Roman Abramovich has been hailed as “even more supportive than ever” at Chelsea, ahead of launching a new anti-Semitism art project at Stamford Bridge.
The Chelsea owner has commissioned a 12-metre mural at the Blues’ home ground, that will pay tribute to three Jewish footballers sent to Nazi concentration camps in World War Two.
Chelsea’s latest set of accounts revealed Abramovich has invested a further £247million into the west London club, leaving chairman Bruce Buck hailing the owner’s continued staunch backing of the Blues.
British-Israeli artist Solomon Souza will complete the new Stamford Bridge mural as part of Chelsea’s Say No To Anti-Semitism campaign, and to mark Holocaust Remembrance Day on January 27.
Chelsea chairman Buck revealed Abramovich hopes this new project can help further the Blues’ fight against discrimination in all forms.
“As far as we’re concerned on a day-to-day basis Mr Abramovich is even more supportive than ever, in all aspects of the club,” Chelsea chairman Buck told the PA news agency.
“Mr Abramovich is very interested in art, and he had the idea to raise awareness through this project, for people to focus on the problem.
“So the mural has been developed from that idea, and of course it is being donated by Mr Abramovich. We’ve always looked at our efforts here as focusing on awareness, and education and remembrance, keeping in mind that history sometimes repeats itself.
“And with the Holocaust, we’ve got to make sure that it is remembered with the hope that something like that doesn’t happen again.
“Recent incidents of discrimination in sport and other areas make this all the more important. Racism and discrimination is not just a football problem, a societal problem that is reflected in football stadia.
“This piece of art has a football theme and hopefully it will resonate with our fans.
“Mr Abramovich cares deeply about not just anti-Semitism but all forms of discrimination. We’ve focused on anti-Semitism as a special project even though we continue projects to fight all kinds of discrimination.
“But there hadn’t been anything like this as a project and that’s why we developed it.”
Chelsea defender Antonio Rudiger reported being subjected to racist chanting in the Blues’ 2-0 Premier League win at Tottenham on December 22. Tottenham were unable to find conclusive proof of any abuse, but both Spurs and Chelsea have stood behind Rudiger.
Blues chairman Buck believes Abramovich’s proactive backing of anti-discrimination initiatives leaves Chelsea’s players confident of the club’s firm support.
“The players know, not just Toni Rudiger but all the players, how supportive we are in those kinds of things,” said Buck.
“They are very much aware of it, and I do think they are appreciative of it. From a player perspective, a football team is about as integrated as you can get.
“And I think it’s very disappointing to the players to see these kinds of events.
“To fight discrimination, we’re never doing enough; we’re not doing enough and no one’s doing enough. When we solve the problem we can say we’re doing enough, but until then, no one’s doing enough.”
British-Israeli artist Souza’s murals have become a feature in Jerusalem, and his grandfather, the artist FN Souza’s works are featured in London’s British Museum and Tate Modern.
Souza’s Stamford Bridge mural will depict Julius Hirsch, who won seven caps for Germany between 1911 and 1913 but was deported to Auschwitz on March 1, 1943 before dying at the Nazi camp.
Hungary winger Arpad Weisz also died at Auschwitz in January 1944 and Ron Jones will be the third figure depicted in the Stamford Bridge art.
British prisoner of war Jones was known as the Goalkeeper of Auschwitz.
The Welshman played in the Auschwitz Football League, before being liberated by the Americans. After the war he returned to Wales and lived in Newport until he died in 2019 aged 102.
Souza’s grandmother Liselotte Kohn fled Prague for England in 1939, and he admitted great pride in linking up with Chelsea on this project.
“My grandmother fled the Holocaust, she escaped Prague when the Nazis invaded,” Souza told the PA news agency.
“She received refuge in London. So this project ran very true in me, I felt it was a great way to pay homage to her and of course to all the stories of other victims of the Holocaust.
“Unfortunately I never met my grandmother, but I hope she would be proud of me and this project. I grew up in London and was on the receiving end of a lot of anti-Semitism, so it’s worrying that it’s rearing its ugly head again.
“We hope these characters we have selected will speak to the viewers and to the football fans. Ron Jones obviously has great relevance being British. He is the witness, he lived this horror, and he lived to tell the tale.
“He dedicated his life to continuing the memory of the Holocaust, and hopefully we can continue that here now too.”