Very simple. The 1936 Olympics was given to Berlin before the NAZI take over. Even so, it presented the NAZIs a golden opportunity to show case to the world how they were remaking the country. It also fit into Hitler;s strategy of projecting a moderate image after he first seized power. Sport was something that the NAZIs had been promoting as part of its health and fitness campaign. State support for sport and athletics was one reason that the Germans did so well at the games. Little known at the time was another aspect of that campaign, the NAZI hereditary health courts and the sterilization of children who had health problems. SS officer Reinhard Heydrich was interested in sport. His favorite was fencing and he had considerable skill. He placed well in the SS tournaments. Hitler appointed him to the German Olympic Committee and he was active in planning the 1936 Olympics. This brought him in further contact with Hitler. (Heydrich had played an important role in the 1934 Night of the Long Knives.) Heydrich can be seen in photographs of the Olympics sitting in Hitler's box. German officials got politically naive boxer Max Schmeling to help them convince the U.S. Olympic Committee not to boycott the 1936 Berlin Olympic Games. One of the most shameful aspects of American participation was bending to NAZI pressure concerning Jewish athletes. Propaganda Minister Josef Goebbels made the most of it. First of all he saw to it that the anti-Jewish campaign was toned down. Signs were temporarily removed, such as the ones banning Jews from public parks. Foreign journalists were made welcome. And they reported on the Olympics in great detail. Many were impressed with the new Germany. The foreign journalists reported the thunderous cheers that Hitler received when he etered the brand new Olympic stadium. The pagentry at the Berlin Olympics was spectacular. It was something that the NAZIs were very good at. One littkle know fact of the modern Olympics is how the Berlins Olympics influenced the pagentry you now see at the games. The Berlin Olympics were a triumph for the NAZIs. The Germans led in the medal counts. One embarassing aspect for the NAZIs was the spectacular performance of Afro-American atheletes like Jesse Owens. Leni Riefenstahl who made the classic propaganda film, Triumph des Willens', also made a film on the Olympics--'Olympia'. After the games there was a substantial change in NAZI diplomacy.
The 1932 Olympics were held in Los Angeles. Their idea of pageantry was 24 hula dancers on a wooden portable stage placed in the middle of the stadium field. The closing ceremony featured the stadium singing "Aloha Oy". This was similar to the kind of pageantry that had accompanied the previous Olympic Games. A reader describes it as, "Well intentioned, but a bit underwhelming." At least in comparison to what was to come in Berlin. There were women participating at the Los Angeles Olympics, but they were hardly made to feel welcome. The Olympics were largely seen as something for male athletes. Women were barred from the Olympic Village with large signs stating "MEN ONLY!" So the female athletes had to find accommodations in flop houses within walking distance of the Stadium. A reader writes, "Kind of shocking to me. After all it was 1932, not 1632."
The International Olympic Committee assigned the 1936 Olympics to Berlin before the NAZI take over. Even so, it presented the NAZIs a golden opportunity to show case to the world how they were remaking the country. It also fit into Hitler's strategy of projecting a moderate image after he first seized power. And as it was a sports competition, the NAZIs could use it as a competition to prove the physical superiority of Aryan Germans. Hitler and Goebbels could not have chosen a more perfect platform to show off the New Germany. And competitors from 49 countries were coming to Berlin to compete as well as many representatives of the world press and sports fans who wanted to view the competitions.
Sport was something that the NAZIs had been promoting as part of its health and fitness campaign. Health was a major concern of the NAZI state. Hitler wanted a healthy Volk for the goals he planned to achieve--not only war but racial superiority. It was the NAZIs who first connected cigarette smoking as a public health issue. Eugenics had become an important part of state health policy. The Eugenics movement was important in Germany before Hitler seized power. Under the NAZIs it became an important aspect of the country's public health effort.Little known at the time was another aspect of that campaign, the NAZI hereditary health courts and the sterilization of children who had health problems.
State support for sport and athletics was one reason that the Germans did so well at the games. SS officer Reinhard Heydrich was interested in sport. His favorite was fencing and he had considerable skill. He placed well in the SS tournaments. Hitler appointed him to the German Olympic Committee and he was active in planning the 1936 Olympics. This brought him in further contact with Hitler. (Heydrich had played an important role in the 1934 Night of the Long Knives.) Heydrich can be seen in photographs of the Olympics sitting in Hitler's box.
Both the HJ and BDM programs promoted physical fitness and sport. Hitler had a strong belief in the importance of physical education for German youth. He wrote, "A man of little scientific education but physically healthy, with a good, firm character, imbued with the joy of determination and will-power, is more valuable for the national community than a clever weakling." Physical education in th NAZI view was perhaps the most important parts of the German school child's day. Hitler increased the time for physical training to 2 hours per day, rather than the customary 2 hours per week before the NAZI take over. Physical conditioning was a major focus of the Hitler Youth movement. Competition in physical conditioning was strongly promoted. In addition to HJ and BDM activities, sports clubs were very important in Germany
The NAZIs rushed forward preparations for the Olympics. Albert Speer played a role in building the show-case
Olympic stadium. It presented a major challenge, but by building the field below ground significantly cut back on construction costs and the time needed to build it. It was completed on time and held 100,000 spectators. While the Berlin stadium was the most important facility, a total of 150 buildings were built in various locations all over Germany as part of the 1936 Olympics. A reader writes, "The stadium was one of the first construction work jobs the Third Reich brought to the public. Other projects included including replacing slum areas with new affordable apartments, building a new subway system, improving the water and electric grid, repaving potholed streets, improving double decked buses
and trolleys. Much of this was in anticipation of foreign visitors coming to Berlin for the Games.
The revived Olympic games from the first modern event (Greece, 1896) was to be a competition for amateur athletes. NAZI Germany was the the first country to take advantage of this to run up their medal counts. The NAZI state devoted state funds to assist German athletes and let them train without worrying about distractions like jobs. As a result, the German athletes were able to train full time. This provided the German Olympic team a substantial advantage. After the War the Soviet Union and other Communist countries would pursue the same policy to inflate their medal counts. Thus the German medal count would be less a reflection of Aryan superiority and more the result of state support for Olympic athletes.
One of the most shameful aspects of American participation was bending to NAZI pressure concerning Jewish athletes.
Propaganda Minister Josef Goebbels made the most of it. First of all he saw to it that the anti-Jewish campaign was toned down. Signs were temporarily removed, such as the ones banning Jews from public parks or signs like 'Jews not welcome here' in various public and private facilities. Outside of Berlin, not everyone got the message to take the signs down. Foreign journalists were made welcome. And they reported on the Olympics in great detail. Many were impressed with the new Germany. The foreign journalists reported the thunderous cheers that Hitler received when he entered the brand new Olympic stadium. And Goebbels ensured that the event was covered like no Olympics ever before. Radio was no longer new, but no sports event had been covered like this one. There were 20 transmitting vans that the foreign media could use along with 300 microphones. Events were broadcast in 28 different different languages. The planners set up a press corps section plus each team had an office in their assigned apartment complex to set up press interviews with their athlete. These were all Olympic firsts. Another first was that the Siemens and RUNDFUNK companies attempted the first limited television coverage of the game with 21 jumbo screens set up ll across Berlin. A NBC director was impressed and even congratulated NAZI officials for the support provided.
The pageantry at the Berlin Olympics was spectacular. It was something that the NAZIs were very good at. One little know fact of the modern Olympics is how the Berlin Olympics influenced the pageantry you now see at the games. The Berlin Olympics was the the first Olympic Games to present a full "grand spectacle" for the athletes and spectators.
The Olympic torch relay was introduced at the Berlin Olympics. The route began in Olympia and round its ways through Greece, Bulgaria, Yugoslavia, Hungary, Czechoslovakia, Austria, and finally. Germany. These were of course all countries that would become part of the NAZI Empire. The German torch bearers were all chosen to be splendid representatives of the Aryan race. There were also impressive mass choreographic displays (figure 1). The Berlin Olympics marked the first integration of composed music with a live symphonic orchestra and choir serving as accompaniment to the planned choreographed presentation by HJ boys and BDM girls for the athletes and spectators. This was so popular that it was repeated in encores August 1, 3, 17, and 18. The Olympic hymn was composed by Richard Strauss, a member of the Waltz King's family, Johann Strauss. The composition reportedly left such an emotional impact on the audience that the IOC held a midnight meeting after the
opening ceremony to unanimously vote the Hymn he wrote to be performed at every Olympic game there after. And 76 years after it's debut, it will be heard again in London (2012). The use of thousands of doves released in the stadium is also attributed to the Berlin Games. There was also a card trick changing the NAZI Standarte swastika flag on red
on one side and flipping the card to reveal the Brandenburg Gate and Olympic logo with a dove and the word WILKOMMEN! This was printed in all the attending teams languages and flipped for them to read as their teams paraded around the stadium track.
There were several individual standouts at the Olympics. Germany's superstar Lutz Lang - an accomplished long jumper. He was the NAZI ideal of a blond, blue eyed individual, perfect for Goebbels propaganda to highlight the achievements of Aryan athletes. The individual who achieved the greatest attention, however was African-American athlete Jesse Owens. Goebbels had a difficult time explaining his capabilities away.
The Berlin Olympics were a triumph for the NAZIs. The Germans led in the medal counts. Here as is common, Government support of the athletes was an important factor.
German authorities not only kept German Jewish athletes out of the competition, buy pressured other countries to do the same. The U.S. Olympic Committee was one of several that largely complied to NAZI demands. NAZI officials did not, however, keep other racial groups out, in large part because at the time most athletes cane from Europe and North America. Apparently the NAZI race authorities gave much attention to the fact that America had some impressive black athletes.
One embarrassing aspect for the NAZIs was the spectacular performance of African-American athletes like Jesse Owens.
Owens won four gold medals (the 100m, 200m, long jump and 4 x 100m relay). During his events he broke 11 Olympic records and even defeated the ideal Aryan, Lutz Lang, in the long jump. Lang was Aryan, but apparently not the ideal NAZI. He was a sportsman. He was the first to congratulate Owens when the long jump final was over. There were 10 African American members of the American athletics team. Their medal total was 7 gold medals, 3 silvers, and 3 bronze. That was more than any national team won in track and field at the Games, including the Germans. Hitler stormed out of the stadium, refusing to place the gold medal around Owens' neck. Hitler Youth Leader, Balder von Shirach, who also appeared in Hitler's box later said that Hitler after Owens' victory in the 100 m dash told him, "The Americans should be ashamed of themselves, letting Negroes win their medals for them. I shall not shake hands with this Negro ...do you really think that I will allow myself to be photographed shaking hands with a Negro?" A reader writes, "I just saw a documentary about Jesse Owens last night. It was shameful how he was treated in the United States (after he had won those gold medals for his country). He and his wife were refused a hotel room in New York. Eventually one place admitted him, but they were forced to use the entrance and stairways for its personnel! It was not a surprise that Hitler refused to shake Owens' hand, but one of the German medalists (Lutz Long) embraced him with the whole world watching."
Berlin was the first Olympic Village to fully accommodate female athletes. Women athletes had competed before, but they were not made to feel welcomed or offered accommodations.
Leni Riefenstahl who made the classic propaganda film, 'Triumph des Willens', also made a film on the Olympics--'Olympia'.
After the games there was a substantial change in NAZI diplomacy. This had begun with the resumption of military conscription and the unveiling of the Luftwaffe, both violations of the Versailles Treaty (1935). This was followed by an increasingly forceful foreign policy, began with the support for Franco's nationalist forces in the Spanish Civil War. Hitler had chosen Konstantin von Neurath, a conservative career diplomat, as his foreign minister. Von Neurath was useful while Hitler was projecting a moderate foreign policy. He was not the toddy Hitler wanted, however, as he began to adopt a more forceful foreign policy.
< ! During his tenure, Germany followed a revisionist policy aimed at overcoming the restrictions imposed on Germany by the Treaty of Versailles and seizing the diplomatic initiative from Britain and France. Germany withdrew from the League of Nations; began rapid rearmament; signed a nonaggression pact with Poland; reacquired the Saar territory through a plebiscite; militarily assisted the supporters of Francisco Franco in the Spanish Civil War; and re militarized the Rhineland.
Hitler chose, Joachim von Ribbentrop, a champagne salesman and NAZI party member, to be his new foreign minister. He had s more polished image than most NAZIs, but little substance. Hitler had sent him to Great Britain to serve as ambassador where he did nothing but constantly stir up anti-German sentiment. Apparently this did not disturb the Führer. He was the perfect foreign minister in Hitler's eyes. He carries out instructions and did not argue with Hitler. Germany proceeded to strengthened its ties with Italy's Fascist dictator Benito Mussolini and the Japanese militarists. They signed the Anti-Comintern Pact to confront Soviet Communism. The Pact of Steel with Italy) and the wartime Axis Pact with Italy and Japan followed. With Ribbentrop in place, Germany its aggressions. The NAZIs pressured Austrian Chancellor Kurt Schuschnigg into signing the German-Austrian Agreement (Berchtesgaden Diktat), which brought Nazis into the Austrian cabinet (February 1938). This was immediately followed by the Anschluss, annexing Austria into the German Reich. Timid foreign protests were ignored. Then the NAZIS turned on democratic Czechoslovakia. He created a crisis over the Sudeten Sudetenland (a mountainous border region region of Czechoslovakia with an ethnic German population. This proved to be the great achievement of Hitler's foreign policy. British Prime minister Neville Chamberlain an arch appeaser and French Premier Edouard Daladier signed over the Czech Sudetenland as part of the Munich Agreement (September 1938). Despite the diplomatic coup, Hitler was disappointed. He actually had wanted a war. He had no desire to be diplomat. He wanted to be a war leader. Then in violation of that agreement only 6 months later, Hitler invaded what remained of Czechoslovakia (March 1939). A devastated Chamberlain was shocked and finally had to admit to the failure of his policy. Czechoslovakia brought vital industrial assets to the Germans. This essentially ended NAZI peacetime diplomacy. The first step in the German World War II diplomacy was the NAZI-Soviet Non-Aggression Pct (August 1939,). Days later the Panzers rolled into Poland, launching World War II (September 1939).
A German reader writes, "1936 during the Olympics I was one year and some months old, yes, living in Berlin
at this time. I can't remember anything, what a surprise! Some years later - I think I wrote that then my parents were divorced - when visiting my father (who was a heavy smoker) he showed me a collection of cigarette package photo sheets of the games, athletes, grouping, ceremonies, yes. As a, maybe,7-9 years old boy I was impressed, of course not noticing that only a selected scenario of persons and events was published in the packages. I can't remember that my father (a sympathizer of the regime) tried to influence me knowing that I was growing up in the family of my mother with much distance from the regime (probably avoiding dispute in the
family and relatives - my mother had still contact with his family - ). Thus, in my youth I had the understanding that Olympic Games are not so much a political event, more a sports event. Collecting stamps I was glad to get Swiss stamps in 1948 from the games in Switzerland; yes, and in my old German stamp collection I have one or two memorial stamp of 1936.
Nowadays, the games are political (e.g., the controversy between GFR and GDR, the Munich attack, and so on, and so on). Let's hope that no terrorist plan against the present London games will succeed - certainly there are some! -.
All sports events, national and much more international, are to-day very much commercial, another development which I think is wrong, isn't it. Best regards - and thanks for all your interesting international historical findings of circumstances of youth/boys living in the past. The girl whom you refer to in your actual page, 12 years old participating in the 1936 games in Berlin, what would be her 2010 opinion about the participation in the opening? Her telling to her children is neutral, that's
correct for the youngsters who should grownup without political influence! Everywhere! I know that this is a dream."
Carr, Craig. E-mail message, July 22, 2012.
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