Italian players took time away from their Euro 2012 preparations on Wednesday to listen with "astonishment and fright" to the tragic stories of Auschwitz survivors during their visit to the Nazi death camp.
The entire Italian team spent more than an hour at the infamous extermination facility where 1.5 million, mostly Jewish, victims perished during World War II.
Before departing on the one hour trip back to their team's base, the Italians greeted at the camp gates their Dutch counterparts, whose team had arrived for a brief tour of Auschwitz-Birkenau museum.
The Italian players and coaches walked through two wooden barracks that contain exhibits that include the hair shaved from the heads of incoming prisoners and their belongings like suitcases and glasses.
At the train stop where prisoners were unloaded from cattle cars before an almost-certain death in the camp's gas chamber, teary-eyed members of the Italian squad listened intently to stories about the death factory by three Italian survivors.
"I came here because I know that these young people don't know the history that took place here," said Piero Terracina, 83, whose prison number A5506 remains tattooed on the inside of his forearm, a sad legacy for all Auschwitz prisoners.
"When I told them about the atrocities during our time in the camp and that death was everywhere, they looked at me, but did not understand completely. In their eyes I could see astonishment and fright."
Many of the players later embraced and kissed the elderly survivors before leaving the camp, which remains surrounded by barbed wire, once electrified fence.
"It was an emotional experience, especially hearing the direct testimony," Italy midfielder Riccardo Montolivo said in a federation statement. "It made me reflect a lot."
Before the Italian and Dutch teams toured the Auschwitz museum, several members of the German team led by coach Joachim Low made a special trip there on Monday.
Unlike Italy, the Netherlands and England, whose team has scheduled its Auschwitz trip for Friday, the Germans are based in the port city of Gdansk, not the nearby city of Krakow.
Much of the Holocaust was perpetrated on Polish soil by its war-time Nazi occupiers, nearly wiping out its entire Jewish community of some 3.3 million people prior to 1939.
Poland has maintained some of the death camp facilities as a reminder of the atrocities perpetrated by the Nazis on its soil.comments