Soccer Behind Bars

Since 2011, we have watched many games in HaMoshava football Stadium that located very close to our high school in Petah Tikva, Israel. But we have never known the story behind this place – until now. And we want to tell it to you. The story begins in 1941 when a concentration camp and a ghetto were established in the fortress town Terezin, Czechoslovakia They were primarily used as a waystation to the extermination camps. About 140,000 Jews were imprisoned in the ghetto, and only 23,000 of them survived. Despite the hunger, the crowdedness and the forced work, the Jews organized many educational and cultural activities, with German approval They had concerts, artists, lectures, and clandestine education for children. Furthermore, Terezin was the only Ghetto that maintained a soccer league during World War II. The league was called “Liga Terezin”. It had management, working committees, and professional referees. It published results and statistics in the sports pages of the makeshift ghetto newspapers, written by Jewish children. Thousands of spectators watched a mixture of professional and amateur players in dozens of teams, which were named after the areas they worked, like the “Clothing Warehouse”. and also represented their favorite professional teams Not surprisingly, the best team in the league was “Kuche” (the chefs), who had access to more food. The Theresienstadt Ghetto was truly one of a kind.
The soccer gave the prisoners freedom. a chance to escape the harsh reality, by knowing that one day it will all come to an end. It was also entertainment for the Germans. They watched games, bet who will win and even gave well players a “salary” (food portions). During the 3 years it lasted, the rich cultural life has attracted the attention of the Nazis and sparked interest in the ghetto, which gave them a green light to start filming a propaganda movie in the summer of 1944, parallel to the preparations for the Red Cross visit. The movie was called “Theresienstadt Self-Administration of Jewish Settlement” and it was directed by a famous Jewish film director, Kurt Gerron. In addition, to sugarcoat the reality, gardens were planted, houses were painted and buildings were renovated – as part of an overall strategy designed to fool the world. The film highlighted the cultural activities, and it also filmed a soccer match which was also the last game ever played in the league. After completing the film, most of the cast and the director were deported to Auschwitz and were murdered at the gas chamber. And what’s the connection between the league to the stadium? A month after the stadium opening, a memorable room was inaugurated to commemorate the league. The room provides a detailed depiction of the League in Theresienstadt ghetto. It was established by Beit Terezin, a museum which commemorate the memory of the prisoners in the Ghetto Terezin, for Meir Shamir, the former owner of Hapoel Petah Tikva whose grandfather and uncle were in Ghetto Terezin during the Holocaust. It’s also used as an educational tool against racism and violence in football. subtitels by Lior Zomer

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