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October 24, 2017 11:02 am

Hardcore Fans of Italian Soccer Team Lazio Spark Outrage With Antisemitic Anne Frank Mockery

avatar by Ben Cohen

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Racist supporters of Rome club Lazio distributed stickers showing Anne Frank in the jersey of local rivals AS Roma. Photo: Richard Chambers via Twitter.

Supporters of top Italian soccer club Lazio have been sharply condemned by Jewish leaders and Italian politicians for distributing mocking images of Anne Frank dressed in the jersey of a rival team.

The image of the Dutch-Jewish child diarist who perished in the Bergen-Belsen concentration camp in 1945 was used on stickers and graffiti sprayed by Lazio fans at Rome’s Stadio Olimpico during their side’s 3-0 victory against Cagliari on Sunday. The image showed Frank wearing the jersey of Lazio’s city rivals, AS Roma. The game was played in a half-empty stadium, with its northern end — where Lazio’s “ultras” gather — closed down following racist incidents at Lazio’s previous match, which saw fans chanting vulgar slogans against two black players with soccer club U.S. Sassuolo.

Ruth Dureghello, president of the Jewish Community of Rome, declared on Twitter, “This is not football, this is not sport. Get anti-Semitism out of stadiums.” Her post was then shared by Rome’s mayor, Virginia Raggi.

The Italian Football Federation (FIGC) was expected to open an investigation on Tuesday. Italy’s sports minister, Luca Lotti, warned that those fans involved would face legal consequences.

“What happened last night is very serious, there is no justification, these are instances to be condemned unconditionally,” said Lotti. “I am certain that the competent authorities will establish what happened and that the perpetrators will soon be identified and punished.”

The Italian prime minister, Paolo Gentiloni, said the stickers were “unbelievable, unacceptable and to not be minimized.”

European Parliament President Antonio Tajani also condemned the Lazio display. “I cannot fail to firmly condemn what happened in Rome, where a group of hooligans used the image of Anne Frank to offend the fans of another club,” Tajani said during a plenary session in Strasbourg. “It was a serious deed. Everyone has the right to practice their religion and the Jewish community is part of our country.”

Italian newspaper La Repubblica responded to the incident with an editorial entitled, “We are all Anne Frank,” accompanied by images of Frank in a rainbow of Italian football jerseys. The paper urged Italian soccer fans to respond to Lazio’s provocations by turning an intended insult into a symbol of pride.

Among the most notorious of Europe’s violent soccer hooligan fans, the latest outrage by Lazio’s ultras conforms to a long history of antisemitism and racism in a club that was originally founded by army officers in 1900. The Italian fascist dictator and Hitler ally Benito Mussolini was an admirer of the club and was often seen at its matches. Antisemitic banners displayed by Lazio fans over the years include one that attacked another club for its “Black Squad, Jewish Home End,” with another banner targeting rivals Roma, which declared, “Auschwitz Is Your Country, the Ovens Are Your Homes.” The stickers mocking Anne Frank have appeared intermittently over the last four years.

Lazio club president Claudio Lotito said on Tuesday that the club would now take 200 fans every year to visit Auschwitz. Lotito made the announcement as he visited the Rome Synagogue to apologize for the Anne Frank display.

“Most of our fans are with us against antisemitism,” Lotito said.

Italian soccer authorities have instructed clubs to read out a passage from Anne Frank’s diary prior to kickoff this week.

The selected passage reads: “I see the world being slowly transformed into a wilderness, I hear the approaching thunder that, one day, will destroy us too, I feel the suffering of millions. And yet, when I look up at the sky, I somehow feel that everything will change for the better, that this cruelty too shall end, that peace and tranquillity will return once more.”

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