Hannes Richter

Vienna hosted the Maccabi Games

Hannes Richter

Hannah Lessing, Secretary General of the Austrian National Fund, proudly presents the bronze medal she earned in the Maccabi golf competition. © Joyce Rohrmoser

The city of Vienna had the honor of hosting the 13th European Maccabi Games from 5 to 13 July, 2011. One of the five biggest international sporting events worldwide, the Maccabi Games consist of a series of regional sports competitions. Organized by the Maccabi World Union (MWU), they are the largest international Jewish sporting event.

The European Maccabi Games are held every four years and delegations from throughout the world send their best athletes to compete. This year in Vienna, athletes from 35 countries and two regional delegations competed in 17 different sports disciplines, from traditional Olympic sports such as swimming and tennis to other competitions such as chess and bowling.

The Austrian team was pleased to have won 19 gold medals, as well as 27 silver and 32 bronze medals, making it the 4th most successful nation overall. The choice of Vienna by the European Maccabi Confederation (EMC) to host the 13th European Maccabi Games was particularly poignant, since it was the first time since the end of World War II that this competition had taken place in a territory that was once part of Nazi Germany.

Before the Second World War, Austria had a long and proud tradition of Jewish sporting clubs and successful Jewish athletes. Indeed, Austria’s first Olympic gold was won by a Jewish athlete. After the enormous atrocities committed against Jewish citizens during the Holocaust, Jewish life in Austria, and particularly in Vienna, has made a gradual recovery.

Although Austria’s Jewish population remains small compared to its prewar size, this revival is demonstrated in part by the reestablishment of such historic Jewish sports clubs as the Hakoah Vienna, renowned in the early part of the 20th century for producing some of the best athletes in Europe.

To celebrate the 13th European Maccabi Games, the Austrian Embassy in Washington D.C., along with the American Jewish Committee’s (AJC) ACCESS D.C. Young Leaders, co-hosted an event at the Embassy on 13 July, the final day of the Games. The event included comments by Ambassador Christian Prosl, Alan Shermann, Chairman of the International Jewish Sports Hall of Fame, and Richard Reff, a member of the Executive Committee Maccabi USA, as well as a video greeting from Hannah Lessing, the Secretary General of the National Fund of the Republic of Austria for Victims of National Socialism.

Footage of the Games was kindly provided by Hanno Settele of Austrian State Television ORF. In commenting on the Games, Ambassador Prosl said, “We are honored by the trust we have received by Vienna being chosen as the host city of these great games. It is the first time that the European Maccabi Games are being held in a German-speaking country since World War II.

Over 2,000 Jewish athletes came to Vienna to compete in the Games and experience Austrian hospitality and friendship. We take this trust as a great token of friendship. We see these games in Vienna as a milestone in the renewal of an active and thriving Jewish life in Austria.”