. Nevertheless, between 60,000 and 70,000 people were murdered here between May 1940 to January 1945. Wlosiak recounted how prisoners were mistreated during pseudoscientific experiments, how thousands were lined up against the ‘’black wall’’ and shot, how women were forcibly sterilised and how, in 1941, the first tests of the poisonous gas Zyklon B were carried out.
We then moved onto the storehouses. This is where the prisoners' possessions and valuables were kept. Shoes, suitcases, glasses, dentures and jewellery were stored in six barracks here. Gold teeth were ripped out from the prisoner's mouths. Shaved hair was packaged as raw material and resold to textile factories. In one carpet factory, they later found rugs consisting of 80 percent human hair and only 20 percent cotton. During the evening evaluation session, the participants once again sat down to discuss the devastating moments of the day.
Guests from Rotterdam
On the morning of July 30, I had the opportunity to talk to Steven Burger. Steven is one of the three full-time fan representatives at Feyenoord. He accompanied us on our memorial trip along with Joram Verhoeven, who works for the Anne Frank House in Amsterdam. Both hoped that their participation would serve as inspiration for a similar project for Feyenoord fans. It is great to see BVB leading the way and inspiring other clubs to pursue their own projects of this nature.
We sat down with our two guests in a workshop designed to prepare us for what we would see on our visit to the former concentration and extermination camp "Auschwitz II-Birkenau". In the afternoon we were confronted with the horrifying scale of the murder committed here. Approximately 1.1 million people, including about one million Jews and tens of thousands of Sinti and Roma, were murdered in the camp - which takes up an area the size of 350 football pitches. Some 900,000 deportees died in the gas chambers immediately after their arrival, while a further 200,000 died as a result of illness, malnutrition, abuse, medical experiments or exhaustion. Our tour guide Janusz told us of how the prisoners were housed in inhumane conditions in 350 horse stables converted into barracks. 700 to 1000 prisoners crammed into a space that had been built to house 50 horses.
Our path inevitably led us to the "ramp" - the place where the deportation trains arrived. Andreas Kahrs read us a quote from Ernst Leon, a Dortmund native who was brought here before being put to his death. We laid down a wreath of flowers. It was a very emotional moment for us all, with many of us overwhelmed by the experience. Hendrik Mandelbaum, a prisoner who was forced to work in the crematorium and later survived, wrote a book about his ordeal entitled "We cried without tears.'' A great many of us cried tears that day as we stood and contemplated the photos of the victims, their faces serving to underline the terrible human tragedy that occurred here. The crushing weight of this reality was almost impossible to bear.
A moving journey, a moving atmosphere
Wednesday was a day of contemplation and reflection. Once again we went to the main Auschwitz I camp, where we visited the archive as well as an exhibition on prisoner art. I was deeply absorbed in various documents and medical records. As a doctor, I was never able to come to terms with the atrocious medical experiments that Dr. Josef Mengele conducted in the camp. I refuse to use the professional title "doctor" in connection with his name. Instead, I call Mengele "Hauptsturmführer," (head storm leader). It was with great interest that I read the book "I was Dr. Mengeles' Assistant," in which the Jewish doctor Miklos Nyiszli recounts how, as an inmate at Auschwitz, he was forced to work in the crematoria and the gas chambers - and how doing so meant he survived the Holocaust.
On August 1, after another preparatory workshop, the programme took us to Auschwitz III-Monowitz. IG Farben, an organisation made up of various German chemical companies, built a chemical plant the size of a small town in Monowitz. Many thousands of prisoners were subjected to forced labour exploitation in this plant. We were the only group of visitors present at the former Monowitz camp, which is now known by its pre-war name of Monowice. This represented a stark contrast to the main memorial site, which hosts thousands of visitors every day. For the uninitiated tourist, not much about Monowice would seem to hark back to its terrible past. After the war, many former residents returned home and sought to rebuilt the destroyed houses from which they had been driven out by the construction of the camp.
After almost a week together, it was now time to say goodbye. We spent the morning of 2 August reviewing the educational trip in our final session. I talked to Sandra, a representative of the Heinrich-Czerkus fanclub. Sandra had already visited Lublin in 2018 as part of the memorial tour programme. Like me, she was keen to emphasise the extraordinary sense of solidarity felt throughout the whole trip among the group of BVB fans. Sandra said she felt an obligation to pass on what she had witnessed to her friends and acquaintances and to continue taking action against racism, Anti-Semitism and discrimination. My abiding memory is of an exceptional educational trip and a very unique atmosphere. BVB, the Fan Department and the Fan Project gave us the opportunity to delve deep into history. Together we were able to expand our knowledge and learn to share our emotions with others. We were proud to be able to represent the club and its colours of Black & Yellow.
We would like to thank Amelie Gordon, Daniel Lörcher and the entire team for their wonderful support. We would also like to thank the IJBS staff for their hospitality. Our special thanks go to Andreas Kahrs, who provided us with fascinating historical insight. My personal thanks also go to my fellow participants, in particular to the deaf people in the group. You all made this trip special.
Dr. Kay-Uwe Hoffmann