Soccer and History
By Tony Gentile
It’s not the first time I have covered an international sport event and a soccer tournament. I was in Germany for the FIFA world cup in 2006, in Austria and Switzerland for Euro 2008 and now I’m covering Euro 2012 in Poland and Ukraine. Every time, I’ve followed Italy’s soccer team. It’s a interesting job but sometimes it can be repetitive. You spend about one month with the same people, your photo and text colleagues and the players. Everyday you cover a training session and news conference and travel around the country to cover the matches. C onstantly you have to try to find a different picture as well.
But sometimes something different turns up, in Poland we left soccer briefly and turned to history.
Like other national soccer teams, Italy also visited the Auschwitz former Nazi death camp in Oswiecim.
For me it was not the first time in Auschwitz, I had been there in 2000 to do a short movie with some students and I remember it as a shocking experience. Hundreds of people walking in the camp transform the area into a touristic place, but only when you concentrate your ear on what the guide says and see, for example, the shoes of thousands of babies killed by the SS a shiver runs down your spine, you start to feel part of the history, especially if the guide is a survivor of the Holocaust.
And this happens every time you go there. It’s understood that normally photojournalists can be cynical and that’s quite true, but Auschwitz is the one place where you cannot forgot what happened just 60 years ago.
This held true even for the younger players who are often not interested in what happens outside their world.
But besides the personal interest, I also had to work and try to get good photos to tell the story. When they arrived through Auschwitz’s notorious gate under the sign “Arbeit Macht Frei” instead of concentrating my attention on single players, as did many others photographers, I took a wide picture including the iconic death skull at the entrance of the camp.
Later, I also took some pictures to illustrate the concentration of a group of players as they listened to the guide. Then I decided not to disturb them during their visit and moved to the second camp of Birkenau.
Birkenau is bigger and I thought that probably I could take some better pictures, hoping that the players would walk alone and I might find a nice situation for some strong images of single players. The main feature of Birkenau is the rail track, “the ramp”, in which the deportees arrived and where they were separated from their family. Many of them were killed immediately afterward.
This is where I saw the controversial player Antonio Cassano seated alone on the rail track and went there to shoot a picture of him in deep thought probably, with that shiver running down his spine. The situation was quite perfect, he was alone on the track and with the notorious gate behind him. I saw this scene for a few seconds. Soon many people arrived behind him, so it was impossible for other photographers to shoot the same picture.
A couple of days later, I came back to Auschwitz for another visit to give honor to the 1,5 million people killed by one of the most violent dictators of modern times. It was then that I took these black and white pictures, my own way of reflecting on this extraordinary atmosphere.