“The European Maccabi Games in a Nazi Stadium: that sends quite a strong message”

The 14th European Maccabi Games (EMG) are taking place in Berlin from 27 July until 5 August 2015. More than 2,000 Jewish athletes from 36 countries will compete in 19 sports from football to fencing to chess. To accompany the games Tamar Lewinsky and Theresia Ziehe are producing a series of portraits with interviews, introducing a new member of the German delegation from Berlin every day here on the blog. They conducted the interviews on the grounds of the TuS Maccabi in Berlin’s Grunewald where Stephan Pramme also shot the portraits.

Alex (25), table tennis

Young man with table tennis racket and ball outside at a table

Alex (25), table tennis © Jewish Museum Berlin, photo: Stephan Pramme

Alex, why are you participating in the European Maccabi Games?

The first time I went to a Maccabi training course, I got a little closer to my own identity. I grew up in Goslar, a small town where we were the only Jewish family. That’s why the Maccabi program offered a kind of self-discovery, and I found something like a new family there: there was a lot of Russian spoken, which especially gave me a feeling of home because I can’t travel to Russia anymore. (I have duel citizenship so I could be drafted into military service there.) And of course the competition played a role since I was very achievement-minded at the time.

The EMG are taking place in part at a place heavy with symbolism: the Olympic grounds that were erected for the 1936 games, from which Jewish athletes were barred. Does it have a special significance for you that the EMG are happening in Berlin and in particular at the Olympic stadium?

I’m very happy to be here. Germany’s history does make it a symbolically very important event: Jews from all over Europe as well as other continents are meeting together here and playing sports in a Nazi building. I find this message pretty powerful. That the Olympic grounds were a “forbidden playground” for us but now we can really run riot over them. (He laughs.) I don’t want to say that I’m tired of it but I do think we don’t always have to look backwards and ask how that all happened. We are a new generation and don’t want to be continually confronted with the past. Of course I know that Maccabi was founded as a Zionist organization. I don’t appreciate that the international Maccabi Games, every four years in Israel, feature propaganda for Israel and for immigration. Nonetheless, it’s really great that they’re taking place here in Berlin.

What does Judaism mean for you personally?

For me Judaism is simply ancestry, family. My grandfather was Orthodox, but my parents aren’t religious and left it to us to decide how we want to live. So for me it is information, nothing more or less.

Tamar Lewinsky, curator of contemporary history, and Theresia Ziehe, curator of photography, are keeping their fingers crossed for all their interviewees at the European Maccabi Games!

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