United proudly lead Holocaust educational event
Manchester United were proud to support and further the Premier League’s ‘Football Remembers the Holocaust’ education programme by hosting a five-club tournament at The Cliff in early May.
Brighton & Hove Albion, Chelsea, Manchester City and Maccabi Team GB were all welcomed to Salford, along with four Holocaust survivors, their families and representatives from the Premier League and the Holocaust Educational Trust.
The event, led by the Academy’s education department, acted as a day to reflect and celebrate the lessons learnt during the 2021/22 season. All players in the Under-14 age group at Premier League clubs engage in an education programme about World War Two and more specifically about the horrors of the Holocaust, the systematic and state-sponsored genocide of six million European Jews from 1933 to 1945.
FOOTBALL REMEMBERS THE HOLOCAUST
“I came to the UK in May 1939 as a result of various accidental happenings,” Harry Kessler says.
“When I was four years old, in 1934, my father took me on a Danube steamer as a treat after I had been ill.”
The Danube is one of Europe’s largest rivers. It flows through four of the continent’s capitals, including Vienna, Harry’s old home.
“I was climbing onto the seat on this steamer and my father said, ‘don’t dirty the dress of that lady next to you!’
“The lady spoke in halting German, saying ‘it’s alright’. We found out that she was English, that she and her husband were in Vienna at a conference. My parents were nice to them and invited them back for coffee and cake. The next day, they gave them a tour of Vienna, and that was that. A few weeks later, the lady sent a letter thanking us.”
Tomi Komoly was born further down the Danube in Hungary’s capital, Budapest, two years later.
“I lived as an eight-year-old in Budapest during the Nazi regime,” Tomi says.
“My memories are all pretty bad because of the anti-Jewish regulations. We were forced out of our home. I had to share a one-bedroom apartment with my mother and two other members of the family. My father was taken into forced labour, and he never came back. We had to assume that he was dead. After that, we had to go into hiding, in two or three different places, until 1945, when the Red Army came to liberate us.”
92-year-old Milena says: “I have very few family who survived, but we were very lucky. My name is Milena Grenfell-Baines. I was born in Prague, and I came to England on the very last Nicholas Winton train in 1939. And I came to Ashton-under-Lyne.”
Winton was a British humanitarian who helped to rescue 669 children, the majority Jewish, from Czechoslovakia shortly before World War Two commenced.
Harry, Tomi and Milena are Holocaust survivors speaking at The Cliff, telling their story to anyone who wants to hear it, as they have for generations.
“The young players are really engaged throughout the course in general,” Anna Lloyd from the Holocaust Educational Trust begins to explain.
“But I think specifically once they hear from the Holocaust survivors and they put that human face to all the history and statistics that they’ve been learning, you see it begins to click. They understand the importance of this history, and the importance of their role.”
Players and coaches from Brighton, Chelsea, City, Maccabi Team GB and United arrive at The Cliff just before 9am. The historic training ground, the home of United’s first team from 1933 until 1999, has an 11-a-side pitch in pristine condition and a large indoor Astroturf, split for the day into two seven-a-side pitches. Wayne Cahill, the United Academy’s education officer, offers an introductory speech and explainer before the teams head to their first games. United take on City outside while Brighton and Team GB face off indoors.
Before the games, one representative from each team reads a dedication to a footballer who died in the Holocaust. One of the first pays tribute to Otto Fischer. Born in Vienna in 1901, Fischer represented Austria’s national team and then became a successful coach, first with Napoli and then in Latvia with Olimpia Liepaja. The team remained unbeaten in his first season and won three league titles. In 1941, Fischer was one 5,000 Jews killed in the Liepaja massacres, a series of mass executions in the west coast Latvian city. A moment’s silence follows the reading.
Upstairs at The Cliff, Chelsea are the first group to present their learnings on the Holocaust, preceding City, Brighton and finally United. Each group has focused on a different topic. City’s young players, for example, show an image of a team dressed in white doing a fascist salute. ‘Who is this?’ they ask.
It’s England’s national football team in Berlin, in 1938. They discuss the context around the decision by the players to salute, and the need to be upstanders in the fight against racism and discrimination, not bystanders. Later, United’s group bring a focus on contemporary anti-Semitism. The final quote of their presentation is: “We, the next generation, must pass on.”
That is the day’s key theme. Upon each presentation’s conclusion, the players write a pledge on a post-it note: something they will do or something or someone they will remember. “I will remember 27 January is Holocaust Memorial Day every year,” one says. Other messages read: “I pledge to tell my siblings and friends about the Holocaust”, “I pledge to be respectful to everyone,” and “I promise to pass on.”
Young Premier League players have long learned about the horrors of the Holocaust, but the focus on passing on and on contemporary anti-Semitism is an important one, and something that has been heavily pushed by United’s own education department.
“Man United have taken it on and used their own initiative,” explains David Baker, the Premier League’s education support manager.
“They’ve been involved in the programme since the beginning and there’s some fantastic work that’s going out there. In terms of Wayne Cahill taking on this programme, inviting the clubs, and the organisation that’s gone into it, the Premier League are incredibly grateful that clubs are now taking on their own independent initiative and approach.
“It ensures that all the messages that we try to deliver are promoted and reinforced. We’re allowing young people to go out and share the word, pass the message, pass the baton on to ensure we don’t forget the horrors of the past.”
Anna Lloyd from the Holocaust Educational Trust and survivor Tomi Komoly share those thoughts.
“These players are the role models of tomorrow and the future leaders,” Anna says. “So it’s great to be working with these young people and to know that they’ve pledged to stand up and remember the Holocaust and fight anti-Semitism wherever they see it.”
“I’m really amazed by how much trouble the Premier League and Manchester United are taking to introduce young people to other aspects of life,” comments Tomi, whose passion for this cause and for football is conveyed by a wonderful glint in his eye.
“I think they will get something from it which will serve them for the rest of their lives.
“I love to see how much they get out of it and how they take on the motto of ‘passing it on’. It’s a lovely idea and hopefully it will bear fruit.”
Cahill explains that this is one very important part of a wider informal education programme at United, which includes projects on club history - mainly the Munich Air Disaster - and on 'Trailblazers of Football', which looked at the first black player to represent United and celebrated the mixed heritage of players who have made up our first team over the years.
"These projects are imperative to the development of our players as we use the power of football to engage them in important historical events, none more so than the Holocaust event," Cahill said.
"We found a great blend of football and education with both complementing each other perfectly. The boys showcased their football capabilities in a high-level competition whilst also showcasing their pride in the educational work they have done throughout the year as they presented chosen topics to invited guests.
"The clubs worked together to deliver the overall project, and all pledged to pass it on and continue the messages learned. Having Manchester City, Chelsea and Brighton involved was excellent and we are grateful to them for making the effort to join us both for the opening meal on Sunday and the tournament on Monday. We were also joined by Maccabi GB as they continued preparations for the World Maccabiah Games in Israel this summer. We were privileged to have them with us as we showcased the learning of Academy players on such an important topic."
In 1939, Harry Kessler’s chance meeting with an English woman speaking halting German in Vienna led to the great accidental happening of a lifetime.
“We needed to get away from Czechoslovakia,” he recalls.
“We needed not only a lot of documents locally, which my parents got, but also an affidavit from somebody in the country we were going to, saying that they would take full financial responsibility for us.
“We didn’t know anybody, anywhere. My father was going through his desk and found this letter, from the lady in 1934 thanking us. And so, he wrote to the Joneses, they sent us the affidavit that we needed, and we were able to get away. We lived with them for a year after we came to England.
“The two main lessons I hope you learn from my story is that kindness to strangers is a wonderful thing, and, of course, to have tolerance of everybody.”
Milena Grenfell-Baines’s arrival in the UK was not accidental, but was also through an act of kindness by a stranger. Aged nine, she and her three-year-old sister Eva were the beneficiaries of the work of Nicholas Winton and those who bravely assisted him.
Her father, Rudolf Fleischmann, had fled Czechoslovakia the day before the Nazi invasion in March 1939. He had been a supporter of famous anti-Nazi author Thomas Mann, and was Jewish. Milena’s mother Sonia later escaped via Norway.
Milena and her sister left alone on trains to England. They had been told they could not cry, and they did not. They arrived at London’s Liverpool Street station, and were met by the Radcliffes, who looked after them in Ashton-under-Lyne until their own family was reunited a year later.
Like Harry, Tomi and thousands of other survivors, Milena forged a life in the UK. She ran a catering college in Preston, organising exchanges with Czech students, and acted as an interpreter and tour guide for the Czech Republic national football team in 1996 during England’s European Championships. When Karol Poborsky joined United soon after the tournament, Milena helped him and his partner to settle into Mancunian life.
'I pledge to remember'Gallery
Images from a special Football Remembers The Holocaust event at The Cliff in May.
“This today has been a wonderful revelation,” she says.
“I’ve got my son and grandson here, both of whom work with young people, and it’s been absolutely wonderful to see real, live football and to watch these young men be very clever with their feet. They’re all so good, and so nice.
“I go to schools a lot on behalf of the Holocaust Educational Trust and I tell them my story. People wonder what children get out of these talks. I’ve got hundreds of letters at home from children telling me exactly what they felt after they heard my story. It’s worthwhile.
“There are more and more children that need rescuing and it’s bringing a whole event back to us. When I think of children arriving in England and children who are not being allowed to arrive in England, this is another worry. The whole situation is quite unbelievable to think that after 80 years, it’s happening again. Nicholas Winton had a saying that you learn nothing from history.”
Events such as that held at The Cliff in May go some distance to ensuring that the next generation do learn from the past and act as upstanders in preventing the horrors of history from repeating.
For more information on the crucial work of the Holocaust Educational Trust, head to their website here.