Daniel Lörcher, Head of Corporate Responsibility, works to combat anti-Semitism on behalf of Borussia Dortmund. In an interview with Ruhr Nachrichten, he spoke about his experiences at the World Holocaust Forum in Israel and several others topics.
Question: What was your impression of the World Holocaust Forum in Israel and the Yad Vashem memorial in particular?
Daniel Lörcher: "What made the biggest impression on me by some distance were the many Holocaust survivors who were there to take part in the event and whom I had the opportunity to meet. Even more than the really remarkable memorial ceremony or the many heads of state whom I saw up close. Having the opportunity to talk to survivors or their relatives, hearing very personal stories and discussing our work as friends of Yad Vashem... they were incomparable and unforgettable moments. I'm thankful for that, truly. For Borussia Dortmund, it was a major honour to be allocated four of only 780 places in total at the Yad Vashem memorial ceremony."
Question: The ceremony was very solemn and thought-provoking.
Lörcher: "The speeches made by the big names in the world of politics contained a great many fascinating elements. The array of heads of state that had gathered there was extraordinary. I thought the address by German president Frank-Walter Steinmeier was extremely moving. But we all need to ensure that words are followed up by actions."
Question: How was the presence of Borussia Dortmund, a sports club, received?
Lörcher: "We were the only sports club invited and we were even greeted separately. In the contact we had with people there, the question that frequently came up was naturally: what leads a football club to become involved in the fight against anti-Semitism. We then explained, for example, the educational trips we organise for fans and staff, and how we took a stance on the basis of a problem we perceived in society. As Borussia Dortmund, we now want to reach as many people as possible, strengthen their involvement and help them to develop a clear position. The initial astonishment about what a sports club was doing there ultimately developed into many very good talks and contacts in Israel."
"Many clubs are applying the concept for themselves."
Question: How do you answer that? Why does Borussia Dortmund take such a strong and long-lasting stance in the fight against anti-Semitism and other forms of discrimination?
Lörcher: "Populism and the rise of right-wing ideologies at present show that, especially in Germany, we need to keep learning from our history on an ongoing basis. There's no definitive date on which history simply becomes history. We're actively involved in promoting this awareness."
Question: What makes a sports club suitable for this?
Lörcher: "The increased importance of football in society as a whole and BVB in our city and the surrounding area in particular means that it has a special role to play and a responsibility towards society to get involved and take clear positions. There's more to that than just anti-discrimination work; on top of that there's the wide-ranging involvement of our foundation "leuchte auf". Borussia Dortmund is a social club."
Question: A social sports club with a high degree of efficiency?
Lörcher: "Yes. Sport and in particular football are among the few institutions that unite lots of people on common ground and generate conversation – regardless of generation, education, religion or other opinions. Nowadays there are not only special challenges; there are special possibilities too that football, for example, can make use of. We will rise to the challenges and want to make use of the possibilities."
Question: BVB fans are a diverse bunch. What are the basic prerequisites to be part of the BVB family?
Lörcher: "Borussia Dortmund has clear set of shared values that are anchored in the club statutes. They are also concisely reflected in the slogan 'Borussia Connects'. Football connects people with different opinions, and debates have to be possible. But when it comes to the likes of anti-Semitism, racism or homophobia, there's a clear line. These attitudes are not acceptable and not negotiable."
Question: For a long time, the active fan scene felt there was no place for politics.
Lörcher: "This old consensus, which was in part influenced by right-wing structures, is fortunately a thing of the distant past. A clear attitude against racism or discrimination has nothing to do with party politics."
Question: You were one of the driving forces behind the educational trips to the concentration camp memorials that Borussia Dortmund have been offering for years. How did that come about?
Lörcher: "The first initiative in terms of politico-historical educational work can be traced back to 2008 and the fan representatives Jens Volke and Sebastian Walleit, who offered a day-long educational trip to the memorial in Dachau in connection with an away match in Munich. As part of the fan scene, I took part in it and the idea then came about that we should pay a visit to the Auschwitz complex too. Thanks to funding, plus subsidies from BVB, the first trip to Auschwitz took place in 2011. Since 2013, BVB, the Fan Department and the Fan Project have been among the cooperation partners and last November we carried out our 19th visit to Auschwitz over a period of several days. There are additionally many projects in Germany and the Lublin region. The demand is great; four people wanted to go on the trip for every place we had available, and the next trips have long since been planned. With fans. With staff. With network partners on location. It's developed into a strong programme, into a pillar of our work."
Question: Which is now being copied.
Lörcher: "Encouragingly, yes. On behalf of the German Football League, I have already worked three times as a coach to provide training for fan representatives from other clubs in Germany and Europe at Auschwitz and Theresienstadt. Many clubs are applying our concept – in some cases in a modified form – for themselves."
"We want to convey knowledge, for people to educate themselves and to develop an opinion."
Question: This pillar aside, what else do you do within your anti-discrimination work?
Lörcher: "The cooperation with Steinwache memorial site. The cooperation with the Stanislaw Hantz educational institute. Or our own events in the Borusseum or in cooperation with the City of Dortmund, plus more besides. It's not just a case of taking a trip to Auschwitz once a year, but more about continuing our work on an ongoing basis on site in Dortmund. Working in a sustainable and long-term manner is part of the concept. This has developed into a large network of committed BVB fans and employees."
Question: This involvement has made such an enormous impact that Borussia Dortmund were among the guests invited to the 75th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz concentration camp.
Lörcher: "We've been in contact with the memorial for many years and inform them of our initiatives. But when we received an invitation to the main memorial ceremony back in the autumn, that surprised everyone. Nobody was expecting that. That's a big sign of recognition that I was absolutely delighted with."
Question: BVB was also honoured with the #EqualGame award by European football's governing body UEFA. What do these honours mean?
Lörcher: "Awards are always nice, but I want to emphasise the fact that we do our work in our team not because of the awards but because of the contents. We want to convey knowledge and to create a framework in which people can inform themselves politically, develop an opinion and mature as people – regardless of whether they are young or old. Awards and public recognition for our work can always only be the second step. To put it crudely: if the projects didn't turn out cool, it'd be of no value."
Question: Is the feedback to your work entirely positive?
Lörcher: "From the people whom we reach directly with our work, the feedback is entirely positive. There are also those who acknowledge our work but do not want to travel to Auschwitz themselves, for example. That's absolutely fair enough. And then perhaps there are those who are bothered by our attitude and direct stupid comments our way. That latter group make me all the more delighted that we do this work, because these people truly have a problem."
The interview was conducted by Jürgen Koers (RN)