Gretel Bergmann

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Gretel Bergmann
Personal information
Birth nameMargarethe Bergmann
Full nameMargaret Bergmann-Lambert
EthnicityGerman Jewish
Born(1914-04-12)April 12, 1914
Laupheim, Württemberg, Germany
DiedJuly 25, 2017(2017-07-25) (aged 103)
Queens, New York, United States
ResidenceQueens, New York, United States (1937-2017; longest place of permanent residence)
Years active1930-1939 overall; 1930-1933 and 1936 in Germany, 1934 in the United Kingdom, 1937–1939 in the United States
Spouse(s)Bruno Lambert, M.D.
CountryGermany, forcibly excluded due to ethnicity in 1933 and 1936
United Kingdom
United States
SportTrack and field
Event(s)High jump
RetiredForced to retire in 1936 by Germany
Retired in the United States in 1939
Updated on 26 July 2017.

Gretel Lambert (born Margarethe Bergmann; April 12, 1914 – July 25, 2017)[1] was a German Jewish track and field athlete who competed as a high jumper during the 1930s.

Due to her Jewish origins, the Nazis prevented her from taking part in the 1936 Summer Olympics, after which she left Germany and vowed never to return. Bergmann turned 100 in 2014.[2] She died in 2017 at her home in Jamaica Estates, Queens, New York.

Life and career[edit]

Margarethe Bergmann was born in 1914 in Laupheim, Germany, the daughter of Edwin and Paula (née Stern) Bergmann,[3] a businessman.[4]

She later began her career in athletics in Laupheim. In 1930 she joined Ulmer FV 1894, winning her first title in high jumping in 1931 when, during the South German Championships, she jumped 1.51 metres. She won that same title again in 1932. After the Nazis' accession to power on 30 January 1933 she was expelled from the club for being Jewish. That April her parents sent her to the United Kingdom where in 1934 she took part in the British Championships and won the high jump with a height 1.55 metres.[citation needed]

The German government wanted her to return to Germany to help portray the nation as unbiased in its Olympic-team selections.[1] Members of her family, who had stayed behind, were threatened with reprisals if she did not return. She complied and returned to Germany, where she was allowed to prepare for the 1936 Olympic Games. She won the Württembergian Championships in the high jump in 1935 and again on 30 June 1936 when, one month prior to the opening of the Olympic Games, she tied the German record by crossing 1.60 metres.[5]

Bergmann-Lambert was banned from the Berlin Olympics despite matching the high-jump record of 1.60 metres (5 feet 3 inches) to qualify and having spent two years on the team, starting in 1934.[5][6] However, two weeks before the opening of the Olympics, she received a letter from the German sports authorities that she was being removed from the national team for under-performance.[7] She was not replaced; instead, Germany fielded only two high jumpers: Dora Ratjen, who was later revealed to be a man who had been raised as a girl, and Elfriede Kaun. Bergmann's accomplishment was stricken from the record books some weeks later.[citation needed]

In 1937, Bergmann emigrated to the United States, settling in New York City,[5] where she married Bruno Lambert, a physician. That year, she won the U.S. women's high jump and shot put championships, and in 1938 she again won the high jump. Her sports career ended after the entry of the United States into World War II. In 1942, she received United States citizenship.[citation needed]

Plaque in the house Rudolstädter Strasse 77, Berlin-Wilmersdorf. In translation, the plaque reads:

In 1933, having jumped 1.51 m in Stuttgart and 1.55 m in Ulm, she was one of the best high jumpers inside Germany. On 27 June 1936, she tied the German record with 1.60 m and rose to world prominence. However, because of her Jewish origins, the Nazis prevented her from taking part in the 1936 Berlin Olympics. In 1937 she left Germany forever.

Awards and recognition[edit]

Gretel-Bergmann-Stadion in Laupheim 2015

Bergmann's entry into the Jewish Hall of Fame at Wingate Institute in Israel in 1980 revived interest in her story.[8]

In August 1995 a sports complex in Berlin-Wilmersdorf was named after her on the recommendation of the German National Sports Federation. Bergmann, who had vowed never to set foot on German soil again, did not attend the festivities. In 1996 she was admitted to the National Jewish Sports Hall of Fame in the United States. In 1999, she received the Georg von Opel-Preis [de] for achievements in the sphere of sports and society without the prospect of material gains.[9]

The stadium in Laupheim, from which she had been barred in the 1930s, was named after her in 1999. This time Bergmann attended the dedication, saying:

I was not going to participate, but when I was told that they were naming the facilities for me so that when young people ask, "Who was Gretel Bergmann?" they will be told my story, and the story of those times. I felt it was important to remember, and so I agreed to return to the place I swore I'd never go again. But I had stopped speaking German and didn't even try when I was there. They provided a translator.[6]

Bergmann added, "I ... finally came to the conclusion that people now had nothing to do with it".[10] In 2004, a documentary based on her life in Germany, Hitler's Pawn – The Margaret Lambert Story, mostly focusing on her athletic life, debuted on HBO prior to the 2004 Summer Olympics.[citation needed]

On 23 November 2009 her German national record (1.60m) from 1936 was officially restored by the German track and field association, which also requested she be admitted to the German sports hall of fame.[5][11][12] In September 2009 Berlin 36, a film about her preparation for, and exclusion from, the 1936 Olympics, debuted in German theaters.[7]


In August 2014, one of the streets in the Olympic Park Berlin (former Reichssportfeld) was renamed "Gretel-Bergmann-Weg" [13] in her honor.[14]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b Obituary,, July 25, 2017; accessed September 10, 2017.
  2. ^ Michalek, Gerd (April 12, 2014). "Gretel Bergmann ist 100 Jahre alt" (in German). Deutsche Welle. Retrieved April 23, 2014.
  3. ^ "The Jewish Community of Laupheim and its Annihilation". pp. 116–24. Retrieved September 10, 2017.
  4. ^ Taylor, Paul (2004). Jews and the Olympic Games: The Clash Between Sport and Politics: with a Complete Review of Jewish Olympic Medallists. Sussex Academic Press. p. 39. Retrieved August 19, 2012.
  5. ^ a b c d "Woman 95 gets record back". Retrieved September 10, 2017. Germany has restored the 1936 high jump record to a 95-year-old Queens woman who was kicked off the Nazi Olympic team because she was Jewish.
  6. ^ a b "Margarethe Bergmann". Jews in Sport. Retrieved November 25, 2009.
  7. ^ a b Hipsh, Rami (November 25, 2009). "German film helps Jewish athlete right historical wrong". Haaretz. Retrieved August 19, 2012.
  8. ^ Profile, Jewish Women's Archive website; accessed September 10, 2017.
  9. ^ Appel, Phyllis (2013-01-21). The Jewish Connection. Graystone Enterprises LLC. ISBN 9781301060931.
  10. ^ *Usborne, Simon (July 31, 2012). "I watched the Games and hated every minute". The Independent. Retrieved August 19, 2012.
  11. ^ "Germany honours Jewish athlete banned from 1936 Olympics by Nazis", The Guardian, November 24, 2009.
  12. ^ "Gal, 95, beats Nazis, has 1936 record restored". New York Post. November 24, 2009. Retrieved August 19, 2012. A former high jumper now living in Queens, N.Y., finally saw her German national record restored Monday – 73 years after the Nazis disallowed it because she's Jewish.
  13. ^ "Google Maps". Google Maps. Retrieved September 10, 2017.
  14. ^ "Gretel Bergmann Weg im Berliner Olympiapark eingeweiht". Retrieved September 10, 2017.

Further reading[edit]

  • Bergmann Lambert, Margaret (2004). By Leaps and Bounds. Holocaust Survivors Memoirs Project. Washington, D.C.: United States Holocaust Museum. ISBN 978-0-89604-166-0.
  • Guttman, Allen (1992). Women's sports. A history. New York: Columbia University Press. ISBN 0-231-06957-X.
  • Hume, Robert (2012). Clearing the Bar: One Girl's Olympic Dream. Broadstairs: Stone Publishing House. ISBN 978-0-9549909-4-7.
  • Gretel Bergmann: "Ich war die große jüdische Hoffnung". Erinnerungen einer außergewöhnlichen Sportlerin. Hrsg. v. Haus der Geschichte Baden-Württemberg. Übersetzt aus dem Englischen von Irmgard Hölscher. 2. erweiterte Auflage, Verlag Regionalkultur, 2015; ISBN 978-3-89735-908-6.
  • Berno Bahro, Jutta Braun: Berlin '36: Die unglaubliche Geschichte einer jüdischen Sportlerin im "Dritten Reich". Berlin 2009; ISBN 978-3-86650-037-2.
  • Berno Bahro, Jutta Braun, Hans Joachim Teichler (Hrsg.): Vergessene Rekorde. Jüdische Leichtathletinnen vor und nach 1933. Verlag für Berlin-Brandenburg, Berlin 2010, ISBN 978-3-86650-038-9.
  • Klaus Brinkbäumer (2009), "The German Mädel", Der Spiegel, September 13 (35), p. 112
  • Klaus Brinkbäumer: „Ich wollte zeigen, dass ein jüdisches Mädchen die Deutschen besiegen kann.“ auf: Spiegel online (interview), August 25, 2009
  • Christian Frietsch: Hitlers Angst vor dem jüdischen Gold. Der Fall Bergmann, die verhinderte Olympiasiegerin. Nomos, Baden-Baden 2013; ISBN 978-3-8487-0349-4.

In film[edit]

External links[edit]