(Wikipedia/Times) (Wikipedia/Times)
Olympic Stadium Berlin

Some 2,000 Jewish athletes will participate in the 14th European Maccabi Games, which are being held for the first time in Berlin – in the stadium built by Hitler. 

European Maccabi Games

Jewish athletes at the European Maccabi Games. (AP/Gero Breloer)

The European Maccabi Games, a sports competition featuring Jewish athletes from around the world, are being held this year in a stadium built by Adolf Hitler for the 1936 Berlin Olympics. The Games are a poignant symbol of the renaissance of the Jewish community in Germany in light of the Nazi Party’s ban on German-Jewish athletes from participating in the Olympics.

The Games opened with a torch-lighting featuring the descendants of Marty Glickman and Sam Stoller, two Jewish athletes who were dropped at the last minute from the 1936 US Olympic Team in an effort to avoid offending the Nazis. The torch lighting was followed by speeches and musical performances by leading Jewish artists, including Eurovision winner Dana International and prominent American reggae rapper and alternative rock musician Matisyahu.

“I’m glad and I think it is significant that you chose this place, and I am very moved that this country and this city will now see the Jewish games,” said German President Joachim Gauck in an opening speech before 15,000 attendees.

In view of the past, Germany may truly be thankful for the restored diversity of Jewish life in our country and for the renewed trust of the guests from abroad,” Chancellor Andrea Merkel wrote in a statement for the event program

“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,” said World Jewish Congress President Ronald S. Lauder at a reception ahead of the opening ceremony.

Jewish bikers in Poland

Jewish bikers travel with the Maccabiah Games torch. (AP/Alik Keplicz)

“I think it’s great that the Jewish community in Germany is growing and Jewish life has become so vibrant here again,” said German Justice Minister Heiko Maas at the reception. “It’s not something we could possibly have ever hoped for after World War Two and the Holocaust. I see this as a stroke of good fortune and gift for our country that we didn’t deserve.”

In the coming days, some 2,000 athletes representing 36 countries will compete in 19 sports. On July 31, the attendees will attempt to break the Guinness World Record for the largest kiddush (sanctification of the Sabbath over a blessing and wine) ever. There will also be exhibition games against prominent German basketball and soccer players.

The first European Maccabi Games were held in Prague in 1929, but the games came to an end when the Nazis banned Jewish sports associations. They were reinstated in 1969, being held every four years in alternation with the Maccabi Games in Israel. The Jewish sports competition was launched in Turkey in 1895 in response to the exclusion of Jews from local sports clubs.