April 11, 2008
THE NAZI OLYMPICS: BERLIN 1936 EXHIBITION OPENS AT UNITED STATES HOLOCAUST MEMORIAL MUSEUM ON APRIL 25
WASHINGTON, D.C. — The United States Holocaust Memorial Museum today announced the April 25 opening of a special exhibition, The Nazi Olympics: Berlin 1936.
“Holocaust history offers a useful perspective for understanding the questions and challenges we face today,” says Museum Director Sara J. Bloomfield. “This exhibition provides a fascinating backdrop to the contemporary Games.”
The 1936 Olympic Games were awarded to Berlin prior to Adolf Hitler’s rise to power in 1933. Hitler originally eschewed the idea of hosting the Games, but soon realized that they could be exploited for propaganda purposes.
“Nazi Germany wanted to show the world that it was ready to re-join the community of nations after its defeat in World War I,” says exhibition curator Susan Bachrach. “Hosting the Olympics presented the Nazi leadership with an extraordinary opportunity to project the illusion of a peaceful, tolerant Germany under the guise of the Games’ spirit of international cooperation. That effort was largely successful, and the relatively young regime scored a major propaganda victory.”
However, as the world watched Nazi Germany’s re-militarization, extreme nationalism, rampant racism, and persecution of Jews, Roma, Sinti, political opponents and others, many expressed doubts about the appropriateness of holding the Games in Berlin. A widespread and passionate debate arose, especially in the United States, about boycotting the Games centering on the interplay between sports and politics. Ultimately, 49 teams from around the world competed.
The exhibition, which debuted at the Museum in 1996 in conjunction with the opening of the Atlanta Games, is now returning to Washington, D.C., following a 10-year national tour to 16 cities. Many artifacts have been added including an original torch from the 1936 torch run, and Gold medals won by Jesse Owens, John Woodruff and Ralph Metcalfe. The Museum’s web site, www.ushmm.org, features an online version of the exhibition.
Topics in the exhibition include:
- The U.S. boycott debate, especially as it played out within the sports, Jewish and African-American communities.
- The first torch run in the modern Olympic Games. The Nazis resurrected the idea of a run, originally conceived for the 1916 Berlin Games which were cancelled because of World War I.
- Nazi Germany’s banning of Jewish members from competing on Germany’s Olympic team, including Gretel Bergmann (now Margaret Lambert), a world-class German-Jewish track athlete.
- The historic success of many of the 18 African-American athletes (three times the number that competed in 1932 in Los Angeles) including Jesse Owens, Ralph Metcalfe, and Mack Robinson (Jackie Robinson’s brother).
- The Nazification of German sport, the exclusion of Jews from all sporting clubs, and the use of athletics to militarize German youth and prepare them for war.
The exhibition concludes by examining the fates of Olympic athletes from the 1936 and previous Games who were caught up in the events of World War II and the Holocaust.
The Nazi Olympics: Berlin 1936 opens at the Museum on Friday, April 25 and runs through August 17, 2008 in the Kimmel-Rowan Gallery. No passes are needed. The Museum is open from 10:00 a.m. 5:30 p.m. seven days a week, with extended hours until 6:30 p.m., Monday-Friday through June 13.
A living memorial to the Holocaust, the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum strives to inspire leaders and citizens to confront hatred, prevent genocide, promote human dignity and strengthen democracy. Federal support guarantees the Museum’s permanence, and donors nationwide make possible its educational activities and global outreach. For more information, visit www.ushmm.org.