More than 2,000 Jewish athletes gathered Tuesday in Berlin for the European Maccabi Games, being held for the first time in Germany, at a site built by the Nazis for the 1936 Olympics.

In a nod to the past, organizers of the 14th edition of the games are holding a Holocaust memorial service ahead of the opening ceremony later in the day, and many youth athletes were to visit the former Sachsenhausen concentration camp just outside the city.

Organizers have said it was a difficult decision to host the games in Berlin, but that it should be seen as a sign of reconciliation 70 years after the end of World War II.

In a note of greeting, Chancellor Angela Merkel wrote that "in view of the past, Germany may truly be thankful for the restored diversity of Jewish life in our country and for the renewed trust of the guests from abroad."

German President Joachim Gauck, World Jewish Congress President Ronald Lauder and others were expected to address the crowd at the opening ceremony.

The European Maccabi Games, which take place every four years and were last held in Vienna, feature traditional sports like basketball, football, field hockey and swimming, but also chess and bridge.

This year, about 2,300 athletes from 38 countries are expected to compete in 19 events. Though only Jewish athletes can compete, "let's play together" matches are also being staged with non-Jewish professional and celebrity teams.

About 600 police officers were to be on hand to provide security.

The games run through Aug. 5.