Anti-Semitic insults, internet threats towards athletes and anti-Semitic graffiti on the Berlin Wall were some of the incidents in Berlin as the city hosted the Jewish sporting event, the European Maccabi Games.

The games or “Jewish Olympics,” attracted more than 2,500 Jewish competitors from 36 countries. The 10-day event, which closed on Tuesday, was opened in the Olympiastadion, location of the 1936 Olympics, from which Adolf Hitler tried to ban Jews from participating.

During the games, the head of the German umbrella organisation, Alon Meyer, warned Jewish athletes about travelling in large groups through the Berlin district of Neukölln, where many athletes resided, and wearing visibly Jewish items such as Stars of David or kippot. According to the Maccabi Games’ rules of conduct, athletes were advised not to make themselves recognisable as Jews in “sensitive areas of Berlin”, to travel in taxis and not wear kippot.

Some of the incidents during the ten days included:

  • Two youth taunted six Jewish men with anti-Semitic insults and tossed an object at the group in the Berlin district of Neukölln. The attackers fled and are being sought for alleged attempted assault and hate crimes.
  • Police arrested “a man with an Arab background” for yelling anti-Semitic insults at two security guards at the Hotel Estrel, where 2,000 people and athletes associated with the European Maccabi Games stayed.
  • Jerusalem Post reported that there were a number of neo-Nazi threats made against the athletes on the Internet.
  • Berlin Wall

    Berlin Wall mural, originally painted in 1988 by Günther Schaefer as a reminder of the 40th anniversary of the Kristallnacht pogrom in Nazi Germany. The mural features an Israeli flag superimposed on a German one. (photo credit: CC-BY-SA Maartmeester, Flickr)

    Although a connection to the Games was unclear, anti-Semitic slogans were daubed onto a
    section of the Berlin Wall belonging to the iconic East Side Gallery. The unknown vandals defaced the picture called “Vaterland” by German artist Günther Schaefer, scrawling hate speech over the mural showing the Star of David on the German flag.

The spate of anti-Semitism prompted The Simon Wiesenthal Center to call on German Justice Minister Heiko Maas on Monday to condemn the incidents. In his letter to Maas, Dr. Shimon Samuels, the center’s director for international relations said:

“Maccabi was born in 1929, holding its first games in Prague as a response to the exclusion of Jewish athletes from national teams, which reached an apogee of Nazi contempt in the 1936 Berlin Olympics.

Maccabi’s return to Berlin, to the very stadium built for Adolf Hitler, was to have been a vindication of the united democratic Federal German Republic.

Instead, the Jewish contestants had to be warned not to wear Stars of David or kippot for fear of violence,” he wrote.

He urged the minister “to vigorously condemn this Jew-baiting and take all legal measures available to apprehend those who would return us to 1936.”

Samuels added that “this anti-Semitism targets Jews directly on German soil. It cannot be argued away as ‘anti-Zionism’ or ‘anti-Israelism.’ The ironic context of Jewish sports reincarnated in Berlin that reawaken dormant phantoms is unacceptable for Jews as for Germans.”

Britain proud to be involved

Meanwhile, Great Britain fielded its largest delegation and came third in the medal table behind first place Germany and the United States. Head of the GB team, Daniel Collins told the Jerusalem Post that the experience at the games is unique from both a historical and social perspective.

“It’s the biggest gathering of Jews in Europe, in Germany, since the war,” he noted.

“…[L]ast night when we had the opening ceremony in front of 10,000 people, to hold it by the Olympic stadium where Hitler said his speeches in 1936, it was very special for most people there.”

He spoke with pride about the British athletes and noted that with 254 competitors, it was the country’s biggest showing ever at the European games.