European Maccabi Games taking place in stadium built by Nazis

(Photo: European Maccabi Games website)

For the first time, the European Maccabi Games are taking place in the capital city of Germany in a stadium originally built by the Nazis.

The games, run by a Jewish sports movement, are taking place 70 years after the end of the Holocaust seeking to exterminate Jews and 50 years after the establishment of the German–Israeli relations.

The opening ceremony was held in the Waldbühne amphitheater, part of Berlin's Olympic sports complex, on the night of July 28, reported Deutsche Welle.

The Israeli delegation to the games is the largest, followed by the team from the UK.

German President Joachim Gauck gave the opening speech in front of 15,000 people.

He stressed the symbolism of holding a Jewish sporting event at a site built under the Nazis, and in a year when Germany and Israel were celebrating 50 years of diplomatic relations.

"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," he said in his opening speech.

"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 said before the ceremony.

"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."

Marking the 50th anniversary of German-Israeli relations, a youth orchestra of 50 musicians played at the ceremony, half of them from each country.

Descendants of Jewish athletes who appeared at the 1936 Berlin Olympics were invited to light the flame at the Maccabi Games.

A Jewish band from Berlin, Jewdysee, sang the official Maccabi song "Maccabi Chai." German-Muslim singer Adel Tawil and the American-Jewish artist Matisyahu performed together and the ceremony ended with fireworks.

About 2,300 Jewish athletes from 36 countries – including 120 from Israel – are taking part in the 14th edition of the European Maccabi Games, with fans bussed in from across the country by the Central Council of Jews in Germany.

Athletes are competing in 19 sports until the closing ceremony on August 4, as well as a few exhibition games pitting Jewish athletes against German soccer and basketball stars, said the Jerusalem Post.

Maccabi says it is a worldwide Jewish sport movement, which dedicates itself to the promotion of amateur sports, as well as cultural, social and leisure activities. It aims to foster physical education as well as the belief in Jewish heritage and the Jewish nation.

The Maccabi World Union is the largest and longest running Jewish sports organization spanning over five continents, more than 60 countries, 450 clubs, and 400,000 members.

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