RELIGION

Nazi-Built Stadiums Become Host To Major Jewish Sporting Event

The European Maccabi Games kicked off in Waldbühne Berlin, an amphitheater Hitler built for the 1936 Olympics.

More than 2,000 Jewish athletes from 36 countries around the world began arriving in Berlin on Tuesday for the kick off of the 2015 European Maccabi Games. It's the first time Germany has hosted the games, despite being home to one of the largest Jewish populations in Europe. However, remnants of the country's Nazi past are playing a key role in the games this year. 

The European Maccabi Games is one of the largest Jewish sporting events in the world. The games feature 19 events, including basketball, fencing, tennis, chess and more. German-Muslim singer Adel Tawil and American-Jewish artist Matisyahu were among the lineup of performers for the event's opening ceremony. 

German President Joachim Gauck was scheduled to deliver a speech at the ceremony before 15,000 spectators, according to the games' website, as the athletes processed into the Nazi-built amphitheater, Waldbühne Berlin. 

Many of the facilities where the games will take place, including an open-air stage and a stadium, were originally built by the Nazis for the 1936 Olympics shortly after Adolf Hitler became Germany's chancellor.

The Nazis barred German Jews from participating in the Olympic games  --  the U.S. even dropped two Jewish athletes from its relay team in what one of the runners saw as an attempt to cater to Hitler's anti-Semitism.

“Where Jewish athletes were excluded from the Olympic Games in 1936, thousands will send a message for tolerance and openness and against antisemitism and racism this summer,” the European Maccabi Games organizers wrote in a statement on the event's website.

In a promotional video posted to YouTube in 2013, the European Maccabi Games invited Jewish athletes to be part of the historic event, and celebrate 50 years of diplomatic relations between Israel and Germany.

The games' organizers faced criticism from some in the European Jewish community for selecting the Berlin venue, Oren Osterer, the director of the organization committee told NBC News. But for many, the event symbolizes an important recognition of Germany's Jewish history.

"Holding the Maccabi Games in Berlin is a very important sign," Leo Friedman, a member of Germany's golf team, told NBC. "We will be able to highlight that Jewish life is part of German society and that Jews have not been chased away."

 The 2015 games will run until August 5.

  • Athletes with Israeli flags attend the official opening ceremony of the 14th European Maccabi Games in Berlin, on July 28, 20
    TOBIAS SCHWARZ via Getty Images
    Athletes with Israeli flags attend the official opening ceremony of the 14th European Maccabi Games in Berlin, on July 28, 2015. 
  • German Muslim singer Adel Tawil (L) from the band 'Ich & Ich' and US Jewish singer Matisyahu perform during the official
    TOBIAS SCHWARZ via Getty Images
    German Muslim singer Adel Tawil (L) from the band 'Ich & Ich' and US Jewish singer Matisyahu perform during the official opening ceremony of the 14th European Maccabi Games at Berlin's Waldbuehne open-air stage in Berlin, on July 28, 2015. 
  • Members of the Israeli team wave national flags as they walk on the so-called 'Maifeld', a place used by Nazis for mass ralli
    TOBIAS SCHWARZ via Getty Images
    Members of the Israeli team wave national flags as they walk on the so-called 'Maifeld', a place used by Nazis for mass rallies, near the Olympic Stadium of Berlin, before a Memorial ceremony for the victims of the Holocaust before the official opening ceremony of the 14th European Maccabi Games in Berlin, on July 28, 2015. 
  • BERLIN, GERMANY - JULY 28: Alfons Hoermann (L), President of the German Olympic Sport Federation, and Michael Mueller, Mayor
    Sean Gallup via Getty Images
    BERLIN, GERMANY - JULY 28: Alfons Hoermann (L), President of the German Olympic Sport Federation, and Michael Mueller, Mayor of Berlin, attend the official opening ceremony of the European Maccabi Games at the Waldbuehne on July 28, 2015 in Berlin, Germany. 
  • BERLIN, GERMANY - JULY 28: Members of the German national team attend the opening of the European Maccabi Games at the Olympi
    Sean Gallup via Getty Images
    BERLIN, GERMANY - JULY 28: Members of the German national team attend the opening of the European Maccabi Games at the Olympiastadion on July 28, 2015 in Berlin, Germany. 
  • Holocaust survivor Margot Friedlander waves after delivering a speech at the so-called 'Maifeld', a place used by Nazis for m
    TOBIAS SCHWARZ via Getty Images
    Holocaust survivor Margot Friedlander waves after delivering a speech at the so-called 'Maifeld', a place used by Nazis for mass rallies, near the Olympic Stadium of Berlin, during a Memorial ceremony for the victims of the Holocaust before the official opening ceremony of the 14th European Maccabi Games in Berlin, on July 28, 2015. 
  • BERLIN, GERMANY - JULY 28: Members of the U.S. national team attend the opening of the European Maccabi Games at the Olympias
    Sean Gallup via Getty Images
    BERLIN, GERMANY - JULY 28: Members of the U.S. national team attend the opening of the European Maccabi Games at the Olympiastadion on July 28, 2015 in Berlin, Germany. 
  • BERLIN, GERMANY - JULY 28: National teams arrive for the opening of the European Maccabi Games at the Olympiastadion on July
    Sean Gallup via Getty Images
    BERLIN, GERMANY - JULY 28: National teams arrive for the opening of the European Maccabi Games at the Olympiastadion on July 28, 2015 in Berlin, Germany. 
  • BERLIN, GERMANY - JULY 28: National teams arrive for the opening of the European Maccabi Games at the Olympiastadion on July
    Sean Gallup via Getty Images
    BERLIN, GERMANY - JULY 28: National teams arrive for the opening of the European Maccabi Games at the Olympiastadion on July 28, 2015 in Berlin, Germany. 
  • Holocaust survivor Margot Friedlander waves to the audience after delivering a speech at the so-called 'Maifeld', a place use
    TOBIAS SCHWARZ via Getty Images
    Holocaust survivor Margot Friedlander waves to the audience after delivering a speech at the so-called 'Maifeld', a place used by Nazis for mass rallies, near the Olympic Stadium of Berlin, during a Memorial ceremony for the victims of the Holocaust before the official opening ceremony of the 14th European Maccabi Games in Berlin, on July 28, 2015. 
  • A member of the German Team wears a kippa as he sits at the so-called 'Maifeld', a place used by Nazis for mass rallies, near
    TOBIAS SCHWARZ via Getty Images
    A member of the German Team wears a kippa as he sits at the so-called 'Maifeld', a place used by Nazis for mass rallies, near the Olympic Stadium of Berlin where a Memorial ceremony for the victims of the Holocaust is to be held before the official opening ceremony of the 14th European Maccabi Games in Berlin, on July 28, 2015. 
  • US ambassador in Germany John B Emerson (R) and his family, wife Kimberly Marteau Emerson (2nd R), and his daughters Hayley a
    TOBIAS SCHWARZ via Getty Images
    US ambassador in Germany John B Emerson (R) and his family, wife Kimberly Marteau Emerson (2nd R), and his daughters Hayley and Taylor attend the official opening ceremony of the 14th European Maccabi Games in Berlin, on July 28, 2015. 
  • BERLIN, GERMANY - JULY 28: A member of the U.S. national team arrives for the opening of the European Maccabi Games at the Ol
    Sean Gallup via Getty Images
    BERLIN, GERMANY - JULY 28: A member of the U.S. national team arrives for the opening of the European Maccabi Games at the Olympiastadion on July 28, 2015 in Berlin, Germany.
  • Holocaust survivor Margot Friedlander delivers a speech at the so-called 'Maifeld', a place used by Nazis for mass rallies, n
    TOBIAS SCHWARZ via Getty Images
    Holocaust survivor Margot Friedlander delivers a speech at the so-called 'Maifeld', a place used by Nazis for mass rallies, near the Olympic Stadium of Berlin, during a Memorial ceremony for the victims of the Holocaust before the official opening ceremony of the 14th European Maccabi Games in Berlin, on July 28, 2015. 
  • German Justice Minister Heiko Maas delivers a speech at the so-called 'Maifeld', a place used by Nazis for mass rallies, near
    TOBIAS SCHWARZ via Getty Images
    German Justice Minister Heiko Maas delivers a speech at the so-called 'Maifeld', a place used by Nazis for mass rallies, near the Olympic Stadium of Berlin, during a Memorial ceremony for the victims of the Holocaust before the official opening ceremony of the 14th European Maccabi Games in Berlin, on July 28, 2015. 
  • BERLIN, GERMANY - JULY 28: Members of the German women's soccer team chat prior to the opening of the European Maccabi Games
    Sean Gallup via Getty Images
    BERLIN, GERMANY - JULY 28: Members of the German women's soccer team chat prior to the opening of the European Maccabi Games at the Olympiastadion on July 28, 2015 in Berlin, Germany. 
  • BERLIN, GERMANY - JULY 23: Alon Meyer (C), president of Maccabi Germany and Monika Gruetters (3.L), minister of state for cul
    Boris Streubel via Getty Images
    BERLIN, GERMANY - JULY 23: Alon Meyer (C), president of Maccabi Germany and Monika Gruetters (3.L), minister of state for culture and media pose during the exhibition opening 'Between Success And Persecution' at Washingtonplatz on July 23, 2015 in Berlin, Germany. 
  • A portrait of German Olympic Gold Medalist and European Champion fencer Helene Mayer stands backdropped by the chancellery in
    SOEREN STACHE via Getty Images
    A portrait of German Olympic Gold Medalist and European Champion fencer Helene Mayer stands backdropped by the chancellery in Berlin, on July 26, 2015 as part of the exhibition 'Between Success and Persecution Jewish Stars in German Sports till 1933 and beyond.'
CONVERSATIONS