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One century after Nazi-hosted Olympics, Germany's top officials propose joint Berlin-Tel Aviv Olympics bid for 2036

The German coexistence initiative comes merely days ahead of Yom Hashoah, Israel’s national Holocaust Remembrance Day

American Jesse Owens standing on the winners' podium after receiving the gold medal at the 1936 Olympics in Berlin, Germany (Photo: German Federal Archives via Wikimedia Commons)

Two senior German sport officials called on Saturday for a joint Berlin-Tel Aviv Olympics bid in 2036, a century after Nazi Germany hosted the Olympic Games.

While Hitler used the 1936 Berlin Olympics to propagate for the “superior Aryan” race, the African-American star athlete Jesse Owens successfully defied the Nazis by winning four gold medals. The German coexistence initiative comes merely days ahead of Yom Hashoah, Israel’s national Remembrance Day for the 6 million Jewish victims murdered during the Holocaust.

Yom Hashoah starts on Wednesday evening and is observed in honor of the Holocaust victims with sirens and two minutes of silence across Israel. 

In a jointly penned opinion piece for the German paper Berliner Morgenpost, Richard Meng, president of the German Olympics Association in Berlin and Frank Kowalski, CEO of the 2018 European Athletics Championships in Berlin, stated that a joint German-Israeli Olympic bid would send “a strong signal of peace and reconciliation” between Germans and Jews after the Holocaust. They admitted that the year 1936 remains a stain on German history. 

“This is indeed a difficult date for Germany and Berlin, given the Nazi Games of 1936,” wrote Meng and Kowalski. By bringing the Olympic Games back on German soil in cooperation with Israel, the authors hope that a new page towards lasting peace can be turned in German history. However, Meng and Kowalski stressed the importance of Germany remembering its dark past: “A signal that does not suppress the historical burden, but takes up the responsibility that arises from it.” 

The two senior German officials depicted Berlin and Tel Aviv as “two liberal and vibrant cities” that could constitute a bridge for peace and coexistence. While the Israeli Olympic Committee did not address the issue of a joint German-Israeli bid, it supported on Monday the idea of Berlin as the host of the 2036 Olympics. 

“Holding the Olympics in Berlin, 100 years after Hitler’s 1936 Olympics, will remind us all of the dark times we experienced and send a strong message to the world of the values we must uphold,” stated the Israeli Olympic Committee. 

Meanwhile, the sports and interior minister for Berlin, Andreas Geisel is reportedly open to the idea of Germany and Israel co-hosting the 2036 Olympic Games. 

This would “of course be a strong sign for peace and international understanding – in full awareness of our painful history and the abominable misuse of the Olympic idea by the National Socialists,” Geisel told the Berliner Morgenpost paper. 

The Holocaust has always cast its shadow over German-Israeli relations. In 1953, West Germany and Israel signed a Reparations Agreement, according to which Berlin committed itself to financially compensate Holocaust survivors living in the Jewish state. At the time, the decision was considered controversial and rejected by many Holocaust survivors who opposed any relations with Germany. Berlin and Jerusalem established formal diplomatic relations in 1965. 

Over time, Germany has emerged as one of Israel’s strongest supporters in Europe, providing crucial submarines and ships to the Israeli Navy. However, relations have not been without complications. During the Munich Olympics in 1972, PLO-affiliated terrorists kidnapped and murdered 11 Israeli athletes. Berlin declined Israel’s offer of sharing its anti-terrorism experience. The lethal tragedy was later partly blamed on the German authorities’ alleged passivity and slowness. 

German Chancellor Angela Merkel has stressed the importance of strong German-Israeli relations, but the German government has simultaneously emerged as a major financial backer of  controversial NGO’s which are very critical of Israel and as a strong advocate for the controversial nuclear deal with Iran. 

The All Israel News Staff is a team of journalists in Israel.

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