The Israeli professional Eliezer Sherbatov is hired by the Polish ice hockey club Unia Oświęcim. It is reminiscent of the city’s Jewish tradition.
“Welcome, Eli Sherbatov!” The Polish Ice Hockey Players Union welcomes its new colleague. “We know how sensitive and symbolic it will be for you to play in Oświęcim,” it says on Twitter. The Israeli professional ice hockey player Eliezer Sherbatov, captain of the selection of the Jewish state, has decided to play for Unia Oświęcim in the future. The German name of the place is Auschwitz.
“I am very motivated precisely because it is Auschwitz,” the 28-year-old told the Jedioth Ahronot newspaper. If he succeeds, “everyone will know that whoever did this is a Jewish Israeli”.
Sherbatov was born in Rechovot, Israel, grew up in Canada, but started ice hockey in Metulla, northern Israel, where there is a winter sports center. As a professional, Sherbatov has played in Kazakhstan and Slovakia so far. And it will soon be in Poland.
There were some negative reactions to Sherbatov’s move from the Jewish world, especially on Twitter. Elchanan Poupko, a New York rabbi, called it “a betrayal of the Jewish people and a shameful stab in the back of millions”. The rabbi asked if Sherbatov had no other options. “Yes, I had other options,” he replied. His goal, however, is to be successful so that the people there cheered a Jewish professional ice hockey player. “That’s what I want to create a new story for us Jews.”
Sherbatov and his new association receive support from the Auschwitz-Birkenau Memorial. Criticism, as it was formulated by Rabbi Poupko, is based on stereotypical perceptions of Poland, it says on Twitter. The memorial commemorates the largest German extermination camp that belonged to the place Oświęcim, which the Germans called Auschwitz.
Unia Oświęcim is, however, a club that has often been said to have right-wing extremist fans. Photos circulating on the Internet appear martial. However, the fans have hardly spoken out at the moment. Facebook is just talking about one of the “loudest transfers this summer”.
The club itself, which was founded in 1946 and has been playing ice hockey since 1958, tries to respond to the criticism. A statement on its website recalls the Jewish tradition of Oświęcim. The Jewish football club “Kadima” played here in the 1920s, and in 1939 60 percent of the citizens were Jewish. Today Oświęcim is a “City of Peace” that cares about commemoration. The club, one of the most successful ice hockey teams in Poland with eight championship titles, is multicultural and the professionals come from seven different countries.