Arsenal’s German World Cup winning defender Per Mertesacker has revealed how a schoolboy trip to Auschwitz provided him with “one of the most memorable moments of his life”.
Mertesacker was speaking at an event at St John’s Wood Synagogue, in aid of US Futures to raise money for Tribe and Young US and the Per Mertesacker Foundation.
Speaking about his time in London, playing at Arsenal and winning the World Cup in Brazil last summer, he also spoke about his childhood, learning about the Holocaust, and a haunting trip to the concentration camp at Auschwitz.
The 30-year-old, who revealed he has a ‘great interest both World Wars’, said: “I was pleased when we went to Poland on a school trip to Auschwitz, only once you’re there do you get a much better understanding of it. I saw some teenagers break down in tears, it was very emotional, we hugged each other as schoolmates for the first time – it was one of the most memorable moments of my life.
“We know we did something wrong – and have to face up to it. I’ve never hidden from it. We’re responsible for a few horrific actions in our history. But [for me] it was a good thing to go there. You have to face it. In that place you got an imagination of what happened. Of course, you can never understand it. But you come away thinking that what we did in the past must never, ever happen again.
“We have a responsibility for our history and we – the new generation of Germans – have to show everybody that we are honest, that we’re going to teach our kids that this was wrong and we want to change our way of doing certain things. We are interested in history, as a generation now we’re much more open-minded and tolerant and we want to ensure it never happens again.”
Also revealing how he enjoyed his first ever Shabbat meal with his neighbours, soon after arriving in London, he said: “My wife and I discussed beforehand ‘do we have to do anything particular?’ We went there, received a warm welcome. We enjoyed the food, the special singing part when we had to stand up, it was a new experience for us and a bit awkward! But it was really nice to be there and to get the new experience, we’re absolutely open-minded and were fascinated by the emotions and the passion, we followed the singing and the food was really nice too. We enjoyed it, and started speaking about the past.”
The evening saw speeches from Rabbi Andrew Shaw and a fundraising film about the work of synagogue’s youth wing, called Tribe. And asked how he’ll be spending next summer, 12 months after lifting the World Cup in Brazil’s iconic Maracana Stadium Mertesacker replied: “Next year I fancy going on the Tribe summer camp.”