West Ham send message to racist fans with Holocaust ceremony
Auschwitz survivor will lead pre-match ritual following anti-Semitic chants at Tottenham
West Ham will commemorate Holocaust Memorial Day today at Upton Park with a reminder to sections of their support that anti-Semitic chanting is unacceptable. The club have invited the Football Association chairman, David Bernstein, the Mayor of Newham and Holocaust survivor Zigi Shipper to attend the match against Queen's Park Rangers and mark the occasion by lighting candles before kick-off. Lord Sacks, the Chief Rabbi, has written a piece in the programme emphasising the fact that sport can be a force for good in helping erase all forms of prejudice.
West Ham's decision to honour the victims of the Holocaust in this manner is particularly admirable given the events that marred their trip to Tottenham in November. A vocal minority of fans engaged in abusive chanting and made hissing sounds to emulate the gas chambers. Shipper feels that education is the key.
"A lot of these people don't know any Jewish people," he said. "They don't really know what a Jew is. They don't realise the full scale of what happened. Six million Jews were murdered along with Gypsies, homosexuals and the physically and mentally handicapped. All just because of who they were.
"I have gone to many matches but never heard anything like that which was heard at White Hart Lane. I know for certain that I would have left the ground immediately if I'd been there. When I got off the boat and arrived in this country as a boy, I never imagined anything like that would happen."
Shipper, 83, was sent to Auschwitz concentration camp in his teens and witnessed countless horrors. "I saw women and babies shot dead," he said. "Every day I ask myself how human beings could possibly behave that way and then sit down with their wife and children. How could they eat dinner? How could they listen to music?"
Shipper settled in London shortly after the war and started his own stationery company, which is still active today. Most of his time now, however, is spent educating young people.
He said: "I travel round the country visiting schools and universities and share my story. It is important that people understand what millions of us went through. I don't want the Holocaust to be forgotten because there is always the danger of history repeating itself."
Of recent racist incidents in football, including Milan's decision to walk off during a game, he said: "Is walking off letting the racists win? It's hard to say but I would probably have done the same."
Shipper has already been involved in spreading his word to football: he addressed the England squad before they departed for Euro 2012.
"I have met Prime Ministers and the Queen but being asked to speak to the players was the greatest honour of my life," Shipper said. "All I kept thinking was that it's not bad for a little Polish immigrant who came to this country with nothing more than the clothes he was wearing."
Meanwhile, Sam Allardyce, the West Ham manager, has been charged with misconduct by the Football Association over comments he made after his side's FA Cup loss to Manchester United about the referee Phil Dowd failing to award them a penalty.
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