“Here we are, 70 years since the concentration camps were liberated and the true horror of the Nazis was realized, at the stadium Hitler built, to celebrate the Jewish European Maccabi Games,” Lauder said at a reception at the Olympic Park ahead of tonight’s opening ceremony.
He thanked Maccabi Germany, Maccabi Europe and the German government for organizing the games: “For those who say this is not the right place to hold these games, I say, to the contrary, this is exactly where these games should be held. This place, this stadium, is where these games should be held. It is said that the best way to overcome a terrible event is to go back to where it happened, to show yourself that you can return, and to prove to everyone that you can endure and move on.”
German Interior Minister Thomas de Maizière last week recognized the significance of the competition taking place at the very place where the Olympic Games in 1936 took place and from which German Jewish athletes were excluded.
Some 2,000 Jewish athletes from 36 countries will compete in 19 sports in the coming days. Lauder wished them good luck and added: “And remember, while it is great to win, you have already won just by being here, by representing your people with courage and strength, by being proud of your ancient heritage, and for giving us all hope for the future.”
The first European Maccabi Games were held in Prague in 1929, but soon after, with the rise of Nazism Jewish sports associations were banned. The games were reinstated in 1969 and are held every four years, alternating with the Maccabiah Games in Israel.