NUREMBERG, Germany (AP) — The silence lasted long after Holocaust survivor Shaul Paul Ladany finished speaking to some of Europe’s most talented young footballers.
Ladany, 86, hadn’t even mentioned that he had completed a half marathon 10 days earlier. There was too much to tell the Under-17 players from Chelsea, Bayern Munich, Maccabi Tel Aviv and other top clubs.
Eight teams representing five countries took part in the Walther Bensemann Memorial Tournament in Nuremberg this weekend. Chelsea beat Italian side Bologna 3-1 in Sunday’s final, but more importantly all the players gained new insights into tolerance, equality and reconciliation by participating in the competition.
Ladany is a two-time Olympian and was a member of the Israeli team targeted at the 1972 Munich Olympics by the Palestinian group Black September. Eleven Israelis were killed in the massacre.
Ladany had set the existing world record in the 50-mile walk earlier that year. He is an engineer, lecturer and professor. He was 8 years old when he was taken to Bergen-Belsen concentration camp.
“Questions?” he asked the room full of players after talking to them about his life for 90 minutes on Saturday.
There were none. The birds were chirping happily outside, but there was not a glance from the attentive players.
“If I could, with my speeches on what I lived and what I achieved [in doing], to get into their brains, so I believe I succeeded,” Ladany told The Associated Press. “So I really managed to do what I should have done.”
Ladany also spoke to the players on Friday, when they gathered on the cobbled road outside Nuremberg Castle to be organized into groups for workshops, lectures or excursions to learn about the horrors perpetrated under the Nazi regime. Some were taken to see the infamous nearby rally grounds.
“It’s very important to remember what happened and say it out loud, so it doesn’t happen again,” Maccabi Tel Aviv team manager Leon told the AP. Asraf. “Never. For us, for you, for everyone, everywhere.
German clubs Eintracht Frankfurt, Nuremberg and Karlsruher SC, and Cracovia from Krakow in Poland, have completed the roster for the competition hosted by Nie Wieder (Never Again) and Makkabi Germany with the backing of European football’s governing body, the UEFA.
The players also supported him.
“I like to learn different stories. For example, yesterday learning about anti-Semitism, about World War II, about how Jews went through discrimination and genocide,” said Chelsea winger Chinonso Chibueze. “I’m learning from this to make sure it never happens again, that we learn from our mistakes and treat everyone the same.”
His teammate Somto Boniface accepted.
“It was very beneficial to learn more about what happened in the past to prevent it from happening again,” said the 16-year-old left-back.
The tournament is named for football pioneer Walther Bensemann, who founded clubs including predecessors Frankfurt and Karlsruhe. He also founded the football magazine Kicker which remains popular today. Bensemann was forced to resign from the magazine and flee Germany due to his Jewish roots in 1933 when the Nazis took over.
Bensemann had been critical of the increasingly nationalistic tones of the German football federation and saw the sport as a way to build respect and tolerance between nations. The tournament has championed these ideals on its behalf.
“Sport is of great importance for our society and in Europe, especially to connect and reconcile. And, as the saying goes, to enjoy football,” said Eberhard Schulz of Nie Wieder. “That’s why we do it, and that’s why we are convinced, like Walther Bensemann, that we are doing the right thing.”
Ladany was one of six Holocaust survivors to speak to players over the weekend.
Eva Szepesi told how she was taken as a child to the Auschwitz-Birkenau concentration camp.
“It is my duty, the purpose of my life, to say what happened during the Shoah, the Holocaust, that innocent people, my mother, my little brother, my father and many millions of innocent people have been silenced. They can’t say it anymore. And that’s why I’m saying this,” Szepesi said before drawing the names of the teams into a bowl for Thursday’s competition draw.
Ernst Grube detailed the terror exercised on the Jewish people by the Germans under the Nazi regime. Grube himself survived the Theresienstadt concentration camp.
Zvi Cohen, who learned to play the harmonica alone at home while his parents worked in Nazi labor camps, has explained how it saved his life when he was discovered by the SS. Cohen had learned from the radio, so he only knew the music played by the Nazis.
Walter Frankenstein, who had grown up in Berlin like Cohen, spoke to the players via an online call from Sweden, but he wore a Hertha Berlin scarf to show that his allegiances had not changed despite all he had been through.
“Democracy has to be fought every day, especially in these times,” he told the players.
Now 98, Frankenstein survived the Holocaust by hiding in 1943 when the Nazis deported thousands of Jews from Berlin to Auschwitz.
Tamar Dreifuss only survived thanks to a daring escape from her quick-witted mother.
Ladany said “it’s not true” that it took luck to survive the Holocaust – luck alone was not enough.
“To survive the Holocaust, you needed a series of lucky events. I am happy to have been among those who had this series of lucky events,” Ladany told the players. “The real atrocities, I am unable to say. The real atrocities were suffered by those who were victims of the Holocaust.
But Ladany didn’t just talk about the past. He also had advice for players.
“Don’t look for monetary success,” Ladany said. “You should enjoy your sports and make your sports a way of life. Even then, after you hit your peak, stick with the sport, for the fun of it…Make it something you love to do.