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The Edge That Could Not Last: The 1936 Berlin Olympics

Adam Proulx Mr. Poskitt Rocky Hill School Modern European History Honors 2013


Table of Contents

Introduction Page 3

Host City Selection Page 4

Preparing For the Games Page 5

Opposition to the Games Page 5

Outcomes of the Games Page 6

Innovations in the Games Page 7

The Games’ Effect on World War II Page 9

Conclusion Page 10

Visuals Page 12

Bibliography Page 13


The Edge That Could Not Last: The 1936 Berlin Olympics The Olympics are, and have always been, the epitome of the world uniting as one to compete in modern-day and historic sporting events. Although the Games are competitive, they show how humans can all come together peacefully, even in times of war and chaos. The ancient Olympic Games also had this uniting ability because it is believed that the Greek City-States postponed all conflicts until the Games were finished; known as the Olympic peace or truce. The Greeks were known for never suspending their wars; so it was an especially rare occurrence when they stopped for the Games. The Olympics, even in ancient times, were not solely known for their uniting ability, as the populations were most interested in the exciting events that took place. Some events that took place in Greece were multiple running events, chariot races, pentathlon, the long jump, the javelin throw, the discus throw, boxing, wrestling and pankration—a mix between wrestling and boxing. Winning one of these events was a great achievement not only for the individual but also for his country. Placing first proved to everybody that he was the strongest athlete from Greece in that event. The Olympics showcased countries’ athletes’ power and also the culture, ethnic background and morals of the host country. Especially during the opening and closing ceremonies, countries could display their history and important cultural traditions. The Nazis took full advantage of this opportunity to display their goals and motives when they hosted the 1936 Berlin Olympics. However, they did not show their true colors which included anti-Semitism, nationalism, lebensraum (the need for ‘living space for Germany to expand), social Darwinism, and Autarky. Instead of showing these harsh morals during the 1936 Games, the Nazis portrayed the sense that they were not evil. 3    

Through deception, trickery and betrayal, the Nazis used the Olympic Games to convince other powerful nations to believe that they were a force for good, and, without this treason, they would never have achieved such success in World War II.

Host City Selection The bidding for the 1936 Olympic Games was first contested by the International Olympic Committee (IOC) members who casted their votes for their favorite city. This vote occurred in 1931 during the Weimar Republic, before Adolf Hitler came to power. The cities competing against Berlin included Alexandria, Barcelona, Dublin, Buenos Aires, Frankfurt Rio de Janeiro and Rome, so there were many other notable cities to choose from. The final voting results were Berlin-43, Barcelona-16; no other cities received votes. It is disputed whether the IOC was influenced by the aesthetics of fascist governments because Hitler was gaining power in his fascist ruling style. After the Nazis took control of Germany and their anti-Semitic policies took hold, the IOC debated whether to keep Berlin as the host country. Hitler assured Jewish athletes that they would be able to participate on the Germany Olympic team, although only one did. The IOC did not have any further questions about Berlin being a host country. The stage was set for Germany to give the world a false sense of security.

Preparing For the Games When Berlin was selected to host the 1936 Olympics, the German government at the time only wanted to restore the Olympiastadion (German Stadium) of the 1916 Berlin Olympics (which were cancelled because of World War I). This stadium sufficed until 1933 when the 4    

Nazis came to power. Hitler wanted to use the games for propaganda purposes so he ordered the construction of a great sports complex in Grunewald. This complex was named the Reichssportfeld and the design was headed by Werner March and his brother Walter. Construction took place from 1934 to 1936 and when finished, the Reichssportfeld covered 326 acres (0.51square miles). Three main sections compose the entire complex: the Olympiastadion, the Maifeld (Mayfield) and the Waldbhüne amphitheater. The capacity of the Olympiastadion topped out at 110,000, the Maifeld reached a total capacity of 250,000 and the Waldbhüne filled up at 25,000. These three venues held a variety of sports including football (soccer) swimming, equestrian events, gymnastics, polo, and field hockey. Sports were not the only events at these locales because Hitler and the Nazis used them for public displays of their supremacy. Germany also created 150 separate buildings to prepare for the Games.

Opposition to the Games Unsurprisingly, opposition to the Berlin Games arose, which, if successful, would have threatened the legitimacy of the Games. Ideas of boycotting the 1936 Games arose in the United States, Great Britain, France, Sweden, Spain, Czechoslovakia, and the Netherlands, as well as in religious groups that were discriminated. Most of these countries’ boycotts failed and they all participated in the Games except for Spain and the Soviet Union. One of the most controversial debates over participation was in the United States. There was much disagreement over whether participating was morally correct because it would support the Nazis and their anti-Semitic policies. President Franklin D. Roosevelt never weighed in on whether the U.S should participate in the Instead, the American Olympic Committee and the 5    

Amateur Athletic Union voted to participate in the Berlin Olympics. Most historians speculate that the final decision to go to Berlin was made because the U.S traditionally sent one of the largest teams and they wanted to prove to Germany that they would not back down. Another strong opposition to the 1936 Games arose in Spain with the People’s Olympiad. The Olympiad was scheduled for the summer of 1936 in Barcelona as an alternative to the Olympics. Spain chose Barcelona to head the opposition against the Berlin Games because in the host city selection, Berlin received more votes than Barcelona and won the Olympics. 6,000 athletes from 22 countries registered for the People’s Olympiad; which is 2,000 more athletes from less than half of the countries than that of the Berlin Games. Political turmoil filled Spain for the preceding 5 years before the People’s Olympiad was scheduled to open, beginning with King Alfonso XIII’s exile. From 1931 to 1936 there was much dispute over Spain’s government. Finally in 1936, the left wing Popular Front government was elected and decided to boycott the Berlin Games and create the People’s Olympiad as an alternative. Just as the athletes were arriving in Spain, the Spanish Civil War broke out and the People’s Olympiad was cancelled. Many of the athletes that hoped to participate in the People’s Olympiad competed in the Berlin Olympics instead. If the Olympiad had gone as planned, then the Nazis would have had much less attention and focus towards their Olympics. From a cultural standpoint, Hitler saw the Olympics as a means of promoting the “superior” Aryan race. Those who were disfavored by the Nazis, including Jews, Gypsies and African Americans, generally tried to avoid the 1936 Games because of the Nazis’ anti-Semitic ideas. Individual Jewish athletes from many countries as well as Jewish organizations, such as the American Jewish Congress and the Jewish Labor Committee, supported a boycott against the Berlin Games. Hitler originally planned to prohibit Jews and African Americans from 6    

participating but after boycott threats he relented and granted them access. To promote the Third Reich even further, Hitler “allowed” Jews to participate on the German Olympic team; however, Helene Mayer was the only Jewish athlete for Germany. Hitler especially discriminated against African Americans after Jesse Owens won the 100M dash. Hitler refused to shake Owens’s hand because his “superior” Aryan race had been beaten by a black man. Although Hitler did not shake hands with Owens, he and many others believe that President Roosevelt “snubbed him more than Adolf Hitler, "Hitler didn't snub me – it was FDR who snubbed me. The president didn't even send me a telegram." Owens did not receive an invitation to the White House or a telegram. Hitler, however, is believed to have sent Owens a commemorative inscribed cabinet photograph of himself.

Outcome of the Games In multiple aspects, the outcome of the Berlin Olympics favored Germany. As for athletics, the total medal count for the top five countries was: Germany-89, U.S.A-56, Italy-22, Sweden-20, Finland-19, and France-19. There are a few reasons why Germany won by such a large margin of 33 medals. First, they were the host country which gave them home-field advantage with a majority of the spectators in their favor. Also, Germany did not have to travel far to the Games and simply felt at home while competing. Outside of the German team, most every other country felt intimidated and uneasy about being on Nazi-Germany soil during the Games; which, for some athletes, may have affected their ability to perform. By winning the most gold and total medals, Germany unified itself by showing their power and strength which caused people to want to support the Third Reich. Since Germany was unified, more men wanted 7    

to support their country and fight in Hitler’s army. The Olympics’ influence, coupled with Nazi propaganda, increased the number of soldiers German had and made them a much stronger power. Politically, the outcome of the Games showed Germany and the world a couple of things. One being who Germany’s allies and enemies were; since many countries, like Great Britain, the United States and the Netherlands, had very prevalent ideas of boycotting the Berlin Olympics, they were clearly opposed to the Nazi’s reign. Thus, Germany could easily decipher who their friends and foes leading into World War II. Another way the outcome of the Games altered political lines was the fact that Germany showed they were nobody to mess with. They overpowered every other country athletically while enforcing their harsh, but not fully employed policies. Hitler privately decreed that Germany would not be humiliated or overlooked at the Olympics on their home soil—and overlooked they weren’t.

Innovations in the Games Although the 1936 Berlin Olympics were run by the dreaded Nazis, they did have several innovations and groundbreaking customs that are still used today. The Olympic Torch relay was pioneered at the Berlin Games. Carl Diem conceived the idea which was organized by the Nazi Party and Joseph Goebbels. Hitler endorsed the Torch Relay because he saw it as a way to illustrate the Aryan connection with the classical Greeks. Hitler also supported the relay because it showed the growing power of the Third Reich. The torch’s path began in Olympia, Greece and ended in Berlin, Germany. For twelve days the torch was carried through seven countries, including Greece, Bulgaria, Yugoslavia, Hungary, Austria, Czechoslovakia and finally Germany, 8    

by a total of 3,331 runners. The runners and torch were greeted by many public displays of disaffection. Two years later, Austria was annexed by Germany, and after another year, the rest of the countries were under German control. Another innovation the Germans had in the 1936 Games was their use of television and radio. The Berlin Olympics were the first Olympics ever to be broadcast on television. However, three different types of cameras were used so compatibility was spotty which caused blackouts to be common. Also, there was a limited geographical viewing audience, mainly to Germany and its neighbors. For radio, Germany provided 20 transmitting vans and 300 microphones to broadcast the Games in almost 30 languages. Radio, being much more understood and widely used than television, reached many more people with a better quality. Disregarding their quality, both television and radio had profound effects on the expanse of the Olympics. In the Games preceding 1936, few people could have a sense of the Games without being there. Hitler and the Nazis pushed to have more people be able to experience the Olympics because it promoted the Nazis. To allow as many people as possible to view the Games in person, Germany constructed the Olympiastadion which held 110,000 people. This created even more talk and buzz around the Games which helped to promote Hitler’s regime. The Nazis did not only have innovations in tradition and technology but they were also pioneers in the sports themselves. In the 1936 Olympics, almost 4,000 athletes competed from 49 nations; almost 1,000 more athletes than that of any previous year. These athletes competed in 129 events in 20 different sports; number of events and sports both were competitive with the previous records dating to the beginning of the century. Germany not only included a record number of sports and events to have a good reflection and appear accepting of different cultures but also to spark more people’s interest so they paid attention to the Games. 9    

The Games’ Effect on World War II Hitler and the Nazis, being deceiving, used many techniques during the 1936 Berlin Games to trick the world into thinking that they were a different country. When Hitler assumed control of Germany, his racist and militaristic characteristics reverberated throughout the entire nation. From the military to the government to the citizens, Germany became Hitler’s ideal country. Jews and others were persecuted while the Aryan race was promoted. Germany had arguably one of the strongest and most feared armies, despite the regulations of the Versailles Treaty which prevented them from having an air force, occupying the Rhineland (Germany’s most important military area), and having an army of more than 100,000 soldiers. Each one of these rules, as well as many others, was broken by Hitler. This cruel, despicable, and deceptive Germany hid its true characteristics during the Berlin Games. From August 1, 1936 to August 16, 1936 Germany put on a theoretical mask which allowed them to be “presentable” to the world without their harsh discriminative, militaristic character. During the Games, Germany removed all public anti-Semitic sign. If they had not taken this action, every Jewish tourist at the Games would have a bad perception of Germany and not supported Hitler. Although the Nazis’ ideas were already known, the extent to which they would eventually carry them was unpredictable, so it was important that they appeared unassuming to attract as little attention as possible before WWII. If Germany had not hidden their true traits, then the world would have been exposed to severe bigotry, intense militarism, and a complete dictatorship headed by the most astringent government official possible. This change in history would have caused the countries of the League of Nations to take Germany as a more serious threat. The result of more attention 10    

directed at Germany would have been more attention towards their actual power and most likely, a World War Two where Germany surrenders a few years sooner. Since Germany did an excellent job in hiding their true traits, WWII commenced in 1939 with a very powerful and outreached Germany. The Berlin Games helped to fund Germany’s war effort. Germany’s ticked revenue alone was 7.5 million Reichsmark (31.5 1936 USD). This great increase in spending range allowed Germany to fund more military training, as well as to manufacture more tanks, guns and ammunition. Any edge possible like a few more tanks or more trained soldiers allowed Germany to be as successful as they were in the first half of WWII.

Conclusion Removed from the context of the 1930’s and 1940’s, the 1936 Berlin Olympics were a huge success. They gathered one of the largest groups of athletes and from the farthest reaches of the world. The 1936 Olympics had the latest and most innovative technology to broadcast to the world what Nazism is about, although it was false advertising. Put back into context of the 20th century, the Berlin Games were despised by many people, even those who were not discriminated against. The Nazis’ anti-Semitic ideas and harsh morals naturally caused people to move away from their party; even those who were not Jewish, Gypsy or African American. Without their trickery and deception that was the Berlin Games, the Nazis would not have been as successful in World War II because of the strides they made from their Olympics. Unifying Germany, gaining revenue, training athletes, and most importantly camouflaging their true characteristics, are the aspects that helped Germany to dominate the beginning of the Second 11    

World War. Even with these benefits of the 1936 Olympics, Germany and the Axis Powers lost the war. The question that begs asking is how many lives would have been saved if they did not have this advantage?


Visuals •

Cover page- A 1936 Berlin Olympics pin / Siegfried Eifrig (a track and field athlete) carrying the Olympic Flame to the cauldron

The Olympiastadion at full capacity

Jesse Owens beginning his 100M dash

The spectators saluting Hitler in the Olympiastadion

The Hindenburg over the Olympiastadion

Hitler with other officials at the Berlin Games


Bibliography •

"The 1936 Berlin Olympics." The 1936 Berlin Olympics. History Learning Site, n.d. Web. 1 May 2013. <>

"1936 Summer Olympics." Wikipedia. Wikimedia Foundation, n.d. Web. 1 May 2013. <>

"1936 Summer Olympics." YouTube. YouTube, n.d. Web. 5 May 2013. <>

"Berlin 1936 Olympic Games." Encyclopedia Britannica Online. Encyclopedia Britannica, n.d. Web. 3 May 2013. <>

"Holocaust History." The Movement to Boycott the Berlin Olympics of 1936. USHMM, n.d. Web. 7 May 2013. <>

"Holocaust History." Nazi Olympics, Berlin 1936. USHMM, n.d. Web. 1 May 2013. <>

Large, David Clay. Nazi Games: The Olympics of 1936. New York: W.W. Norton, 2007. Print.

"Nazi Beliefs." BBC News. BBC, n.d. Web. 8 May 2013. <>

"The Nazi Olympics: Berlin 1936 | Indoctrination of Youth." The Nazi Olympics: Berlin 1936 Indoctrination of Youth. USHMM, n.d. Web. 10 May 2013. <>

"Nazi Party." A&E Television Networks, n.d. Web. 4 May 2013. <>

"Participants in Olympics." - Till 2012. Maps of World, n.d. Web. 8 May 2013. <>

"World Stadiums - Stadium Design :: Berliner Olympiastadion in Berlin." World Stadiums - Stadium Design :: Berliner Olympiastadion in Berlin. World Stadiums, n.d. Web. 6 May 2013.


Visual Citations •

Cooper, Charles. N.d. Photograph. Antiques 1936 Olympics Pins. I Love to Know Antiques. Web. 10 May 2013.

Getty Images. N.d. Photograph. Berlin 1936 Olympic Games: Opening Ceremonies. Encyclopedia Britannica Online. Web. 10 May 2013. <>.

Kuwait 1936. Photograph. Berlin. Jesse Owens. Web. 15 May 2013. <>.

Hoffmann. 1936. Photograph. Berlin. Web. 9 May 2013. <>.

1936. Photograph. Berlin. Some Stories of the 1936 Nazi Olympics. Vista Gratis. Web. 16 May 2013. <>.

1936. Photograph.  Berlin.  Pictures  of  BAI.  Web.  17  May  2013.   <>.

1936. Photograph. Berlin. Wikipedia. Wikimedia Foundation. Web. 10 May 2013.


The 1936 Berlin Olympics  

The story of the 1936 Berlin Games

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