When Berlin was announced as the host for the 1936 Olympic Games, Hitler was not yet in power. But it soon became clear that the Nazis would make the 1936 Games into a spectacle highlighting the new regime.

In the United States, Judge Jeremiah T. Mahoney (president of the Amateur Athletic Union) proposed a boycott of the Berlin Olympics to protest the Nazi discrimination against Jews and others. But the U.S. Olympic Committee led by Avery Brundage, an admirer of Hitler, voted to attend. Still, many Jewish athletes in the United States and Europe boycotted the games and did not attend.

The star of the games was Jesse Owens (picture above), an African-American whose four gold medal wins directly contradicted German theories of racial superiority. Owens won four gold medals in the sprint and long jump events. His African-American teammate Jimmy LuValle, from UCLA, won a bronze medal in the 400m race. However, their two Jewish teammates, Sam Stoller and Marty Glickman, were pulled from the 4 x 100 relay team so that they could not win gold medals.

Jews were also banned from the German team, with one exception. Helene Mayer, a fencer who had won a gold medal in the 1928 games in Amsterdam, had finished 5th in the 1932 Olympics in Los Angeles and stayed on to study at USC. Under pressure of a threatened U.S. boycott, the Germans invited Mayer, whose father was Jewish, to compete again for Germany. Mayer returned to Berlin and won a silver medal in women’s fencing for the German team, giving a Nazi salute on the winner’s stand. However, all other Jewish athletes were barred from the German team, including Gretel Bergmann, the German national high jump record-holder.


Additional Links:

How the Forchheimer Family Escaped

The Debate Over the 1936 Berlin Olympics