VIENNA (JTA) — Austria’s President Heinz Fischer formally opened the 13th European Maccabi Games at the biggest Jewish gathering in Vienna since the Holocaust.
As many as 5,000 people attended Wednesday’s three-hour opening ceremony, a mixture of speeches and spectacle that was held outside City Hall, or Rathaus, just down the street from where Hitler addressed a cheering crowd in March 1938 after Nazi Germany annexed Austria.
This year marks the first time that the European Maccabi Games have been held in a German-speaking country since World War II.
The opening ceremony stressed that symbolism. Speakers honored the victims of the Shoah but said that holding the games in Vienna was testimony to Jewish spirit and survival.
Some 2,000 athletes from 37 countries are taking part in the weeklong games. The athletes range in age from 12 to over 80.
The U.S. team includes two 80-year-old men who escaped Vienna as children in 1938 and came to the games to compete as swimmers.