MEMO: From Rafael Medoff

December 22, 2009


Randol Schoenberg, Mark Rothman

RE: Debate over the 1936 Berlin Olympics--and some L.A. connections)

Berlin was chosen as the site for the 1936 Olympic games in 1932, prior to the rise of the Nazis to power, but the International Olympic Committee (IOC) declined to reconsider the site after Hitler became chancellor in 1933.  Anti-Nazi activists in the United States began urging an American boycott of the games as a protest against the mistreatment of German Jewry.  Protesters directed their pressure at the American Olympic Association (AOC), which represented the United States in the IOC and the Amateur Athletic Union (AAU), which certified athletes for competition.  AAU president Jeremiah Mahoney, a former Olympian and former New York State Supreme Court justice, supported the proposed boycott and led an effort within the AAU to have it do likewise.

(Detail Text – Avery Brundage Role): 
AOC president Avery Brundage strongly opposed any U.S. boycott of the games.  Some of Brundage's remarks on the subject portrayed the boycott movement almost as a kind of Jewish conspiracy to undermine the sports world.  In an anti-boycott pamphlet, Brundage wrote:  "The future of amateur sport in the United States is now being threatened as the result of the efforts of certain individuals and groups to involve sport in foreign political affairs, and to keep American athletes out of the Olympic Games.  It becomes the duty of those charged with the administration of amateur sport to fight off this invasion.  Shall the American athlete be made a martyr to a cause not his own?...To involve [the Olympics games] in the present Jew-Nazi altercation would completely invert the object of the Games." 

Brundage's views on the boycott were undoubtedly sincere, but we now know that shortly after the Olympics, he embarked on a business relationship with Nazi Germany.  In 1998, researchers from the Simon Wiesenthal Center discovered that in 1938, Brundage asked his contacts in the German Olympic Committee to assist in winning a contract for his construction company to build a new German Embassy building in Washington, DC.  He was awarded the contract. [See New York Times, Feb. 21, 1999]

(Detail Text – Discrimination Against German Jewish Athletes):  Boycott proponents argued that German Jewish athletes were discriminated against and prevented from joining Germany's Olympic teams even if they were athletically qualified to do so. They pointed to the undeniable fact that all Jews had been expelled from German sports clubs.  German representatives insisted there was no such discrimination.  In June 1934, shortly before Brundage visited Germany to "investigate" whether there was discrimination, the Germans named a handful of Jewish athletes as Olympic "candidates."  These German actions and assurances were used by Brundage and other boycott opponents to strengthen the case for American participation.

(Detail Text – Supporters of the Boycott): Boycott advocates included former presidential nominee Alfred E. Smith, New York City mayor Fiorello La Guardia, Massachusetts governor James Curley, the New York Times, and some members of Congress, most notably Rep. Emanuel Celler (D-Brooklyn) and U.S. Senators Peter Gerry of Rhode Island and David Walsh of Massachusetts; some major Jewish organizations, including the American Jewish Congress and the Jewish War Veterans; and several other notable civic groups, such as the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) and the Catholic War Veterans.  Some prominent Christian religious voices also endorsed the boycott, including Federal Council of Churches leader Dr. Henry Smith Leiper, the Catholic periodical Commonweal, and the Protestant magazine Christian Century.

(Detail Text – The Roosevelt Administration’s Position): The Roosevelt administration opposed any boycotts directed at Germany, whether the Olympics boycott or the simultaneous effort by Jewish groups, in the 1930s, to promote the boycott of German goods and services.  Until the late 1930s, the administration sought to maintain good diplomatic and trade relations with Germany, and President Roosevelt refrained from publicly criticizing Hitler's treatment of the Jews.

(Detail Text – American Athletes Who Refused To Go):
A handful of American athletes announced they would boycott the games: skater Jack Shea, sprinter Herman Neugass, and track and field stars Norman Cahners, Milton Green, Lillian Copeland, and Syd Koff, as well as the entire Long Island University basketball team.  I checked the personal background of these athletes, including their post-1936 athletic careers, but could not find any connections to Los Angeles.

(Detail Text – A Jewish Fencer for the Nazis – With L.A. Ties): In order to forestall the possibility of a U.S. boycott, the German government in 1935 announced that Helene Mayer, a fencer whose father was Jewish, had been invited to join the German Olympic team.  Mayer, who had become Germany's fencing champion in 1924 at the age of 13, won a gold medal at the 1928 Olympics in Amsterdam, but finished only fifth in the 1932 Olympics in Los Angeles.  She then remained in L.A. to study at the University of Southern California, earning a certificate in social work while fencing for the USC team.  In the meantime, the Nazis rose to power and expelled all Jews from German sports clubs; Mayer was expelled from the Offenbach Fencing Club.  Nevertheless, when she was invited to join the 1936 team, she did so, winning a silver medal.  The sight of Mayer wearing a swastika and giving the Nazi salute troubled many American Jews.  She later returned to the U.S. and repeatedly won the national fencing championship.

(Detail Text – William May Garland, A Boycott Opponent from L.A.): There were three American representatives to the IOC:  former Assistant Secretary of the Navy Ernest Lee Jahncke, Brig.-Gen. Charles Sherrill, and William May Garland.  Jahncke supported the boycott; Sherill and Garland opposed it.  

Garland  (1866-1948), who grew up in Maine and Illinois, moved to Los Angeles in 1890, at the age of 24, to become auditor of the Pacific Cable Company.  He became an American representative to the IOC in 1922 and, in 1923, played a leading role in the successful lobbying to bring the Olympics to Los Angeles for 1932, the first time the games were held outside Europe.  For his role in bringing the Olympics to L.A., he was showered with awards and accolades by Los Angeles civic groups and was named grand marshal for the 1932 Pasadena Tournament of Roses.  Among his many public endeavors, Garland served as president of the California State Chamber of Commerce from 1929 to 1936, and he also played a major role in the construction of the Los Angeles Coliseum. 

In an anti-boycott speech in Los Angeles on November 29, 1935, Garland accused boycott advocates of "preaching racial hatred." He declared:
"To refuse to join with the nations which sacrificed a great deal to our celebration of the Games in 1932, would reflect on no-one as much as the United States.  I cannot believe that those who in this country are demanding a boycott of the Games, denouncing Germany and otherwise preaching racial and international hatred are making much of a case for international understanding as it exists in this country."  (As reported in the New York Times, Nov. 30, 1935) 

(Detail Text – L.A. Supporters of the Boycott):
(a) In December 1935, forty-one U.S. college presidents signed a letter endorsing the boycott.  I am attempting to obtain a complete list of the signatories, to see if any college presidents from southern California were among them.

(b) The AAU national convention which took place on December 7 and 8, 1935, was the scene of a vigorous struggle over the boycott issue.  Some major AAU regions supported the boycott, including the AAU Pacific Association, but boycott opponents won the vote (by a margin of two and a half votes).  The current AAU Pacific regional office holds no records from the 1930s.  The national AAU office at first told me they had no such records; however, last week the AAU librarian wrote back to say she had located some relevant documents and will be in touch with me in January. 

(Detail Text – Examples of those were taken in): (A) LOS ANGELES TIMES: 
Boycott advocates warned that the Nazis would use the games for propaganda purposes.  Bill Henry, the sports editor of the Los Angeles Times, who strongly opposed the boycott, presented this issue in a more positive light after a visit to Berlin in the summer of 1935: he wrote that the Germans would use the games to display the "possibilities of the new Germany." (LAT, Aug. 7, 1935) 

An editorial in the L.A. Times on September 13, 1935, claimed there was no danger of Hitler and the Nazis interfering in the games, that the rules for eligibility of German Olympic candidates were "impartial," and that "there has been nothing to indicate prospective discrimination against any athletes because of race or religion."

Syndicated columnist Westbrook Pegler, writing in the Literary Digest on August 31, 1935, criticized Bill Henry's claim that in the preparations for the Olympics, there would be "fair treatment for Jews, Catholics, and everybody else."  Pegler described Henry as an adviser to the German government on the planning of the games. 

The Times's coverage of the games was strongly positive.  If you want to include it in your exhibit, I can get more detailed citations, but for now here are some examples:

-- LAT publisher Norman Chandler attended the games and came away with strongly positive impressions of Germany.  He criticized reporters such as William Shirer of CBS who had written negatively about the Nazis.

-- An LAT editorial during the games suggested that the "spirit of the Olympiads" might "save the world from another purge of blood."

-- The LAT's fashion editor wrote of the games: "Zeus, in his golden days, never witnessed a show as grand as this."

-- When Washington Post sports writer Paul Gallico warned that the Germans are "rehearsing for the next war right next door to where the athletes are...practicing to win the great peace games," LAT sports writer Braven Dyer called Gallico's article a "scare story."

In a private memorandum to Justice Louis Brandeis in October 1936, American Jewish Congress president Rabbi Stephen S. Wise wrote this about a recent meeting he had with President Roosevelt: 

"Then he told me this disturbing thing: 'I have just seen two people who have toured Germany.  They tell me that they saw that the Synagogues were crowded and apparently there is nothing very wrong in the situation at present' ... [I] cited examples of the ruthlessness and continuing oppression of the Jews.  He listened carefully; but I could see that the tourists (whoever they are, the Lord bless them not) had made an impression on him."