The Nazi Olympics

In August 1936, the Nazi regime tried to camouflage its violent racist policies while it hosted the Summer Olympics.

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As a token gesture to placate international opinion, German authorities allowed the part-Jewish fencer Helene Mayer to represent Germany at the Olympic Games in Berlin. She won a silver medal in women's individual fencing and, like all other medalists for Germany, gave the Nazi salute on the podium. After the Olympics, Mayer returned to the United States.

No other Jewish athlete competed for Germany. Still, nine Jewish athletes won medals in the Nazi Olympics, including Mayer and five Hungarians. Seven Jewish male athletes from the United States went to Berlin. Like some of the European Jewish competitors at the Olympics, many of these young men were pressured by Jewish organizations to boycott the Games. As most did not fully grasp at the time the extent and purpose of Nazi persecution of Jews and other groups, these athletes chose to compete.

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In August 1936, the Nazi regime tried to camouflage its violent racist policies while it hosted the Summer Olympics. Most anti-Jewish signs were temporarily removed and newspapers toned down their harsh rhetoric. Thus, the regime exploited the Olympic Games to present foreign spectators and journalists with a false image of a peaceful, tolerant Germany.

Movements to boycott the 1936 Berlin Olympics s

urfaced in the United States, Great Britain, France, Sweden, Czechoslovakia, and the Netherlands. Debate over participation in the 1936 Olympics was most intense in the United States, which traditionally sent one of the largest teams to the Games. Some boycott proponents supported counter-Olympics. One of the largest was the "People's Olympiad" planned for the summer of 1936 in Barcelona, Spain. It was canceled after the outbreak of the Spanish Civil War in July 1936, just as thousands of athletes had begun to arrive.

Individual Jewish athletes from a number of countries also chose to boycott the Berlin Olympics. In the United States, some Jewish athletes and Jewish organizations such as the American Jewish Congress and the Jewish Labor Committee supported a boycott. However, once the Amateur Athletic Union of the United States voted for participation in December 1935, other countries fell in line and the 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 a festive, crowded 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, ordered by the German Ministry of the Interior. On July 16, 1936, some 800 Roma residing in Berlin and its environs were arrested and interned under police guard in a special camp in the Berlin suburb of Marzahn. Nazi officials also ordered that foreign visitors should not be subjected to the criminal penalties of German anti-homosexuality laws.

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