1936 SUMMER OLYMPIC GAMES | Encyclopedia of the Holocaust

1936 SUMMER OLYMPIC GAMES 2016 marks the eightieth anniversary of the 1936 Olympic Games in Berlin, Germany. The 1936 Olympic Games were used by Nazi Germany in


Adolf Hitler passes through the Brandenburg Gate on his way to the opening ceremony of the Olympic Games.

2016 marks the eightieth anniversary of the 1936 Olympic Games in Berlin, Germany.

The 1936 Olympic Games were used by Nazi Germany for propaganda purposes. By twisting the anti-Semitic and racist policies and the growing militarism of the country, the Nazis propagated the image of a new, strong, and harmonious Germany.

For the first time in the history of the Olympic Games, people in Europe and the United States called for a boycott of the Olympics because the host country violated human rights.

Ultimately, the boycott movement failed, but it still became an example for future movements against human rights violations in the host countries of the Olympic Games.


For two weeks in August 1936, when the Summer Olympics were held in Berlin, Adolf Hitler's Nazi dictatorship hid its racist, militaristic nature. Having weakened the anti-Semitic program and plans for territorial expansion, the Nazi regime used the Olympic Games to dazzle numerous foreign guests and journalists with the brilliance of peace-loving and tolerant Germany.

By refusing proposals to boycott the 1936 Olympics, the United States and other Western democracies lost the opportunity to take a stand that observers at the time argued would stop Hitler and bolster resistance to Nazi tyranny.

With the end of the Games, German expansionist policies and persecution of Jews and other "enemies of the state" intensified, culminating in World War II and the Holocaust.


In 1931, the International Olympic Committee chose Berlin to host the 1936 Summer Olympics. This choice meant the return of Germany to the world community after the isolation that followed its defeat in the First World War.

Two years later, Nazi Party leader Adolf Hitler became Chancellor of Germany and quickly turned a fragile popular democracy into a one-party dictatorship that persecuted Jews, Gypsies, and all political opponents. The Nazis claimed control over every aspect of German life, including sports.

German sports images of the 1930s served to perpetuate the myth of "Aryan" racial superiority and physical strength. In sculpture and other forms of art, German artists idealized the developed muscles of athletes, their heroic power and emphasized the “Aryan” facial features. The creation of sculptures of this kind spoke of how important it was for the Nazi authorities to invest in the physical training that preceded military service.


In April 1933, the “Aryans only” setting was introduced into all German sports organizations. "Non-Aryans" – Jews or half-Jews and Gypsies – were methodically excluded from sports organizations and societies. The German Boxing Association expelled amateur champion athlete Erik Seelig in April 1933 for being Jewish. (Seelig later resumed his boxing career in the United States.) Another Jewish athlete, Daniel Prenn, a highly acclaimed tennis player, was removed from the German Davis Cup team. Gretel Bergmann, an international high jumper, was withdrawn from the German club in 1933 and from the German Olympic team in 1936.

Jewish athletes expelled from German sports clubs formed independent Jewish associations such as Maccabi and Magen, as well as separate impromptu clubs. However, the Jewish sports associations were no match for the well-equipped German sports organizations. Gypsies, including boxer Johann Ruckelje Trollmann, were also banished from German sports.

Olympic Games in Berlin


As a noble gesture to appease international opinion, the German authorities allowed the half-Jewish fencer Helene Mayer to represent Germany at the Berlin Olympics. She won the women's singles silver medal and, like all other German medalists, gave the Nazi salute on the podium. After the Olympics, Mayer returned to the United States. No other Jewish athlete represented Germany.

Nevertheless, nine Jewish athletes, including Mayer and five Hungarians, won medals at the Nazi Olympics. Seven Jewish male athletes came to Berlin from the United States. As well as some European Jewish competitors, they came under pressure from Jewish organizations to boycott the Games. However, these athletes, like many at the time, were not fully aware of the extent and purpose of the Nazi persecution of Jews and other groups, so they chose to participate.

In August 1936, during the Summer Olympics, the Nazi regime tried to cover up its criminal racist policies. Most of the anti-Jewish inscriptions and signs were temporarily removed, and the newspapers toned down their harsh rhetorical tone. This is how the Hitler regime used the Olympic Games to present to foreign viewers and journalists a false image of a peaceful and tolerant Germany.


Movements began in the United States, Great Britain, France, Sweden, Czechoslovakia, and the Netherlands to boycott the 1936 Berlin Olympics. The most intense debate about participation in the 1936 Olympics took place in America, which traditionally sent one of the largest teams to the Games.Some boycott advocates supported the idea of ​​controlling the Olympics. One of the largest, the People's Olympics, was planned to be held in 1936 in Barcelona, ​​Spain. It was canceled due to the outbreak of the Spanish Civil War in July 1936, just as thousands of athletes were already arriving in Barcelona.

Individual Jewish athletes also chose the path of boycott individually. In the United States, some athletes and Jewish organizations such as the American Jewish Congress and the Jewish Workers' Committee supported the boycott. However, since the US Amateur Athletic Union voted in favor of the Olympics in December 1935, other countries took the same position, and the boycott failed.


The Nazis did a thorough preparatory work for the Summer Olympics. A huge sports complex was built. Olympic flags and flags with swastikas adorned the monuments and houses of festive and crowded Berlin.

Most of the tourists were unaware of the temporarily removed anti-Jewish signs by the Nazis, nor of the police raid on the Gypsies, sanctioned by the German Interior Minister. On July 16, 1936, about 800 gypsies – residents of Berlin and its environs – were arrested and were under police surveillance in the Marzan special camp near Berlin.

In addition, the Nazi authorities made sure that foreign visitors did not learn about the punishments prescribed by German anti-homosexual laws.


The last of the 3,000 runners who carried the Olympic torch from Greece lights the Olympic flame in Berlin, symbolizing the start of the XI Summer Olympic Games.

On August 1, 1936, Hitler declared the XI Olympic Games open. The mostly German audience was signaled by the dictator's arrival with a fanfare conducted by renowned composer Richard Strauss. Hundreds of athletes marched into the stadium bearing the regalia announcing the opening of the games, team by team in alphabetical order. For the first time, in accordance with the new Olympic ritual, a lone runner arrived at the stadium with a torch relayed from the site of the Games in ancient times – from the Greek town of Olympia.

Forty-nine sports teams from all over the world took part in the Berlin Olympics, more than in any of the previous Olympics. Germany fielded the largest team with 348 athletes. The United States team was the second largest with 312 members, including 18 African Americans. The delegation was led by the President of the American Olympic Committee, Avery Brundage. The Soviet Union did not take part in the Berlin Games.


Germany skillfully advertised the Olympics with colorful posters and printed publications. The sports sculptures depicted the connection between Nazi Germany and ancient Greece, symbolizing the Nazi racial myth that the superior German civilization was rightfully the successor to the "Aryan" culture of classical antiquity.This vision of classical antiquity emphasized the ideal “Aryan” racial type: a heroic blue-eyed blond with “strongly Aryan” features.

Intense propaganda work continued after the end of the Games, culminating in the 1938 release of the controversial film Olympiad by German director and Nazi supporter Leni Riefenstahl. She was commissioned by the Nazi authorities to make a film about the 1936 Summer Olympics.


Germany celebrated victory at the XI Olympiad. German athletes won the most medals, German hospitality and organization were recognized by the guests. Many newspaper reports echoed the New York Times report that the Games had "returned Germany back to the fold of the nations" and even made it "more human again." Some expressed the hope that this peaceful change could last. Only a few journalists, such as William Shearer, understood that the Berlin glitz was just a façade to hide a racist and oppressive criminal regime.


As soon as the reports of the Games were over, Hitler actively continued the implementation of grandiose plans for German expansion. The persecution of the Jews resumed. Two days after the end of the Olympics, the head of the Olympic Village, Wolfgang Fürstner, committed suicide after learning that he had been transferred from the army to the reserve because of his Jewish origin.

Germany attacked Poland on September 1, 1939. Within just three years, the “hospitable” and “peace-loving” organizer of the Olympic Games unleashed World War II, a conflict that resulted in countless deaths. With the end of the Games, German expansionist policies and persecution of Jews and other "enemies of the state" intensified, culminating in the Holocaust.