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Considering firm with Nazi ties for naming rights

 

I was sitting in the end zone in the upper deck with my father when Giants Stadium opened for Cowboys vs. Giants on Oct. 10, 1976. In the last 32 years, between Giants practices and Jets and Giants games, I've probably been there 750 times.

 

Not once did I look up at the name of the stadium on the big blue signs and cringe as I drove through the parking lot or feel uncomfortable walking through the doors and seeing Giants Stadium on the scoreboard or typing the name of the place into my computer.

 

The feeling of indifference will change for me, a member of the largest Jewish community in the country, if the new $1.6 billion state-of-the-art palace the Giants and Jets are constructing is called Allianz Stadium.

 

Allianz, the front-runner to secure the new stadium's naming rights, is an insurance and financial services company founded in Berlin in 1890 that moved to Munich in 1949 and had ties to Nazi Germany. Its CEO at the time, Kurt Schmitt, was Adolf Hitler's economics minister. It was the insurer of the Auschwitz death camp's facilities and personnel.

 

Even if Allianz has tried to make restitution over the years to the families of the Holocaust victims, why should a football stadium be a reminder of the painful events that led to the murder of six million Jews? With so many Holocaust survivors in this area and ancestors of survivors or people who lost their parents or grandparents in concentration camps, it just makes no sense.

 

"I am very upset," Holocaust survivor Earnest Michel said yesterday. "I would find the connection of naming the stadium in the name of a German insurance company a very, very serious act and that we as survivors would take exception to."

 

Michel, 85, and still a football fan, is the former executive vice president of the UJA-Federation of New York. He was arrested in Germany in 1939 at the age of 16 - just because he was Jewish, he said - and spent the next 5-1/2 years in four different concentration camps before escaping.

 

"I never saw my parents again," he said. "I don't know what insurance my parents had. I was a kid."

 

His parents were arrested in 1940 and spent two years in a concentration camp in France before they were sent to Auschwitz. "They were gassed upon arrival," Michel said solemnly. "They were murdered upon arrival."

 

His sister was arrested at the age of 11, also in 1939. Michel didn't see her again until 1955.

 

Allianz has 11,000 employees in the United States, offices in New York and sponsors PGA senior golf tournaments and Formula One races. But it's the past that will prompt a damage-control campaign if Allianz remains the front-runner and wins the naming rights to the new Giants and Jets stadium.

 

he Tisch family, which owns 50% of the Giants, is Jewish and very involved in Jewish philanthropy. Steve Tisch did not return a call last night for comment.

 

A public affairs firm has been hired by the New Meadowlands Stadium Corp., to perform due diligence on the companies interested in naming and sponsorship rights. It has been working overtime on Allianz.

 

"In this instance, NMSC management and the teams' owners became sensitive to Allianz's history," Alice McGillion of the NMSC said in a statement. "This thorough review also found that Holocaust experts, former government officials and leading Jewish and survivor groups believe that Allianz has made determined efforts towards restitution and continues to do so today."

 

Even if Allianz, which has its name on a stadium in Munich, is willing to pay more than anybody else - perhaps as much as $30 million per year - could Giant owners Tisch and John Mara and Jet owner Woody Johnson take a little less money and be a little more sensitive? There seems to be some testimony that Allianz has tried to do the right thing over the years, but why would the Giants and Jets even subject themselves to such scrutiny?

 

And in these times when America is losing its value around the world, can't the naming rights to one of the most visible sports venues be sold to an American company?

 

Neither the Giants nor Jets offered comment yesterday, but combined with the recent PSL announcements, the news about Allianz's potential involvement is likely to be met with resistance in parts of the Jewish community.

 

"It's outrageous, to be honest with you," said Dr. Barry Steinberg of Chappaqua. "It's like adding insult to injury, salt to the wound."

 

Steinberg's father is a Holocaust survivor. "He won't drive a German car," he said.

 

Steinberg had been a Jets season ticket holder since 1980 when his seats were in the last row at Shea Stadium. He elected not to renew his tickets this year, the anticipation of PSLs and the lack of a dome on the new stadium playing a part in his decision. Even though his seats won't be part of the PSL program, he doesn't second-guess walking away.

 

The firm representing the team has spoken with Jewish leaders. If the deal is made with Allianz, they know there is an obligation to explain the background of the company.

 

"This opens a very, very serious problem to us survivors," Michel said.

 

And to those who sat in the upper deck on opening day.

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If we are going to talk German companies that profited from Nazi aggression and racially-based genocide/exploitation of workers why not talk about Japanese companies that used POW labor in working conditions that led to numerous deaths?

 

Echo is right this is PCness gone too far. Unfortunetaly we live in a world where that stuff matters.

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If we are going to talk German companies that profited from Nazi aggression and racially-based genocide/exploitation of workers why not talk about Japanese companies that used POW labor in working conditions that led to numerous deaths?

 

Echo is right this is PCness gone too far. Unfortunetaly we live in a world where that stuff matters.

 

I think the second we started being politically correct we went too far. It's glorified censorship.

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What about IBM who made the punch-card machines specifically for processing people through the death camps? Or Fanta; the pop you sell Nazis when you can't sell them Coke. These are American companies that traded with the Nazis, not German ones who had little choice.

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What about IBM who made the punch-card machines specifically for processing people through the death camps? Or Fanta; the pop you sell Nazis when you can't sell them Coke. These are American companies that traded with the Nazis, not German ones who had little choice.

 

Don't forget Disney.

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Actually the best example of this kind of thing wa in Berlin recently when they unveiled the Holocaust memorial (right near the Brandenburg Gates). It's quite an amazing piece of public art; a square block of grey concrete blocks of diffiering sizes lined up in rows over undulating ground. You walk through it and get a really weird sence of oppression. It's kinda creepy.

 

Anyway, they decided they needed to protect it from graffiti, which is a huge issue in Berlin. First they proposed a cage which met with uproar considering the subject matter. So the decided to coat the concrete in a protective film. Only problem was, the company that won the contract turned out to be the same one that supplied the chemicals for the gas chambers in the first place.

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I tend to agree with the other posters about this. However, I can't imagine the scars and mental images that survivors of the holocaust carry forever. If there is anyone that people should be sensitive to, it's holocaust survivors. If anyone one of us had our parents stripped from us and murdered at a young age, and had to endure what they did in concentration camps (hell, even traveling to the concentration camp), we might have a stronger opinion of anyone and anything that was affiliated with such a horrible nightmare. We're talking YEARS of torture where you were stripped of everything you hold dear in your life. 16 years went by before this man found his sister again, probably didn't even know she was alive. I think this is not a PC issue to these survivors.

 

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What about IBM who made the punch-card machines specifically for processing people through the death camps? Or Fanta; the pop you sell Nazis when you can't sell them Coke. These are American companies that traded with the Nazis, not German ones who had little choice.

 

 

You beat me to it Tree....and IBM made out pretty well in that deal. Without those machines, German efficiency would have been a hell of a lot less efficient. And it cracks me up that many people who are either victims or descendents of victims will go out and buy a VW/Porsche, Benz, and or a BMW without batting an eye. Why not make a big deal about all of the heavy metal rolling up and through the tri-state area that are being driven by survivors.

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