Europe’s largest Jewish sporting event is coming to Germany for the first time, bringing more than 2,000 Jewish athletes together from around the world to compete at a site constructed by the Nazis for the 1936 Olympics.
The decision to host the 14th European Maccabi Games in Berlin was a difficult one, said organiser Alon Meyer, but should be seen as a “signal of reconciliation” 70 years after the end of the Second World War.
“There were a lot of people who said that they would never in their lives step again on German soil and we have to respect that,” said Mr Meyer, the president of Maccabi Germany. “But we are a new generation... and the question of guilt is long resolved.
Germany’s Interior Minister, Thomas de Maizière, said it was a strong message to hold the event at the same place as the Games held under the Nazi regime, which killed some six million Jews in the Holocaust. Jews were only allowed to take part in the 1936 Games after threats of an international boycott, and there was dismay among Nazi officials when the black American athlete, Jesse Owens, out-performed all other athletes to win four gold medals.
“This is the stadium where the Olympic games were exploited by Hitler,” said Mr de Maizière. “To hold on that spot a Jewish sporting event like the Maccabi Games, that is an important and nice message.”
The European Maccabi Games, which take place every four years and were last held in Vienna, feature sports like basketball, football, field hockey and swimming. This year, some 2,300 athletes from 38 countries are expected. Though only Jewish athletes can compete in events, “let’s play together” matches are also being staged with non-Jewish professional and celebrity teams.
Daniel Botmann, the managing director of Germany’s Central Council of Jews, said that the hope was that a peaceful and successful sporting event would show to a wider public that Jewish life in Germany and Europe is about more than the debate over anti-Semitism or protection of synagogues. APReuse content