From toe to head - Football, history and memory work


Ingolf Seidel

Football is a popular sport all over the world, drawing hundreds of thousands of fans into the stadiums every weekend. But the beautiful game has an ugly side as well: anti-Semitic, racist, sexist and homophobic chants and abuse in and outside the stadiums. It is not uncommon for an opposing team’s fans and players, and even referees, to be subjected to verbal abuse that often includes the word “yid”. In Germany, the Makkabi clubs are a particular target of anti-Semitic abuse. Although very much part of the Jewish footballing tradition, they are also open to non-Jewish players.

The Tüpfelhausen – das Familienportal e.V. community organisation in Leipzig has developed its own unique response to the surge of the far right and anti-Semitism: it links international football festivals with learning about history.

Christoph David Schumacher, Tüpfelhausen’s project coordinator, describes the launch of the initiative: “Our events across Germany started in 2013 with a nationwide day of remembrance for SK Bar Kochba Leipzig, the former Jewish sports association. SK Bar Kochba was a major sports club at the time of the Weimar Republic, with its own extensive premises, although it was only founded in 1920. It catered for several types of sport, but its prowess in boxing, football and athletics deserves a particular mention. In partnership with the 1903 e.V. initiative, we organised this commemorative event at the former SK Bar Kochba Leipzig ground in Delitzscher Straße in Leipzig. It attracted considerable interest from the media and was attended by several hundred visitors.”

As a consequence of the National Socialists’ anti-Jewish policy, SK Bar Kochba Leipzig was forced to close in 1938 and its members were persecuted, deported and murdered. A few managed to flee abroad.

“SK Bar Kochba’s premises were then ‘aryanised’ and handed over to the SA for its own use. With the founding of the German Democratic Republic, the premises were then used by a workplace sports club. Memories faded, although locals still called the site ‘Judenplatz’. Otherwise, there was no longer any trace of this once-proud association, and nothing to remember the fate of many of its members,” says Christoph David Schumacher. But this has changed, thanks to the efforts of Schumacher and others. The first tournament – the International, Intercultural Football Meeting Festival – was held in June 2015 and attracted 1,500 visitors. The event brought SK Bar Kochba Leipzig, now almost forgotten, back to life. An important factor was the contact with Ze’ev Bar in the Netherlands: he is the son of Max Bartfeld, who was one of the co-founders of Bar Kochba along with his brother Leo. The Max and Leo Bartfeld Prize was created especially for the festival. This year, the festival took place for the fifth time, with teams from Israel, Poland, Switzerland and Germany. More than 4,000 fans came to Leipzig for the event, including 300 children and young people and their caregivers.

The International, Intercultural Football Meeting Festival (IFBF) is not only about sport. For the 2018 event, a new format was created and integrated: the 1st Trilateral Youth Meeting for Transnational Memory Work. “Around 60 children and teenagers and their caregivers from Germany, Israel and the Czech republic came together for five days of youth meetings and events, during which time they explored history, their own response to it and current issues and broadened their critical thinking and practical skills. To facilitate low-threshold access to the event, we removed barriers to understanding by engaging language mediators.” The football teams from the three countries included a young Roma team from the Czech Republic.

Some events in the general programme explored the topic of National Socialism as well, with a performance of “Juller”, a play about the life and fate of the Jewish national player Julius “Juller” Hirsch, as a prelude to the event. The programme also included recollections of Holocaust survivors, guided tours about local history, focusing on forced labour in Leipzig, and a talk on the history of Jewish and worker sport in Germany from 1918 to 1938. The tournament closed with an awards ceremony, with prizes presented by Holocaust survivors. The exploration of German history was thus an integral part of the entire event. As Christoph David Schumacher explains: “the programme was broad-based and designed to spark interest; it also linked in directly to the reality of young people’s own lives”. Sport was thus used as a means by which to convey other messages.

This linkage with the reality of lifeworlds not only makes the International, Intercultural Football Meeting Festival a particularly powerful educational tool; it also offers opportunities for replication in other historical and social contexts. Diversity in the composition of football teams is part of the reality of life, not only for young people. This diversity is also reflected in the international membership of the teams at the Festival. History plays a role here – not only history in a national or international context, but the history that local people relate to their city or region. Through these linkages, the exploration of history moves beyond the often ritualistic character of Germany’s approach to its National Socialist past and becomes part of civic engagement.


The article is based on and extends the following contribution by Mr. Schumacher:

Other background:

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Ingolf Seidel has been working for the "Learning from History" educational portal since 2009 and is responsible for editing and project management. In addition to the army, he conducts seminars on (historical) political education and designs educational modules.

Issue: Youth

Those born afterwards bear no direct responsibility. They may choose to ignore history or identify with perpetrators or victims. What can be done to awaken young people’s interest in history and motivate them to engage in building peaceful relations between communities?