In 1936, the Nazi party tried to ban all Jews and other “non-Aryans” from participating in the summer Olympic games in Berlin, but backed off, and a total of nine Jewish athletes, including one from Germany, medaled at events that took place inside Berlin’s Olympiastadion. (Jesse Owens won four gold medals, and, along with the other black American athletes, was not greeted by Hitler.)
On Monday, nearly 80 years later, the European Maccabi Games, “Europe’s biggest Jewish sports event,” will take place at the same stadium, as more than 2,000 athletes from over 30 European countries are scheduled to compete in 19 events from July 27-August 5. The competition is held every four years in a different European city; in 2011, the games took place in Vienna. “They are an offshoot of the World Maccabiah Games, which take place in Israel every four years,” reported The Guardian. “Most nations require participants to have at least one Jewish parent or grandparent.”
A statement on the World Maccabi Games website reads:
The historic and sociopolitical importance of the EMG2015 is enormous for Germany, Berlin and the Jewish community. The EMG2015 in Berlin are a testimony of the strengthened Jewish self-confidence in Germany with which Jews are seen as an integral part of society again.
The EMG2015 aims to host sportsmanlike and fair games for the Jewish participants, spread a sense of equality and fairness and showcase the newfound Jewish confidence to the German and European public. In addition, it is a goal to hold the EMG2015 open for the public, so that meeting points can be created for Jews and non-Jews and prejudices can be eliminated
The games’ organizer, Alon Meyer, said that the competition is a “signal of reconciliation,” reported The Times of Israel, and security is expected to be tight.
Jonathan Zalman is a writer and teacher based in Brooklyn.