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by Rhonda Spivak, November 14, 2017


The legacy of the 1936 Olympics in Berlin is laid bare in a 2016 documentary which is worth watching entitled Hitler's Olympics, that is now on Netflix.


Although African-American sprinter and long jumper Jesse Owens won four gold medals thereby defying the Nazi belief in the "Aryan Race", this very educational documentary shows how in reality Adolf Hitler and Nazi Germany were the ultimate winners of these Olympics.


The Olympics were awarded to Berlin almost two years before Hitler rose to power. When Hitler become Chancellor in January 1933, it was his propaganda minister Joseph Goebbels, who had the foresight to recognize that the Games could be used to showcase the supposed greatness of the Nazi system. Goebbels convinced Hitler of this fact. The main Berlin stadium was thus enlarged and the Nazis prepared for a ceremony on a grandiose scale. The Olympics were high jacked by Hitler's agenda and would promote Germany and its leader. (As an aside, until watching this documentary, I had not realized that it was the Nazis who popularized the idea of the Olympic flame, for example, or that the torch relay was invented by them.)


The Nazis realized that the world would be looking upon them and so expressions of extremism were hidden from view (Anti-Jewish newspapers were hidden from display as were anti-Jewish signs, etc.). The world did not see concentration camps (Dachau the first concentration camp had come into existence already by 1933) or Jews being roughed up and humiliated in the streets. As the documentary relates, since there were two movements to boycott the Games that had taken hold in the US and England, the Nazis decided to include a few Jews in their Olympic squad to fool the world into believing they were not anti-Jewish, and far more liberal than they were.  The United States and England decided to participate in the games.


Most athletes in the games turned a blind eye towards their politicization. Goebbel's noted in his diary that he was delighted that Germany won the most medals at the games. (They won 89 in total with the second place American 's who won only 56 medals.) Those who witnessed the games came back with stories about how they had not seen the dark side of Nazi Germany, giving the Nazi regime a propaganda victory, at a time when Hitler was continuing to re-arm Germany and wage his war against the Jews.


The film ends with a commentator who notes that "In many ways the Nazi Olympics are the father of the Olympics that we have today" indicating that they were the first "modern" Olympics. They had the packaging and efficiency of the Olympics as we know them today and they were used as a vehicle for the projection of national glory.

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Rhonda Spivak, Editor

Publisher: Spivak's Jewish Review Ltd.

Opinions expressed in letters to the editor or articles by contributing writers are not necessarily endorsed by Winnipeg Jewish Review.