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Courtesy of the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, Washington, DC.
For two weeks in August 1936, Adolf Hitler’s Nazi dictatorship camouflaged its racist, militaristic character while hosting the Summer Olympics. Softpedaling its antisemitic agenda and plans for territorial expansion, the regime exploited the Games to bedazzle many foreign spectators and journalists with an image of a peaceful, tolerant Germany.
Having rejected a proposed boycott of the 1936 Olympics, the United States and other western democracies missed the opportunity to take a stand that — some observers at the time claimed— might have given Hitler pause and bolstered international resistance to Nazi tyranny. With the conclusion of the Games, Germany’s expansionist policies and the persecution of Jews and other “enemies of the state” accelerated, culminating in World War II and the Holocaust.
In 1931, the International Olympic Committee awarded the 1936 Summer Olympics to Berlin. The choice signaled Germany’s return to the world community after its isolation in the aftermath of defeat in World War I.
Two years later, Nazi party leader Adolf Hitler became chancellor of Germany and quickly turned the nation’s fragile democracy into a one-party dictatorship that persecuted Jews, Roma (Gypsies), all political opponents, and others.
The Nazi claim to control all aspects of German life also extended to sports. German sports imagery of the 1930s served to promote the myth of “Aryan” racial superiority and physical prowess. In sculpture and in other forms, German artists idealized athletes’ well-developed muscle tone and heroic strength and accentuated ostensibly Aryan facial features. Such imagery also reflected the importance the Nazi regime placed on physical fitness, a prerequisite for military service.
Racism in Sports
In April 1933, an “Aryans only” policy was instituted in all German athletic organizations. “Non-Aryans”–Jewish or part-Jewish and Romani (Gypsy) athletes–were systematically excluded from German sports facilities and associations.
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