For two weeks in August 1936, Adolf Hitler's Nazi dictatorship camouflaged its racist, militaristic character while hosting the Summer Olympic Games. The regime exploited the Games to bedazzle many foreign spectators and journalists with an image of a peaceful, tolerant Germany. In 1931, the International Olympic Committee had awarded the 1936 Summer Olympics to Berlin. Two years later, Nazi party leader Adolf Hitler became chancellor of Germany. Movements to boycott the 1936 Berlin Olympics surfaced in the United States, Great Britain, France, Sweden, Czechoslovakia, and the Netherlands. Individual Jewish athletes from a number of countries chose to boycott the Berlin Olympics. However, once the Amateur Athletic Union of the United States voted for participation in December 1935, other countries fell in line and the wider boycott movement failed.
The Nazis made elaborate preparations for the August 1-16 Summer Games. A huge sports complex was constructed and Olympic flags and swastikas bedecked the monuments and houses of Berlin. Most tourists were unaware that the Nazi regime had temporarily removed anti-Jewish signs, nor would they have known of a police roundup of Roma in Berlin. Nazi officials also ordered that foreign visitors should not be subjected to the criminal penalties of German anti-homosexuality laws.
On August 1, 1936, Hitler opened the XIth Olympiad. Inaugurating a new Olympic ritual, a lone runner arrived bearing a torch carried by relay from the site of the ancient Games in Olympia, Greece. Forty-nine athletic teams from around the world competed in the Berlin Olympics, more than in any previous Olympics. Germany fielded the largest team with 348 athletes. The U.S. team was the second largest, with 312 members, including 18 African Americans. The Soviet Union did not participate in the Berlin Games.
Athletic imagery drew a link between Nazi Germany and ancient Greece, symbolizing the Nazi racial myth that a superior German civilization was the rightful heir of an "Aryan" culture of classical antiquity. Concerted propaganda efforts continued well after the Olympics with the international release in 1938 of "Olympia," the controversial documentary directed by German film maker and Nazi sympathizer Leni Riefenstahl. Germany emerged victorious from the XIth Olympiad. As post-Games reports were filed, Hitler pressed on with grandiose plans for German expansion. Persecution of Jews resumed. Two days after the Olympics, Captain Wolfgang Fuerstner, head of the Olympic village, killed himself when he was dismissed from military service because of his Jewish ancestry.