1936 Summer Olympics

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This article is about the 1936 Summer Olympics in Berlin. For the planned 1936 Summer Olympics in Barcelona, see People's Olympiad.
Games of the XI Olympiad
1936 berlin logo.jpg
Host city Berlin, Germany
Motto "I Call the Youth of the World"
Nations participating 49
Athletes participating 3,963
(3,632 men, 331 women)
Events 129 in 19 sports
Opening ceremony August 1
Closing ceremony August 16
Officially opened by Chancellor and Führer Adolf Hitler
Athlete's Oath Rudolf Ismayr
Olympic Torch Fritz Schilgen
Stadium Olympic Stadium
Los Angeles 1932 London 1948  >
Garmisch-Partenkirchen 1936 St. Moritz 1948  >

The 1936 Summer Olympics (German: Olympische Sommerspiele 1936), officially known as the Games of the XI Olympiad, was an international multi-sport event that was held in 1936 in Berlin, Germany. Berlin won the bid to host the Games over Barcelona, Spain, on 26 April 1931, at the 29th IOC Session in Barcelona (two years before the Nazis came to power). It marked the second and final time the International Olympic Committee gathered to vote in a city that was bidding to host those Games.

To outdo the Los Angeles games of 1932, Germany built a new 100,000-seat track and field stadium, six gymnasiums, and many other smaller arenas. The games were the first to be televised, and radio broadcasts reached 41 countries.[1] Filmmaker Leni Riefenstahl was commissioned by the German Olympic Committee to film the Games for $7 million.[1] Her film, titled Olympia, pioneered many of the techniques now common in the filming of sports.

Reich Chancellor Adolf Hitler saw the Games as an opportunity to promote his government and ideals of racial supremacy, and the official Nazi party paper, the Völkischer Beobachter, wrote in the strongest terms that Jews should not be allowed to participate in the Games.[2][3] When threatened with a boycott of the Games by other nations, Hitler appeared to allow athletes of other ethnicities from other countries to participate.[4] However German Jewish athletes were barred or prevented from taking part by a variety of methods[5] and Jewish athletes from other countries (notably the US) seem to have been side-lined in order not to offend the Nazi government.[6]

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 outlays of the German national government (which did not make its costs public, but is estimated to have spent US$30 million).[7]

Jesse Owens won four gold medals in the sprint and long jump events and became the most successful athlete to compete in Berlin while the host country was the most successful country overall with 89 medals total, with the United States coming in second with 56 medals. These were the final Olympics under the presidency of Henri de Baillet-Latour and the final Olympic Games for 12 years because of World War II. The next Olympic Games would be held in 1948 (the Winter in Switzerland and then the Summer in London).

Host city selection[edit]

The bidding for these Olympic Games was the first to be contested by IOC members casting votes for their own favorite host cities.[8] The vote occurred in 1931, during the Weimar Republic, before Adolf Hitler and the Nazi Party rose to power in 1933. Many other cities around the world also wanted to host the Summer Olympics for that year, but except for Barcelona they did not receive any IOC votes. The other cities competing to hold the games were Alexandria, Buenos Aires, Cologne, Dublin, Frankfurt, Helsinki, Lausanne, Nuremberg, Rio de Janeiro, Budapest, and Rome.[9]

The selection procedure marked the second and final time that the International Olympic Committee would gather to vote in a city which was bidding to host those Games. The only other time this occurred was at the inaugural IOC Session in Paris, France, on 24 April 1894. Then, Athens and Paris were chosen to host the 1896 and 1900 Games, respectively.

After the Nazis took control and began instituting anti-Semitic policies, the IOC held private discussions among its delegates about changing the decision to hold the Games in Berlin. However, Hitler's regime gave assurances that Jewish athletes would be allowed to compete on a German Olympic team. In September 1934, the US Olympic committee publicly accepted the invitation to go to the Berlin games, halting any further IOC attempts to quietly revise the decision.[10]

The next scheduled games in 1940 were awarded to Tokyo. The Japanese military even demanded that venues should be built from wood because metal was needed for its wars in Manchuria.[11] The Olympic torch relay – itself pioneered as part of the 1936 Summer Games – was to fly the Olympic flame from Berlin to Tokyo in a specially-designed long-range aircraft.[12] In 1938 the Japanese rejected hosting the games because they saw the Olympics and its pacifist values as 'an effete form of European culture'.[13]

1936 Summer Olympics bidding result[9]
City Country Round 1
Berlin Germany Germany 43
Barcelona Spain Spain 16
Alexandria Egypt Egypt 0
Budapest Hungary Hungary 0
Buenos Aires Argentina Argentina 0
Cologne Germany Germany 0
Dublin Republic of Ireland Ireland 0
Frankfurt Germany Germany 0
Helsinki Finland Finland 0
Lausanne Switzerland Switzerland 0
Nuremberg Germany Germany 0
Rio de Janeiro Brazil Brazil 0
Rome Italy Italy 0


Runners carrying the Olympic Flame

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 organisation 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."[14]

Von Tschammer trusted the details of the organisation 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. Among Diem's ideas for the Berlin Games was the introduction of the Olympic torch relay between Greece and the host nation.

Torch relay[edit]

The 1936 Summer Olympics torch relay was the first of its kind,[15] following on from the reintroduction of the Olympic Flame at the 1928 Games. It pioneered the modern convention of moving the flame via a relay system from Greece to the Olympic venue. Leni Riefenstahl filmed the relay for the 1938 film Olympia.

The sportive, knightly battle awakens the best human characteristics. It doesn't separate, but unites the combatants in understanding and respect. It also helps to connect the countries in the spirit of peace. That's why the Olympic Flame should never die.

— Adolf Hitler, commenting on the 1936 Berlin Olympic Games.[16]


The games were the first to have live television coverage. The German Post Office, using equipment from Telefunken, broadcast over 70 hours of coverage to special viewing rooms throughout Berlin and Potsdam and a few private TV sets, transmitting from the Paul Nipkow TV Station. They used three different types of TV cameras, so blackouts would occur when changing from one type to another. The quality was generally poor.[17]

Olympic village[edit]

The Olympic village

The 1936 Olympic village is located at Elstal in Wustermark (at 52°32′10.78″N 13°0′33.20″E / 52.5363278°N 13.0092222°E / 52.5363278; 13.0092222), on the western edge of Berlin. The site, which is 30 kilometres (19 mi) from the centre of the city, consisted of one and two-floor dormitories, a large dining hall, Dining Hall of the Nations, a swimming facility, gymnasium, track, and other training facilities. Its layout was designed and construction overseen by appointed village commander Hauptmann Wolfgang Fürstner beginning in 1934.[18] Less than two months before the start of the Olympic Games, Fürstner was abruptly demoted to vice-commander, and replaced by Oberstleutnant Werner von Gilsa, commander of the Berlin Guard-Regiment. The official reason for the replacement was that Fürstner had not acted "with the necessary energy" to prevent damage to the site as 370,000 visitors passed through it between 1 May and 15 June. However, this was just a cover story to explain the sudden demotion of the half-Jewish officer.[19] The 1935 Nuremberg Laws, passed during the period Fürstner was overseeing the Olympic Village, had classified him as a Jew, and as such, the career officer was to be expelled from the Wehrmacht.[20] Two days after the conclusion of the Berlin Olympics, vice-commander Fürstner had been removed from active Wehrmacht duty,[21] and committed suicide because he realised he had no future under the Nazis.[19]

After the completion of the Olympic Games, the village was repurposed for the Wehrmacht into the Olympic Döberitz Hospital (German: Olympia-Lazarett Döberitz), and Army Infantry School (German: Heeres-Infanterieschule), and was used as such through the Second World War. In 1945 it was taken over by the Soviet Union and became a military camp of the union occupation forces. Late 20th century efforts were made to restore parts of the former village, but little progress was made.[22] More recently, the vast majority of the land of the Olympic village has been managed by the DKB Foundation, with more success; efforts are being made to restore the site into a living museum. The dormitory building used by Jesse Owens, Weissen House, has been fully restored, with the gymnasium and swimming hall partially restored. Seasonally, tours are given daily to small groups and students.[23]

The site remains relatively unknown even in Germany, but some tournaments are held at the site in an effort to boost knowledge of the venues.[24] An effort aimed at 2018 completion is underway to make the village a mixed residential and historical property.[25]


Map of Reichssportfeld during the 1936 Summer Olympics

Twenty-two venues were used for the 1936 Summer Olympics.

Sailing was held in the Bay of Kiel, which would serve as the sailing venue for the 1972 Summer Olympics held in Munich.[26] The Olympic Stadium would later be part of two FIFA World Cups and then host an IAAF World Championships in Athletics along with undergoing a renovation in the early 2000s to give new life to the stadium. Avus Motor Road (AVUS) was started in 1907, but was not completed until 1921 due to World War I.[27] The track was rebuilt for the 1936 Games.[27] AVUS continued being used after World War II though mainly in Formula 2 racing.[27] The German Grand Prix was last held at the track in 1959.[27] Dismantling of the track first took place in 1968 to make way for a traffic crossing for touring cars that raced there until 1998.[27]

BSV 92 Field was first constructed in 1910 for use in football, handball, athletics, and tennis.[28] The Reich Sports Field, which consisted of the Olympic Stadium, the Dietrich Ecekrt Open-Air Theatre, the Olympic Swimming Stadium, Mayfield, the Hockey Stadiums, the Tennis Courts, and the Haus des Deutschen Sports, was planned for the aborted 1916 Summer Olympics, but was not completed until 1934.[29] Mayfield was the last venue completed prior to the 1936 Games in April 1936.[29] Deutschland Hall was opened in 1935.[30] Mommenstadion opened in 1930.[31] Basketball was held outdoors at the request of the International Basketball Federation (FIBA).[32][33] The tennis courts were used, which turned to mud during heavy rain at the final.[32] The K-1 1000 m canoeing final was also affected by heavy rain at Grünau that included thunder and lightning.[34] During World War II, Deutschlanhalle suffered heavy aerial bombing damage.[30] After the second world war, the hall was reconstructed and expansion has continued as of 2010.[30] The Deutschlandhalle in Berlin, where the boxing, weightlifting, and wrestling events took place, was used as venue, but was increasingly closed for repairs, last in 2009 when it was close for repairs, It was demolished in December 2011. the Mommsenstadion was renovated in 1987 and was still in use in 2010.[31]

The Olympic Stadium was used as an underground bunker in World War II as the war went against Nazi Germany's favor.[35] The British reopened the Stadium in 1946 and parts of the stadium were rebuilt by the late 1950s.[36] As a host venue for the 1974 FIFA World Cup, the stadium had its roof partially covered on the North and South Stands.[37] British occupation of the stadium ended in 1994.[38] Restoration was approved in 1998 with a contractor being found to do the work in 2000.[39] This restoration ran from 2000 to 2004.[40] The modernized Stadium reopened in 2004,[41] with a capacity of 74,228 people. The seating has been changed greatly, especially the sections that were reserved for German and international political leaders. The stadium now plays host to Hertha BSC (1963–present), and is expected to remain the home of the team for years to come. For the 2006 FIFA World Cup, the venue was where the final took place between Italy and France.[42] Three years later, the venue hosted the World Athletics Championships.[43]

Venue Sports Capacity Ref.
Avus Motor Road Athletics (marathon, 50 km walk), Cycling (road) Not listed. [44]
BSV Field Cycling (track), Handball 1,000 [45]
Dietrich Eckart Open-Air Theatre Gymnastics 20,000 [46]
Döberitz Equestrian (eventing), Modern pentathlon (riding) Not listed. [47]
Deutschlandhalle Boxing, Weightlifting, Wrestling 8,630 [48]
Berlin-Grünau Regatta Course Canoeing, Rowing 19,000 [49]
Haus des Deutschen Sports Fencing, Modern pentathlon (fencing) 1200 [50][51]
Hertha-BSC Field Football 35,239 [52]
Hockey Stadion Field hockey 18,000 [46]
Hockey Stadion #2 Field hockey 1600 [46]
Kiel Bay Sailing Not listed. [53]
Mayfield Equestrian (dressage), Polo 75,000 [46]
Mommsenstadion Football 15,005 [52]
Olympic Stadium Athletics, Equestrian (jumping), Football (final), Handball (final) 100,000 [46]
Olympic Swimming Stadium Diving, Modern pentathlon (swimming), Swimming, Water polo 20,000 [54]
Police Stadium Handball Not listed. [55]
Poststadion Football 45,000 [52]
Ruhleben Modern pentathlon (shooting) Not listed. [56]
Tennis Courts Basketball, Fencing (épée) 832 [57]
Tennis Stadium Basketball Not listed. [57]
Wannsee Golf Course Modern pentathlon (running) Not listed. [58]
Wannsee Shooting Range Shooting Not listed. [58]


Opening ceremony[edit]

Parade of nations

The opening ceremony was held at the Berlin Olympic Stadium. A flyover by the German airship Hindenburg flying the Olympic flag behind it was featured early in the opening ceremonies.[59] After the arrival of Hitler and his entourage, the parade of nations proceeded, each nation with its own unique costume. Some nations' athletes purposefully gave the Nazi salute as they passed Hitler. Others gave the Olympic salute (a similar one, given with the same arm), or a different gesture entirely, such as hats-over-hearts, as the United States and China did. All nations lowered their flags as they passed the Führer, save the United States. (The United States doing this was explained later as an army regulation.)[59] Writer Thomas Wolfe, who was there, described the opening as an "almost religious event, the crowd screaming, swaying in unison and begging for Hitler. There was something scary about it; his cult of personality."[60]

After a speech by the president of the German Olympic Committee, the games were declared open by Adolf Hitler: "I proclaim open the Olympic Games of Berlin, celebrating the Eleventh Olympiad of the modern era."[59] Hitler opened the games from his own box, on top of others. Writer David Wallechinsky has commented the event by saying that "This was his event, he wanted to be glorified."[60]

Though the Olympic flame was first introduced in the 1928 Summer Olympics in Amsterdam, this was the first instance of the torch relay. The Nazis invented the concept of the torch run from ancient Olympia to the host city. Thus as swimmer Iris Cummings Critchell later related, "once the athletes were all in place, the torch bearer ran in through the tunnel to go around the stadium". A young man chosen for this task ran up the steps all the way up to the top of the stadium there to light a cauldron which would start this eternal flame that would burn through the duration of the games.[60][61]

But in spite of all the pomp and ceremony, and the glorification of Hitler, all did not go according to plan, and there was a rather humorous aspect in the opening ceremony. U.S. distance runner Louis Zamperini, one of the athletes present, related it on camera:[60]

They released 25,000 pigeons, the sky was clouded with pigeons, the pigeons circles overhead, and then they shot a cannon, and they scared the poop out of the pigeons, and we had straw hats, flat straw hats, and you could heard the pitter-patter on our straw hats, but we felt sorry for the women, for they got it in their hair, but I mean there were a mass of droppings, and I say it was so funny…


129 events in 25 disciplines, comprising 19 sports, were part of the Olympic program in 1936. The number of events in each discipline is noted in parentheses.

Basketball and handball made their debut at the Olympics, both as outdoor sports. Handball would not appear again on the program until the next German summer Olympic games in Munich in 1972. Demonstration sports were Art, Baseball, Gliding and Wushu

Medal count[edit]

Jesse Owens won four gold medals in Berlin.
Volmari Iso-Hollo, 3000 m steeplechase, 1936 Summer Olympics

The ten nations that won most medals at the 1936 Games.

 Rank  Nation Gold Silver Bronze Total
1 Germany (host nation) 33 26 30 89
2 United States 24 20 12 56
3 Hungary 10 1 5 16
4 Italy 8 9 5 22
5 Finland 7 6 6 19
France 7 6 6 19
7 Sweden 6 5 9 20
8 Japan 6 4 8 18
9 Netherlands 6 4 7 17
10 Great Britain 4 7 3 14

Notable achievements[edit]

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.

American Jesse Owens won four gold medals in the sprint and long jump events. His German competitor Luz Long offered Owens advice after he almost failed to qualify in the long jump and was posthumously awarded the Pierre de Coubertin medal for sportsmanship. Mack Robinson, brother to Jackie Robinson, won the 200-meter sprint silver medal behind Owens by 0.4 seconds. Although he did not win a medal, future American war hero Louis Zamperini, lagging behind in the 5,000-meter final, made up ground by clocking a 56-second final lap. This effort caught the attention of Adolf Hitler who personally commended Zamperini on his speed. In one of the most dramatic 800-meter races in history, American John Woodruff won gold after slowing to jogging speed in the middle of the final in order to free himself from being boxed in.[62] 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 Hitler in attendance.

Obverse of John Woodruff's gold medal for winning the 800 metres.
Reverse of John Woodruff's gold medal while on display at Hillman Library, University of Pittsburgh, Pittsburgh, PA.

Jack Lovelock of New Zealand won the 1500 m gold medal, coming through a strong field to win in world record time of 3:47.8.

In the marathon, Japan won one gold (Son Kitei) and one bronze (Nan Shoryu) medal; both the runners were ethnic Koreans.

India won the gold medal in the field hockey event once again (they won the gold in all Olympics from 1928 to 1956), 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 gold medals in both Men's heavyweight Wrestling styles, marking the last time Estonia competed as an independent nation in the Olympics until 1992.

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 light-heavyweight gold medalist, a feat only El Touni has accomplished. El Touni's new world records stood for 13 years. 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.[63] The Egyptian held the No. 1 position on the IWF list of history's 50 greatest weightlifters for 60 years, until the 1996 Games in Atlanta where Turkey's Naim Süleymanoğlu surpassed him to top the list.

Italy's football team continued their dominance under head coach Vittorio Pozzo, winning the gold medal in these Olympics between their two consecutive World Cup victories (1934 and 1938). 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.[64]

A remarkable story from the track and field competition was the gold medal won by the US women's 4 × 100 m relay team. The German team were the heavy favourites, but dropped the baton at one hand-off. Of notable interest on the US team was Elizabeth "Betty" Robinson Schwartz.[65] She was the first woman ever awarded an Olympic gold medal for track and field, winning the women's 100 m event at the 1928 Summer Olympics in Amsterdam.[65] In 1931, Robinson was involved in a plane crash, and was severely injured. Her body was discovered in the wreckage and it was wrongly thought that she was dead. She was placed in the trunk of a car and taken to an undertaker, where it was discovered that she was not dead, but in a coma. She awoke from the coma seven months later, although it was another six months before she could get out of a wheelchair, and two years before she could walk normally again.[66] Due to the length of her recovery, she had to miss participating in the 1932 Summer Olympics in Los Angeles, in her home country.

Participating nations[edit]

A total of 49 nations attended the Berlin Olympics, up from 37 in 1932. Five nations made their first official Olympic appearance at these Games: Afghanistan, Bermuda, Bolivia, Costa Rica and Liechtenstein.

Nations participating for the first time shown in blue.
Number of attending athletes from respective participating countries.
Participating NOCs
  • Haiti Haiti also took part in the Opening Ceremony, but its lone athlete (a weightlifter) withdrew from competition.[68]


Reich Chancellor Adolf Hitler saw the Games as an opportunity to promote his government and ideals of racial supremacy. The official Nazi party paper, the Völkischer Beobachter, wrote in the strongest terms that Jews and Black people should not be allowed to participate in the Games.[2][3] However, when threatened with a boycott of the Games by other nations, he relented and allowed Black people and Jews to participate, and added one token participant to the German team—a German woman, Helene Mayer, who had a Jewish father. 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" the host city, the German Ministry of the Interior authorized the chief of police to arrest all Romani (Gypsies) and keep them in a "special camp," the Berlin-Marzahn concentration camp.[69]

Political aspects[edit]

The Nazi regime organized the mass displays of Nazi propaganda and nationalist symbols across Germany during the events.
Spectators giving the Nazi salute during one of the medal ceremonies

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.[70] Later 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 later had sex change surgery and legally changed their names to Zdenek Koubek and Mark Weston).[71]

French Olympians gave a Roman salute at the opening ceremony: known as the salut de Joinville per the battalion fr:Bataillon de Joinville, the Olympic salute was part of the Olympic traditions since the 1924 games.[72] However, due to the different context this action was mistaken by the crowd for a support to fascism (the Olympic salute was discarded after 1946).[73]

Although Haiti only attended the opening ceremony, an interesting vexillological fact was noticed: its flag and the flag of Liechtenstein were coincidentally identical, and this was not discovered until then. The following year, a crown was added to Liechtenstein's to distinguish one flag from the other.

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 Brundage did not want to add to Hitler's embarrassment by having two Jews win gold medals.[74]

In 1937, Hollywood released the film Charlie Chan at the Olympics. The plot concerned members of the Berlin police force helping the Chinese detective apprehend a group of spies (of unnamed nationality) trying to steal a new aerial guidance system. Despite pertaining to the Berlin Olympics, actual Games' footage used by the filmmakers was edited to remove any Nazi symbols.[75]

After the Olympics, Jewish participation in German sports was further limited, and persecution of Jews started to become ever more lethal. The Olympic Games had provided a nine-month period of relative calmness.[76]


The German Olympic committee, in accordance with Nazi directives, virtually barred Germans who were Jewish or Roma or had such an ancestry from participating in the Games (Helene Mayer was the only German Jew to compete at the Berlin Games). This decision meant exclusion for many of the country's top athletes such as shotputter and discus thrower Lilli Henoch, who was a four-time world record holder and 10-time German national champion,[77] and Gretel Bergmann who was suspended from the German team just days after she set a record of 1.60 meters in the high jump.[78][79]

Individual Jewish athletes from a number of countries chose to boycott the Berlin Olympics, including South African Sid Kiel,[80] and Americans Milton Green and Norman Cahners. In the United States, the American Jewish Congress and the Jewish Labor Committee supported a boycott.[81]

Boycott debate[edit]

Prior to and during the Games, there was considerable debate outside Germany over whether the competition should be allowed or discontinued. Berlin had been selected by the IOC as the host city in 1931, but after Adolf Hitler's rise to power in 1933, observers in many countries began to question the morality of going ahead with an Olympic Games hosted by the Nazi regime. A number of brief campaigns to boycott or relocate the Games emerged in the United Kingdom, France, Sweden, Czechoslovakia and the Netherlands.[81] Exiled German political opponents of Hitler's regime also campaigned against the Berlin Olympics through pro-Communist newspapers such as the Arbeiter-Illustrierte-Zeitung.

The protests were ultimately unsuccessful; in 1935 the Amateur Athletic Union of the United States voted to compete in the Berlin Games and other countries followed suit. Forty-nine teams from around the world participated in the 1936 Games, the largest number of participating nations of any Olympics to that point. However, in Spain, an alternative was organised in the IOC's second choice for a host city, Barcelona, although it was cancelled owing to supervening events.[81]

Main article: People's Olympiad

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. Some 6,000 athletes from 49 countries registered. 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, just as thousands of athletes had begun to arrive.

Soviet Union

The Soviet Union boycotted the 1936 Summer Olympics. Instead, through the auspices of the Red Sport International, it had participated in a left-wing workers' alternative, the Spartakiad, since 1928. The USSR had intended to attend the People's Olympiad in Barcelona until it was cancelled and did attend the 1937 Workers' Summer Olympiad in Antwerp, Belgium (both of which were Spartakiad events).[82]


Halet Çambel and Suat Fetgeri Așani, the first Turkish and Muslim women[83] athletes to participate in the Olympics (fencing), refused an offer by their guide to be formally introduced to Adolf Hitler, saying they would not shake hands with him due to his approach to Jews, as stated by Ms. Çambel in a Milliyet newspaper interview in 2000.[84]

United States
Avery Brundage meeting mayor of Berlin Julius Lippert and IOC German Secretary Theodor Lewald in 1936

Traditionally the USA sent one of the largest teams to the Olympics, and there was a considerable debate over whether the United States should participate in the 1936 Games.[81]

Those involved in the debate on whether to boycott the Olympics included Ernest Lee Jahncke, Judge Jeremiah Mahoney, and future IOC President Avery Brundage. Some within the United States considered requesting a boycott of the Games, as to participate in the festivity might be considered a sign of support for the Nazi regime and its anti-Semitic policies. However, others such as Brundage (see below) argued that the Olympic Games should not reflect political views, but rather should be strictly a contest of the greatest athletes.

Avery Brundage, then of the United States Olympic Committee, opposed the boycott, stating that Jewish athletes were being treated fairly and that the Games should continue. Brundage asserted that politics played no role in sports, and that they should never be entwined. Brundage also believed that there was a "Jewish-Communist conspiracy" that existed to keep the United States from competing in the Olympic Games.[70] On the subject of Jewish discrimination, he stated, "The very foundation of the modern Olympic revival will be undermined if individual countries are allowed to restrict participation by reason of class, creed, or race."[81]

During a fact-finding trip that Brundage went on to Germany in 1934 to ascertain whether German Jews were being treated fairly, Brundage found no discrimination when he interviewed Jews and his Nazi handlers translated for him, and Brundage commiserated with his hosts that he belonged to a sports club in Chicago that did not allow Jews entry, either.[85]

Unlike Brundage, Jeremiah Mahoney supported a boycott of the Games. Mahoney, the president of the Amateur Athletic Union, led newspaper editors and anti-Nazi groups to protest against American participation in the Berlin Olympics. He contested that racial discrimination was a violation of Olympic rules and that participation in the Games was tantamount to support for the Third Reich.

Most African-American newspapers supported participation in the Olympics. The Philadelphia Tribune and the Chicago Defender both agreed that black victories would undermine Nazi views of Aryan supremacy and spark renewed African-American pride. American Jewish organizations, meanwhile, largely opposed the Olympics. The American Jewish Congress and the Jewish Labor Committee staged rallies and supported the boycott of German goods to show their disdain for American participation.[70] The JLC organized the World Labor Athletic Carnival, held on August 15 and 16 at New York’s Randall’s Island, to protest the holding of the 1936 Olympics in Nazi Germany.[86]

Eventually, Brundage won the debate, convincing the Amateur Athletic Union to close a vote in favor of sending an American team to the Berlin Olympics. Mahoney's efforts to incite a boycott of the Olympic games in the United States failed.

US President Franklin Delano Roosevelt and his administration did not become involved in the debate due to a tradition of allowing the US Olympic Committee to operate independently of government influence. However, several American diplomats including William E. Dodd, the American ambassador to Berlin, and George Messersmith, head of the US legation in Vienna, deplored the US Olympic Committee's decision to participate in the games.[81]


See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b Rader, Benjamin G. "American Sports: From the Age of Folk Games to the Age of Televised Sports" --5th Ed.
  2. ^ a b Hitlerland. p. 188.
  3. ^ a b David Clay Large, Nazi Games: The Olympics of 1936, p. 58.
  4. ^ "The Movement to Boycott the Berlin Olympics of 1936". www.ushmm.org. United States Holocaust Memorial Museum. Retrieved 7 October 2016. 
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External links[edit]

Further reading[edit]

Preceded by
Los Angeles
Summer Olympic Games
XI Olympiad (1936)
Succeeded by