A Berlin soccer team founded by Holocaust survivors created history August 13 by becoming the first Jewish team to compete in DFB-Pokal, a popular competition known as the “German Cup” launched under the Nazis in 1935.
Wearing jerseys adorned with a Star of David emblem, members of the Jewish team, Makkabi Berlin, played VfL Wolfsburg, a German professional sports club. It was a match filled with symbolism and historical significance, not least because during the 1930s, when the Nazis reorganized German sporting events, Jews were intentionally denied participation.
The Makkabi team, which consists of office workers and other part-timers playing at the fifth-tier level, suffered a 6-0 defeat on its home turf. However, the score was not the game’s focal point. Rather, noteworthy aspects included the collaboration between a Jewish captain and an Iranian player, the supportive cheers from fans for the Palestinian referee, and the presence of a “peace” tattoo in both Hebrew and Arabic on one of the Makkabi players.
“The game embodies a longing—and there ought not to be any historical significance attached to it,” remarked Josef Schuster, leader of the Central Council of Jews in Germany, in anticipation of the match. “For 90 minutes, it’s all about who wins in a fair, sporting competition—nothing more. These moments give a magic that I would wish for more often in our everyday society.”
Although Makkabi’s objective is to actively foster and promote its Jewish identity, as its captain, Doron Bruck, explained, the team prides itself on its inclusivity, welcoming individuals from all backgrounds and religions. Makkabi is composed of athletes hailing from 15 nations including Iran, and showcases a wide spectrum of religious beliefs.
“This is something we’re extremely proud of,” Michael Koblenz, a Makkabi board member, said. “We’re here, and whoever is ready to play for us, and is also open to playing for a club with Jewish origins and some sort of Jewish culture, we’re absolutely happy to integrate people into our teams.”
“We wanted to show that we’re still here—that we’re accepted, that we weren’t ended in 1933,” Makkabi cofounder Marian Wajselfisz said in a conversation with the Associated Press.
Makkabi is the successor of Bar Kochba Berlin, an organization established in 1898 with the aim of encouraging Jewish involvement in sports. At its zenith, Bar Kochba boasted over 40,000 members. However, with the rise of the Nazi regime, Jewish athletes were coerced into participating in segregated events, eventually culminating in the complete prohibition of Jewish organizations in 1938.
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