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1st game ever for Israeli team at Hitler's '36 Olympic arena

Berlin soccer club sorry for antisemitism at Maccabi match in Nazi-era stadium

Fans threatened, pelted with beer; Union Berlin supporter tried to burn small Israeli flag; another repeatedly shouted ‘Sieg Heil’; home club slams shameful, intolerable behavior

Israel's Maccabi Haifa fans display Israeli flags in the stands, during the UEFA Conference League Group E first leg football match between FC Union Berlin and Maccabi Haifa in the Olympic Stadium in Berlin, on September 30, 2021. (Matthias Koch/DPA/AFP/Germany Out)
Israel's Maccabi Haifa fans display Israeli flags in the stands, during the UEFA Conference League Group E first leg football match between FC Union Berlin and Maccabi Haifa in the Olympic Stadium in Berlin, on September 30, 2021. (Matthias Koch/DPA/AFP/Germany Out)

BERLIN — Union Berlin apologized Friday after fans hurled antisemitic insults at visiting supporters of Israeli champions Maccabi Haifa, the first club from Israel to play at the Nazi-era Olympic Stadium.

“This behavior is shameful and intolerable,” said Union president Dirk Zingler.

“We apologize to those affected… we will never tolerate discrimination in our ranks. It is important to remain vigilant and to work tirelessly against it.”

Haifa fans said they were subjected to antisemitic insults from some Union Berlin supporters during a Europa Conference League match at the city’s Olympic Stadium, where the hosts won 3-0 on Thursday.

The stadium was built for the 1936 Olympics hosted by Nazi Germany, where Adolf Hitler launched one of the most controversial sports events in history 85 years ago.

“On the terraces, we were threatened by Union fans, pelted with beer,” said the Youth Forum of the German-Israeli Society Berlin-Potsdam on Twitter, adding that members of their group were subjected to antisemitic insults “among other things.”

One of the Israeli fans told German daily Welt that a Union Berlin supporter tried to set fire to a small paper Israeli flag, which police later confirmed.

Berlin Police said they were investigating the incidents for incitement, with one suspect, who repeatedly shouted “Sieg Heil,” being probed as well.

The Department for Research and Information on Antisemitism Berlin (RIAS) said Haifa fans also overheard a Union supporter ask his companions: “Hey guys, do any of you have a little 74-90-8 in your pocket?”

The numbers refer to hydrogen cyanide, the active ingredient in the poison gas Zyklon B used by the Nazis during the Holocaust.

Thursday’s ugliness sparked a round of condemnation.

“The antisemitic incidents at yesterday’s match… show that hostility towards Jews is still widespread in football,” Felix Klein, Germany’s commissioner for Jewish Life and the Fight against Antisemitism, told the Funke media group.

“I am dismayed that instead of fairness and respect, hatred and violence emanated from German fans, especially at this historically-charged venue,” added Klein.

On Friday morning, the youth forum tweeted: “Thank you for the wave of solidarity online and to the Union fans who showed solidarity with us in the stadium.”

The match was switched from Union’s Alten Foersterei ground to the larger Olympic Stadium, home of rivals Hertha Berlin, to meet UEFA requirements.

Ahead of Thursday’s Game, Maccabi paid a visit to the Holocaust memorial in central Berlin where they laid a wreath.

“This isn’t just another game for us. Atrocities happened here,” Maccabi Haifa coach Barak Bakhar had said in a press conference on Wednesday.

Related: Maccabi Haifa to be 1st Israeli team to play in Berlin stadium built by Nazis

The team’s president Ya’akov Shahar said before the game that it was Maccabi’s second time playing against a club from Germany’s top league, and that the previous time was combined with a visit to the Dachau concentration camp.

In this August 2, 1936 photo, Adolf Hitler and Hermann Goering are seen watching events at the Olympics in Berlin. (AP)

“The very fact that we are playing as equals to our hosts says everything. It means we won,” Shahar said. “We will also host them and if possible, we will host them at Yad Vashem [Holocaust Museum in Jerusalem], so that they can see and learn about their past.”

The Israeli club itself did not react to the antisemitic cases.

“Many thanks for the great hospitality. It was an exciting game in front of your crowd and also ours, and also in this stadium, which has its own significance. Thank you very much and see you in Israel,” it wrote on Twitter.

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