When the Nazis built the iconic stadium for the 1936 Berlin Olympic Games, they likely never thought that decades later, it would be the site of the largest Jewish sporting event in Europe. The European Maccabi Games, sometimes called “the Jewish Olympics,” will bring 2,000 Jewish athletes together for sporting events, from fencing to tennis.
“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,” Alon Meyer, the president of Maccabi Germany, the group organizing the game, told a group of foreign journalists.
But, he went on to say, “We are a new generation … and the question of guilt is long resolved.” He went on to say that the location of the games is a “signal of reconciliation.”
“This is the stadium where the Olympic Games were exploited by Hitler,” German Interior Minister Thomas de Maizière said on radio. “To hold on that spot a Jewish sporting event like the Maccabi Games, that is an important and nice message.”
The Olympiastadion was originally built for the 1936 Olympic Games, where Adolf Hitler intended on displaying the “superiority” of the Aryan race and German people.
However, much to Hitler’s chagrin, his plans were totally disrupted by the smashing success of the American runner Jesse Owens—the son of a sharecropper and a man of African heritage.
In those games, Owens won four gold medals for the United States.
Daniel Botmann, the managing director of Germany’s Central Council of Jews, also reflected on the importance of holding the Maccabi Games in the Olympiastadion.
“The European Maccabi Games show … Jews are a part of society, an important part,” he said.
At the opening ceremonies of the Games, the organizer has planned for motorcyclists to light the torch, as a reference to the motorcyclists who rode around Europe spreading the news of the first Maccabi Games.
In addition, many of the musical acts have even chosen to highlight German-Israeli partnerships and the healing of the deeps wounds inflicted on the Jewish people during the Holocaust.