Chelsea Foundation brings supporters to March of the Living in Poland

From the official Chelsea FC website:

Extending the No To Hate campaign’s ongoing work to promote religious tolerance and combat antisemitism, Chelsea Foundation and Chelsea supporters groups joined representatives from other football organisations on the March of the Living in Poland.

Earlier in May, Chelsea Foundation brought members from the Chelsea Jewish Supporters Group, Chelsea Fan Advisory Board and Chelsea Supporters’ Trust to attend the March of the Living in Poland, culminating on Yom HaShoah (the Holocaust Remembrance Day observed in the Jewish calendar).

The March of the Living is an annual five-day educational programme, bringing together thousands from across the world who wish to use this unique experience as a chance to remember those killed during the Holocaust and embrace Jewish culture and religion.

The programme also involved hearing from Holocaust survivors as well as visits to synagogues, museums and historic Jewish ghettos.

Below, we hear from Luisa Gottardo, committee member of the Chelsea Jewish Supporters Group, on her experience of this year’s March of the Living…

When the Chelsea Jewish Supporters’ Group were approached by the club and asked if we’d like to join the UK delegation on March of the Living 2024, I was apprehensive. Would the bus solely be people like us, who had personal connections to family members that were murdered during the Holocaust? I doubted it. But instantly, the answer to Chelsea was “yes”. It couldn’t be anything else.

The football section of the UK delegation was small – around 20 of us – representing Chelsea, Fulham, Manchester City, Watford and Spurs. Over five days, we explored Poland, sites of mass murder of Jews and other minorities, and learned of stories from Holocaust survivors and testimonies found in diaries, and hidden writings, from victims.

Candles were lit by members of the football group to remember those who died at Auschwitz during the Holocaust
Candles were lit by members of the football group to remember those who died at Auschwitz during the Holocaust

As well as visiting the Warsaw and Krakow ghettos, we visited three death camps – probably the most well-known across the globe, Auschwitz, as well as Birkenau (Auschwitz 2), and Majdanek, in Lublin. We saw the gas chambers, with marks etched inside, caused by desperate fingernails scratching at the walls, as terror-stricken innocent people realised their fate; crematoria, where the bodies of those murdered were turned to ash; and cells, where people contracted typhus, or starved to death.

Some, like Henrietta Marcus, committed suicide before their imminent killing. Others had an ever-dwindling flame of hope kept alight inside them, until it was extinguished by the Nazis.

We saw the Death Wall, by which Jews were executed by machine gun. We saw the hair of Jewish women, which was shaved, or hastily chopped back to the scalp, on arrival to Auschwitz.

We saw tens of thousands of shoes, some with heels, of hopeful people who thought they were being transported from the awful ghettos to a place to live in potential peace. And we saw the clothing of babies, ripped from their mothers’ arms and murdered with poisonous pesticides.

We visited a forest in Zwylitowska Góra, where over 10,000 people, mainly Jews, were marched, thrown into deep pits, and then shot in the head, or killed by grenades. It’s also reported that young children were swung by their ankles into nearby rocks, to ensure none would survive.

Our week culminated with the March of the Living, where 6000 people from across the globe took part in the three-kilometre death march, from Auschwitz 1 to Auschwitz 2 (Birkenau). We remembered our family members, and we took strength from the fact that we were there by choice, with the ability to walk out of the gates of Auschwitz with our heads held high.

The football group that formed part of the UK delegation on the March of the Living
The football group that formed part of the UK delegation on the March of the Living

The march was treated differently by various groups of people – some choosing to walk quietly, contemplating the terrors that happened in the vicinity. Others chose to celebrate our freedom in a more celebratory manner. There was singing, tears, important conversations, and an overwhelming feeling of both sadness and hope. Our group were happy to meet ex-Chelsea manager Avram Grant, who took part in the march.

We were joined, as part of the delegation, by seven survivors of the Nazi brutality, ranging in age from 81 to 93. Their stories were painful, yet inspired hope. It was interesting and heart-warming to see the changes that the non-Jewish members of our football group experienced, as they heard testimonies from our survivors, and saw the horrors of the Holocaust, whilst starting to truly comprehend the unimaginable numbers of people that suffered at the hands of the Nazis.

Six million Jews were murdered by the Nazis, as well as many millions of Soviet prisoners of war, Poles, gay people, the Romani community, and other persecuted individuals. The March of the Living 2024 inspired a new generation of people to never forget, and to be important voices to both inspire change, fight back against antisemitism, and ensure that the world never allows this to happen again.

And then we left. We went back to the airport, where people were laughing, eating, reading. Living. People who will never know what a profound experience so many in close proximity have just had. And it made me wonder: what would they have done in 1941?

Luisa Gottardo
Chelsea Jewish Supporters Group





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