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1936: the 'Nazi Olympics': three years before World War II, Adolf Hitler turned the Berlin Games into a tense spectacle designed to showcase 'Aryan superiority'.

On Aug. 2, 1936, the first day of competition in that year's Summer Olympics, a record 110,000 spectators packed the Olympic stadium in Berlin. Among them, seated in a private box, was German Chancellor Adolf Hitler. Throughout the day's events, Hitler was seen personally congratulating the winners. However, when three Americans stepped forward to receive medals for the high jump, the Fuhrer was noticeably absent.

According to The New York Times story the next day, for those who "chose to put two and two together," the cause of Hitler's disappearance seemed obvious: Two of the American athletes were black.


Seventy years later, this incident has come to symbolize what became known as the "Nazi Olympics." Spectacular in terms of both pageantry and athleticism--including the feats of the black American track and field star Jesse Owens--the 1936 Games are remembered for the racial and political tension that surrounded them, just three years before Germany invaded Poland to start World War II.

Germany had been selected to host the 1936 Olympics in 1931, when it had a democratic government known as the Weimar (VY-mahr) Republic, installed after Germany's defeat in World War I.

But Hitler, the charismatic and anti-Semitic leader of the National Socialist (Nazi) Party, would soon turn Germany into a police state. A persuasive speaker who believed in the genetic superiority of blond-haired, blue-eyed "Aryans," Hitler built his political movement from the ground up, starting in the 1920s. He promised a return to the powerful, militaristic Germany of the past, and blamed many of Germany's current ills, especially its ailing economy, on Jews.

Through careful maneuvering, he was appointed chancellor (similar to prime minister) in January 1933. He forced through legislation effectively making him dictator in March.

Once in power, Hitler wasted no time in remilitarizing Germany and carrying out his anti-Semitic program. In April 1933, the Nazi Party called for a boycott of Jewish businesses. Less than a week later, the Reichstag (parliament) passed the "Law for the Restoration of the Professional Civil Service," requiring the removal of Jews and other non-Aryans from government jobs.


In 1935, the Nuremberg Race Laws stripped Jews of their citizenship and prohibited them from marrying non-Jews. Hundreds of similar laws were also passed, with the goal of excluding Jews from German society.

Fearing that Jewish athletes would not be treated fairly at the 1936 Games, the International Olympic Committee (I.O.C.) considered moving the Olympics to Rome or Tokyo. However, committee members were placated by German promises of fair competition for all athletes.

In the U.S., President Franklin D. Roosevelt, up for re-election in 1936, never weighed in on the issue. After much debate, the American Olympic Committee and the Amateur Athletic Union voted to attend the Olympics.

The Games themselves became, in the words of one Times reporter, "the greatest publicity stunt in history." Hitler spared no expense to impress the 150,000 foreign visitors who attended. He ordered all anti-Semitic signs--such as those proclaiming "Juden sind hier unerwunscht" (Jews are unwanted here)--to be removed from sight during the Games.

His efforts were, by most accounts, successful. Visitors left with the impression that Germany was prosperous, well run, and hospitable. Meanwhile, in a report to Washington, the American ambassador wrote that Germany's Jewish population awaited the end of the Olympics with "fear and trembling."


As always, the Games started with the lighting of the Olympic Flame. In what has since become an Olympic tradition, the Flame was lit in Olympia, Greece, and carried to Berlin by torch.

True to their promise, the German team had allowed Jewish athletes to try out, but only one--Helene Mayer, a half-Jewish fencer with blond hair-actually competed. Others were kept off the team on technicalities.

The biggest star of the Games turned out to be Owens, born J.C. Owens in Alabama in 1913 and given the name Jesse by a teacher after his family had moved to Cleveland.

By the time he graduated from high school, Owens had tied the world record in the 100-yard dash. As a sophomore at Ohio State University, he tied that record and broke three others--the broad jump, the 220-yard dash, and the 220-yard low hurdles--on the same day.

Defying Hitler's belief in Aryan supremacy, the 22-year-old Owens quickly became a favorite at the Olympics. Each of his four gold-medal wins for the 100-meter and 200meter dash, the long jump, and the 400-meter relay--was greeted with raucous applause from the crowd. He also was befriended by Carl Ludwig "Luz" Long, a German athlete who gave him advice on how to improve his long jump, only to come in second to Owens in the finals.


For Owens, his trip to Germany was not his first experience with racism. Because of segregation in the U.S., Owens couldn't always sleep in the same hotels as his Ohio State teammates during road trips, he wrote later in his autobiography. Of his Olympic reception, he wrote: "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."

During the closing ceremonies in Berlin, Count Henri de Baillet-Latour, president of the I.O.C., invited everyone to reassemble in Tokyo four years later. But the 1940 Olympics never took place. Over the next three years, Nazi rule became increasingly harsh. Thousands of "undesirables"--including Jews, Gypsies, and homosexuals-were sent to concentration camps, and Germany continued to defy World War I treaties by expanding its military and its territory.

In September 1939, World War II began as Germany invaded Poland. Two years later, Japan attacked the United States, bringing America into a conflict that, before it was over, would claim tens of millions of fives. The Summer Olympics were not held again until 1948, when the world gathered in London three years after the end of the Second World War.

1936: the 'Nazi Olynpics' (LESSON PLAN 4: HISTORY)


The 1936 Games were not the only time politics spilled into the Olympic arena. In 1972, in Munich, 8 Arab terrorists kilted 11 Israeli athletes-the subject of the recent Oscar-nominated movie Munich. In 1980, the U.S. boycotted the Moscow Olympics because of the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan in the previous year.


* Note the comment of the Times reporter, who said the Berlin Olympics were "the greatest publicity stunt in history. What did the reporter mean?

* Remind students that after much controversy over its poor human rights record, Beijing was awarded the 2008 Olympics. Will China also make the Olympics a 'publicity stunt"?

* Tell students that various groups in the U.S. argued in favor of a boycott of the 1936 Olympics because of Germany's treatment of Jews. Should the U.S. have boycotted the Olympics?

* Split the class in two. Assign one group to write a 50 word statement defending the U.S. presence at the 1736 Olympics. Group two should write a 50-word statement in which they argue that the U.S. should have boycotted the 1936 Olympics.


* Why do you think foreign visitors to the Berlin Olympics came away with the view of Germany as "prosperous, well-run, and hospitable" when everyone knew about the Nuremberg Laws?


[right arrow] In September 1934, Avery Brundage, president of the American Olympic Committee, returned from Germany and said Jewish athletes were treated fairly and the Olympics should go on.

[right arrow] In October 1935, the American Federation of Labor and the NAACP announced their support for a boycott of the 1936 Berlin Olympics

WEB WATCH National Holocaust Museum exhibit on the 1936 0lympics. Includes page on the "Nazification of Sport."

1. The Nazis' racial, theories identified blond, blue-eyed Germans as superior. They called such people

a. Nordics. b Celtics. c Aryans. d Caucasians.

2. Adolf Hitler acquired dictatorial powers in Germany as a result of

a. winning an election in 1935. b the German Army staging a coup and putting him in power. c a national referendum. d his forcing through Legislation that effectively gave him such powers.

3. Briefly explain Hitter's political, platform, i.e., the promises he made that aided in his rise to power

4. The International. Olympic Committee (I.O.C.) considered moving the 1936 Olympics to Rome or Tokyo because there was concern that

a Germany might start a war before 1936. b the Nazis might use unfair methods to ensure Germans would win more medals. c Jewish athletes would not be treated fairly. d Jewish athletes from other countries might boycott the Olympics.

5. The 1935 Nuremberg Laws

a. outLawed marriage between Jews and non-Jews in the German city of Nuremberg. b stripped Jews of citizenship and made it against the Law for Jews and non-Jews to marry. c required Jews Living in other parts of Germany to move to Nuremberg. d required Jewish families to split up, sending parents to one place and children to another.

1. Why do you think Hitler singled out Jews as the source of Germany's economic and social problems in the 1930s? Why might ordinary Germans have been so quick to accept his racial theories?

2. In democratic Germany today, it is a violation of the law to espouse Nazism. Is that sound policy, given Germany's past? Or does such a Law violate free-speech rights in a democracy?

The statements are answers to questions (modeled after the TV show Jeopardy). Students must answer in the form of questions

Divide the class into teams. Read the statements

Call on the first team with a hand raised

Correct answer 10 points Wrong answer = -10 points (And another team may respond for the same chance to gain or Lose 10 points.)

1. Yanacocha is in this country.

2. The 1849 Gold Rush was in this U.S. state.

3. Giant retailer: biggest U.S. setter of got&

4. Country that buys the most gold jewelry.

5. U.S. state that's spending $19 million to dean up gold-mine waste.

What is Peru? What is California? What is War-Mart? What is India? What is Montana?

6. City where the 1936 Olympics were held. 7. Jesse Owens's sport. 8. Jesse Owens's university. 9. Official name of the Nazi Party. 10. World War II started after Germany invaded this country in 1939.

What is Berlin? What is track and field? What is Ohio State? What is the National Socialist Party? What is Poland?

1. 11

2. [d] Mexico and elsewhere in Latin America.

3. [c] constructing a fence along the U.S.-Mexico border.

4. [b] establish a guest-worker program for immigrants.

5. [c] the events of Sept. 11.

5. Do immigrants tower wages or take jobs Americans don't want? [Similar wording is acceptable.]

1. [c] Aryans.

2. [d] his forcing through legislation that effectively gave him such powers.

3. He promised a return to the powerful, militaristic Germany of the past. [Similar wording is acceptable.]

4. [c] Jewish athletes would not be treated fairly.

5. [b] stripped Jews of citizenship and made it against the taw for Jews and non-Jews to marry.

1. [a] 10.6

2. [d] 14.8

3. 1930 & 1940

4. [c] 8%

5. 21

6. 9

7. Answers will vary.
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Title Annotation:TIMES PAST
Author:Potts, Courtney
Publication:New York Times Upfront
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:May 8, 2006
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