German Bundesliga team FC Schalke 04 is leading a research initiative to discover more about the deportation of Jews from the city of Gelsenkirchen.
The project, called “Erinnerungsort Wildenbruchplatz”, investigates municipal, state and federal archives for the stories of victims who were deported from Gelsenkirchen, the hometown city of Schalke 04.
Atrocities committed by the Nazis in Gelsenkirchen are further clarified by the findings. Local resident Helene Lewek, who took her own life shortly before she was set for deportation, are among the stories brought to public attention.
The group’s research further revealed some of the perpetrators’ stories, such as that of Gestapo field office director Robert Schlüter, who denied and excused him and his colleagues’ cruelty. He was ultimately acquitted by courts.
The “Wildenbruchplatz,” a once-bustling city square from which 350 Jews from Gelsenkirchen and 150 from other cities were deported to Latvia in 1942, was at the root of the Fan Project’s research.
According to the research, victims were jammed into a hall surrounded by barbed wire on a night of below-freezing temperatures as they awaited their forced deportation. Nazis awaiting their arrival in Latvia would later murder the transported victims.
Around 25 Schalke supporters are participating in the project. Civil-servant Natalie van den Meulenhof said she hopes that the evil committed by the Nazis will not soon be forgotten.
“Through educational work, antisemitism can be contained and combated,” she declared.
Schalke 04 and the Schalke Fan Project have an extensive record in combating discrimination. In 1994, it became the first German-league club to include a pledge in its statutes to fight against racism and discrimination.
In 2001, they commissioned a study on the club’s links to the Nazi Party during its reign and terminated plans to name a street near the stadium after Fritz Szepan – who won six championships with Schalke 04 and is considered one of the greatest players in the club’s history – after his Nazi party affiliations and takeover of Jewish businesses was discovered. Schalke has a plaque commemorating nine Jewish members and supporters who perished in the Holocaust.
“I’m incredibly happy with the result,” Rituper said. “We came up with questions that had never been asked before.”