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Friday 19 December  
Arbeit Macht Frei - Holland squad visit Auschwitz
Theo Tamis's picture
Auschwitz, Poland
Auschwitz, Poland

Holland squad: no words to describe Auschwitz

Published on : 6 June 2012 - 9:21pm | By Theo Tamis (Photo: KNVB)
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An excursion to Auschwitz – somehow the two words don’t go together. A visit to the largest Nazi death camp can hardly be seen as a fun trip or an outing for pleasure. So, why did the Dutch national football squad choose to go to the camp where more than a million people, mainly Jews, were killed?

“It was the manager’s decision,” right-back Gregory van der Wiel sighed before the trip. He expected a “heavy experience.” The tour guide confirms that a visit to Auschwitz can be overwhelming - “People frequently faint here” – and often leaves a lasting impression.

So, it was Holland coach Bert van Marwijk’s idea. He’s known to attach great importance to widening one’s experience, to broadening one’s horizons. In his view, there’s more to life than football, even for professional players.

During the 2010 World Cup in South Africa, Van Marwijk took his squad on a boat to Robben Island, where Nelson Mandela and other prominent black political prisoners were held for many years. The Holland boss regretted that there wasn’t time last june to visit a favela in Rio during Holland’s Latin America trip, so he went back a few months later to see what life was like in the sprawling city’s poorest settlements.

Private visit
And now Auschwitz. The squad went quietly on Wednesday morning, for about an hour, without much ado, incognito. Dark jackets and jeans. They were shielded from the press, who’d been instructed not to venture too close to the players. After all, this was a private matter, an emotional confrontation with the darkest page in human history. Auschwitz - a pars pro toto for the Holocaust, a death factory where up to 20,000 people were murdered on a single day. And with them, humanity as a whole, to quote a German philosopher.

“This is something we should never forget,” defender John Heitinga tweeted from Auschwitz-Birkenau. His fellow centre-back, Ron Vlaar, posted a picture on Twitter: “This is the death gate through which the trains arrived - beyond comprehension really.” Right-back Khalid Boulahrouz was deeply touched too: “There are no words to describe Auschwitz.”

(Continues below)

Personal experience
For Van Marwijk and his son-in-law, Holland skipper Mark van Bommel, there was only one word to capture what they felt: “moving”. No more, no less. They wouldn’t or couldn’t elaborate on their personal emotions. Not in public anyway, and certainly not in front of a massive number of TV cameras and journalists.

Moving. Not the right word either. But, of course, this is “a place where no words can tell the truth about what happened... But they have to. This was hell on earth," former Polish President Aleksander Kwasniewski once said.

So, what does a glimpse of hell do to football stars preparing for a major tournament? Will it affect their ability to focus or even their performance at Euro 2012?

“It’s unlikely that the Auschwitz visit will throw them off balance,” says sports psychologist Harry Kraan.

“After all, we’re dealing with top-class players who have a special mentality. But it would be sensible to talk about the visit afterwards - just to come to terms with it.”

Winger Dirk Kuyt concurs:

“It’s always good to put things into perspective. Look, the entire nation is in the throes of the Euros, the whole country is orange now. But sometimes it’s also worthwhile to reflect on things that didn’t go so well in world history. And I think we should learn from that, all of us. We should definitely never forget. Because sometimes the world is like that and then you should seize those moments to reflect so that hopefully it will never happen again.”


  • Inside the Auschwitz crematorium adjacent to the gas chamber<br>&copy; Photo: KNVB -
  • Death gate and the railway track at Auschwitz-Birkenau<br>&copy; Photo: KNVB -
  • Robin van Persie at Auschwitz<br>&copy; Photo: KNVB -
  • Wesley Sneijder at the gate of Auschwitz-Birkenau<br>&copy; Photo: KNVB -
  • The Holland squad looks back<br>&copy; Photo: KNVB -
  • Mark van Bommel and Bert van Marwijk at a press conference after the visit<br>&copy; Photo: RNW/Theo Tamis -
  • The Italy squad went too<br>&copy; Photo: RNW/Theo Tamis -
  • The Italy squad rests on the Birkenau railway tracks<br>&copy; Photo: RNW/Theo Tamis -
  • Eight people in one spot - Treated like animals<br>&copy; Photo: RNW/Theo Tamis -
  • Arbeit macht frei<br>&copy; Photo: RNW/Theo Tamis -
  • Let this place be a warning forever<br>&copy; Photo: RNW/Theo Tamis -


Dr. Cajetan Coelho 8 June 2012 - 10:01am

Life is a gift. It needs to be cherished. We need to thank the Giver of life.

CD Tauber 7 June 2012 - 6:27am

The Holland Squad - and everyone else - should remember that The Netherlands has its own places of similar horror such as Westerbork and Vugt. Also, people should remember that people from The Netherlands collaborated in putting people into concentration camps. Per capita, The Netherlands had the highest deportation rate to the camps of any country except Poland. Also, it is important to note that torture and genocide unfortunately did not end with WWII and continue today. Many asylum seekers and refugees coming to The Netherlands have been subject to it. It is attitudes of obedience to the State and "authority" without critical thinking that make such horrors possible. The attitudes that allowed and promoted the Holocaust are still prevalent in Dutch society and virtually everywhere else. Children should be taught humanity, not obedience.

jasmin 7 June 2012 - 9:02am

It is a kind of a pilgrimage, I think, though quite disturbing. Good that the coach took the players there.The pics and the video are really touching and really must be hellish in real. A reminder of what religious or cultural insanity can lead to. Hope the new generations learn from this, to rein in their feelings of religious and cultural hatred against others of different religion and culture.My deep respects to those who perished in this holocaust.

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