BERLIN (AP) — 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 organizer Alon Meyer, but should be seen as a “signal of reconciliation” 70 years after the end of World War II.
“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,” Meyer, the president of Maccabi Germany, told a group of foreign reporters on Monday.
But he said “we are a new generation … and the question of guilt is long resolved.”
German Interior Minister Thomas de Maiziere said it is a strong message to hold the event on the site of the 1936 Olympic Games held under the Nazi regime, which killed some 6 million Jews in the Holocaust.
“This is the stadium where the Olympic games were exploited by Hitler,” he said on RBB radio. “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.
“The European Maccabi Games show… Jews are a part of society, an important part,” he said.
Still, security will be tight for the games, which begin July 27 and run through August 5, and Meyer said he had answered numerous queries about safety, especially from parents of the approximately 600 youth athletes who will be participating.
He said he was confident in the measures being taken, but “can we provide 100 percent security? The answer is no.”
Copyright 2015 The Associated Press.