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Man U ceremony sparks memory of sports loving Holocaust survivor

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Holocaust survivor Herman Rothenberg, who passed away in South Africa at the age of 101 last year, was a sports fan who would have been touched at hearing that Manchester United had observed a moment of silence in tribute to Holocaust Memorial Day last week, says his daughter, Joan.

Ahead of the first leg of their English Football League Cup semi-final against Nottingham Forest on 25 January, the famous English football club paid their respects to the day on which we remember the millions of people murdered in the Holocaust.

“This would have meant a lot to my dad,” says Joan. After all, Rothenberg attended a 2010 FIFA World Cup match at the age of 90, and enjoyed watching soccer, rugby, and mostly tennis on TV.

In addition, he was well-read on the Holocaust. “Most of his Holocaust books were given to the Holocaust & Genocide Centre because he collected books from all over the world, and some of them had never been seen in South Africa,” Joan says.

Rothenberg passed away a month or two after his 101st birthday, and his wife, Doris, sadly passed away six months later.

“We had a double unveiling this past Sunday,” Joan says.

Rothenberg and his wife both escaped the Holocaust in Germany. In 1934, Rothenberg’s parents sent him out of the country on his own as a part of the Kindertransport rescue effort. He was just 13 when he left his parents in Frankfurt and headed to America.

“He said he saw it as an adventure,” Joan says. “I don’t think he knew what lay ahead. He was rushed out of Germany quite soon after his Barmitzvah, the last one at his shul before they couldn’t do Barmitzvahs anymore.”

She says being away from his parents had its pros and its cons. “Being away from your parents at that age does have an effect. When he got to America, he was put with others in an orphanage. Then a family by the name of Rothenberg saw his name on the list of children and took him into their home in Cincinnati, Ohio. They had two daughters and treated my dad like a son. He attended high school in America.”

After finishing school, he left for South Africa to join his parents, who had relocated there. “His intentions were to go back to America to study, but war broke out and he decided to sign up.” He served in Italy and Egypt.

“I don’t think the army was easy,” Joan says. “He suffered shell shock when he got back. He saw some horrific scenes, but I suppose as an 18 or 19-year-old, it was also quite adventurous.”

He still intended to return to America, “but when he got back from the war, he wasn’t well, and some time later, he met my mother. She refused to go back to America because she was an only child and didn’t want to leave her parents. They had also escaped Germany and come to South Africa.”

Rothenberg started a radio shop called Radiola, a retail business selling records, in the southern suburbs of Johannesburg. “Then he started his own electronic business on the side before being bought out and becoming a director of a lighting company called Consolidated Lighting. He was with that company until about the age of 70. Then he started a little electronic business and ran that for about 10 years until he stopped working altogether.”

Rothenberg achieved numerous “firsts” in his career, including being the first company to bring microwave ovens to the country (for use in hospitals), and the first to introduce underfloor heating in South Africa. He was also the first public passenger of the Gautrain in 2010, when it opened just before the FIFA World Cup.

Joan describes her dad as a disciplined, intelligent, and caring person who loved his grandchildren and great-grandchildren. He travelled to 68 countries. “In his younger days, he flew his own little aeroplane, which he shared with a friend.

“My most memorable moment with my dad was possibly his 100th birthday. Unfortunately, it was during the COVID-19 pandemic, so we couldn’t have the celebration we would have liked to have had.”

Meanwhile, English Premier League clubs and leading figures continue to observe Holocaust Memorial Day. In 2020, the likes of Frank Lampard and Jürgen Klopp appeared in a video marking the day, urging fans to make sure hatred and antisemitism were never accepted in England.

The following year, as part of Manchester City’s Holocaust Memorial Day remembrance, academy players held a minute’s silence in honour of all those who lost their lives in the Holocaust as well as in subsequent genocides, including Julius Hirsch, the first Jewish player to represent Germany’s national team before being deported to Auschwitz where he was murdered.

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