Speech by Minister of State for Europe Michael Roth at the opening of the 2015 European Maccabi Games Ambassador’s Night at the Federal Foreign Office
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Ladies and gentlemen,
A very warm welcome to all of you! I think I am not exaggerating when I say: During this week Berlin is the capital of sports for the Jewish community in Europe! In these days you can see and feel it everywhere: Jewish life has a place in the heart of the Germany.
Some of you might have noticed the advertising posters which are put up in more than 1500 places all over Berlin. They say “Ganz Berlin wird meschugge” (meaning “The whole city is meshuggah”) or “Die ganze Mischpoke ist am Start” (meaning: “The whole mishpocheh is ready to rumble”). All of these Yiddish expressions have become an integral part of our everyday language in Germany. Now they are used in the campaign for the European Maccabi Games in Berlin. What a great idea!
More than 2000 Jewish athletes, coaches and officials from 36 countries have come to the German capital to celebrate Europe’s biggest Jewish sports event. We are proud to welcome you all here to Berlin for the 14th European Maccabi Games. It is wonderful that the Jews of Europe come together in Berlin in order to compete in 19 disciplines – from badminton, football and swimming to bowling, bridge and chess.
I am pleased that this evening you have taken up our invitation to Ambassador’s Night and have made your way to the Federal Foreign Office. It's great to have you here!
In 2015, for the first time in history the European Maccabi Games are held in Germany. I am fully aware that the decision to bring the games to Berlin was not uncontroversial. 70 years after the end of the Second World War and the Holocaust the wounds of history are still hurting.
My colleague Heiko Maas, the German Minister of Justice, recently called the Maccabi Games in Berlin an “undeserved present” for our country. Yes, he is totally right. The decision in favour of Berlin was an overwhelming demonstration of trust in our country – after all the suffering that the Nazi regime brought upon the Jewish community.
It is highly symbolic that the 2015 European Maccabi Games take place in Berlin’s Olympic Park, which was also the site for the Olympic Games in 1936. We all know that in 1936 Jewish athletes were not allowed to participate. Since last week a public exhibition next to Berlin’s main station commemorates German-Jewish top athletes who were excluded from the games.
In 2015 Jewish athletes come to a country that has nothing to do with the German Reich of 1936. Today, Germany is an open-minded and tolerant country, where everybody is welcome.
In 2015 Jewish life is once again flourishing in Germany – with new synagogues, nurseries, schools and cultural institutions. Despite all the wounds of history, Germany has become a new home and an attractive tourist destination for thousands of Jewish people. Many Jewish people, mostly young Israelis, live here in Berlin. They are attracted by this city’s creativity and are contributing to it themselves.
Given our history, that is nothing less than a miracle and a blessing – a blessing to which many of you here on this terrace today have contributed. I would like to call out to you that this flourishing of Jewish life benefits us all. Jewish life is back at the heart of our society, and that is where it belongs – because it enriches us all.
And yet, the Maccabi Games are taking place at a time which has become difficult for Jews in Europe. Recently, anti-Semitism has shown its ugly face in a number of places all over the continent – not only in Brussels, Paris and Copenhagen, but in here in Germany, too. Scenes we thought we would never see again have become reality.
Let me be very clear: anti-Semitism poses a threat not only to Jewish communities, but to society as a whole. That is why I want to take the opportunity, here and now, to say in all clarity that anti-Semitism is a stab in the heart of our society. It goes against our constitution and our civilisation. There is no place for anti-Semitism in our understanding of a free, democratic and tolerant Germany.
These circumstances lend the Maccabi Games their particular significance: they are also a clear political statement of a world where we can live together in peace and mutual respect – regardless of our faith, culture or ethnic origin.
In this world we dream of, there is no place for intolerance, racism or anti-Semitism.
I am particularly pleased that this evening, at the Ambassador’s Night, we are also sending a joint message and are celebrating Jewish life, here at the Federal Foreign Office, which stands for both: the good and the tragic moments of German history. And let us not forget: In 2015 we are also celebrating the 50th anniversary of the establishment of diplomatic relations between Germany and Israel.
The first few days of the Maccabi Games have already shown that – all symbolism and historic significance aside – the games are also a cheerful event which bring great joy to the athletes and spectators.
Let's enjoy the evening. Let's celebrate our athletes! Let's celebrate peace, freedom and diversity! Thank you very much!