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International Politics & the Modern Olympic Movement
by Charles A. Buhs
(initial idea of Charles L. Thornton)

Berlin 1936: The Nazi Olympics


Setting the Stage

The “Nazi Games” are often thought of in terms of the evil Hitler and his master race being crushed by the black athletes of the United States led by Jesse Owens and his four gold medals. All the racist Nazi propaganda, extravagent preparations, and detailed planning were not enough to fulfill the visions of Olympic glory and superiority of the Third Reich.

However, the Germans did place their permanent mark on subsequent Olympic Games by introducing a number of cultural and technological innovations and establishing perhaps the most iconic modern Olympic traditions. Most pointedly, the Germans exceeded the Americans in total medals won.

The extravagant use of symbolism throughout the Berlin Olympics “left nothing to be desired in the realm of cult and culture — except possibly restraint.” The Nazis relied heavily upon “cultic practices” because “ritual was intended not merely for propagandistic effect — it reflected the movement’s sense of itself as a kind of political religion”[x] or “secular religion.” Berlin was described as “a scene of strange fantasy” and possessing ”an almost barbaric beauty.”[x]

Interestingly, this display actually was not so far removed from Coubertain’s original intentions. Coubertin felt that “sport must be presented as theater [where] any meeting of athletes had to have a setting, a theme, continuity, intermissions, and a suitably prepared audience...It was his view that sport must be theater and conceivably even ‘cult’ or ‘religion.’”[x]

Although retired in Lousanne, Coubertain was a very willing participant to the pageantry of the Berlin Games. Using Lewald as a conduit, the Nazis flattered and courted Coubertain more than his native France ever did. Coubertain's recorded message was played at the Opening Ceremonies for a hushed crowd. Afterwards, when asked about the Nazis usurpation of the Olympics, Coubertain praised the Games as living up to his highest ideals.

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U.S. Boycott

In mid-1931, the IOC selected both Berlin and Garmisch-Partenkirchen as the sites for the 1936 Summer and Winter Games, respectively. This decision was made while the Weimar Republic was still in power and prior to the Nazis gaining control of the Reichstag, the German national parliment, in July 1932 and Hitler becoming chancellor on January 30, 1933.

After the Nazis gained control of the government, they quickly implemented their racist and anti-Semetic agenda. Following an arson attack on the Reichstag Building, the Nazis had the perfect excuse to implement the “Enabling Act” on March 23 giving Hitler dictatorial powers. The anti-Jewish crusade — a state-sponsored boycott of Jewish businesses and services — was officially launched on April 1. On April 7, the “Law for the Restoration of the Professional Civil Service” was signed and included the “so-called Aryan paragraph” that outlawed Jews from serving in the civil service and denying the employment in teaching, medicine, or law at any level.[x]

As in other countries, many private citizens, public organizations, churches, synagogues, and newspapers in the United States expressed alarm and concern about these and other disturbing developments such as forced labor camps and sterilization laws for Jews, blacks, Gypsies, communists, and others deemed undesireable by the Nazis. The central arguments of the U.S. Olympic boycott debate revolved around the appropriateness of U.S. participation in the Berlin Olympic Games considering Germany’s apparent violations of the Olympic Charter, allowing all citizens equal opportunity to compete for a spot on the Olympic team. Forced abolishment of Jewish sports clubs and advance German announcements that Jewish athletes would not be allowed on the German Olympic Team under any circumstances were sufficient for the U.S. to begin the debate over U.S. participation.[x]

This fierce debate was embodied by the leading proponents for their respective positions: Avery Brundage, the President of the American Olympic Committee (AOC) and Judge Jeremiah T. Mahoney, who succeeded Brundage as the president of the Amateur Athletic Union. These two men used their considerable leadership skills to guide American sports for nine years as presidents of the AAU from 1928 to 1937. Brundage staunchly supported sending American athletes to Berlin, repeatedly espousing the need for separation of sports and politics. Mahoney argued that sending a team to Germany represented an emphatic endorsement of Germany’s racial and anti-Sementic policies and the Nazi regime.[x]

The Vienna Pledge
The discriminatory and anti-Semetic policies implemented by the Nazis included banning of Jewish athletes from sports clubs, training facilities, and competitions. Combined with the Nazis announcing that they did not want to host the Olympic Games and removing Dr. Theodor Lewald, the internationally respected head of the German Olympic Committee and Organizing Committee, the IOC became sufficiently concerned to consider moving the Games from Berlin to an alternative city, Rome, at the June 1933 IOC meeting in Vienna. IOC members including president Comte Henri de Baillet-Latour and Americans Brigadier-General Charles H. Sherrill, William May Garland, and Earnest Lee Jahncke met with German officials to obtain pledges that there would be no discrimination against any Jewish-German athletes and that all Olympic protocols would be observed.[x]

Sherrill (1867-1936), an IOC member since 1922, had some degreee of diplomatic experience and took the lead on this issue on behalf of the Americans. After receiving his B.A. in 1889, LL.B. in 1891, and M.A. in 1892 from Yale, he practiced law until 1917. From 1919 to 1931 he served on the governing council of New York University. He was also a former American minister to Argentina (1909-1911) and Ambassador to Turkey (1932-1933).

Sherrill declared that an “energetic stand” would be taken against discrimination against Jews and “asserted that he would insist on Jewish athletes of Germany being given equal treatment with Jews of other nations.”[x]

At Vienna meeting, Lewald gave pledges that the Germans would follow all Olympic statutes[x] and that “German Jews shall not be excluded from German teams at the games of the eleventh Olympiad.” These pledges were important not only because the IOC decided that the Games did not need to be moved, but also ensuring that Sherrill and Brundage would be firmly against the subsequent boycott movement.[x]

At the end of 1933, the American Consul, Raymond Geist, submitted an atypically lengthy — albeit routinely thorough and insightful — intelligence report to the American Ambassador in Berlin, William E. Dodd. Titled, “The Reorganization of German Sport and its Part in the Political Scheme of the Hitler Government.” it offered “an interesting and frightening picture” of the Gleichschaltung, or forced coordination of German sport, emphasizing that the Nazis intended to use sport as a means for military training and political uses. Centralized within, and controlled by, the Nazi government to an unheard of degree, “international athletic activities are considered a part, and not an insignificant part, of foreign policy.” Specific to the threat of a boycott and German pledges, Geist was confident that “the German sport authorities will drop certain restrictive measures taken against Jews. But it appears unlikely that this will be anything but a meaningless gesture.”[x]

Over the next two years, other individuals and groups across a broad spectrum of American society would question the validity of the German pledges based upon continued reports of discrimination coming from Germany. But to Avery Brundage, once the German pledges were given, it was not up to the American to meddle in German affairs.

German Reassurance, U.S. Doubts
In the media, several Black-owned newspapers ran editorials in favor of participation and several Jewish-owned newspapers ran editorials to the contrary.

The IOC was still concerned in 1934, so that Jewish equal participation on the German team was again a topic at the IOC’s annual meeting in May. At this meeting in Athens, several IOC members including Garland pressed Lewald for the veracity of the German pledges. Lewald “reassured his IOC colleagues that German athletes of non-Aryan origins, if duly qualified, would be allowed to compete in the Berlin Olympics.” This reassurance was sufficient to convince Garland, Sherrill, and others.[x]

The AOC met in June ostensibly for a vote on accepting the German invitation to the Olympics but could not arrive at a decision. By this time, a sharp schism was developing in the American sports community on the issue. On the one hand, Brundage, Sherrill, and Garland were completely against a boycott; Jahncke, Mahoney, and others were leaning towards a boycott. To help settle the matter, the AOC did authorize Brundage to visit Germany and report back for his first-hand account of the situation.[x]

Avery Brundage
“Publicly gruff, unsmiling, and ‘puritanical’ in one of that word’s several definitions,”[x] Brundage (1887-1975) was described in a 1956 two-part Sports Illustrated article as “intractable, uncompromising, often tactless and undiplomatic,”[x] “a man with a discus where his heart should be”[x] And, this was before his handling of a decade of issues involving South Africa, the 1968 Mexico City medal stand protests, and the 1972 Munich tragedy. Avery Brundage

“His basic trouble is that Avery really doesn’t like people, yet he has this compulsion to lead,” an IOC delegate once said. “He’s the pope, the rest are heretics. But never forget that he symbolizes a marvelous objective and under pressure he never quits.”[x]

A 1909 graduate of the University of Illinois with a degree in civil engineering, Brundage was an outstanding athlete in his youth. In addition to competing in the 1912 Stockhol Games in both the decathlon and pentathlon (finishing 16th and 5th, respectively; both events were won by fellow American Jim Thorpe), he won the U.S. National All-Around championship in 1914, 1916, and 1918 — “a sort of older, stronger brother” to the decathlon: 10 events in a single afternoon (with no more than five minutes’ rest between each event) including the 16-pound hammer throw, 56-pound weight, and “the grueling 880-yard heel-and-toe walk” replacing the discus, javelin, and 400m sprint. Brundage described it as “the closest a man can come to experiencing the pangs of childbirth.”[x]

He became a self-made millionaire by starting his own construction company and capitalizing on the post-World War I building boom. In 1928, he became president of the AAU and a vice-president of the IAAF in 1932.

Finding “Facts”
Brundage embarked on his six-day fact-finding mission in August. Before departing the U.S., he released a statement that said, in part: “We should see in the youth at Berlin the forbears of of a race of free, independent thinkers accustomed to the democracy of sport; a race disdainful of sharp practice, tolerant of the rights of others and practicing the golden rule because it believes in it.”[x]

Brundage was escorted on his German visit by an old friend, IOC member Karl Ritter von Halt. Although Brundage met with Jewish sports leaders, he never spoke with them except through his assigned interpreters. And, with the secret police nearby, these were never anything except “fully orchestrated interviews.”[x] Much like his impression of South Africa’s treatment of blacks 20-plus years later, Brundage reported back to the U.S. that there was no need to boycott as he found no evidence of discrimination against Jews in German sports. On September 26, 1934, the AOC formally accepted the German invitation to attend the games.[x]

However, the debate was not over as the AAU still had its annual convention and vote on the matter in December. Although Brundage felt that the AAU should be in favor of participation as were the NCAA and YMCA, the AAU was determined to decide autonomously. Although the AAU did not vote on the boycott matter in December 1934, it did elect Mahoney president ensuring that 1935 would be a year of intense ongoing debate.[x]

Judge Jeremiah Titus Mahoney
Mahoney (1875-1970), a retired New York State supreme Court Justice and member of the AAU and USOC for sixty years, was a formidable individual if for nothing else than his energy and vitality. While pursuing degrees from three universities, earning a salary in the New York City Controller’s office from 1900-1905, and working for Mayor William J. Gaynor, Mahoney won national honors in the high jump. James E. Sullivan, AAU president and secretary-treasurer, invited Mahoney to represent the U.S. in Athens, Greece at the Interchalated Games of 1906. Mahoney declined to participate due to his graduate studies at City College, St. Francis College and law degree studies at New York University Law School.[x] By the 1930’s, Mahoney had become “one of the most powerful men in all of sports.”[x]

Mahoney was "affable most of the time, hiding an old-fashioned conservative Roman Catholic ‘mind-set’ that may have had traits similar to those displayed by Brundage's secular behavior." "Mahoney possessed an especially heightened sense of moral virtue or rectitude that influenced his life and work...All chivalry, all fair play and all sportsmanship [will be] squeezed out of the Olympic Games under Nazi influence."[x]

The AAU Vote
In March 1935, a Gallup poll showed that 43% of the American public was in favor of a boycott. And, in July, Mahoney began the call for a boycott in earnest. In the lead-up to the AAU vote in December, the primary thrust of the boycott argument was that Jewish athletes could not compete for a spot on the German team because they were not allowed to join the German sports organizations.

Sherrill visited Germany again in the summer of 1935 with the intent of securing promises for at least one Jew to be included on the German team. His pick was Helene Mayer — a blond-haired, Jewish-German living in Los Angeles at the time, Mayer was a gold medalist in fencing at the 1928 Amsterdam Games. Meeting with Hitler on August 24, Sherrill was confronted with the full-measure of the Fuhrer’s bluster. Although U.S. participation was important to the Germans and Sherrill stressed that having one Jew on the German team would help silence the pro-boycott faction, Hitler stated that he was not aware of any Vienna pledge: Jewish athletes were forbidden from the German team. Further, Hitler countered Sherrill’s weak threat of holding the Games elsewhere by declaring that he would hold the “purely German Olympic Games.”[x]

Nonetheless, Sherrill subsequently received assurances from the Reichssportführer (“Sports Leader of the Empire”), Hans Tschammer und Osten (1887-1943) about Mayer’s inclusion on the German team. [x] Tschammer und Osten’s assistant also shared that Gretel Bergmann (1914-) was competing in the “advanced” Olympic trials (but not the German Championships).[x] Sherill reported back that he “found nothing but efficient Olympic Games preparation.”[x] and no discrimination against Jewish athletes.

1935 was a busy year for the Germans. Outside their Olympic preparations and pledges, their rearmament in the spring went uncommented upon by both the IOC and the Roosevelt Administration. In September, the passage of the Nuremberg Laws denied citizenship for all Jews; again without comment.

The final AAU vote was a razor-thin margin, 58-1/4 to 53-3/4 in favor of participation. In addition, Mahoney was voted out as president and Brundage was voted back in.[x]

“...the entire relationship between the American amateur athletic community and the German authorities was warped by the Americans’ fundamental misunderstanding of the Nazis. The Americans simply could not fathom that the Nazis were serious when they made speeches about cleansing German society by eliminating Jews. The (mostly) patrician American officials incorrectly came to the conclusion that Nazi rhetoric was nothing more than an instrument to control the masses. They really did not believe that the Nazis meant what they were saying.”[x]

Two years later at the IOC’s 35th Congress on July 29, 1936, Brundage’s reward was realized. A number of routine items were decided at this meeting — the adoption of Richard Strauss’s Olympic Hymn, not allowing Russian exiles to participate, confirming the 1940 Olympics in Tokyo — in addition to accepting William May Garland’s motion: to expel Ernest Lee Jahncke from the IOC. Jahncke was an active proponent to boycott the Berlin Games. In over 100 years, Jahnke remains the only person voted out of the IOC. Notably, his seat was then given to Brundage.[x]

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German Preparations

Immediately following the IOC decision awarding the 1936 Olympic Games to Germany, Dr. Theodor von Lewald (1860-1947) took charge of the preparations as the chairman of the German Olympic Committee (GOC). Lewald was assisted in many ways by Carl Diem, secretary-general of the organizing committee and a man who made many significant contributions to the Games including the Iron Bell, Olympic Youth, and the torch relay.

Although the Nazis wanted to remove Lewald as early as 1933 because of his father’s Jewish roots, he was a man regarded with “immense prestige.” — he held a dinner for President Theodore Roosevelt’s daughter, Alice Roosevelt, at the St. Louis World’s Fair and Olympic Games in 1904; was awarded the Eagle Shield on his 70th birthday in 1930; and; established a new GOC with non-Nazi members just six days before Hitler took power.[x]

Theodor Lewald
Theodor Lewald, President
Berlin Organizing Committee

When Lewald was removed as the head of the German Olympic Committee in favor of Hans von Tschammer und Osten, the international outcry was significant. Although Sherrill’s visit to Vienna in 1933 helped to reinstate Lewald albeit with a somewhat reduced role,[x] the Nazis acknowledged that the success of the Berlin Games depended upon Lewald and his many valuable international connections. Once the Games were over, however, “Reichssportführer von Tschammer und Osten pressured Lewald to resign from the IOC in 1937. Lewald was replaced by General Walther von Reichenau who subsequently led the invasion of Belgium.[x]

Dr. Carl Diem
Carl Diem (1882-1962) — a highly respected sports official before, during, and after the Nazi Government — "he was an avid athlete as a young man. Denigrating the value of his country's powerful but archaic Turner Sport Movement, an institution entrenched in the Fatherland for over a century, Diem became a dedicated enthusiast and advocator of a German sporting movement parallel to those developing rapidly in fin du siecle Anglo-Saxon nations. Diem followed a career path in teaching and sport administration, rising rapidly to head what became known as the German National Sports University, founded in Berlin in 1920 "

He became the General-Secretary of the Berlin Organisationskomittee in 1936 and also had a long association with Germany’s Olympic movement. He was the 30-year-old captain of the German team at the 1912 Stockholm Olympics and, like Lewald, appointed to the 1916 organizing committee. Diem, “though generally staying in the background, did more than anyone else in the Reich during the first half of the twentieth century to advance German sports and German Olympism.”[x] His “inspired contributions” to the Berlin Games included the Iron Bell (Ich rufe die Jugend der Welt); Olympische Jugend (Olympic Youth), a five-act pageant of dances at the opening ceremonies; and, the torch lighting in Olympia and relay to Berlin.[x]

Diem’s reputation continues to be debated. During the Opening Ceremonies, he made “the cult of military sacrifice an important part of Berlin’s Olympic ritual.”[x] After the Games, he referred to the Berlin Olympics as a display of a “new Germany,” a nation leading “a victory charge for a better Europe.”[x] And, at the end of the war, he was described as “a fanatical military commander at the Olympic stadium in Berlin, refusing to accept that the Third Reich was over.” According to Reinhard Appel, a teenage member of the Hitler Youth based at the Olympic Stadium, Diem made a speech in 1945 as the Red Army closed in comparing the boys to the Spartans selflessly dying for their country. Hundreds of the boys were slaughtered by the Soviets.[x]

Similar to China in 2008, the Nazi government cleaned the streets. 800 Gypsys and other undesireables were rounded up off the streets and placed in detention centers out of view. Anti-semetic signs were removed from public spaces, and the military and SS troops that greeted the foreign visitors were, if not cheerful, than definitely not threatening. The orders were clear: give the world a good show.

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Innovations, Pageantry, & Pomp

The Torch Relay
Although the Olympic Flame was first used at the 1928 Amsterdam Games, the Olympic Torch Relay was something entirely new. It was a superbly effective use of symbolism connecting modern Germany with the cultural riches of classical Greece. The Torch Relay in the Berlin Olympic Stadium Often mistaken as an ancient Olympic tradition, the torch relay was an immediate success for promoting both the upcoming Olympic Games and Germany itself through newspapers, radio broadcasts, and in the film, Olympia.

Unlike the controversy surrounding the torch relay route in 2008 whereby bystanders protested China’s conflict with Taiwan and its human rights record in Tibet, bystanders in 1936 cheered and held pro-Nazi demonstrations. With the torch route through Salonika, Greece; Sofia, Bulgaria; Belgrade, Yugoslavia; Budapest; and Vienna, a New York Times editorial saw a “strategic highway” following the Drang Nach Osten, the Kaiser's intended drive to the East in World War I. Hitler’s military would retrace much the same route within a few years.[x]

Several familiar technological innovations were first implemented during the 1936 Games that are now standard features of every Olympics: electronic timing, radio, and even a primitive form of television. The Hindenburg Zeppelin at the Olympic Stadium, Berlin 1936 Although not perfect, the television broadcasts did offer a glimpse of the potential of subsequent televised Olympic events being broadcast into about 25 specially theaters throughout the country. [x]
Cameras: Fernsehkanonen (television canon), a monster camera. Only three used during the Games. 180 lines definition. 2.2m long, lens diameter of 40cm; 44kg weight.

And, a scene very familiar at American football fans, the Germans included the huge zeppelin, Hindenberg, as part of the festivities being “perhaps the preeminent symbol of German inventive genius and an object of considerable national pride.”[x]

The movie and its director, Leni Riefenstahl, are forever connected to the Third Reich and the subsequent horrors of the holocaust and World War II. Although the film was financially supported primarily by the IOC, the Nazi Party funded a good portion of it. Taking two years to complete, a few versions were created that had more or less Hitler and a German focus depending upon the intended market.

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Black Athletes

In the midst of so much controversy about an “Aryan master race,” a black American sprinter posted a series of sensational victories and upset Hitler’s plans. Jesse Owens (1913-1980) won four gold medals. He won the 100-m dash in 10.3 sec, equaling the Olympic record; set a new Olympic and world record of 20.7 sec in the 200-m dash; and won the running broad jump with a leap of 26 ft 5 in., setting a new Olympic record. He was also a last minute replacement on the U.S. 400-m relay team, which set a new Olympic and world record of 39.8 sec.

Jesse Owens explodes in the sprint
Jesse Owens, 4-time Olympic
Gold Medalist

But, Owens was not the only prominent Black American to excel. The Berlin Games was a turning point in Olympic history as “the American dominance in men’s track and field derived primarily from the presence of a sizable contingent of African Americans.”[x] "18 U.S. black athletes; 3 x's as many as in 1932."

Ralph Metcalf, equaled his silver medal from 1932. In the 400m, Archie Williams (46.5s) just edged Arthur Brown of Great Britain (46.7s) and fellow American James LuValle (46.8s). John Woodruff (1915-2007) had a heart-stopping moment in the 800m when he was boxed in and had to seemingly stop dead in his tracks before being able to pass to the outside and win in 1:52.9.

Phil Edwards, the Canadian doctor, set the pace, and it was very slow,” shared Woodruff in 2006. “On the first lap, I was on the inside, and I was trapped. I knew that the rules of running said if I tried to break out of a trap and fouled someone, I would be disqualified. At that point, I didn’t think I could win, but I had to do something.”[x]

The Snub
Following the second day of competition, a myth quickly arose when headlines in the U.S. announced that Hitler snubbed Owens by not shaking his hand as Hilter had done congratulating other white athletes. This myth persisted for decades despite being corrected by Owens himself. In reality, Hitler congratulated the German winners on the first day of competition. Later in the day, after Black American high jumpers, Cornelius Johnson and David Albritton, won gold and silver medals, respectively, Hitler had already left.

The New York Times reported that Hitler had left five minutes before. A German eyewitness stated that Hitler left as Johson and Albritton walked up the steps to the Fuhrer’s box. According to Mandell, “Hitler left ‘in the darkness and threatening rain.’” In reality, "Baillet-Latour to Ritter von Halt: Hitler must congratulate all winners or none; not limited to German winners."[x]

"The Los Angeles Times spoke with glee of Hitler's 'depression' in the face of a 'darktown parade.'"[x]

The Snub, Part 2
"Upon Owens' return to New York and a ticker-tape parade, he had to ride the freight elevator to a reception in his honor at the Waldorf-Astoria. He was treated as a kind of curiosity. When endorsements didn't come his way, he made money by, among other activities, running against horses and dogs."

"When I came back to my native country, after all the stories about Hitler, I couldn't ride in the front of the bus," Owens said. "I had to go to the back door. I couldn't live where I wanted. I wasn't invited to shake hands with Hitler, but I wasn't invited to the White House to shake hands with the President, either."

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Jewish Athletes

Several talented U.S. athletes undertook their individual boycotts of the Berlin Games. Among them: Milton Green.

Gretel Bergmann
Margarett “Gretel” Bergmann Lambert (1914-) was one of the top high-jumpers in the world in the mid-1930’s. However, with the restrictions on her training, she soon moved to Britain to train and compete.

Following U.S. and IOC pressure on the Nazis to allow Jews the opportunity to compete for a spot on the German team, Bergmann’s father visited her and informed her of veiled threats against her family and convincing her to return to Germany. However, with her sports club membership denied and denied access to training facilities, she and other Jewish athletes cleaned out a potato field to continue practicing. It was depressing.

Gretel Bergmann, 1937
Gretel Bergmann, 1937
Using the scissor jump.

“That was a time when everything stopped,” Ms. Lambert describes the era. “All of a sudden, you were an outcast. We couldn’t go anyplace, we couldn’t go to the stadium, we couldn’t go to the swimming pool, we couldn’t go to a restaurant, we couldn’t go to a movie. You were just dirt."[x]

On June 30, 1936, she jumped 5ft 3in (1.60 metres) equalling the existing German record and also the winning height in the Berlin Games. However, once the American team was on the boat on July 15, 1936 and sailing for Europe, she “got my kick in the rear.” She received a letter stating that she would not be on the team because of her “poor performances in recent days” but that she would receive a ticket for the standing-room-only spectator area. She was furious — and relieved.

She moved to the U.S. and became the U.S. high jump and shot-put champion in 1937 and the high-jump champion in 1938.[x] She also worked at a variety of clerical jobs. When she saved $2,000, she secured the freedom of a fellow athlete, Bruno Lambert, her future husband.[x]

In 1995, the Gretel Bergmann sports arena, in the Wilmersdorf area of Berlin, was dedicated as was a stadium in Laupheim, her hometown. Although she didn’t attend these ceremonies, having vowed to never return to Germany, she was invited to attend the centennial 1996 Games in Atlanta as a special guest of the German Olympic Committee.[x]

“We feel that Mrs. Lambert was not treated adequately at the time of the Berlin Olympics,” Walter Troger, the president of the German Olympic committee, told The New York Times. ”She was an Olympic candidate who did not get a fair chance. We wanted to do something for her, we felt she deserved it. And since she was not coming back to Germany, the idea that the Games were taking place in her country now seemed very appropriate.”[x]

She began writing her story following her 80th birthday and receiving a computer as a present. “To think I could have been a lot happier if I hadn’t lived with so much hate in me. I was pretty stupid never to talk about it.”[x] Her autobiography, By Leaps and Bounds, was published in 2004, an HBO documentary, Hitler’s Pawn was broadcast in 2004, and a movie based on her life was released in 2009, Berlin 36.

Of the suggested relationship in the film between team member Dora Ratjen — an androgenous individual that competed as a woman and was subsequently stripped of all medals in 1938 and lived the rest of his life as Heinrich — and herself, she is quite gracious. “We shared a lot, but certainly nothing like that happened. But I can understand why they did it — a 90-minute film about high jumping? I think they needed to add a bit of spice.”[x]

Also in 2009, Germany restored her name in the German record books for her jump in June 1936, the jump that the Nazis found “poor.”[x]

Helene Mayer
An athletic prodigy, Mayer (1910-1953) won the German foil championship in 1924 for the Offenbach fencing club. In the 1928 Amsterdam Olympics, she won the gold medal in fencing at age 17 for Germany and was celebrated throughout the country. A flambouyant fencer, she did not wear a breast-plate because she felt it hindered her mobility, and she loudly grunted and shouting while fencing.

In the 1932 Los Angeles Olympics, she placed fifth stating that her poor placing was due to receiving news that a good friend in the army had recently died. After the Olympics, she remained in Los Angeles to attend college at Scripps. While abroad, her fencing club membership was rescinded as was her scholarship due to her father being Jewish.

With pressure from the U.S., Mayer became the only Jewish athlete on the German team. She was thrilled to participate in the Olympics, placing second to Ilona Elek from Hungary. of Austria took bronze. On the medal stand, she gave the Nazi salute.

Marty Glickman and Sam Stoller
U.S. athletes were not immune to the anti-Semetism in Nazi Germany even after the Games began. Glickman (1917-2001) and Stoller were training for the first two spots on the U.S. 4x100 relay (with Frank Wycoff and Foy Draper). On the morning of the heats, their coaches, Lawson Robertson and Dean Cromwell, called all the sprinters in for a meeting when it was announced that Glickman and Stoller, the only Jews on the track and field squad, were off the team and that Owens and Metcalf were replacing them.

This sudden change was explained with the excuse that the Germans were harboring two “secret” athletes that would be unveiled on the track and that the U.S. needed to have their fastest runners, Owens and Metcalf, on the team. Glickman never accepted this explanation, declaring that “it was overt anti-Semitism against Sam Stoller and me.”

Glickman went on to become a celebrated radio and television sports announcer from the 50’s to the early 70’s. In 1998, Hybl honors the benched sprinters with the USOC's first Gen. Douglas MacArthur Award. Named for the former Army commander and Olympic panel chief, it is intended to honor lifetime achievement and adherence to the Olympic ideals, including the belief that the most important thing is to take part.

A Northeastern University English professor, Sam Bernstein, wrote a 4-1/2 hour play about Glickman, Stoller, Brundage, and others, titled, Olympics Uber Alles. Originally performed at Boston University as a staged reading in 2005, the play was revived as a full production by director Eric P. Vitale in early 2012 at MIT.[x]

Other Olympic Athletes. A number of Jewish athletes from various countries competed and won medals. The United States Holocaust Memorial Museum has an excellent online exhibit summarizing the lives of various individuals that competed in the 1936 (and earlier) games and their fates.
Go to: The Holocaust — Persecution of Athletes (USHMM)

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A New World Order

Hitler had many grandiose plans after the Third Reich won World War II and redrew the map of Europe. Claims of a 1,000 Year Reich told of designs upon a lasting German-Aryan empire. He also had plans for pan-Germanic Games, similar in concept to the Pan-Hellenaic Games of Greek antiquity — games soley for Aryans — and he even had his sights set on permanent control of the Olympic Games.

The Permanent Home of the Olympics
Albert Speer was commissioned in 1934 as the lead architect for the Nazis. Hitler referred to him as Generalbauinspektor (Inspector General of Buildings). The year before, Nuremberg was designated as “City of the Nazi Party Rallies” and 11 square kilometers (roughly 6.5 square miles) were designated for this purpose. A massive building program was undertaken that “glorified the two central myths of the Third Reich: the Führer myth, who was seen to be sent by Providence as a national saviour, and the myth of a Volksgemeinschaft, a national community founded upon collective uplifting experiences and feelings.”[x]
Read more: Nuremberg

Speer wrote in his memoirs that Hitler had conveyed his plans for the Olympics in the spring of 1937 on a visit to Speer’s studio and the inspection of the huge model of the Nazi and German cultural center in Nuremberg. Included in this massive complex was the gargantuan Deutsches Stadion.

Model of Deutsches Stadion
Two Views of the Deutsches Stadion Model
Three views of Albert Speer’s
Deustches Stadion model

As the two men looked over the architectual plans pinned up on the wall and surveyed the massive, nearly 7-foot high model of the stadium and discussed among other things the Olympic Games, Speer noted that the stadium didn’t quite have the proper Olympic measurements. Speer stated that “without any change of tone, as if it were a matter settled beyond the possibility of discussion, Hitler observed: ‘No matter. In 1940 the Olympic Games will take place in Tokyo. But thereafter, they will take place in Germany for all time to come, in this stadium. And then, we will determine the measurements of the athletic field.’”[x]

This would not only be the largest structure in the Nuremberg complex, but also the largest stadium in history: “more than double the length of the pyramid of Cheops, triple its cubic yard displacement, towering over 300 feet in order to accommodate 400,000 people.” Circus Maximus in Rome, to-date, the largest sports stadium in history, was less than half the size of this stadium. The 1936 Berlin Games stadium was dwarfed by over a million cubic yards (11,100,000 to 9,886,800).[x]

The open, horseshoe shape was inspired by the Panathenaic Stadium in Athens. Speer felt that an enclosed structure for so many spectators would create a claustrophobic atmosphere. Pictures of the trial section built on a hill a few miles east of Nuremberg emphasize the distance of the upper seats down to the field.

A cornerstone of the stadium was laid and a trial section structure built, but it was never completed. "The site is occupied today by the Silberbuck (below left), a hill formed by dumping rubble from the bombed city on the site after the war, and the Silbersee lake (below right), where water has filled up one side of the excavation. The Silbersee is off-limits to swimmers due to the chemicals leaching into it from the rubble in the Silberbuck hill."

The New IOC
"In the summer of 1940 Belgium was invaded and occupied by German troops. Every one of Baillet-Latour's grand thorough-bred horses was confiscated, as were all other pure-bred steeds in the country.44 The Nazis sent emissaries to Brussels, among them the well-placed Carl Diem, to converse with Baillet-Latour on how a "new Fatherland" meant to "rejuvenate" the Games under German aegis. Baillet-Latour was told he would continue as President of the IOC, in effect, an envisioned puppet of the German state.45 A "new IOC" was to be packed with German members."[x]

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Coming soon...

The First Modern Olympics
by Richard D. Mandell
University of California Press (April 1976). 194 pages
ISBN-10: 0520029836; ISBN-13: 978-0520029835

Nazi Games: The Olympics of 1936
by David Clay Large
New York: W.W. Norton & Company, Inc. 2007. 401pp.
ISBN-10: 0393058840; ISBN-13: 978-0393058840

Triumph: The Untold Story of Jesse Owens and Hitler’s Olympics
by Jeremy Schaap
Publisher: Mariner Books; Reprint edition (February 5, 2008). 304pp
ISBN-10: 0618919104; ISBN-13: 978-0618919109

The Olympics: A History of the Modern Games
by Allen Guttmann
Publisher: University of Illinois Press. 1992. 191pp.

Canadian Jewish Chronicle   |   June 9, 1933

Lewiston Evening Journal   |   August 10, 1934

The Embattled World Of Avery Brundage
by Robert Creamer   |   Sports Illustrated   |   January 30, 1956

Of Greeks — and Russians
by Robert Creamer   |   Sports Illustrated   |   February 6, 1956
“Sport was a virtue in ancient Greece, an ideal to make men better. That’s still the basic idea of the Olympic Games, says the blunt Mr. Brundage, and the big reason why the Russians are accepted in the Games today”

The Issue of Racism at the 1936 Olympics
by D. A. Kass
Journal of Sport History, Volume 3, No. 3 (1976). pp 223-235

Avery Brundage: The Man Behind The Mask
by William Oscar Johnson   |   Sports Illustrated   |   August 04, 1980
“Since the Modern Olympic Era began in 1894, six men have served as president of the International Olympic Committee. Demetrius Vikelas of Greece was the first. Ireland’s Lord Killanin, whose tenure will end with the conclusion of the Moscow Games, is the most recent. But none of these men wielded more authority, had a greater influence on amateur sport — or embodied so many contradictions — as Avery Brundage of the U.S., who died in 1975 at the age of 87.”

Avery Brundage and American Participation in the 1936 Olympic Games
by Carolyn Marvin, University of Pennsylvania
Journal of American Studies, Volume 16, Issue 1, 1982, pp 81-106.
This paper is posted at Scholarly Commons:
For more information, please contact:

Albert Speer: Ruins Without Value
by Clive James   |   Observer Magazine   |   October 2, 1983

The Voices of Sanity: American Diplomatic Reports from the 1936 Berlin Olympiad
by George Eisen
Department of Health, Physical Education, Recreation and Dance
California State Polytechnic University
Journal of Sport History, Vol. 11, No. 3 (Winter, 1984)

A Tale of Two Diplomats: George S. Messersmith and Charles H. Sherrill on Proposed American Participation in the 1936 Olympics
by Stephen R. Wenn, The University of Western Ontario
Journal of Sport History, Vol. 16, No. 1 (Spring, 1989)

Tug of War Emerging Over the 2000 Games
by Robert Lipsyte   |   The New York Times   |   August 01, 1993

An Olympic Invitation Comes 60 Years Late
by Ira Berkow   |   The New York Times   |   June 18, 1996

Adolf Hitler, Carl Diem, Werner Klingeberg, and the Thousand Year Reich: Nazi Germany and Its Envisioned Post-War Olympic World
by Garth Paton, University of New Brunswick, and
Robert K. Barney, The University of Western Ontario
Sixth International Symposium for Olympic Research, (2002)

The Nazi Olympics: A Reinterpretation
by James M. Pitsula
Professor of History, The University of Regina
Regina, Saskatchewan, Canada
Olympika: The International Journal of Olympic Studies, Volume XIII (2004)

Cheated out of chance at Olympic glory Jewish athlete recalls time as ‘Hitler’s Pawn’
by David Zurawik   |   Baltimore Sun   |   July 14, 2004

A Victory That’s Still Memorable 70 Years Later
by Frank Litsky   |   The New York Times   |   August 1, 2006

The Olympic torch’s shadowy past
by Chris Bowlby   |   BBC News   |   April 5, 2008
“In 1936 the torch made its way from Greece to Berlin through countries in south-eastern and central Europe where the Nazis were especially keen to enhance their influence. Given what happened a few years later that route seems especially poignant now...And Carl Diem, the relay’s inventor, ended the war as fanatical military commander at the Olympic stadium in Berlin, refusing to accept that the Third Reich was over.”

The Relay of Fire Ignited by the Nazis
by Edward Rothstein   |   The New York Times   |   April 14, 2008
“This passing of the torch thus demonstrates a lineage of inheritance — a historical relay — making Nazi Germany the living heir to Ancient Greece.”

Judge Jeremiah T. Mahoney, the Amateur Athletic Union, and the Olympic Games
by John A. Lucas, State College, Pennsylvania
Journal of Sport History Volume 35, Number 3 (July 2008). pp503-506

Architects of a Masquerade Peace: The United States and the 1936 Berlin Olympic Games
by Sayuri Guthrie-Shimizu, Michigan State University
The Japanese Journal of American Studies, No. 20 (2009). pp67-87

The Saga of Gretel Bergmann, Jewish high jumper
by Kate Connolly   |   Los Angeles Times   |   November 11, 2009
“She was used as a Nazi pawn before the 1936 Olympics and later became a U.S. champ...‘It was a bitter wake-up call from a beautiful dream,’ Bergmann-Lambert says. ‘Never before had I experienced so much anger, so much fury. The only thing I took comfort from was that I would no longer have to raise my arm in a Hitler salute.’”

Germany honours Jewish athlete banned from 1936 Olympics by Nazis
by Mark Tran   |   The Guardian   |   November 24, 2009
High jumper Gretel Bergmann had jump expunged from record books and was barred from Berlin games

Professor’s play revisits 1936 ‘Nazi Olympics’
by Matt Collette   |   info@Northeastern   |   February 2, 2012

The Nazi Party Rally Grounds
Nuremberg Museum

Dr. Philip Aron Edwards (1907-1971)
Born in Georgetown, British Guiana. Dr. Edwards graduated from McGill medical school in 1936, and received a graduate diploma in medicine in 1945, specializing in tropical diseases.

He was the first black athlete from McGill to compete in the Olympics and the first Canadian Olympian to win five Olympic medals, racking up five bronzes over three Olympiads — in 1928 at Amsterdam Games, 1932 at Los Angeles and 1936 in Berlin.

In Amsterdam he won bronze in the 4x400m relay and finished fourth in 800m. At Los Angeles he captured three bronze medals (800m, 1500m and 4x400m).

At Berlin he won bronze in the 800m, placed fourth in 4x400m relay and was fifth in 1500m. In 1936, Edwards became the first winner of the Lou Marsh trophy, as Canada’s best athlete.

The 800m Final, Berlin 1936
When the gun fired to begin the race, Edwards, like usual, exploded off the start, taking the lead and setting a brisk pace. Eventuarlly, Edwards fell out of the clear lead and into a battle with Woodruff.

“Woodruff was a huge man and he had a tremendous stride,” remembers good friend Jim Worrall, a strapping 6'5 hurdler. ”It was interesting that he passed Phil, and then Phil passed him. And then down the backstretch on the second lap, it was rather amusing to watch, because all of a sudden these two bodies started to merge, and you could see one body but four legs. Woodruff eventually pulled ahead and Phil unfortunately couldn’t quite hold onto second spot.”

Source: McGill University

Foy Draper (-1943)
In 1940, Draper enlisted in the Army Air Corps and received his pilot training in San Antonio, TX. After the U.S. entered World War II, he was stationed with the 97th Squadron of the 47th Bomb Group at Thelepte, Tunisia in North Africa and flew an A-20B “Havoc” twin engine attack bomber.

On January 4, 1943, Draper and his two crewmen, Staff Sgts. Kenneth Gasser and Sidney Holland, took off on a bombing mission to strike German and Italian ground forces at Fonduck, Tunisia. They were killed in action and later memorialized at the American Military Cemetery in Carthage along with 2,841 other Americans. “A limestone wall bearing the names of another 3,724 men still missing surrounds 27 manicured acres.”

Draper’s cousin remembers his visits when she was a graduate student at the University of Texas and swiping his good luck charm, a tiny monkey. A comrade of Draper’s, Costa Chalas, remembers him as “an excellent pilot with a happy disposition and a willingness to share war’ hardships.”

Brave Olympian Never Returned From World War II
by Perry Flippin   |   San Angelo Standard-Times   |   August 9, 2004

Ernest Lee Jahncke (1877-1960)
Jahncke was appointed to the IOC following the recommendation of IOC member Sherrill and President Calvin Coolidge in 1927.

An engineer, his company built the seawall in New Orleans running from the West End to the Spanish Fort. Jahncke also served as U.S. Assistant Secretary of the Navy from 1929-1933 in Herbert Hoover’s administration.

Cornelius Johnson (-1946)
At the 1932 Olympics, Johnson was a Los Angeles High junior when he placed fourth high jump at 6' 5". His winning jump in 1936 was 6' 8". He died in 1946 at 32 of pneumonia aboard a merchant marine ship in San Francisco, where was ship’s cook.

The Long Run
by Earl Gustkey   |   Los Angeles Times   |   December 29, 1999
“Track and Field in L.A. Has a Storied History and an Uncertain Future”

Dora Ratjen (1918-2008)
Mrs. Lambert has said in interviews that Dora was a Nazi plant to help ensure that a Jewish athlete would not make the team. Mrs. Lambert feels that Dora was a victim as much as herself, being used by the Nazis for their own ends.

From birth, there was a question as to Dora’s sex. Raised as a girl, she kept to herself for the most part eventually wondering why she wasn’t developing breasts, yet developing the habit of shaving her legs every two days. Discovering an interest in sports, she began competing and doing well.

Once Mrs. Lambert was kicked off the German team just prior to the Olympics, no other athlete took her spot — Germany only had two women high jumpers — and Dora placed 4th in Berlin. Two years later, Dora won the European Championships in Austria, setting a new world record.

While stretching her legs on train platform on the trip back to Germany, she was confronted by a police officer and found out to be a man. The medal and world record were returned, and she stopped competing altogether. Convinced there was no criminal intent, no charges were filed by any authories.

Subsequently changing his name to Heinrich, he lived out his life in quiet obscurity running his family’s tavern and refusing to give any interviews.

Mrs. Lambert learned about Dora’s secret while reading an article in a doctor’s office in 1966. She wrote a letter to Heinrich, but never received a reply.

Primary source:
1936 Berlin Olympics
by Stefan Berg   |   Spiegel Online   |   September 15, 2009
How Dora the Man Competed in the Woman’s High Jump,1518,649104,00.html