DUXBURY – Just six weeks after the Duxbury High School football team used the word ‘Auschwitz’ while calling a play during a game, this coastal town of 16,000 – where an estimated 60 Jews reside – is trying to determine what led a team to incorporate the name of Nazi Germany’s most infamous death camp into its playbook.
But in Marci Goldberg Bracken’s home, the word Auschwitz is part of a family history that is never far from her thoughts. She’s aware of the genocide and atrocities that took place at Auschwitz, where 1 million Jews were murdered and cremated.
“I am the granddaughter of an Auschwitz survivor and a Dachau survivor. My grandparents met in a train station after the liberation of the camps on their way to a displacement camp in Germany where they lived for a little over three years,” said Bracken, who grew up in Connecticut and moved to Duxbury eight years ago with her family. “My father was born in that displacement camp and they came to the United States when he was three and their entire lives revolved around finding life again, recovering, looking for family and looking for families. And therefore, so much of my identity has been about the Holocaust.”
Bracken is part of a growing group of Duxbury Jews who believe the town needs to entirely explain what led the football squad – which has won five Super Bowls in the last 15 years – to use ‘Auschwitz’ in a play. After the team’s March 12 opponent, Plymouth-North, complained about the play, it took another 10 days before the Duxbury school district informed the public about it. In late March, the town fired the team’s coach, Dave Maimaron, and accepted the resignations of seven other coaches. Duxbury school and town officials also expressed their dismay over the team’s decision-making, and hired Just Training Solutions to “investigate incidents related to the football team,” according to Matt Ellis, a spokesman for the town.
But some parts of the story and nascent investigation don’t add up, according to Bracken. In an email, Ellis stated that it is unclear if any of the investigative report will be made public. “We’re so uninformed it makes it that much worse,” said Bracken. “It feels like there’s no transparency about anything.”
Like many other Jews, Bracken said she had not experienced anti-Semitism and had met lifelong friends in Duxbury. Still, she is wondering why the football team – which halted play for three games – was allowed to play last week against Scituate. “To hear that word was heartbreaking for me,” said Bracken, who believes the football players should apologize to the Jewish community. While some players have met with Rabbi Howard Cohen of Congregation Shirat Hayam in Marshfield, a grandchild of a Holocaust survivor and state Senator Barry Finegold, there has been no formal apology by the team.
“I think it’s disrespectful to not acknowledge your community members whom you directly offended the most,” said Bracken, who has considered moving out of Duxbury since learning about the football team incident. “I definitely feel we’re in a minority here of being so horrified by this.”
At last week’s game, the two teams issued a joint statement that was read before kickoff that denounced “all acts of hate, bias, and discrimination.” In a statement following the game, acting Coach Matt Landolfi thanked members of the Jewish community, along with Rabbi Cohen and Senator Finegold for providing guidance to the team. But he also questioned just how to handle situations like this.
“We need to make a decision about whether we want to burn everything to the ground, including all of the collateral damage that comes with that, or do we want to grow and learn from it. As for our boys, I am extremely proud of how they have conducted themselves. Given that a majority of our boys had no involvement or prior knowledge of the terms used on March 12, they have stayed unified as a team and have made positive steps toward real growth and understanding. I am confident they will use this experience to become positive agents of change moving forward,” he said.
But Landolfi’s statement seemed to further alienate many Duxbury Jews who believe the town needs to take this more seriously and put morals ahead of sports. “I was horrified,” said Laura Neprud, after she read Landolfi’s statement. Neprud is one of the more visible residents and Jews in Duxbury. She has lived in Duxbury for 27 years, worked with Landolfi in the school’s Special Education department, is the immediate past president of Marshfield’s Congregation Shirat Hayam and is a member of the steering committee of Duxbury for All. “The statement he made kind of undermined everything. I was really disappointed.”
Neprud also believes that football has been placed ahead of education and that the game should not have been played. She also wants the team’s players to apologize. “I feel like it would have been a statement. There’s no remorse and no regret being stated publically,” said Neprud, who continues to wonder why adults have not led the team to make a public statement. “I know for a fact that there are boys who are sincerely remorseful and regretful but they’re not being encouraged to speak up.”
Tamara Ciocci knows what blatant anti-Semitism looks like. Growing up near Pasadena, California, people spray painted swastikas on her driveway and accused her family of killing Jesus. Ciocci has lived in Duxbury for 15 years, and along with her husband, raised two children who went through the Duxbury schools. Like other Jews here, she wonders why none of the players, coaches or even parents didn’t put a halt to play-calling. “I think what bothers me the most is why didn’t somebody say anything, why was their secrecy around the words, why didn’t anybody report that the words were being used?” she asked.
At last week’s game in Scituate, this reporter sought further information about the team’s response to its use of ‘Auschwitz’ in the March 12 game. On the visiting side, 12 out of the 75 Duxbury residents who attended the game were approached for comment and all declined to answer questions. High School Principal James Donovan and Athletic Director Thom Holdgate also declined to be interviewed.
Rabbi Cohen said time might help the healing process. “Duxbury is like 98 percent white and Christian or Catholic and so how does a community that has very little experience coexisting with people of different colors and different religions, figure out they’re going to do that?” he asked. “That takes time. And nowhere in society have we really figured that out.”
Email Steven A. Rosenberg at firstname.lastname@example.org.