The Hungarian Barça player who was killed in the Holocaust

Hungarian Jew György Silberstein played a match for Barça in 1934

At number 4 Vidámvásár Street in Cinkota, a small village on the outskirts of Budapest that eventually became a neighbourhood swallowed up by the capital, there is no plaque. Nor are there any Stolpersteine, the small cobblestones created by German artist Gunter Demnig to remember the victims of Nazism.  Stolpersteine bear the names of the people who were killed or deported, and are placed right at the entrance of the home where they lived. But there are none in this corner of Cinkota, near the train station, where György Silberstein, known as  Szeder and murdered because of being Jewish, lived. He is the only footballer in the history of Barça to be killed by the Nazis in a death camp.

Silberstein's story, recovered in 2017 in an excellent article in CIHEFE's  Cuadernos de fútbol, remains little known. This footballer played only one official match in a blue and red jersey, a 1-2 away victory against Girona as part of the Catalan Championship in the 1934-1935 season. Szeder came from Soroksár SC, a modest club from the south of Budapest with whom he had won the Cup. His history has not yet been fully recovered, however.

Living with a serial killer

György Silberstein was born in Cinkota on 23 February 1914. His parents, David Silberstein and Irén Goldmann, must havetold little György stories of the First World War, since his father fought at the front, where he was seriously wounded. By 1916 he was back home, released from service and decorated as a lieutenant for his bravery in combat. David Silberstein returned to Cinkota just in time to witness the events that made the street famous. It must have been an experience that marked them. The Silbersteins lived in a large two-story building that they shared with other families. The central part was a pharmacy and they ran a butcher shop right next door. And through the back door of the building you could enter a courtyard where a man named Béla Kiss had rented a small house. Kiss, it turns out, was a serial killer.

The back yard of the future Barça's player had some barrels, which belonged to Kiss. He had a small business dealing in metals, and he supposedly used the barrels to store fuel he needed for melting. The fuel being needed for the war effort, in 1916 the police requisitioned the barrels. To their surprise, inside the barrels they discovered the remains of between 7 and 21 women's bodies, whom Kiss seduced and murdered. Each barrel had a number written on it. Stories about Kiss's motives, methods and reasons for keeping the bodies in the garden filled the newspapers, which spoke of the Cinkota Vampire.

The case led hundreds of journalists to the Silberstein house at 4 Lajos Kossuth Street, which is now called Vidámvásár. Kiss, by the way, was in a field hospital on the Serbian front because he had been wounded in battle. And when he was going to be arrested, he ran away and nobody knows what happened to him. He was claimed to have been seen in New York, Paris and Budapest. As he never stood trial, mystery still surrounds a case that has inspired books and films in Hungary. No matter what, no plaque remembers the victims of Kiss. But neither are the Silbersteins remembered where their house, now a supermarket, used to be.

The Silbersteins were not Orthodox Jews, even though the Barça player's grandfather was the singing master at the local synagogue. Hungary had become one of the countries in Europe with most Jews, since at the time Hungarian nationalism had opened up to this community, because it allowed them to enjoy more political weight. More and more Jews made the Hungarian language their own and integrated into this culture, never imagining that Hungary would eventually turn its back on them. Thus, Silberstein adopted the pseudonym of Szeder as early as the 1920s to hide the fact that he was a Jew. It was very common, after the First World War, for Jewish families to use Hungarian surnames.

The Silbersteins were modern. György's sister, Olga, won several swimming competitions. For many Hungarian youngsters, sport was a tool of liberation, of modernity. György chose football: he played for a local team until he was signed by Soroksár when he was still a minor. In the 1933-1934 season Soroksár surprised everyone by reaching the cup final against BKV Előre SC. The 19-year-old Szeder scored in a 2-0 win in a round-robin final, which required a play-off match to be won by Soroksár. This was to be his only title.

His good performances reached the ears of Ferenc Plattkó, the Hungarian who had played for Barça as a goalkeeper and was then coach at Les Corts stadium. He signed him on 10 October 1934. Szeder would make his debut in a friendly match between Barça and Espanyol subs, playing on the left wing in attack, and would earn the opportunity to make his official debut against Girona on 21 October 1934, in a team with players such as Vantolrà, Raich or Escolà. In fact, Szeder scored one of the two goals in Barça's victory over Girona in the Vistalegre stadium. Domènec Balmanya, future coach of Barça, was then playing for Girona. How little those players imagined what history had in store for them. Many would end up in Mexican exile during the Civil War, like Vantolrà. Szeder would lose his life in World War II.

Szeder was again in the starting line-up in a friendly match against Girona (2-2) and then in a defeat at Iluro de Mataró (3-2), where he would score another goal. But things began to go awry when the Hungarian Federation demanded the return of the player, because he had not correctly processed his paperwork. To avoid legal problems, Barça made him play friendlies surrounded by subs, in which he could not shine, like a 3-5 defeat in Les Corts on December 8. A day later, Barça's B team was beaten 7-1 in a friendly at Terrassa, with Szeder starting alongside another Hungarian, Berkessy. In total he would play one official match and four friendlies, in which he would score two goals.

Deceived by a representative

In the end, Barça fired him and paid for his return ticket to Budapest on 20 December 1934. But Szeder would still stay in Barcelona for a few weeks, and spend New Year's Eve in Catalonia, where he would give interviews to the local press explaining his case. He complained that a "football manager" called Paul Fabian who was "arranging matches and selling players" had negotiated his transfer but that, on arriving in Barcelona, he had seen that the press had said that it had cost 25,000 pesetas and that he had not seen a penny, thinking that he had come with the trip paid for, in order to earn a chance.

Finally, he would return home to play for modest teams, such as Budafok, despite the fact that he would also play one season in Újpest FC. In 1939 he trialled at French club Antibes, but he would return home, where the extreme right-wing regime that ruled Hungary gradually imposed increasingly restrictive measures against Jews. Among other things, Jews could no longer play football and clubs presided over by Jews, such as MTK, were banned on the grounds that they had made a Polish player with a false passport play. Szeder would continue to play at least until 1942, but little is known about what he did after that.

In 1944 Nicolau Horthy, the Hungarian president, unilaterally negotiated peace with the Allies. This enfuriated Hitler, who occupied Hungary and put Ferenc Szálasi, leader of the Arrow Cross Party, at the head of the new government, which initiated the mass deportation of more than half a million Jews. Silberstein would die on May 1, 1945, in the Birnbaum camp in Poland, just as Soviet troops were entering Berlin and Hitler had taken his own life. Other sources, however, claim he was killed by a landmine on his way home through Austria.

In 1990 his cousin Eva Klein, who lived in Toronto, Canada, visited the Jerusalem Holocaust Museum, Yad Vashem, to leave a registered witness of her dead relatives. At Yad Vashem, records are kept of all the people killed by the Nazis, even though many names remain unremembered, because in some cases entire families died. Klein was in charge of filling out the file on Silberstein, the only Barça player who died in the Shoah. Almost all his family died. His mother had already passed away, but his father and sister were murdered. So were Olga's husband and 9-year-old daughter, as well as his uncles and Ernő Goldmann, who had been his first football coach at Cinkota. The man who had made him love the sport, who made it possible for him to play, even if it was only once, an official match for Barça.

In 2013, by the way, Johan Cruyff filled three files at Yad Vashem in his own hand, those of Judith, Regina and Rozette De Metz, three sisters-in-law of an aunt his, who had married Jonas De Metz, a Dutch Jew.

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