OF RACES AND RACISM: THE 1936 NAZI OLYMPICS IN THE WOLFSONIAN LIBRARY COLLECTION
Imagine, if you will, you are in Berlin in the summer of 1936, attending the “Nazi” Olympic Games, played under the watchful eyes of Germany’s Fuehrer, Adolf Hitler.
Imagine that you are there, not as a spectator, but as a U.S. athlete set to compete in the 400-meter relay team. You have been there practicing for two whole weeks. Then, one day before the scheduled competition, you and another teammate are pulled from the team and replaced in a last-minute switch.
There is no need to use your imagination, as the events described above actually did happen. As a result of that last-minute maneuver, Jesse Owens (1913-1980) and Ralph Metcalfe (1910-1978) replaced the two excluded athletes and won Olympic Gold.
What did the two benched sprinters have in common? Both Martin (“Marty”) Glickman (1917-2001) and Sam Stoller (1915-1985) were Jewish—the only two Jews on the 66 person U.S. track team, and the only two team members not permitted to compete in the games for reasons other than health. Speculation at the time was that they had been deliberately excluded as a result of the actions of U.S. Olympic Committee Chairman Avery Brundage (1887-1975).
ASSOCIATED PRESS PHOTOGRAPH OF
FOY DRAPER, MARTIN GLICKMAN, SAM STOLLER, AND MATTHEW ROBINSON
ABOARD THE SS MANHATTAN EN-ROUTE TO THE 1936 OLYMPIC GAMES
Written, produced, and directed by James Freedman, a recent documentary simply titled: Glickman aired on HBO this past Monday, dealing not only with the controversy, but also with Glickman’s later career as one of America’s most renowned sportscasters.
Speculation that anti-Semitism was at the heart of the mysterious exclusion of the athletes appears to have been validated by a wealth of circumstantial evidence. Brundage, who was most certainly sympathetic to the Nazi regime, visited Germany after 1934 when German Jews were being excluded from participating in sports competitions, and denied seeing any evidence of exclusion or persecution. The Chairman afterwards zealously fought to keep the United States from boycotting the Nazi Olympic Games, even alleging that proponents of the boycott were part of a “Jewish-Communist conspiracy.” Brundage later became one of the founding members of the America First Committee, a group advocating American non-intervention in the Second World War, and was joined in that group by assistant track coach Dean Cromwell. Certainly, the preponderance of circumstantial evidence lends credence to the controversy and to rumors that the U.S. Olympic Committee Chair may have been a covert Nazi “Quisling”—a Nazi sympathizer and Fifth Columnist collaborator.
It has been alleged that Brundage may had been contacted before the race by Hitler’s Minister of Propaganda, Joseph Goebbels, who wished to spare the Nazi leader the embarrassment of having to award in this most public forum gold medals to two Jews. The Olympic Games were of utmost interest to the Nazi leader, and a large number of commemorative works were published promoting the games and the Nazi racial agenda.
COVER ILLUSTRATION BY JOHANN KLUSKA
GIFT OF NICHOLAS BLAGA
Just as Hitler had tapped filmmaker and photographer extraordinaire Leni Riefenstahl (1902-2003) to introduce him to the German people with her propaganda film of the Nuremberg Rallies, Triumph of the Will, the Fuehrer also had her “document” the Berlin Olympic Games. Riefenstahl had a real gift for capturing spectacle on film, and her brilliant “documentary” Olympia would give the international community its first positive images of the Nazi Regime.
Riefenstahl also published several photograph books in the same period presenting the Nazi Olympics in the best possible light.
Given America’s own checkered racial politics in the 1930s, it was certainly heartening and helpful for Americans to see African-American athlete Jesse Owens winning Olympic gold and helping to dispel the Nazi myth of the Aryan master race and “ubermensch.” But considering just how prevalent anti-Semitism was in the same period, it might have been just as inspiring for the world to have been able to witness two Jewish sprinters being awarded gold medals at the Nazi Olympic Games.