The Nazi Olympics
In August 1936, the Nazi regime tried to camouflage its violent racist policies while it hosted the Summer Olympics.
The Games Begin
Forty-nine athletic teams from around the world competed in the Berlin Olympics, more than in any previous Olympics. Germany fielded the largest team with 348 athletes. The U.S. team was the second largest, with 312 members, including 18 African Americans. American Olympic Committee President Avery Brundage led the delegation. The Soviet Union did not participate in the Berlin Games.
Germany skillfully promoted the Olympics with colorful posters and magazine spreads. Athletic imagery drew a link between Nazi Germany and ancient Greece, symbolizing the Nazi racial myth that a superior German civilization was the rightful heir of an "Aryan" culture of classical antiquity. This vision of classical antiquity emphasized ideal "Aryan" racial types: heroic, blue-eyed blonds with finely chiseled features.
Concerted propaganda efforts continued well after the Olympics with the international release in 1938 of "Olympiad," the controversial documentary directed by German film maker and Nazi sympathizer Leni Riefenstahl. She was commissioned by the Nazi regime to produce this film about the 1936 Summer Games.
Germany emerged victorious from the XIth Olympiad. German athletes captured the most medals, and German hospitality and organization won the praises of visitors. Most newspaper accounts echoed the New York Times report that the Games put Germans "back in the fold of nations," and even made them "more human again."
Some even found reason to hope that this peaceable interlude would endure. Only a few reporters, such as William Shirer, understood that the Berlin glitter was merely a facade hiding a racist and oppressively violent regime.
After the Games
As post-Games reports were filed, Hitler pressed on with grandiose plans for German expansion. Persecution of Jews resumed. Two days after the Olympics, Captain Wolfgang Fuerstner, head of the Olympic village, killed himself when he was dismissed from military service because of his Jewish ancestry.
Germany invaded Poland on September 1, 1939. Within just three years of the Olympiad, the "hospitable" and "peaceable" sponsor of the Games unleashed World War II, a conflict that resulted in untold destruction. With the conclusion of the Games, Germany's expansionist policies and the persecution of Jews and other "enemies of the state" accelerated, culminating in the Holocaust.
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