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Authors: Christopher Hilton

Hitler's Olympics

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any people have helped in recreating the story of the Berlin Olympics but I must begin with the German National Olympic Committee – and particularly Bernd Roeder, their legal counsel, and Michael Schirp of the Press Office – for allowing me to use the 1936 Official Report, an immense and extremely detailed document. It acted as a pillar.

William J. Baker of the University of Maine very kindly gave me permission to quote from his book
Jesse Owens: An American Life
, and, holidaying in England, he provided me with a penetrating, thought-provoking interview.

Margaret Lambert (formerly Gretel Bergmann) allowed me to use the letter telling her she was not selected for the German team and, at ninety-one, was a merry, youthful voice down the telephone from New York City, her home since before the Second World War. She gave a long, heartfelt and utterly candid interview about her life in the 1930s. She also sent a fascinating video of her life and allowed me to quote from her lifestory,
By Leaps and Bounds
. I have, incidentally, called her Gretel Bergmann throughout for simplicity. Christine Duerksen Sant allowed me to reproduce generous portions of her beautifully researched thesis, submitted to the Graduate Faculty of Wake Forest University, North Carolina, ‘“Genuine German Girls”: The Nazi Portrayal of its Sportswomen of the 1936 Berlin Olympics’. Professor Yasuhiro Sakaue of the Faculty of Administration and Social Sciences, Fukushima University, Japan graciously allowed me to quote from his paper on ‘Sport, Politics and Business’ at the International Committee of Historical Sciences Congress in Sydney, July 2005.

Two duets – if I may use the word – had essentially the same invaluable idea: to let Olympians tell their stories in their own words.
Tales of Gold
by Lewis H. Carlson and John J. Fogarty carried interviews from American gold medal winners from 1912 to 1984;
‘A Proper Spectacle’: Women Olympians 1900–1936
was self-published by Britons Stephanie Daniels and Anita Tedder under their imprint ZeNaNa. It concentrated, as the title implies, on women. Both duets were happy to let me quote the memories of those who competed in Berlin.

For permission to quote I also thank Chris Rudge, Chief Executive Officer of the Canadian Olympic Committee and their
Canada at the XI Olympiad 1936 Germany
; Mike Tancred, Media Director of the Australian Olympic Committee for their Official Report; Lee Rogers and Toby Harris for
Jews and the Olympic Games
by Paul Yogi Mayer; Deborah E. Lipstadt, Dorot Professor of Modern Jewish and Holocaust Studies and Director, Rabbi Donald Tam Institute for Jewish Studies, Emory University, Atlanta, Georgia for
Beyond Belief: The American Press and the Coming of the Holocaust, 1933–1945
. Jerry Papazian, past president of the University of Southern California Alumni Association, allowed me to use his research on where the oak trees – given as saplings to gold medal winners – are today in America.

Terryl Asla and Matthew Walker of
I, Witness to History
in Wichita, Kansas were instantly helpful and Walker carried out an invaluable interview with a spectator at the Games as well as sending a little treasure trove of photographs taken by that spectator, Esther Wenzel (then Myers). Velma Dunn (now Ploessel), who won a silver medal in the diving, took me gently down memory lane. So did John Woodruff, who won the 800 metres and remains a man of enormous dignity.

Birgit Kubisch found two invaluable eyewitnesses and interviewed them – Fritz Wandt and Werner Schwieger – and their memories give little human touches which are so evocative. To her, and them, sincere thanks – and equal thanks to my neighbour Inge Donnell for translating all manner of German newspapers and documents.

For help: Jason Black,
Daily Courier
, Connellsville, Pennsylvania; Malcolm Fare, fencing historian, who took great pains to try and unravel several mysteries surrounding the women’s event in Berlin;
The Journal of American History
; Terri Wykoff of
; Klaus Amrhein of the German Athletic Federation; Heather M. Gillette of Wake Forest University, Winston-Salem, North Carolina; Maren L. Read, Photo Research Coordinator/Archivist at the United States Holocaust Museum, Washington, DC; B.J. Folin of the Swedish Olympic Committee. Michael Salmon, Librarian at the Amateur Athletic Foundation of Los Angeles (aafla) responded wonderfully to every bizarre and obscure problem I threw at him. Randall Northam of SportsBooks Ltd, Worcester, England – an old friend – was generous with whatever background information I requested. Gustav Shrenk, German athletics historian, dipped into his records to find much invaluable information. Simona Rychtecky, Robert Bolton and Ross Arnold of the Olympic Television Archive Bureau were helpfulness and efficiency personified. P.K. Mohan and S.A. and M.A.R. Salazaar sorted out when the Indian hockey team left, opening the way to their journey to Berlin. Stan Salazaar pointed me towards the website
, the internet home of Indian hockey where the full text of the evocative
The World’s Hockey Champions 1936
by M.N. Masood can be found. I have used it extensively and many thanks to his son, Enver Masud, for permission to quote. The Deutsches Creditbank AG in Berlin are trying to revive the Olympic Village. Barbara Eisenhuth of the Bank helped with information about that and sent an invaluable booklet by VBN Verlag Bernd Neddermeyer GmbH.

I consulted and used the superb archival coverage of the
New York Times
throughout the book, but especially of their reporting team in Berlin; and also consulted
The Times
, London, the
Daily Express
, London and the
Los Angeles Times

The Internet has changed many facets of the historian’s life. To be able to summon instantly such vast amounts of information on even the most arcane and obscure subjects remains slightly breathtaking. The trick for the historians of the future will not just be discovering information for themselves in musty libraries but penetrating the internet mazes and extracting what they want. In relation to this book, you will see to what extent I have used the internet in the footnotes.

Leni Riefenstahl’s monumental two-part film record of the Games,
Fest der Volker
Fest der Schonheit
(Festival of the People and Festival of Beauty), (Videoyesteryear) remains revealing and compulsive viewing, not least because one can relive some of the great moments as they happened. I used it heavily in some re-creations.

The British Olympic Committee (thanks Amy Terriere) opened their extensive library in London to me, let me loose on their photocopying machine and treated me with their customary kindness.

Thanks must also go to Bow Watkinson, who drew the maps on pages xii and xiii.


Map 1. The scale of the Reich Sports Field astonished the world.


where Hitler arrived for the Opening Ceremony.


Bell tower.


The May Field where the competitors waited.


Olympic Stadium.




Reich Sports Field station.


Swimming pool.


where the gymnasts practised.


The House of German Sport and the Cupola Hall.


, the living quarters for the female athletes.


Hockey stadium.


Tunnel to the stadium.


Marathon Gate.

Map 2. The Olympic Village was in the countryside to the west of Berlin.

Map 3. The torch run from Olympia to Berlin.






Man at the Centre of the World


Poisoned Chalice


No Jews or Dogs Allowed


Stormy Waters


Light My Fire


War Games


The Führer and the Runner


Bitter Taste


Last Shot Fired


Village People



About the Author


As guests of honour my daughters and I were deeply moved by the dignity of the commemorative act and by the gratitude that the democratic Berlin feels towards Jesse, because, looking back on the events of 1936 from today’s perspective, the towering figure of Jesse and the admiration for him do eclipse Hitler.

BOOK: Hitler's Olympics
8.28Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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