On Sunday afternoon, Chelsea Foundation hosted the exhibition 49 Flames at Stamford Bridge in the presence of his Excellency Israeli President Isaac Herzog and First Lady Michal Herzog.
Chelsea Football Club first commissioned British Israeli street artist Solomon Souza in January 2020 to paint a mural of three footballers who were victims of Nazi concentration camps. To expand the club’s work using sport history to tell the stories of the Holocaust, the club commissioned Solomon again to develop the 49 Flames exhibition to tell the stories of Jewish sportsmen and women who died during the Second World War. The exhibition was first installed at Stamford Bridge for Holocaust Memorial Day 2021.
The event brought together leaders of the Jewish community, as well as representatives from Chelsea FC and the Premier League. The event was also attended by club owner Roman Abramovich, who initiated the club’s Say No to Antisemitism campaign back in 2018.
Chelsea Chairman, Bruce Buck gave opening remarks at the event and reiterated the club’s commitment to fight antisemitism.
‘Since we installed this art piece for Holocaust Memorial Day 2020 – we have had tens of thousands of Chelsea fans see it live at the stadium and engage with the stories of these three men online.
‘This piece has struck a chord with our fans as it shows that no one, not even your national heroes and football stars, are immune to antisemitism or racism. It affects everyone – and that is why all of us must play our role in combatting it.’
The guest of honour for the event was Sir Ben Helfgott, Holocaust survivor and former British Olympic weightlifter. Sir Ben is the only known concentration camp survivor to have participated in the Olympics, previously holding the British Lightweight Champion title for seven years. Sir Ben has since spent his life promoting Holocaust education, meeting with national leaders in the UK to promote cultural integration and peace.
Sir Ben was accompanied by his son and grandson, who read an extract from the text which his grandfather had contributed to the 49 Flames exhibition.
‘The shadows of the Holocaust, which has darkened the consciousness of the Jewish people, has never left us. Survivors have not allowed Hitler to enjoy a posthumous triumph over us.
‘We have shown that the misery, cruelty, despair and injustice that was inflicted on us did not break our indomitable spirit. Nor did it break our capacity for forgiveness, love and compassion.
‘I have tried to live my life showing that people have the capacity to survive the most dreadful experiences and can emerge with the ability not just to live like human beings, but to exhibit the finest aspects of human behaviour.’
During the event, Solomon Souza painted a live portrait of Sir Ben which will be used within the Say No to Antisemitism campaign and later gifted to Sir Ben. President Herzog and Mr Abramovich both added their mark to the painting together along with Sir Ben, coming together to celebrate his 92nd birthday, which falls today.
The event was concluded with remarks from President Herzog, who thanked the club and Mr Abramovich for his ongoing commitment in fighting antisemitism, racism and discrimination.
‘Thank you, Roman Abramovich, Bruce Buck, leaders, players and members of Chelsea. Working together with you over the past few years has been a true honour and pleasure, in combating and saying no to antisemitism.
‘This has left me hopeful. Your football club is a shining example of how sports and teams can be a force of good and for shaping a more tolerant tomorrow.
‘Thank you all for recruiting your influence in sports, perhaps the most powerful instrument for reaching the greater public, as an educational tool against antisemitism and racism and for the advancement of mutual acceptance and diversity.
'And to educate the next generation about tolerance and mutual respect.'
You can visit the 49 Flames exhibition online here