A lifelong football fan — of both the European and American variety — Holocaust survivor Martin Greenfield was relieved to learn last week that he could keep on going to see his beloved New York Giants play.
Greenfield, an 80-year-old death camp survivor and native of the former Czechoslovakia, had been thinking about boycotting future games of the NFL championship-holding team if the new Meadowlands stadium in East Rutherford, N.J. bore the name of Allianz, the Munich-based company that insured Auschwitz gas chambers and had direct dealings with Hitler during World War II.
“I don’t know how I could even go to a game if the name was there,” he said. “I never forgave the Germans.”
Greenfield was among many other Jewish fans who were planning to leave the stadium behind if negotiations had gone through with the German company.
Allianz had been bidding for naming rights of the future home of the New York Giants and Jets, and it reportedly had offered between $20 million and $30 million per year for the rights. Since the war ended, Allianz has paid millions in restitution compensation to Holocaust survivors for its past associations, and some Jewish fans and scholars felt that the current leadership of the company should not be held responsible for the conduct of more than 60 years ago.
Though the Meadowlands group would not disclose a reason for its decision to break off the negotiations, the Giants and Jets are now looking elsewhere for stadium sponsorship.
“The New Meadowlands Stadium, LLC is no longer in discussions with Allianz for a naming rights partnership,” said Mark Lamping, president and CEO of the New Meadowlands Stadium, in a statement last Friday. “We are continuing discussions with other potential partners for the new stadium and look forward to the summer 2010 opening of this new icon for our region,” the statement continued.
“I would just as soon have the place called Giants Stadium, which it is now,” said Edward Valentine, head blogger on BigBlueView.com, a Giants commentary forum. “To me, the fact that it’s a German company with the connections that it has, it simply opens up a whole can of worms that’s just not necessary.”
But loyal fan Greenfield, who purchased his first $3 season tickets about 50 years ago, had confidence that his Giants—and the Jets—would do the “right thing.” The Giants ownership includes Jews, and their talks with Allianz surprised some Jewish fans.
“Even the people who own it and aren’t Jewish are very respectable people,” Greenfield said. “I knew before that it wasn’t going to go through. I don’t know why they were even talking to them.”
After enduring Auschwitz, Birkenau and the Nazi death marches, Greenfield was finally liberated by General Eisenhower’s army from Buchenwald in 1945 and, when he found no surviving relatives in his native Carpathian Mountains, made his way to his mother’s New York family in 1947. From there, he began working in a clothing company that he would go on to purchase 30 years later, where he said he has dressed public figures such as United States presidents, Mayor Michael Bloomberg and retired Giants defensive end, Michael Strahan.
Upon arriving in the United States, Greenfield rekindled his love for sports by adopting the popular American version of his daily football games at his pre-World War II Czechoslovakian cheder. And he has been attending Giants games with his sons Jay and Tod since they were toddlers.
“I was horrified when I heard about the discussions going on about the possibilities of naming the stadium after Allianz,” said his son Jay, who is not Orthodox but straps on tefillin before every Big Blue game, a tradition he began last season. “It would have put a damper on my Giants spirit in a big way.”
He too couldn’t believe that the Giants and Jets would agree to a deal with Allianz, even if their Nazi ties ended 60 years ago.
“I couldn’t imagine that they could withstand the publicity to do such a thing,” he said. “Football is a fun day for us and it would’ve been bad to mix something fun with something very tragic.”
Other angry Jewish fans agreed that they would have boycotted an Allianz stadium, which they would have seen as a symbol of Holocaust brutality.
“If you look at the sign [atop the stadium], it’s going to serve as a reminder of one of the worst tragedies that happened,” said Giants season ticket holder Charles Herman, 58.
His friend Jack Malcolm, 57, a devoted Jets fan, agreed.
“I would never set foot into that stadium again,” he said.