It was one of those news stories that makes you ask, “What year is this?”
Last week, fans of the Italian soccer team called Lazio posted stickers around Rome’s Stadio Olimpico. The stickers depicted Anne Frank wearing the shirt of Lazio’s rivals, Roma, along with various anti-Semitic slogans.
Calling the rival team Jews was not literal; it was intended as a slur. Roma is reportedly popular with the city’s Jewish population, and “Roma fans are Jews” was one of the anti-Semitic slogans on the stickers. Israeli sports minister Miri Regev, in a letter to her Italian counterpart, wrote that insulting Roma players by equating them with Jews was “despicable” as it implied that Jews were a “scourge to be avoided.”
This act was disheartening but it was not unprecedented. Racism in general is a problem in Italian soccer and Lazio fans have a demonstrated history of anti-Semitism. In 2001, for example, fans of Lazio displayed a banner directed at Roma stating “Auschwitz is your homeland – the ovens are your homes.” Earlier this year, a judge declined to take action against Lazio fans who called rivals Jews in order to disparage them. Despite this long history, Alberto Testa, an academic who has spent time with diehard fans of both Lazio and Roma (known as “Ultras”) researching his book Football, Fascism and Fandom: The UltraS of Italian Football*, called the current incident as a new low.
To their credit, Lazio confronted their fans’ anti-Semitic actions. Players wore shirts bearing the image of Anne Frank during the warm-up to their match against Bologna, which Lazio president Claudio Lotito said reflected the team’s commitment to opposing “all forms of racism and anti-Semitism.” Additionally, Lotito has promised that the team would organize an annual trip for 200 young fans to visit Auschwitz.
The Italian Football Federation (FIGC) took things a step further, holding a minute of silence before this past week’s matches while a passage from Anne Frank’s diary was read over the loudspeakers. The selected passage was:
“I see the world being slowly transformed into a wilderness; I hear the approaching thunder that, one day, will destroy us too. I feel the suffering of millions. And yet, when I look up at the sky, I somehow feel that everything will change for the better, that this cruelty too shall end, that peace and tranquility will return once more.”
Players wore their Anne Frank shirts and handed out copies of her diary.
The FIGC stated that this move reflected their commitment “for a civil society so that young people in particular are brought up with the correct values.” Alberto Testa, the aforementioned expert on “Football, Fascism and Fandom” doubts that these gestures will do much to stem the tide of Italian racism and anti-Semitism. Unfortunately, he may be right.
At the Lazio-Bologna game, most of the audience – including 500 Lazio fans – listened to the passage in silence, then applauded. Outside the stadium, however, a group of Lazio “Ultras” sang fascist songs and gave the Nazi salute. Fans of the Turin-based soccer team Juventus turned their backs during the reading and sang the Italian national anthem in protest. At a game between Roma and a Calabria-based team called Crotone, fans shouted out team chants during the readings. (This occurred in Stadio Olimpico, the stadium where the stickers had been left in the first place.) Even the sincerity of Lotito, president of Lazio, has been called into question; he was caught on tape by an Italian newspaper calling his visit to a local synagogue a charade and a publicity stunt.
Here’s the thing that makes this particularly reprehensible: they used Anne Frank.
We’re pretty used to anti-Semitism, even in the 21st century. It’s unnerving and we don’t like it but when we see spray-painted swastikas on the morning news, we’re not especially shocked. We’re used to world leaders calling for the destruction of Israel and we’ve long since stopped being amazed by Holocaust deniers who simultaneously claim that Hitler didn’t really kill the Jews and that he didn’t go far enough. The bar for anti-Semitism is ridiculously low but apparently not so low that some people can’t find a way to slither under it. Bringing Anne Frank into things manages to accomplish that.
Anne Frank was a child who was murdered by the Nazis. A child. Who was murdered. Child. Murdered. Let that sink in. You know how long the statute of limitations is before it’s okay to joke about murdered children? Never. It’s never okay.
Joking about murdered children – and the apathy demonstrated by those who protest when others point out that it’s not okay to joke about murdered children – is the difference between being a run-of-the-mill anti-Semite and a person who just doesn’t care if they divest themselves of their last shred of humanity.
Italian police are investigating the sticker incident. With the help of stadium surveillance cameras, they have identified 16 suspects, three of whom are minors. The offenders potentially face charges of inciting racial hatred. The Lazio Ultras, however, continue to defend the anti-Semitic stickers, saying that it was just “a few lads joking around.”
Either they just don’t get it or they just don’t care. Either way, we bid them goodbye as they chose to leave the human race.
*What we call soccer in the US is known as football in most of the world.