Lazio will send fans on educational trips to Auschwitz after anti-Semitic graffiti

Lazio fans have a long history of anti-Semitism. During a 1998 game against Roma, they displayed this banner that read “Auschwitz is your homeland. The ovens are your homes.” (AP Photo)

In an attempt to combat repeated anti-Semitism from its fans, Lazio president Claudio Lotito announced Tuesday that the Italian club will organize “an annual trip to Auschwitz for 200 Lazio fans to educate and make sure we don’t forget certain episodes.”

Lotito announced the initiative at an event at a Rome synagogue two days after Lazio fans littered the Stadio Olimpico stands with anti-Semitic graffiti during the club’s Serie A game against Cagliari. The fans left images that depicted Holocaust victim Anne Frank in a jersey of local rival Roma, and posted anti-Semitic slogans. Lazio shares the stadium with Roma.

Lazio also announced that, in addition to the Auschwitz initiative, the club will wear jerseys with an image of Anne Frank on them for its Wednesday game against Bologna.

The Italian soccer federation also announced that a passage from Anne Frank’s diary will be read before matches this week in the wake of the Lazio fans’ behavior. A minute of silence will also be observed before this week’s games.

Segments of the Lazio fan base have a long history of anti-Semitism and racism. The history includes racist and fascist banners, chants and salutes. In fact one end of the Olimpico was closed Sunday due to sanctions stemming from racist chants during a match against Sassuolo. The fans – often referred to as “ultras” – took their anti-Semitic graffiti to the other end of the stadium.

Lotito, in his comments on Tuesday, tried to distance the club itself from the actions of those fans.

“We’re here today to disassociate ourselves from any form of xenophobia and anti-Semitism,” he said, via football-italia.net. “The overwhelming majority of Lazio fans share this position. We’ll do many other initiatives to suppress these incidents through daily action, such as visits by players to schools to educate about the rules, and overcoming social, racial and financial barriers.”

“We’re not talking here about what Lazio want to do, but what we have always done,” he continued. “Lazio have always been clear in condemning these incidents, with strong signals and even taking people to court.”

Lotito said the club will use cameras to search for fans who posted the pictures and graffiti. Police are also investigating.

Lotito condemned all racist or anti-Semitic behavior, as did many other Italian officials.

“There are no justifications. These incidents must be met with disapproval, without any ifs, ands or buts,” sports minister Luca Lotti said. “I’m sure that the responsible authorities will shed light on what happened and that those responsible will quickly be identified and punished.”

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

Antonio Tajani, the head of the European Parliament, said that “using the image of Anne Frank as an insult against others is a very grave matter.”

The Anne Frank Center also condemned the Lazio fans’ actions as “abhorrent” and “offensive.”

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