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The Nazi Olympics: Introduction


Narrator: They were days of glory, and gold.

Glickman: If I could use a single word to describe Berlin during that period of time, the word would be “carnival.”

Narrator: As U.S. sprinter Marty Glickman remembers it, the view was grand for those two weeks in August of 1936 as Berlin hosted the world’s greatest athletes for the 11th Olympic Games. International visitors were warmly welcomed, but behind the pomp and pageantry were ominous signs.

Glickman: The swastika was all over, on virtually every other banner we saw there was a swastika.

Narrator: The benefit of hindsight, and history, helps us see these were more than just games.

Bloomfield: These weren’t the Berlin Olympics. These were the Nazi Olympics.

Narrator: They were also an opportunity for the regime to create the illusion of a new Germany on the world stage. But the reality was quite different. Jews were excluded from all German sports teams and clubs, but the Nazis put Jewish international track and field star Gretel Bergmann on the Olympic roster to fend off international critics. Removed from the German team at the last minute, Margaret Lambert -- as she is now known -- recalls her reaction.

Lambert: I would have been a loser, either way. Because 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 am sure. And had I lost, I would have been made as a joke.

Narrator: Off the field, the truth about what the Nazis were doing was hard to miss.

Bachrach: Many Americans could open their newspapers, and on the front page they could see stories about what was going on in Nazi Germany so it certainly wasn’t secret.

Narrator: By 1936, Germany’s Jews and other minorities had been stripped of their civil rights, even their citizenship, and the Nazi regime had already opened its first concentration camps.

Bloomfield: Everybody knew. Everybody knew early on exactly the kind of regime Nazi Germany was, so much so that for the first time in the history of the modern Olympic Games there was talk about boycotting these games.

Narrator: The debate raged.

Bachrach: They’re all trying to decide what to do. Should they go? Did that mean that they would be somehow putting a stamp of approval on a regime that many people felt was abhorrent? Or was it just a sporting contest?

Narrator: In the end, 49 nations including the United States, came to Berlin for the Nazi Olympics, and watched as Aryan athletes followed in the footsteps of the ancient Greeks, bringing fire from Mount Olympus in the first ever Olympic torch relay.

Bachrach: The torch run relay was a perfect event for them and they had such a superb propaganda machine that they were able to exploit it in every way to get the maximum propaganda value out of it.

[A starter pistol is fired. The crowd applauds.]

Narrator: Popular history remembers Jesse Owens’ four gold medals, an Olympic first, as a triumph over the myth of Aryan supremacy. But a closer look reveals an Olympic victory for Nazi Germany’s propaganda campaign as well.

Bloomfield: This was a major corruption of the Olympic ideals. And this was a total propaganda victory for the Nazis. This was creating an illusion of a peaceful and tolerant nation. And the world wanted to believe this illusion, allowing itself to be completely deceived.

Narrator: The U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum has updated and expanded its special exhibition THE NAZI OLYMPICS: Berlin 1936. Visitors will see many never before displayed pieces. The uniforms of the U.S. track stars. The medals awarded to legendary African American athletes Jesse Owens and Ralph Metcalfe. Their souvenirs. And from that first relay, a torch that carried the Olympic flame. With the opening of THE NAZI OLYMPICS: Berlin 1936, visitors have a chance to reflect and to remember those Games as more than history.

In this video introduction to The Nazi Olympics: Berlin 1936, American Jewish athlete Marty Glickman, US Holocaust Memorial Museum Director Sara J. Bloomfield, exhibition curator Susan Bachrach, and German Jewish athlete Gretel Bergmann reflect and remember the 1936 Olympic Games as more than history.