Berlin hosting 'Jewish Olympics' in stadium Hitler built

Tue Jul 28, 2015 10:13pm EDT
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By Erik Kirschbaum

BERLIN (Reuters) - Seven decades after Adolf Hitler sought to stop Jews from competing in the 1936 Olympics in Berlin, more than 2,500 Jewish competitors will take part in the 14th European Maccabi Games from Wednesday at the same Olympic Stadium.

Germany, home to the world's fast-growing Jewish population, is full of pride that the country responsible for the Holocaust in which 6 million Jews were killed will host the 10-day "Jewish Olympics", with participants from 36 nations in 19 disciplines from athletics to basketball, soccer and squash.

"I think it's great that the Jewish community in Germany is growing and Jewish life has become so vibrant here again," Heiko Maas, Germany's justice minister, told Reuters ahead of the opening ceremony for the Games that will be held in the Olympic Stadium and sports complex and run to Aug. 5.

"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," added Maas, an amateur triathlete himself who will have honorary oversight on behalf of the government for that competition.

The European Maccabi Games are the European championships for Jewish athletes held every four years in different cities, two years after the quadrennial Maccabiah Games in Israel.

The Maccabi Games were established in 1929 in Prague as Jews wanted an alternative competition free of discrimination and anti-Jewish sentiment. The last Games were in 2011 in Vienna. Participants need at least one Jewish parent or grandparent.

It was a controversial decision to award the Games to Germany, with younger members of the movement prevailing against older members who opposed it, Alon Meyer, president of Maccabi Germany, said.

Also haunting Germany are memories of the 11 members of the Israeli Olympic delegation taken hostage and later killed at the 1972 Olympics in Munich. Anti-Semitism sometimes still flares in Germany today, often linked to Israel's Gaza conflict.   Continued...

Athletes of the Israeli team arrive for the opening cermony of the 14th European Maccabi Games in Berlin, Germany July 28, 2015.   REUTERS/Fabrizio Bensch