The European Maccabi games, exhibiting the competitiveness of Jewish youth from across the continent, are taking place in Germany for the first time in the league’s history. Even more compelling, however, is that the games are being held in the same sports park built by the German Nazi regime built to host the 1936 Olympic games in Berlin.
During the 1936 olympics, Jews were not allowed to compete. According to the Maccabi games website, “Where Jewish athletes were excluded from the Olympic Games in 1936, thousands will send a message for tolerance and openness and against anti-Semitism and racism this summer.”
World Jewish Congress (WJC) President Ronald S. Lauder said ahead of the opening ceremony, “Here we are, 70 years since the concentration camps were liberated and the true horror of the Nazis was realized, at the stadium Hitler built, to celebrate the Jewish European Maccabi Games.”
He added that Berlin was the perfect place to hold the games. “For those who say this is not the right place to hold these games, I say, to the contrary, this is exactly where these games should be held. This place, this stadium, is where these games should be held. It is said that the best way to overcome a terrible event is to go back to where it happened, to show yourself that you can return, and to prove to everyone that you can endure and move on.”
Over 2,000 athletes representing 36 countries in 19 different sports will be competing against each other between July 27 and August 4 in the 14th European Maccabi games.
Sporting competitions include, badminton, basketball, bridge, chess, dressage (equestrian), fencing, field hockey, football, soccer (football), golf, half marathon, squash, swimming, table tennis, tennis, bowling and triathlon.
The first European Maccabi games were held in 1929 in Prague, but with the rise of Nazism, all Jewish sports associations were banned. The games were reinstated in 1969 and take place every four years, alternating with the Maccabiah games in Israel.
“While it is great to win,” Lauder said, “you have all already won just by being here, by representing your people with courage and strength, by being proud of your ancient heritage, and for giving us all hope for the future.”