Last night, I had the chance to listen to the “Stuff You Missed in History Class” podcast. The topic of the podcast was the 1936 Olympics in Berlin, Germany.
What we know of the 1936 Berlin Games seems to come down to Jesse Owen’s feats and the handshake snub. This pocast touched a bit on Jesse Owens’ feats. But, mostly the podcast was about how Germany got the Olympics that year, the controversy that it stirred up, and how Hitler used the games as propaganda.
I did not realize just how controversial the games had become by 1936. Many felt the games should be moved from Berlin and there were some attempts to move them to Paris or New York. Neville Chamberlain made a visit to Germany to see what was going on. He saw a sanitized version of Nazi Germany and deemed that everything was a-okay for the Olympic Games.
I did not know that Germany won the games in 1936 as a sort of welcome back to the international community offering. It had been beaten and bruised after World War I. They won the games in 1931, long before Hitler showed his darker side. The was offering Germany an olive branch. Most world leaders were unaware of Hitler’s agenda back in 1931.
While Hitler didn’t really care much for the Olympics, Goebbels saw it as an excellent opportunity to push Germany’s agenda. He understood how to use propaganda and the games would be an excellent platform to present to the world the Germany they wanted the world to see. It would be a chance to show German superiority, especially against inferior races like the African American athletes of the United States.
There were many Jewish athletes competing at the world level in 1936 which created all sorts of problems. Germany contended that it would allow Jewish athletes and the Olympics committee attempted to hold them to it. But, the government made life uncomfortable for the ones on the German team until they bowed out or were removed. Almost all the Jewish athletes in the US boycotted the games.
One might wonder why the games weren’t shut down with so much controversy and concern. It appears that there was great debate over politicizing the Olympics. Some felt that there should be no politics attached to the Olympics, meaning that they all should forget their differences and participate. Others felt that the mere fact that Germany had the games politicized them since Hitler would no doubt use them for political gain.
At any rate, the games went off as planned. German officials calculated everything from leaving Gay visitors from foreign nations alone to cleaning up any signs of oppression of its’ own people. The Olympics left everyone feeling good about the situation in Germany. Illusions that would soon be shattered.
If you’re a history buff like me, or are interested in the Olympics, listen to the podcast. It’s about 45 minutes long and covers aspects of the Berlin Games that have never really been talked about.