One of the most surprising positive byproducts of the current Euro 2012 soccer competition has been an increase in Holocaust awareness throughout Europe. This is a result of the much-publicized trips to the Auschwitz death camp by players of four (out of the 16) teams competing for the championship.

To date, the English, Italian, and Dutch players have all visited the camp, whereas the Germans sent a delegation that included team manager Oliver Bierhoff and three top players, including captain Philip Lamm. In each case, the teams were accompanied by Holocaust survivors from their countries, and there were appropriate preparations that helped make the visits more effective. The fact that these players, quite a few of whom are idols in their native countries, toured the death camp will no doubt have a positive effect in terms of Holocaust awareness.

The Auschwitz-Birkenau death camp (photo credit: Ilan Ben Zion)

The Auschwitz-Birkenau death camp (photo credit: Ilan Ben Zion)

To the best of my knowledge, this is the first time in Euro history that such a thing took place, and the explanation relates to this year’s venues.

For the first time ever, the tournament was awarded to two Eastern European countries that made the transition from Communism to democracy — Poland and Ukraine. The decision, it must be noted, was an enormous gamble by the organizers, UEFA (Union of European Football Associations), for a variety of reasons, some technical and logistical, the others more political/ideological.

As far as the latter, the prevalence of widespread racism and anti-Semitism was clearly a concern, especially in the Ukraine, which has a well-earned reputation for a lack of tolerance of minorities and foreigners. Poland, on the other hand, is already a member of the European Union and has made significant strides in combatting racism, and especially anti-Semitism.

In this regard, one of the important decisions that had to be made concerned the choice of host cities, which brings me to the ridiculous choice of Lviv, Ukraine, to host three matches of Group B. Perhaps the best way to explain why the capital of Ukrainian ultranationalism is totally unsuitable to host the competition is to point to two restaurants in the center of town with brazenly anti-Semitic themes.

Very recently, the authorities tried to destroy the remnants of the Golden Rose Synagogue

The first, “At the Golden Rose,” located right near the site of the Golden Rose Synagogue, which was destroyed by the Nazis with numerous Jews inside in 1941, offers its guests black hats like the ones worn by Hassidim, along with payot, and does not list the prices of the dishes on its menu, since Jews are expected to haggle over the (highly inflated) prices, a notorious anti-Semitic stereotype, very prevalent in Eastern Europe.

The second eating establishment is named Kryivka, or “Hiding Place,” and recreates a bunker used by Ukrainian ultranationalist “partisans,” who were allied with Nazi collaborator and Ukrainian hero Stefan Bandera, who actively participated in the murder of Jews in 1941. To enter, the password is “Glory to Ukraine,” but there is no room for Jews or other minorities in the Ukraine envisioned by Bandera’s modern-day followers.

These restaurants, however, are only the tip of the racist and anti-Semitic iceberg in Lviv, where there is almost no trace left of hundreds of years of Jewish history. The city’s most elegant hotel, the Citadel Inn, which hosts many guests for the Euro 2012 matches, was built on the site of the mass murder of tens of thousands of Jews and non-Jews.

Very recently, the authorities tried to destroy parts of the remnants of the Golden Rose Synagogue complex, but a protest campaign launched by local resident Meylakh Sheykhet and journalist Tom Gross has succeeded in halting those plans — at least temporarily.

The Golden Rose Synagogue in Lviv (photo credit: public domain via Wikipedia)

The Golden Rose Synagogue in Lviv (photo credit: public domain via Wikipedia)

The Euro 2012 tournament focused attention on these issues, and our call to boycott the restaurants garnered international attention, but if anyone thinks that there is any room for optimism on these issues, the Reuters interview earlier this week with Lviv mayor Andrij Sadovyi put things into realistic and unfortunate perspective. “Lviv is an absolutely tolerant city…[with] people of different nationalities who respect each other,” the mayor said. As far as the restaurants are concerned, he was quoted to the effect that there was no anti-Semitism whatsoever involved; they were merely [tourist] attractions, with no insult intended.

It’s a shame that he, unlike the players from Holland, Italy, Germany and England, did not make the trip to Auschwitz to see what horrific results occur when racism, anti-Semitism and xenophobia are allowed to flourish unhampered and uncontested.

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Dr. Efraim Zuroff is the chief Nazi-hunter of the Simon Wiesenthal Center and the director of its Israel Office. Finnish and Hungarian editions of his most recent book Operation Last Chance: One Man’s Quest to Bring Nazi Criminals to Justice (Palgrave/Macmillan) will be published this summer.