1936 Summer Olympics

1936 Summer Olympics
Games of the XI Olympiad
1936 berlin logo.jpg
Host city Berlin, Germany
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 Adolf Hitler
Athlete's Oath Rudolf Ismayr
Olympic Torch Fritz Schilgen
Stadium Olympic Stadium

The 1936 Summer Olympics, officially known as the Games of the XI Olympiad, was an international multi-sport event which was held in 1936 in Berlin, Germany. Berlin won the bid to host the Games over Barcelona, Spain on April 26, 1931, at the 29th IOC Session in Barcelona (two years before the Nazis came to power). It 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 April 24, 1894. Then, Athens, Greece and Paris, France were chosen to host the 1896 and 1900 Games, respectively.

Filmmaker Leni Riefenstahl, a favorite of Adolf Hitler, was commissioned by the German Olympic Committee to film the Games. Her film, entitled Olympia, introduced many of the techniques now common to the filming of sports.

By allowing only members of the "Aryan race" to compete for Germany, Hitler further promoted his ideological belief of racial supremacy. 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" Berlin, the German Ministry of the Interior authorized the chief of police to arrest all Romani (Gypsies) and keep them in a special camp.[1] 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 that of the German national government (which did not make its costs public, but is estimated to have spent US$30 million, chiefly in capital outlays).[2]


Host city selection

Berlin, gate of the Olympic Stadium

The bidding for these Olympic Games was the first to be contested by IOC members casting their votes for their favorite host city.[3] The vote occurred in 1931 during the Weimar Republic era, before Adolf Hitler rose to power in 1933. There were many other cities around the world that wanted to host this Summer Olympics, but they never received a single IOC vote. They were of the following: Alexandria, Buenos Aires, Cologne, Dublin, Frankfurt, Helsinki, Lausanne, Nuremberg, Rio de Janeiro, and Rome.[4] Many commentators have noted the IOC's fascist leanings, which even the most generous historians characterize as "bizarre".[5]

1936 Summer Olympics bidding result[6]
City Country Round 1
Berlin  Germany 43
Barcelona  Spain 16


The swimming venue today.

Basketball and handball made their debut at the Olympics, both as outdoor sports. Handball would not appear again on the program until 1972.

Demonstration sports

A stamp depicting a German football player issued on the occasion


Nazi influence on and use of sporting events


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 organization 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."[7] Many Jews and Gypsies were banned from participating in sporting events, including Jewish four-time world record holder and 10-time German national champion Lilli Henoch.[8]

Von Tschammer trusted the details of the organization 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. Diem revealed himself as highly competent and made original innovations, like the Olympic torch relay from Athens, that are still valued.[9]

Saluting Adolf Hitler

There was a controversy over the question whether athletes would give the Nazi salute to Hitler as they passed by his reviewing stand. There was some confusion over this issue, since the Olympic salute, with right arm held out at a slight angle to the right sideways from the shoulder, could also be mistaken for the Hitler stiff-arm salute. The British squad refused to make either salute and instead gave the "eyes right".[10]

Jesse Owens

The participation of Jesse Owens was controversial because of his race, at a time when segregation and discrimination against black people was a normality in much of the United States. Once in Berlin, Owens was able to freely use public transport and enter bars and other public facilities without the difficulty he would face as a black man in the United States. Although the Nazis viewed the blacks inferior to the "Aryan race", due to the very low number of blacks in Germany, no systematic government actions were implemented against them unlike, for example, against Jews or Gypsies.[11]

On reports that Hitler had deliberately avoided acknowledging his victories and had refused to shake his hand, Owens recounted "When I passed the Chancellor he arose, waved his hand at me, and I waved back at him. I think the writers showed bad taste in criticising the man of the hour in Germany." He also stated "Hitler didn't snub me — it was FDR who snubbed me. The president didn't even send me a telegram." While Hitler did not personally congratulate Owens, he did not congratulate any other athlete (including those competing for Germany) after the first day either, in accordance with IOC guidelines that he should congratulate everyone or no one. Hitler did, however, leave the Olympic Stadium just before another African-American athlete, Cornelius Johnson, was set to receive his medal.[12] Journalist Siegfried Mischner claims Hitler did shake Owens' hand behind the honor stand and that Owens carried a photo in his wallet. Although it cannot be verified as he is the only witness still living, Mischner stated that "The predominating opinion in post-war Germany was that Hitler had ignored Owens. We therefore decided not to report on the photo. The consensus was that Hitler had to continue to be painted in a bad light in relation to Owens."[13]

However, Hitler's contempt for Owens and for those races he deemed 'inferior' arose in private, away from maintaining Olympic neutrality. As Albert Speer, Hitler's architect and later war armaments minister recollected in his memoirs Inside the Third Reich:

"Each of the German victories, and there were a surprising number of these, made him happy, but he was highly annoyed by the series of triumphs by the marvelous colored American runner, Jesse Owens. People whose antecedents came from the jungle were primitive, Hitler said with a shrug; their physiques were stronger than those of civilized whites and hence should be excluded from future games. Hitler was also jolted by the jubilation of the Berliners when the French team filed solemnly into the Olympic Stadium......If I am correctly interpreting Hitler's expression at the time, he was more disturbed than pleased by the Berliners' cheers."[14]

German crowds adored Owens, and he forged a long-term friendship with German competitor Luz Long.[15] Jesse Owens received a ticker-tape parade in New York City upon his return to the United States[16] and was later named "Ambassador of Sport" by President Eisenhower.

Boycott debate

Prior to and during the Games, there was considerable debate outside Germany over whether the competition should be allowed or discontinued.

Boycott debate in the United States

Those who voiced their opinions on the debate included Americans Ernest Lee Jahncke, Judge Jeremiah Mahoney, and future IOC President Avery Brundage. The United States considered boycotting 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 argued that the Olympic Games should not reflect political views, but rather 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. 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.”[17] Brundage also believed that there was a “Jewish-Communist conspiracy” that existed to keep the United States out of competing in the Olympic Games.[18]

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.[18]

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, winning by two and a half votes. Mahoney’s efforts to incite a boycott of the Olympic games in the United States failed. President Roosevelt demanded the participation of U.S.A. in the Olympics, intending to keep the tradition of America being void of outside influence intact.

The 1936 Summer Olympics ultimately boasted the largest number of participating nations of any Olympics to that point. However, some individual athletes, including Jewish Americans Milton Green and Norman Cahners, chose to boycott the Games.

Spanish boycott

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 22 countries registered for the games. 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. Like Spain, the Soviet Union did not participate in the 1936 summer Olympics.[19]


Olympic fire
Olympic Stadium
Olympics in Berlin 1936.jpg
Swastika on the plane of Ernst Udet used for aerobatic demonstrations held during the 1936 Summer Olympics (on display in the Polish Aviation Museum).
Front face of John Woodruff's Gold Medal. Currently on display in Hillman Library, University of Pittsburgh, Pittsburgh, PA
Back face of John Woodruff's medal.

The games were the first to have live television coverage. The German Post Office, using equipment from Telefunken, broadcast over seventy hours of coverage to special viewing rooms throughout Berlin and Potsdam and a few private TV sets, transmitting from the Paul Nipkow TV Station. The Olympic Flame was used for the second time at these games, but this marked the first time it was brought to the Olympic Village by a torch relay, with the starting point in Olympia, Greece.[20] The Republic of China's Three Principles of the People was chosen as the best national anthem of the games.

The official book of the 1936 Olympics is present in many libraries[21] containing all the signatures of Golden medals winners[22]

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.[23] 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 had sex change surgery and legally changed their names, to Zdenek Koubek and Mark Weston, respectively.).[24] Gender verification in sports was not in place in 1936.

Politics and controversy

Despite not coming from fascist countries, French and Canadian Olympians gave what appeared to be the Hitler salute at the opening ceremony, although some have later claimed that they were just performing the Olympic salute, which was in fact a very similar action.[25]

Gretel Bergmann, despite equaling a national record in the high jump a month before the games, was excluded from the German team because she was Jewish.[26]

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 Avery Brundage did not want to add to the embarrassment of Hitler by having two Jews win gold medals.[27]

Italy's football team continued their dominance, 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.[28]

The Nazis demoted Captain Wolfgang Fürstner, the half-Jewish commandant of the Olympic Village, during the games, and replaced him with Werner von Gilsa. After the games' conclusion, Fürstner, a career officer, committed suicide when he learned that the Nuremberg Laws classified him as a Jew, and, as such, he was to be expelled from the Wehrmacht.[29]

In the film Charlie Chan at the Olympics (1937) the filmmakers removed all Nazi symbols which appeared during the actual games, although actors playing members of the Berlin police force help Charlie apprehend the spies (of unnamed nationality) trying to steal a new aerial guidance system.[30]

Sporting innovations

Basketball was added to the Olympic program. In the final game, the United States beat Canada 19–8. The contest was played outdoors on a dirt court in driving rain. Because of the quagmire, the teams could not dribble, thus the score was held to a minimum. Joe Fortenberry was the high scorer for the U.S. with seven points. Spectators did not have seats, and the approximately 1,000 in attendance had to stand in the rain.

In the freestyle event, swimmers originally dived from the pool walls, but diving blocks were incorporated at the 1936 Olympics.

Notable wins

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.

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 100 meter sprint silver medal behind Owens by .04 seconds. 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.[31] 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 Adolf Hitler in attendance.

In the marathon two Korean athletes won medals — Sohn Kee-chung (gold) and Nam Sung-yong (bronze) — running for Japan and under Japanese names; Japan had annexed Korea in 1910. British 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 two gold medals in Men's Wrestling, 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 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.[21] 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.

Participating nations

Nations participating for the first time shown in blue.
Number of athletes

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

Medal count

These are the top ten nations that won medals at these 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


"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[32]
"German sport has only one task: to strengthen the character of the German people, imbuing it with the fighting spirit and steadfast camaraderie necessary in the struggle for its existence."
— Minister of Propaganda Joseph Goebbels

See also

Olympic Rings.svg Olympics portal


  1. ^ "The Facade of Hospitality". United States Holocaust Memorial Museum. http://www.ushmm.org/museum/exhibit/online/olympics/detail.php?content=facade_hospitality_more&. Retrieved 2008-07-04. "In a move to "clean up" Berlin before the Olympics, the German Ministry of Interior authorized the chief of the Berlin Police to arrest all Gypsies prior to the Games. On July 16, 1936, some 800 Gypsies were arrested and interned under police guard in a special Gypsy camp in the Berlin suburb of Marzahn." 
  2. ^ Zarnowski, C. Frank (Summer 1992). "A Look at Olympic Costs" (PDF). Citius, Altius, Fortius 1 (1): 16–32. http://www.aafla.org/SportsLibrary/JOH/JOHv1n1/JOHv1n1f.pdf. Retrieved 2007-03-24. 
  3. ^ "Olympic Vote History". http://www.aldaver.com/votes.html. Retrieved 2008-07-01. 
  4. ^ GamesBids' Past Olympic Host City Selection List
  5. ^ [1]
  6. ^ "Past Olympic host city election results". GamesBids. Archived from the original on 17 March 2011. http://www.webcitation.org/5xFvf0ufx. Retrieved 17 March 2011. 
  7. ^ Nazification of Sport
  8. ^ Paul Taylor (2004). Jews and the Olympic Games: the clash between sport and politics: with a complete review of Jewish Olympic medalists. Sussex Academic Press. ISBN 1903900883. http://books.google.com/books?id=t0KzECrIQDQC&pg=PA107&lpg=PA107&dq=Lilli+Henoch+jewish&source=bl&ots=hs95_fZgsb&sig=ZcJLjRPm4MMxQtH1zSNmXSRiiX0&hl=en&ei=986wTseJNaLv0gGstdi9AQ&sa=X&oi=book_result&ct=result&resnum=5&ved=0CDIQ6AEwBDgK#v=onepage&q=henoch&f=false. Retrieved 2 November 2011. 
  9. ^ Chris Bowlby, The Olympic torch's shadowy past, BBC News, April 5, 2008
  10. ^ Hapgood, Eddie (1945). Football Ambassador. Great Britain: Sporting Handbooks ltd.. p. 18. ISBN 978-0-9559211-2-4. 
  11. ^ Lusane, Clarence (2003). Hitler's Black Victims: The Historical Experiences of European Blacks, Africans and African Americans During the Nazi Era. New York: Routledge. ISBN 0415932955.  pp. 6–7
  12. ^ "Was Jesse Owens snubbed?". History News Network. http://hnn.us/articles/571.html. Retrieved 2008-08-23. "The facts are simple. Hitler did not congratulate Owens, but that day he didn't congratulate anybody else either, not even the German winners. As a matter of fact, Hitler didn't congratulate anyone after the first day of the competition. That first day he had shaken hands with all the German victors, but that had got him in trouble with the members of the Olympic Committee. They told him that to maintain Olympic neutrality, he would have to congratulate everyone or no one. Hitler chose to honour no one." 
  13. ^ Adolf Hitler 'did shake hands with Jesse Owens' The Telegraph August 11, 2009
  14. ^ Speer, Albert. Inside the Third Reich p.73
  15. ^ Adolf Hitler, Jesse Owens and the Olympics Myth of 1936
  16. ^ Schwartz, Larry (2007). "ESPN.com: Owens pierced a myth". http://espn.go.com/sportscentury/features/00016393.html. Retrieved August 14, 2008. 
  17. ^ Boycott
  18. ^ a b The Nazi Olympics
  19. ^ Richard D. Mandell, The Nazi Olympics, University of Illinois Press, 1987, ISBN 0-252-01325-5; p. 68
  20. ^ "Olympic Flame history". Everything2. http://www.everything2.com/index.pl?node_id=1252770. Retrieved 2008-08-23. "The carrying of the flame from its origin in Olympia to the site of the games is called the Olympic Torch Relay. Some believe that the relay also began in the Ancient Olympics, but Olympic officials confirm that the tradition of the Modern Olympic Torch Relay began in 1936 at the Berlin Games, to represent a link between the ancient and modern Olympics, and has since remained as an Olympic custom." 
  21. ^ a b 1936 Olympics book
  22. ^ El-Tony siganture in arabic in the official 1936 Olymipics book
  23. ^ Deciding whether to boycott
  24. ^ [2] "Change of Sex" 24 Aug 1936 Time
  25. ^ Opening Ceremony
  26. ^ Sandomir, Richard (July 7, 2004). "'Hitler's Pawn' on HBO: An Olympic Betrayal". New York Times. http://query.nytimes.com/gst/fullpage.html?res=9402E4D9143BF934A35754C0A9629C8B63. Retrieved 2008-07-04. "And she remembers with restrained anger the isolation she felt as a Jewish athlete denied basic rights in Hitler's Germany, and how, despite equaling a national record in the high jump a month before the 1936 Berlin Summer Games, she was excluded from the German Olympic team because she was a Jew." 
  27. ^ Holocaust Museum exhibit, Washington, DC
  28. ^ Football at Summer Olympics 1936
  29. ^ Lehrer, Steven. The Reich Chancellery and Führerbunker Complex. An Illustrated History of the Seat of the Nazi Regime. McFarland. Jefferson, NC 2006 pp 47–48. [3]
  30. ^ http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0028708/
  31. ^ Litsky, Frank (2007-11-01). "John Woodruff, an Olympian, Dies at 92". The New York Times. http://www.nytimes.com/2007/11/01/sports/othersports/01woodruff.html?_r=1. Retrieved 2010-08-26. 
  32. ^ http://www.huffingtonpost.com/chris-weigant/the-olympic-torch-relays_b_96648.html Hitle's quote.


Further reading

External links

Preceded by
Los Angeles
Summer Olympic Games

XI Olympiad (1936)
Succeeded by

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