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Berlin during Olympics 1936

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Berlin was voted to host the Olympic games in 1931, In 1933 the Nazi party rose to power (Grannan, n.d). After this many western countries wanted to boycott the Olympics. This was because they were appalled by the German’s racist policies and human rights violations. 49 countries still attended the Berlin Olympics. That was the biggest number of countries to ever attend the Olympic games at their time. The Nazis spent 162.4 million dollars building a 325-acre Olympic sport complex (The History Place, 2001). It was located five miles west of Berlin. The centerpiece of the Olympic complex was a stadium able to seat 110,000 people. It was the largest stadium in the world. The president of Germany’s Olympic Committee was kicked out after it was discovered his grandmother was Jewish. He was replaced by a man named Hans von Tschammer und Osten (The History Place, 2001).

He established the “Aryans Only” policy in choosing Germany’s Olympic athletes. Some of the Jews who were not allowed to participate were world class athletes. Most of them and other Jew athletes left Germany to continue their careers elsewhere. The Nazis also didn’t allow Gypsies to participate including their champion boxer Johann Trollmann. These bans were condemned internationally as a violation of Olympic code of equality and fair play (The History Place, 2001). The Olympics were supposed to be an exercise in goodwill among all nations emphasizing racial equality in sports competition. The Nazis, however, had no interest in promoting racial equality and hoped instead to use the Olympics to show off Aryan athletes, who they believed were naturally superior because of their race (The History Place, 2001). The Nazis attitude brought international calls for a boycott of the Berlin games. There were also requests to move the games to another country. For many American critics of the Hitler regime, the banning of Jews from Germany’s Olympic team was the last straw. The American Olympic Committee was headed by former U.S. Olympic athlete, Avery Brundage, who initially supported the idea of a boycott of the Berlin Olympics (The History Place, 2001). The Nazis attempted to smooth things over by inviting Brundage to Germany and took him to see special training courses supposedly set up for use by Jews in Germany. Brundage was impressed by what he saw and by the extra-special VIP treatment he was given by the Nazis. As a result, Brundage returned to America and announced on September 26, 1934, that the American Olympic Committee officially accepted the invitation to participate in the Berlin Olympics (The History Place, 2001).

The Amateur Athletic Union, however, was not so easily swayed. Its leader, Jeremiah Mahoney, declared that American participation in the Berlin Games meant nothing less than giving American moral and financial support to the Nazi regime, which is opposed to all that Americans hold important. Mahoney was supported in his position by various American Jewish and Christian leaders, along with liberal politicians such as New York Governor Al Smith. 41 college presidents also voiced their support for a boycott. In addition, America’s trade union leaders supported an Olympic boycott and pushed for a complete economic boycott of Nazi Germany. They were strongly anti-Hitler because of the orderly division of Germany’s trade unions by the Nazis. Responding to the mounting international pressure, the Nazis made a token gesture by allowing a part-Jewish athlete, Helene Mayer, back on their Olympic team. She had won a gold medal at the 1928 Games and was the world’s greatest female fencer. The Nazis also let the part-Jewish Theodor Lewald function as an advisor to Germany’s Olympic Organizing Committee (The History Place, 2001).

Avery Brundage responded to his own critics by claiming the Olympics were meant for “athletes not politicians”. He succeeded in convincing several American athletes to his point of view. When the Amateur Athletic Union took its final vote on December 8, 1935, the boycott proposal was voted down by a very thin margin. Tourists entered a clean Berlin where all undesirable people had been swept off the streets by police and sent to a special detention camp outside the city. Buildings everywhere were decorated with Olympic flags hung side-by-side with Nazi swastikas including all the various facilities used for sporting competitions (The History Place, 2001).

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