United States Holocaust Memorial Museum
The Nazi Olympics: Berlin 1936
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Exclusion of Jews
Soon after Hitler took power, the Nazis began to exclude Jews from German sport and recreational facilities. Barred from German sports clubs, Jewish athletes flocked to separate Jewish associations, but their facilities were no match for those of the well-funded German groups. Gretel Bergmann was a world-class high jumper who was expelled from her sports club in Ulm in 1933. Afterwards, she trained briefly with the Stuttgart branch of Der Schild (The Shield), a sports association organized under the auspices of the Jewish Association of War Veterans.

Bergmann (foreground, in black shirt) and other members of her Jewish sports club prepare to transform a former potato field into a handball field. 1933.
Bergmann (foreground, in black shirt) and other members of her Jewish sports club prepare to transform a former potato field into a handball field. 1933.
—USHMM #14909/Courtesy of Margaret (Gretel Bergmann) Lambert
The establishment of “Olympic training courses” for Jewish athletes in 1935 was a sham, part of the Nazis' effort to deflect international criticism about discrimination against Jewish athletes. This photograph shows participants in a course at Ettlingen. No one from this course at Ettlingen or any other participated in the Olympics. Gretel Bergmann is in the foreground of this 1935 photograph of the participants in the Ettlingen training course.
The establishment of “Olympic training courses” for Jewish athletes in 1935 was a sham, part of the Nazis' effort to deflect international criticism about discrimination against Jewish athletes. This photograph shows participants in a course at Ettlingen. No one from this course at Ettlingen or any other participated in the Olympics. Gretel Bergmann is in the foreground of this 1935 photograph of the participants in the Ettlingen training course.
—USHMM #15210/Courtesy of Dr. George Eisen
 
Gretel Bergmann speaking about her experiences.

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Transcript:

Had I been allowed to compete in the Olympics, I would have been a loser, either way. But had I won, there would have been such an insult against the German psyche — "How can a Jew be good enough to win the Olympics?" — that I would have had to be afraid for my life, I'm sure. And had I lost, I would have been made as a joke — "See, we knew the Jew couldn't do this." And that was on my mind all these years.

I was the only Jew in my class, and there was never, never, an unpleasant moment. You didn't think of yourself as a Jew, you thought of yourself as a German. My father, he used to say to us, "Be a decent human being. That should be your religion." He followed that, and we followed it too.

I skied, I skated, I swam. Nobody ever told me anything. I played tennis, I played ping pong. I was possessed, I think, by sports.

In the spring of 1933, it was just around my birthday, and it was not a very nice birthday present. I got a letter from my sports club: "You are no longer welcome here, because you are Jewish. Heil Hitler." At that was the end of that. So they just threw me out of the club, and that was the end of my sports career as far as that was concerned.

You were excluded from everything, all German life. You were banned from all public places. No theaters, no restaurants, no swimming pools. You couldn't go any place, and you could not associate with non-Jewish people. The Jewish community, they were very proud of me, and after a while, word spread around that there's this Jewish girl who might be competing in the Olympics.

I was supposed to be a member of the German Olympic team, and that was something I couldn't understand, and didn't understand for a very long time. The only reason I was supposed to be on that Olympic team was because the Americans and the English and the French and a lot of the other nations threatened not to come to the 1936 Olympics due to the discrimination against the Jews.

In a way, I was hoping I would be in the Olympics because to compete in the Olympics Games is a thrill of a lifetime. It doesn't happen to everybody. You have to be good enough to do it. On the other hand I was so afraid, supposing I am allowed to compete, supposing I win — and I was convinced that I would win a medal, possibly the gold — supposing I do this, what do I do? I'm going to stand on that podium and say "Heil Hitler" like all the others? I mean this, for a Jewish girl, would never do.

They wouldn't let me compete in the German national championship, and they said, "Well, she was not entitled to compete in that because she was not a member of the German track and field association." And why wasn't I a member? Because I was Jewish. The gentile girls who were supposed to go into the Olympics, they had their own meets to which I was not admitted. When I competed, which only happened three times, I think, in three years, I always beat them.

The high jump in the Olympics was won with a height of 5 feet 3 inches — the height I had reached four weeks earlier.

Transcript:

Had I been allowed to compete in the Olympics, I would have been a loser, either way. But had I won, there would have been such an insult against the German psyche — "How can a Jew be good enough to win the Olympics?" — that I would have had to be afraid for my life, I'm sure. And had I lost, I would have been made as a joke — "See, we knew the Jew couldn't do this." And that was on my mind all these years.

I was the only Jew in my class, and there was never, never, an unpleasant moment. You didn't think of yourself as a Jew, you thought of yourself as a German. My father, he used to say to us, "Be a decent human being. That should be your religion." He followed that, and we followed it too.

I skied, I skated, I swam. Nobody ever told me anything. I played tennis, I played ping pong. I was possessed, I think, by sports.

In the spring of 1933, it was just around my birthday, and it was not a very nice birthday present. I got a letter from my sports club: "You are no longer welcome here, because you are Jewish. Heil Hitler." At that was the end of that. So they just threw me out of the club, and that was the end of my sports career as far as that was concerned.

You were excluded from everything, all German life. You were banned from all public places. No theaters, no restaurants, no swimming pools. You couldn't go any place, and you could not associate with non-Jewish people. The Jewish community, they were very proud of me, and after a while, word spread around that there's this Jewish girl who might be competing in the Olympics.

I was supposed to be a member of the German Olympic team, and that was something I couldn't understand, and didn't understand for a very long time. The only reason I was supposed to be on that Olympic team was because the Americans and the English and the French and a lot of the other nations threatened not to come to the 1936 Olympics due to the discrimination against the Jews.

In a way, I was hoping I would be in the Olympics because to compete in the Olympics Games is a thrill of a lifetime. It doesn't happen to everybody. You have to be good enough to do it. On the other hand I was so afraid, supposing I am allowed to compete, supposing I win — and I was convinced that I would win a medal, possibly the gold — supposing I do this, what do I do? I'm going to stand on that podium and say "Heil Hitler" like all the others? I mean this, for a Jewish girl, would never do.

They wouldn't let me compete in the German national championship, and they said, "Well, she was not entitled to compete in that because she was not a member of the German track and field association." And why wasn't I a member? Because I was Jewish. The gentile girls who were supposed to go into the Olympics, they had their own meets to which I was not admitted. When I competed, which only happened three times, I think, in three years, I always beat them.

The high jump in the Olympics was won with a height of 5 feet 3 inches — the height I had reached four weeks earlier.

The Museum’s exhibitions are supported by the Lester Robbins and Sheila Johnson Robbins Traveling and Special Exhibitions Fund, established in 1990.

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