Monday, July 1, 2002

'We're Hunting The Jews!'

Ajax, de Joden, Nederland

Yells Inside the Stadium

What follows is a selection of translated chants by Feyenoord fans. The two last ones rhyme in Dutch:
Ssssssssssssssssssssssssss... (the hissing sound of gas) 
We're hunting the Jews! 
There is the Ajax train to Auschwitz!
Sieg! Sieg! Sieg! (German for 'victory', yelled while performing the Hitler's Salute) 
Who's that Yid over there?
That Yid from Amsterdam?
He's fucking his own child
His name is Danny Blind
Van Praag is Jew plague
Put Van Praag under a circular saw
I am sorry for printing these yells. However, we need to know what we're talking about.

The phenomenon of jewing during Ajax games is about sixty years old, already. Salo Muller, Bennie Muller, Sjaak Swart and - most likely - Eddy Hamel were called 'shit Jew' or 'fucking Yid'.

During the 1970s, young supporters of a few Dutch football clubs formed the first Dutch 'sides'. The Ajacieden drew swastikas on walls, with markers or paint sprayers, and for a short while they called themselves SS, an abbreviation for Super Slopers ('Super Demolishers'). According to Ronald Pieloor, who's been a member of the F-Side for 25 years, they did that to show off. Other clubs' sides, however, referred to Ajax as 'Jews' or 'Yids', since Amsterdam was - of course - 'the Jews' town'. Then, F-Siders started calling themselves Jews.

Around 1980, the nature of the 'jewing' changed: Nazi symbols were used for the first time. STIBA, the Dutch Foundation Against Anti-Semitism, started its first campaign against racism in football that year. STIBA confronted the boards of several clubs with yells such as 'Ajax Jews' club', 'Death to the Jews' and 'Ajax to the gas chamber'. According to the clubs the fans were too stupid to even be aware of what they were yelling. STIBA replied that 'the law can be violated by both stupid and smart people'. After the STIBA initiative, Feyenoord published three adverts in fanzines, requesting the fans to stop the yelling.

But apparently, STIBA's attempt took place in the wrong era. The new sides wanted to show they were 'tough' and 'anti'. Nazi symbols were perfect for them to use, especially since it was the time in which the first large scale war and Holocaust memorial services were organized. The commemorating had started late, in Holland.

In the late sixties, the Adolf Eichmann lawsuit and Jacques Presser's novel Ondergang ('Downfall') made the Dutch realize what had happened to 'their' Jews. It was not before 1973 that a special law was introduced, which granted victims of persecution a special benefit. The Dutch Liberation Day (5 May) was not rehabilitated as an official holiday until 1981. The Resistance Memorial Cross was introduced in December of the same year.

The Holocaust suddenly was an issue. Polticians, the papers, teachers in schools and the STIBA kept talking about it, making crystal clear that the Dutch establishment found the killing of the Jews really terrible. The hooligans went in opposition.

Right after the Memorial Day (4 May) and the unveiling of a monument for legendary resistance woman Hannie Schaft in Haarlem, Ajax played against FC Utrecht on 7 May, 1982. Some Utrecht-fans brought swastika-banners and they yelled anti-Semite slogans. Two fans, Peter and Chris (not their real names), were summoned into court. The judge asked Peter what had happened in camp Westerbork. Probably a few Jews got killed over there, Peter replied.

He was sent to the camp by the court, and seemed to find it interesting.

Even as he was told that FC Utrecht played a friendly game in the area that day, he wanted to stay at the camp. Peter had to write the court an essay about it. He had brought a friend along to write everything down, since his own hand was in bandage.

Chris read Anne Frank's diary in one afternoon. He'd rarely done something like that, he said. Both boys uncovered a completely new world of history, because they'd almost never heard anything about the Holocaust in school.

It didn't help, after all. After the Lebanon war started in 1982, Feyenoord fans adopted the slogans they saw on banners in anti-Israel demonstrations.

The song 'Ajax is a Jews' club' was soon deemed 'too soft'. During a game between Ajax and Feyenoord, the Feyenoord fans yelled: Ajax joden, de eerste voetbaldoden ('Ajax Jews, the first to die in football'). This was deemed so shocking that several TV programs reported about it. After years of dawdling the police and judiciary started to do something.

A Feyenoord fan yelling 'Death to the Jews' was prosecuted by law in 1984.

But in September of 1986, about a thousand of FC Den Haag (The Hague) fans yelled 'We're hunting the Jews!' and 'Jews, we're coming!' Jews recognized the German Nazi song Juden, wir kommen in it.

Dé Stoop, chairman of FC Den Haag, said it was regrettable, but refused to apologize for it. He said: "Those yells result from the fact that Ajax obviously presents itself as a Jewish club." Things had gotten worse because the Jewish mayor of Amsterdam, Ed van Thijn, 'had behaved far too emotionally'.

FC Den Haag's shirt sponsor, Hotelplan, considered withdrawing. The possibility of banning FC Den Haag from professional football was under discussion. Chairman Stoop gave an address to the supporters of FC Den Haag's notorious 'side' of Midden-Noord (named after the 'Middle-North' stands of the FC Den Haag stadium): "You don't have a clue what it's like if your friends are taken away in the middle of the night, and never return. I do not blame you, but singing songs like that is unacceptable."

The club and Midden-Noord apologized in an official press statement, but inside the supporters' home the fans sang their songs once more, for the press.

The FC Den Haag fans returned to Amsterdam in 1987. This time, they had announced to attack every house in which they saw a menorah in the window-sill. Mayor Van Thijn denied FC Den Haag access to his city. Den Haag relegated shortly afterwards and never made it back into the Eredivisie.

Feyenoord became the next problem. After Feyenoord fans had yelled 'We're hunting the Jews!' once more, in 1987, the club's chairman pointed out that 'Ajax obviously presents itself as a Jewish club'. Around 1987, the imitating of the hissing sound of gas started. In the first years after the war, Jews who got into a fight were often told: "They've forgotten to gas you!" But such remarks had become rare between the late 1940s and 1980.

For the last ten years, anti-Semite incidents are no longer exceptional. C. Jochems, a youth coach of amateur club AFC from Amsterdam, told newspaper De Gelderlander in 1991: 'During away games, we get to hear 'fucking Jew' all the time. And at the police station, they think it's pretty weird if you come to inform them about that. They consider such a thing the joke of the day."

In 1993, STIBA reported that anti-Semitism in Holland had not increased, except in football. It was about a total of some two or three thousand fans, they added.

This is not true. Thousands of people in Feyenoord's stadium De Kuip yell anti-Semite slogans and produce the hissing sound of gas. It is not limited to one section, or a group of a few hundred skinheads. During the 1992 European Cup game against Feyenoord versus Hapoel Petach Tikva, the Israeli ambassador was dismayed. Feyenoord chairman Jorien van den Herik said he hadn't heard anything.

I asked Ronald de Boer whether he heard the anti-Semite yells from the stands, during his Ajax period. "I did hear everything," he admitted. But did it bother him? "No. No. It doesn't get to me at all, really. I just think: what a bunch of idiots."

Uri Coronel, a Jewish Ajax board member from 1989 to 1997, said: "I've experienced things as an Ajax board member - gosh, if they had been filmed, they could have easily been compared to Nazi Germany in the early 1930s. As you arrive at Feyenoord or Den Haag, by bus: hundreds of people standing at the side of the road with pure hatred in their eyes, yelling 'Jews', hissing, performing the Hitler's Salute."

After Feyenoord had won the Dutch championship in April of 1998, right back Ulrich van Gobbel yelled along eight times, with the celebrating fans on Rotterdam's Coolsingel: 'Everyone not jumping is a Jew!' Captain Jean-Paul van Gastel would later admit to have yelled the same thing. He said he was sorry. To my knowledge it was the first time that football players yelled anti-Semite slogans in public.

The Dutch establishment reacts less furiously now than they did twenty years ago. The common view, nowadays, is that the 'Jews!' by Feyenoord fans is comparible to the 'Boeren!' ('farmers', 'peasants') by Ajax fans. It's all symbolic, one does not refer to real Jews.

Politicians only worry about violent hooligans. The Rotterdam authorities don't do anything about Feyenoord fans yelling 'Gas the Jews!', even though they are the city's most visible ambassadors. Feyenoord has hardly done anything to stop the slogans over the last few years. The press doesn't bother as much, either. The former resistance people and their comrades, who were in charge of the major newspapers twenty years ago, are now retired or dead. The taboo on anti-Semitism has lost some of its power.

The Feyenoord fan singing 'We're hunting the Jews' in 1980 was a crank. He annoyed the establishment. People singing 'Gas the Jews' in De Kuip nowadays, are no cranks at all. Thousands sing along with them. Because they're rejecting Amsterdam.

Earlier that November I attended Sparta versus Ajax. Shortly after kick-off, the Sparta fanatics, behind the goal, started singing: 'Sparta is the team of Rotterdam'. You could hardly hear them sing. Sparta and Ajax share their feelings about Feyenoord, so the Ajax fans started singing along: 'Sparta is the club of Rotterdam'. Half the stadium was singing it.

But later in the game, after Sparta had pulled a goal back and made it 1-2, the Ajax section started yelling 'Boeren!'. As an answer, the Sparta fanatics started singing - hardly audible - a song about 'Jews'. There never were any Jews playing for Sparta. The Dutch Holocaust has become an Amsterdam phenomenon.

A while ago, I was at a restaurant within Amsterdam's 'canal circle', with a group of people. A funny discussion between Ajax and Feyenoord supporters arose. After a few pro-Ajax remarks, one of the Rotterdammers said: "I smell the mustiness of Anne Frank's attic in here!" (I think he was quoting Rotterdam poet and comedian Jules Deelder, but I am not that familiar with anti-Semitism).

One more incident: before Holland versus Brazil in October 1999, I was in the press room in the ArenA, talking to a prominent Rotterdam journalist. A colleague of his walked up to us, waving a telephone wire in the air. "I had to pay 750 guilders for this!" he complained. "Yup. Jews' club, huh?" said the prominent Rotterdam journalist.

I know the prominent Rotterdam journalist was kidding. I know the fans singing 'Gas the Jews' are not talking about real Jews. It's all harmless, one says.

STIBA asked in 1986: 'Who makes sure that a degenerated game does not become an event of serious ill-treatment of Jewish citizens and/or destroying of their belongings?' Still, nobody does. The anti-Semite slogans of Dutch football fans do not cause Jews physical harm. The singing, everybody says, is just ragging. Nonsense to get hysterical about that.

Tamarah Benima, former chief editor of the Nieuw Israëlietisch Weekblad ('New Israelite Weekly'), has got three objections against that:

- How do we know for sure it was not meant to be anti-Semite? "First of all: how can you tell, about such a large group of fans? There's a large number of people in Holland, coming from a 'wrong' environment. Who tells me those two groups don't mix?"

- What happens to the people yelling anti-Semite things about Ajax? "They might not start as anti-Semites, but of course the word 'Jews' gets a negative connotation for them."

- It doesn't matter what they mean by it. Benima quotes Dutch novelist Anna Blaman, who once wrote that she got spit in the face on the street for being a lesbian. She walks on and starts thinking about all sorts of motives for the person who did it: doesn't know better, didn't mean it personally, etcetera.

"But", she suddenly thinks, "I was spit on!" Benima says, about the Feyenoord yells: "I get spit in the face by it. If it all comes to an end, it doesn't matter why they're doing it; they're doing it!"

In the Dutch Calvinist tradition, it's all about what's going on in your mind. If there's no true anti-Semitism in the minds of the football hooligans, the things they're yelling become insignificant to the Dutch post-Calvinists.

In the Jewish tradition, behaviour is what counts. Jews have hundreds of rules to obey, according to the Torah. What's living inside you, however, is not examined with a microscope. For people from the Jewish tradition - even though most of the don't believe in God anymore, just like people from the Calvinist tradition - the behaviour of the hooligans is what counts.

Looking inside their souls is not interesting. Micha Gelber, chairman of the Comittee Hangar 24 and Feyenoord fan for over thirty years, says: "I have never understood the motives of the S-section." (The S-section is the section of the Feyenoord fanatics in De Kuip stadium).

Gelber (all but the only Jew in De Kuip, by the way): "I have been in several concentration camps. Of course, the singing hurts me. Hardly anything could hurt me more. But after everything I've been through, I've become immune to it. I am not interested in anti-Semitism. Only the gas chamber would have been worse than what I've been through. The fact that it's fashionable to tell jokes about Jews in the Rotterdam neighborhood of Kralingen - that worries me more than the things yelled by some older, hobbledehoy supporters with a low education level. Kralingen is not a good place to live for a Jew. They are there, but they don't admit it."

Gelber can deal with it, but other Jews can't. The average Dutchman, who has not lost 75% of his family in the gas chambers, displays a certain audacity if he tells a Jews not to be touchy about football yells.

Léon Poliakov writes in his book, Histoire de l'Antisemitisme that the Dutch are the paragon of 'good neighborhood with the Jews'. Philo Bregstein's contribution about the Dutch, in the same book, rejects this, mainly based upon the Dutch football yells.

Hardly any foreigner knows what's being yelled during Feyenoord - Ajax, Holland's largest sports game. There are three reasons for that:

  • Foreigners don't understand Dutch.
  • Foreigners are hardly interested in Holland.
  • The Dutch are very good at public relations.

The Netherlands is a country without any dissidents. I do not know any other country which is so happy about itself. A tourist doing a boat trip through the Amsterdam canals receives an homage to Dutch tolerance from the guide when passing Anne Frank's House.

Recently, I saw a Dutch woman on BBC World Service, who had started a special program for immigrants. She told the interviewer that the Dutch are so tolerant. Few foreigners get the opportunity to verify this.

Adjutant Harry Meulenbroek, of the Dutch Railway Police, had two American colleagues over, who were preparing for the 1994 World Cup in the USA. Meulenbroek was quoted in newspaper Algemeen Dagblad:

"They asked me to translate all the yells. Well, I skipped quite a few things. Like the hissing and some yells about El-Al.

"You're incredibly embarrassed sitting there, with your American colleagues."

It is often said that Ajax fans generate the anti-Semitism themselves, by presenting themselves as Jews. A police report from the mid 1990s stated that the singing by Ajax supporters is 'obviously meant to arouse anti-Semite slogans from groups they consider their enemies'.

Journalist Max Pam wrote in newspaper NRC Handelsblad, in 1997: 'Being pro-Jewish has thereby become anti-Semite in itself.'

That remark is hard to understand. One can find the singing of 'Jews' stupid and shallow and ridiculous. It is asking for an anti-Semite reaction indeed ('Gas the Jews!'), but it does not justify that reaction. A person singing 'Gas the Jews!' is responsible for that himself. A Feyenoord supporter is not some will-less animal, forced by an Ajax fan to violate the law.

The opinions of Dutch Jews about the 'Jews! Jews!' by Ajax fans are twofold.

It gives some of them a 'good feeling'. Others, like Bennie Muller and journalist Frits Barend, think it is unbearable. Some, like Michael van Praag, feel a little bit of both.

Most of them, however, are abhorred by the 'Jews! Jews!' yells, which is typical for Dutch Jews. There's no Israeli who feels offended by it.

And it did not annoy most English Jews (until recently) that Totenham Hotspur fans presented themselves as 'Jews'. There are about 300,000 Jews in England - ten times as many as in Holland - and 75% of them live in the North-Western London hinterland of Tottenham. Few felt offended by the Spurs supporters calling themselves Yiddoes. Chairman Alan Sugar's wife, a Jew herself, did, but just because yiddo is an abusive nickname for Jew.

The fact that Dutch Jews are abhorred by the singing of the Ajax fans seems to be caused by the Holocaust. The Dutch Jews are more frightened than the English or Israeli Jews, because they've suffered more. Many Dutch Jews hardly dare to say: 'I am a Jew'.

In Holland, only a goy would be so bold to yell 'Jews!! Jews!' inside a football stadium. Because of that (and because there are hardly any Jews left in the country) the word 'Jew' has almost become an equivalent for 'Ajax fan' to many Dutchmen.

A Dutch rabbi once complained that people shout 'Ajax!' at him when walking in Rotterdam wearing a keppel. A Jewish jeweler in Amsterdam-South, who sells silver Stars of David, tells that customers ask: 'Sir, do you have Ajax stars?'

But then again: if you see that drunk, wearing a Star of David, peeing against the fence and yelling 'Jews!', you can hardly call him an anti-Semite.

© Simon Kuper; all rights reserved. Reproduction, redistribution or re-use of any kind prohibited without written permission by the author.

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