The 1936 Summer Olympics, officially known as the Games of the XI Olympiad, was an international multi-sport event which was held in 1936 in Berlin, Germany.
Filmmaker Leni Riefenstahl, a favorite of Hitler’s, was commissioned by the IOC to film the Games. Her film, entitled Olympia, introduced many of the techniques now common to the filming of sports.
By allowing only members of the Aryan race to compete for Germany, Hitler further promoted his ideological belief of racial supremacy. At the same time, the party removed signs stating “Jews not wanted” and similar slogans from the city’s main tourist attractions. In an attempt to “clean up” Berlin, the German Ministry of the Interior authorized the chief of police to arrest all Romani and keep them in a special camp. Total ticket revenues were 7.5 million Reichsmark, generating a profit of over one million marks. The official budget did not include outlays by the city of Berlin (which issued an itemized report detailing its costs of 16.5 million marks) or that of the German national government.
Nazi Influence on the Use of Sporting Events
Hans von Tschammer und Osten, as Reichssportführer, i.e. head of the Deutscher Reichsbund für Leibesübungen (DRL), the Reich Sports Office, played a major role in the structure and organization of the Olympics. He promoted the idea that the use of sports would harden the German spirit and instill unity among German youth. At the same time he also believed that sports was a “way to weed out the weak, Jewish, and other undesirables.”
Many Jews and Gypsies were banned from participating in sporting events.
Von Tschammer trusted the details of the organization of the games to Theodor Lewald and Carl Diem, the former president and secretary of the Deutscher Reichsausschuss für Leibesübungen, the forerunner of the Reich Sports Office. Diem revealed himself as highly competent and made original innovations, like the Olympic torch relay from Athens, that are still valued.
Saluting Adolf Hitler
There was a controversy over the question whether athletes would give the Nazi salute to Hitler as they passed by his reviewing stand. There was some confusion over this issue, since the #Olympic salute, with right arm held out at a slight angle to the right sideways from the shoulder, could also be mistaken for the Hitler stiff-arm salute. The Afghans, Bermudans, Bolivians, Icelanders, as well as the Italians gave a clear fascist salute. The Bulgarians went a step further and not only gave a Nazi salute, but broke into a goose-step. The Turks maintained the Nazi salute all around the track. Half the Austrians gave the Olympic salute while half gave the Nazi Salute. The Chinese and Filipinos used neither salute and instead put their hands on their hearts. The crowd cheered the French, who they thought gave the Nazi salute, but there were conflicting reports afterwards on whether they in fact had given the Olympic Salute. The British gave a simple eyes-right salute, and were coolly received. The Americans gave a “hat over heart” gesture, and were given a noisy whistling reception as they left the stadium “which some European observers suggested was tantamount to the European ‘raspberries'”.
The participation of Jesse Owens proved controversial not only because of his race but also due to his disappearance shortly after arriving in Berlin. A mystery still shrouds his disappearance.
The Spanish government led by the newly elected left-wing Popular Front boycotted the Games and organized the People’s Olympiad as a parallel event in Barcelona. 6,000 athletes from 22 countries registered for the games. However, the People’s Olympiad was aborted because of the outbreak of the Spanish Civil War just one day before the event was due to start.
The games were the first to have live television coverage. The German Post Office, using equipment from Telefunken, broadcast over seventy hours of coverage to special viewing rooms throughout Berlin and Potsdam and a few private TV sets, transmitting from the Paul Nipkow TV Station. The Olympic Flame was used for the second time at these games, but this marked the first time it was brought to the Olympic Village by a torch relay, with the starting point in Olympia, Greece. The Republic of China’s Three Principles of the People was chosen as the best national anthem of the games. The official book of the 1936 Olympics is present in many libraries containing all the signatures of Golden medals winners.
United States Olympic Committee president Avery Brundage became a main supporter of the Games being held in Germany, arguing that “politics has no place in sport”, despite having initial doubts. Brundage requested that a system be established to examine female athletes for what Time magazine called “sex ambiguities” after observing the performance of Czechoslovak runner and jumper Zdenka Koubkova and English shotputter and javelin thrower Mary Edith Louise Weston. (Both individuals had sex change surgery and legally changed their names, to Zdenek Koubek and Mark Weston, respectively). Gender verification in sports was not in place in 1936.
Politics and Controversy
Despite not coming from fascist countries, French and Canadian Olympians gave what appeared to be the Hitler salute at the opening ceremony, although some have later claimed that they were just performing the Olympic salute, which was in fact a very similar action.
Gretel Bergmann, despite equaling a national record in the high jump a month before the games, was excluded from the German team because she was Jewish.
American sprinters Sam Stoller and Marty Glickman, the only two Jews on the U.S. Olympic team, were pulled from the 4 × 100 relay team on the day of the competition, leading to speculation that U.S. Olympic committee leader Avery Brundage did not want to add to the embarrassment of Hitler by having two Jews win gold medals.
Italy’s football team continued their dominance, winning the gold medal in these Olympics. Much like the successes of German athletes, this triumph was claimed by supporters of Benito Mussolini’s regime as a vindication of the superiority of the fascist system. Austria won the silver; a controversial win after Hitler called for a rematch of the quarterfinals match to discount Peru’s 4–2 win over Austria. The Peruvian national Olympic team refused to play the match again and withdrew from the games. In the quarter-finals of the football tournament, Peru beat Austria 4–2 in extra-time. Peru rallied from a two-goal deficit in the final 15 minutes of normal time. During extra-time, Peruvian fans allegedly ran onto the field and attacked an Austrian player. In the chaos, Peru scored twice and won, 4–2. However, Austria protested and the International Olympic Committee ordered a replay without any spectators. The Peruvian government refused and their entire Olympic squad left in protest as did Colombia.
The Nazis demoted Captain Wolfgang Fürstner, the half-Jewish commandant of the Olympic Village, during the games, and replaced him with Werner von Gilsa. After the games’ conclusion, Fürstner, a career officer, committed suicide when he learned that the Nuremberg Laws classified him as a Jew, and, as such, he was to be expelled from the Wehrmacht.
Basketball was added to the Olympic program. In the final game, the United States beat Canada 19-8. The contest was played outdoors on a dirt court in driving rain. Because of the quagmire, the teams could not dribble, thus the score was held to a minimum. Joe Fortenbury was the high scorer for the U.S. with 7 points. Spectators did not have seats, and the people (approximately 1000) in attendance had to stand in the rain. In the freestyle event, swimmers originally dived from the pool walls, but diving blocks were incorporated at the 1936 Olympics.
Germany had a prosperous year in the equestrian events, winning individual and team gold in all three disciplines, as well as individual silver in dressage. In the cycling match sprint finals, the German Toni Merkens fouled Arie van Vliet of the Netherlands. Instead of being disqualified, he was fined 100 marks and kept his gold. German gymnasts Konrad Frey and Alfred Schwarzmann both won three gold medals.
Luz Long won the long jump in impressive fashion. Glenn Edgar Morris, a farm boy from Colorado, won Gold in the Decathlon. Rower Jack Beresford won his fifth Olympic medal in the sport, and his third gold medal. The U.S. eight-man rowing team from the University of Washington won the gold medal, coming from behind to defeat the Germans and Italians with Adolf Hitler in attendance.
In the marathon two Korean athletes won medals — Sohn Kee-chung (gold) and Nam Sung-yong (bronze) — running for Japan and under Japanese names; Japan had annexed Korea in 1910. British India won the gold medal in the field hockey event once again, defeating Germany 8-1 in the final. However, Indians were considered Indo-Aryans by the Germans and there was no controversy regarding their victory. Rie Mastenbroek of the Netherlands won three gold medals and a silver in swimming. Estonia’s Kristjan Palusalu won two gold medals in Men’s Wrestling.
After winning the middleweight class, the Egyptian weightlifter Khadr El Touni continued to compete for another 45 minutes, finally exceeding the total of the German silver medalist by 35 kg. The 20-year-old El Touni lifted a total of 387.5 kg crushing two German world champions, El Touni broke the then Olympic and world records, while the German lifted 352.5 kg. Furthermore, El Touni had lifted 15 kg more than the heavyweight gold medalist, a feat only El Touni has accomplished. Fascinated by El Touni’s performance, Adolf Hitler rushed down to greet this human miracle. Prior to the competition, Hitler was said to have been sure that Rudolf Ismayr and Adolf Wagner would embarrass all other opponents. Hitler was so impressed by El Touni’s domination in the middleweight class that he ordered a street named after him in Berlin Olympic village.
Germany would dominate with 34 Gold, 25 Silver, and 30 Bronze.