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Three days before the team’s opening match of the competition – which some pundits fear could be marred by racism and antisemitism – the squad will be led around the camp by Israeli football manager Avram Grant. They will also pay a visit to the site of Oskar Schindler’s factory in Krakow, where the squad will be based during the tournament, which is being held in Poland and Ukraine.
In preparation for the visit, survivors Zigi Shipper, 82, and Ben Helfgott, 81, addressed players at the Grove Hotel, giving a detailed account of their experiences during the Nazi era.
Speaking from the heart after hearing the survivors’ recollections, England captain Steven Gerrard described the experience as “very inspirational”. He added: “Zigi and Ben Helfgott are two remarkable people. They lift you. When you meet people like them, the things we worry and complain about as footballers are put into perspective. To share their experience with us shows bravery and character.
“The lesson was very inspirational. All the lads were focused, which is not usually the case with a group of footballers in the same room. But it was very interesting. As footballers, we realise how lucky and privileged we are to lead the lives we have today. Theirs is a very interesting story and one we were privileged to hear.”
Shipper said: “I told them about babies being shot, about children being put in gas chambers and the players really listened. You could have heard a pin drop. It was very powerful. I told them: ‘You are rolemodels. People listen to you. You must spread the message about the Holocaust.’ After all, some people still don’t know about the Holocaust.”
England manager Roy Hodgson said: “The two men who spoke to us were brilliant. I liked the way they portrayed their stories. They didn’t need embellishment. It is brought home to me with great effect when I listen to survivors of the Holocaust, who were born in Poland and have a story to tell of how prejudice cost them everything but their lives. They happened to be two of the lucky ones. The players will now be a lot more focused when they go to Auschwitz than perhaps they would have been if they had not met these great men.”England United by Andrew Sherwood