Sunday 20 November 2011

Cheering for Oswiecim

I suppose it’s really much like any other town in southern Poland when the local ice hockey team is locked in a last-ditch effort for a spot in the regional play-offs. The stadium is electric with the expectation of a great game. People cheer when the team scores. They curse when the referee makes a bad call. They chant in unison to intimidate the visiting team, shaking the arena and its thousand or so chilly yet dedicated fans and inspiring their players to greater glory.

It’s all good-natured, exciting and fun -- everything you’d expect from a rink-side evening of sporting entertainment in a central European town on a dark November evening. Fans dress in the team colours (blue and white), naturally, and some wave banners with the team’s logo, proudly displaying that the history of the squad dates back to 1946: a year after the most infamous Nazi death camp was liberated just across town from the stadium.

Oświęcim is, of course, better known internationally by its German name, Auschwitz, home of the Auschwitz-Birkenau set of concentration and extermination camps.

At first it almost seems like sacrilege attending -- worse, enjoying -- an ice hockey game here. This kind of thrill is surely indecent so close to the former mass murder factory.