With over 200 participating countries, The Olympics Games are a way for countries to showcase their best athletes on the world stage and has been historically a time of peace between Nations. Despite this fact, with countries at high tension, political and social differences boil over into The Games. The most famous of these were the 1936 Olympic Games, hosted in Berlin, Germany, as the Nazi regime was taking control of the German government. The 3rd Reich’s idea of Aryan supremacy led to conflicts with other nations and led the US into a great controversy over their participation in the games.
The Nazi Regime looked down on minority groups such as Jews and Blacks while Team USA had those minority groups as athletes. With all these issues at play, the Games turned into a battle of propaganda for Aryan supremacy and of the German Fascist ideals and inevitably, led to the Nation’s thirst for conquest. The 1936 Games were hosted in Berlin at a time where the Nazi government was limiting the right of the Jews and other minority groups. Germany had just finished recovering from World War One and their hosting of the Olympic Games was seen as their debut back into the world.
In World War One, the blame was put on Germany for starting the war and was forced to pay for the war costs, leading the nation into a depression which lasted almost a decade. This depression led to people needing a leader to help them through their tough times and Hitler set out to be that leader. To create unity among the Germans, he found a common enemy which he used to unite the nation. This common enemy was the Jewish people and other minority groups. This led to the Aryan supremacy which the Nazis were known for and their Aryan supremacy had a great presence throughout the games.
This presence of the Nazis self promotion could be seen anywhere in Germany. Nowadays, the Olympics are sponsored by large corporations and ads are placed everywhere on the fields are arenas to pay for the games. However the 1936 Games were sponsored by the Nazi regime and had banners of a swastika, the symbol of the Nazis. The games were paid for in full by the party to express to other nations the success of the fascist regime and hopefully convert other nations to the fascist ideology. This Olympic games was the first one to be recorded and televised which helped spread the propaganda of the Nazis.
Another use of propaganda was opening games. The Nazis had a great opening ceremony which consisted of all the Germans doing the Nazi salute along with the phrase “Heil Hitler” to show their allegiance to Hitler. The Nazi salute symbolized the Germans allegiance to Hitler and the Nazi Regime and symbolizes the unity of the German nation under Hitler’s rule. Because of the oppressive views of the Nazis and the nation’s allegiance to the party, many people questioned if the US should participate in the Games that year. The Games in 1936 was one of the most controversial games in terms of whether or not to participate.
Many countries had short lived boycotts of the olympic games which include the following: Great Britain, France, Sweden, Czechoslovakia, and the Netherlands. The Soviet Union boycotted the Olympic games successfully due to the fact that they had a communist government where the government has full control. 6 Many of the countries supported a Counter-Olympics which was called the “People’s Olympiad” which was to be hosted in Barcelona,Spain. 6 Sadly, the outbreak of the Spanish Civil war caused an abrupt end to the Games and ended all hopes for a Counter-Olympics. In the US, there were many supporters for and against the boycott movement.
The major US organizations which boycotted the Games include the American Federation of Labour and the Methodist and Catholic Churches. Jewish Organizations especially supported the boycott due to the oppression of Jews in Berlin. 6 A prominent figure for the boycott movement was Jeremiah Mahoney. He pointed that Germany had broken the rules forbidding discrimination based on race and religion and supporting the Olympics would mean supporting the 3rd Reich.
The opposing view supporting the Olympics included almost all the athletes themselves and most of the Olympic Committee. Avery Brundage was the president of the International Olympic Committee and was pro-Olympic games. He stated in a report that “The Olympic Games belong to the athletes and not to the politicians”. Avery was trying to give the athletes a chance to compete and didn’t want international politics to interfere with their chance to compete on a global stage. This would be a big opportunity that could be once in a lifetime and he didn’t want to take that from the athletes.
The president at the time, Franklin D Roosevelt, wanted to stay out of the issue of the boycott and let the committee decide what to do. 6 Avery Brundage visited Germany to see how the country was doing in preparation for the Games and got reassurance from Hitler that the Jewish athletes were being treated fairly. With this fact in hand, the Olympic Committee allowed the US participation in the games. In the end, Germany Won the most medals with the US coming in second place. This was seen as a great feet by Hitler showing his Aryan people’s success against the best in the world.
This increased German confidence in their own nation that they were the best. The Germans wanted to prove themselves as rivals to the Greek who started the tradition of the Olympic games. Japan and Italy, the other fascist nations, also performed very well in the games, helping promote the fascist ideals. 8 To break from the ideas of Aryan supremacy, there were many successful minorities who did very well in the games. The most remarkable was Jesse Owens, a black man from the US, who swept in the track and field events. In Middle School, Owens broke the middle school 100 yard record at 10 seconds.
This shows that it could be seen, even from a young age, that Owens was destined to be a track star. In the National Championship meet for High School, he won the 100 yard, 220 yard, and the long jump. 9 He had been destined to achieve greatness in the games and when the time came, Owens performed at his height. In the Games, we won the 100m and the 200m with world records and beat the German long jumper, Luz Long, to win the long jump as well. 9 Out of respect of Owens victory, Long ran a victory lap with his arms around Owens.
This was a great disappointment for Hitler as not only did a minority outrun his Aryan people, but they also treated Owens with respect after the race. This show of respect created a feel as if they were equals which was against the Aryan supremacy of the Nazi Party. In a later interview, Jesse Owens was asked if he worried about Hitler. Owens replied that he had worked so hard to get where he was today and had the 7 fastest people in the world next to him all trying to cross the finish line first, “so why worry about Hitler”.
Hitler never congratulated Owens on his victory. The 1936 Olympic Games were made for the athletes but international politics got in the way of the fun of the games. Besides the politics, the Games were an overall success with a record 49 participating countries. The propaganda from the Games led to increased Nazi German Nationalism with disastrous, unseen effects. The Germans were used their nationalism gained from the Olympics to begin their conquest over Poland and then all of Europe, starting World War Two.