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Peter Hopsicker, "No Hebrews Allowed: How the 1932 Lake Placid Winter Olympic Games Survived the 'Restricted' Adirondack Culture, 1877-1932.

Peter Hopsicker, "No Hebrews Allowed: How the 1932 Lake Placid Winter Olympic Games Survived the 'Restricted' Adirondack Culture, 1877-1932," Journal of Sport History 36, no. 2 (2009), 205-219.

Peter Hopsicker's article sheds light on a somewhat overlooked event that almost derailed the Lake Placid Olympic bid for the 1932 Games. His essay brings out the impact of an anti-semitic ideology on the viability of Lake Placid's to host the 1932 Winter Olympics. At issue is the backlash against use of land owned by the highly anti-Semitic Lake Placid Club for the Olympic Games. The author sets the backdrop for this event with a brief history of anti-Semitism in the Adirondack Region. Beginning with an account of the banning of Jews from resort hotels in the late 19th Century, Hopsicker traces the spread of anti-Jewish sentiment in the Adirondacks through to the establishment of outdoor clubs, and their attempts to wrestle with pro and anti-Jewish membership factions in their own ranks. One of these clubs, the Lake Placid Club (LPC) was particularly anti-Semitic in its leanings. The club was established in 1895 by Dr. Melvil Dewy whose son, Godfrey, came to lead the organization during the time of the U.S. bid to host the 1932 Winter Olympic Games. The issue of contention arose when it became known that an area of land owned by the LPC was to be used as the Bobsled run during the Olympics. The site would need to be upgraded, with support through public funds. David Mosessohn, the editor of the Jewish Tribune, responded with an opinion piece heavily criticizing the use of public funds, including taxes from Jewish citizens, to upgrade a facility that, following the conclusion of the Olympic Games, would revert to private use by a club which did not permit Jews on its premises.

Thus began a massive legal and public relations campaign pitting the Winter Olympic Games committee (presided over by LPC founder Godfrey Dewy) against a galvanized national Jewish community. The debate ended with an agreement that a "quit claim" would be added in the contract: the land would either remain in the hands of the State of New York, or if the latter failed to maintain it for two years following the games, the Park Commission would assume ownership of the land, not the LPC. This agreement allowed for the 1932 Winter Games to proceed without further opposition.

Thematically, Hopsicker provides an interesting account of the attempts from both sides to control the discourse surrounding the issue through appeals to the public's notions of Americanism. It is interesting to note that, given the prejudices against Jews that spread far beyond the limits of the Adirondacks, the Jewish community was able to control and frame the debate. Dewey, for his part, spun a narrative that attempted to bypass the substance of the Jewish community's objections, and instead positioned the latter as "spoilers" who were working against their own country's efforts to live up to the honour of hosting the Olympic Games. This narrative played on the notion of 'Jews as the other' by painting them as a threat. Given popular attitudes of the early 1930s, resort to such schemas might have been expected to work in Dewey's favor. However, the Jewish community was successful in maintaining control of the discourse by spinning a narrative that appealed to the public's sense of patriotism and its belief in American ideals of equality. This appeal ended up carrying more sway than the narrative spun by Dewey, and eventually the Jewish community was able to achieve its objective. The land used for the Olympics was kept out of the LPC's hands following the conclusion of the Winter Games.

Beyond the mere historical events surrounding this issue, Hopsicker's piece provides an interesting analysis of how a traditionally marginalized group can utilize national media and draw upon schemas that appeal to the majority's patriotic sensibilities, in order to construct a discourse with which the public can identify and sympathize, resulting in a policy outcome that addressed existing grievances. It would be interesting to reflect on the significance of this event in respect of the national Jewish community's attempts to sway public opinion against U.S. participation in the 1936 Berlin Olympics. Were some of the same media outlets used? How was the issue discursively constructed? Were any of the same people involved in lobbying for the quit clause during the 1932 Lake Placid controversy involved in the protests over the United States' involvement in the Berlin Games? This wider problematic, to be sure, is outside Hopsicker's purview here, but his essay provides interesting pointers on how it might be approached.
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Author:Williams, Mark
Publication:Olympika: The International Journal of Olympic Studies
Article Type:Book review
Date:Jan 1, 2010
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