K E I R R A D N E D G E C O M M E N T A R Y
—– The sad tale of Arpad Weisz, his wife and two children, is no more of a tragedy than the fate of 6m other victims of the Holocaust or, for that matter, the other 600,000 Hungarian Jews lost to the Nazi death camps.
But the track travelled by this football manager and his family stabs at a sporting nerve after recent events which have witnessed Italian and French thugs venting their anti-semitic violence on Tottenham fans.
Hungarian coaches were in vogue in Italy in the 1930s. They were considered messengers of the football of the future (Of course their tutor was Jimmy Hogan and the footballing wheel would turn full circle when Ferenc Puskas & Co marauded through Wembley in 1953).
Weisz was the best of the best. He had played for Hungary at the Paris Olympics in 1924 but was a finer coach than player. He guided Inter-nazionale to Serie A success in 1930 and repeated the magic with Bologna in 1936 and 1937.
Bologna were a fine team. They had twice won the Mitropa Cup, forerunner of the Champions League, and three of their players would feature in Italy’s 1938 World Cup-winning side: Uruguayan-born centre-half Michele Andreolo, goalkeeper Carlo Ceresoli and winger Amedeo Biavati.
But on October 26, 1938, Weisz (Italianised, by law, to Veisz) was sacked.
His departure prompted no glaring headlines or passionate opinion pieces in the sports publications of the era. Just one short sentence tucked away in a weekly football magazine.
No need for anyone to demand explanations. Everyone knew. The tightening of anti-semitic laws meant Weisz had suddenly become both unemployable and stateless.
The following January Weisz, wife Ilona (Italianised by law to Elena) and their Catholic-baptised children Roberto, 10, and Clara, eight, caught a train for Paris.
Weisz had friends there who had wanted him to stay in 1937 after his Bologna beat Chelsea in a memorable final of a tournament to celebrate the Paris Expo.
He had no need at the time. He had offers enough in Italy. But now Italy and Italian football shunned him and, as it turned out, there were no longer any openings in a French game replete with refugee footballers.
Ilona and Roberto sent poignant, homesick postcards back to their old neighbours and friends in Bologna.
Weisz thought his luck had turned when he was offered a coaching job with Dordrecht in Holland. He put his family on yet another train and worked there, in relative obscurity, for 18 months.
But geographical accident proved fatal. When Germany invaded on May 10, 1940, the first place the Nazi paratroopers landed was Dordrecht.
On October 2, 1942, Weisz and his family took another train. Not of their own choosing, this time. Their last train, out of Westerbork holding camp, was bound for Auschwitz.
Weisz was declared fit for heavy labour and set down at the first work camp. Within hours of his leaving the train Ilona, Roberto and Clara walked to their deaths in the gas chambers. Weisz survived a further 15 months before dying on January 31, 1944.
FIFA president Sepp Blatter was derided recently for saying that matchfixing – corruption flavour of the media month – was not as significant an issue as racism. Yet, in the wider scale of human issues, he was right.
Football, in its own meagre and erratic way, has woken up to a need to combat racism in its own midst.
That has not been easy. UEFA, until its recent shaming, was notoriously acquiescent. Last autumn, in his autobiography, ex-German federation president Theo Zwanziger noted that his southern European counterparts did not comprehend racism as an issue.
Italy should worry. Not only Italian football.
Lazio have been punished four times by UEFA for the racist behaviour of their fans this season alone.
The latest punishment, a two-game closed-doors ban, prompted owner and president Claudio Lotito to thunder: “A punishment which will cause serious economic damage to the club and prevent fans from participating in events like these matches, seems absurd.”
Racist hate is no joke.
I would like to suggest that Lotito canvas the opinions of the children of one of the finest coaches to work in Serie A.
But, of course, he can’t.
** The full story of Arpad Weisz is recounted in Dallo Scudetto ad Auschwitz (From League Title to Auschwitz) by Matteo Marani, published (in Italian only) by Alberti. Small book, mighty theme. Recommended.
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