Hungary’s Ferencvaros, Jewish leaders remember heroic coach
BUDAPEST, Hungary (AP) Hungary’s most popular soccer team has paid tribute to a former player and coach who later was in the anti-Nazi resistance and helped save hundreds of Jews during the Holocaust before he was executed in 1945.
Ferencvaros officials, leaders of Hungary’s Jewish community, and representatives of the World Jewish Congress took part in commemoration of Istvan Toth, ahead of the team’s Europa League qualifying match against Maccabi Tel Aviv on Thursday.
”I hope he can serve as an example for people who want to create similar paths in their own fields,” said his grandson, also called Istvan Toth.
Toth, born on July 28, 1891, in Budapest, played 19 times for Hungary, scoring eight times. He played for Ferencvaros, or Fradi, from 1911-26. After his playing career, he became Fradi’s first professional coach and was known for his innovative training methods and for keeping detailed records of his players’ development.
After coaching stints with other teams in Hungary and abroad, including with Inter Milan in 1931-32, Toth returned to lead Fradi in 1943. In late 1944, he joined an anti-Nazi resistance movement organized by Hungarian-American U.S. Army Lt. Pal Kovacs.
Toth helped ”several hundred Jews escape Nazi custody and death,” said Igor Ujhazi, representing the WJC. ”His heroic deeds teach us that sportsmanship can be seen as an enduring personal characteristic, conceptualized in virtues such as fairness, justice, courage and persistence.”
Ferencvaros, which has faced fines and other disciplinary measures for its fans’ racist chants or behavior, dedicated Thursday’s match to Toth’s memory, and children escorting players to the football pitch wore T-shirts with his likeness.
Several of Toth’s personal items, including his coaching diaries, are in the team museum of Ferencvaros, whose president is Gabor Kubatov, a lawmaker and vice-chairman of Prime Minister Viktor Orban’s governing Fidesz party.