BERLIN – World Jewish Congress (WJC) President Ronald S. Lauder told Jewish athletes competing in the European Maccabi Games today that the global Jewish athletic competition at Berlin’s Olympic Park, which was built by the Nazis for the 1936 Olympic Games, represented “a triumph of good over evil.”
“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.
Remarks by World Jewish Congress President Ronald S. Lauder at the 2015 European Maccabi Games, Rudolf Harbig Hall, Berlin
Minister Maas, Minister Von Der Leyen, Lord Mayor Müller, Deputy Prime Minister Shalom, President of the Maccabi World Union Leo Bensky, President of Maccabi Germany Alon Meyer, Dr. Josef Schuster, and, most especially, Jewish athletes of the 2015 European Maccabi Games,I want to personally thank you for the opportunity to be here at this important and historic event.
It is impossible to be at the Olympic Park and in front of this stadium and not hear the echoes of the past. Those echoes remind us all of very dark times, of German Jewish athletes excluded from the 1936 Olympics, and of how that exclusion and the terrible racial laws led, ultimately, to the Holocaust.
At the same time, we are all very aware of the present and the dangers that have not gone away for Jewish people in Europe and throughout the world. But through you – the vibrant young athletes who are here today – and through your hosts of modern Germany who have graciously welcomed you here, we have the opportunity to look forward, not backward.
Yes, it is 70 years since the concentration camps were liberated and the true horror of the Nazis was realized. We remember the world that was lost. We remember all the lives that were extinguished.
But it is also 50 years since Germany has maintained full diplomatic relations with the State of Israel. That is a half-century of sincere friendship. Over the past 50 years, Germany has been one of Israel’s strongest allies.
And it is also the 50th anniversary of Maccabi in Germany, where Jewish athletes have competed with each other, where they have grown together, and where, through sportsmanship, they have learned from one another.
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. I believe this is true not just for Jews, but for Germans as well.
So here we are at the Stadium Hitler built, but we are here in brotherhood. We are here to support one another. And we are here – in Hitler’s Olympic Stadium – to celebrate the Jewish Maccabi Games. This represents a triumph of good over evil. And with each triumph, we move the world forward.
I am very proud to be here today and I bring greetings from the 100 Jewish communities around the globe that the World Jewish Congress represents. From the smallest countries, where only a handful of Jews remain, to the largest populations in Europe, in the Americas, and beyond – all of them send their best wishes with great pride.
The reason we work so hard to maintain these communities, the reason their safety is so important, is for all of you.
You are our future. You represent our hope. You make us proud.
So, to your German hosts, we say thank you for hosting these games and showing the entire world what fine people you really are. You prove this not just here, but through your standing in the world.
And to all the young athletes and the national Maccabi delegations here today: good luck to all of you. 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.
Photos: Detlev Schilke