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1936: The Nazis
 pg. 97 
    Adolf Hitler was quite the host at the 1936 Summer Olympics in Berlin. His people were gracious and hospitable, their parties festive and extravagant. And his Opening Ceremonies were the grandest ever held, climaxed by the release of 20,000 birds that soared to the sky wearing colored ribbons. Many foreign guests left the Games impressed and bedazzled. Hence, the manipulative Hitler had achieved his goal for the Olympics: to give the illusion that the Nazis weren't as villainous as they were often portrayed abroad.

The International Olympic Committee had awarded the 1936 Games to Germany back in 1932, a year before Hitler came to power. Berlin was to be the venue for the summer competition, while the Winter Olympics would be held in Garmisch-Partenkirchen in Bavaria. At the time of the IOC's announcement, no one knew (at least for sure) that Nazi Germany would host those Games. Indeed, the Olympics' internationalist ideal--uniting the world's people through a festival of sport--seemed so much at odds with the Nazis' racist and antisemitic nationalism that the very idea of a Nazi Olympiad seemed wildly contradictory.

The IOC subsequently considered moving the '36 Games to another venue, but the savvy Hitler made just enough concessions to keep the events in Germany. He knew that the upcoming Olympics would be a public relations boon for the Third Reich. As it would turn out, the success of the '36 Olympics would also help seal the fate of millions of European Jews.

Publicly, the Nazis downplayed their feelings of antisemitism throughout the Olympics, even though German Jews, including Jewish athletes, had been severely discriminated against. Jews were banned from sports clubs and athletic facilities where they had been members. Separate and inferior facilities were all that remained for Jewish athletes in Germany.

During the training period prior to the 1936 Summer Olympics, Gretl Bergmann, a world-class high jumper (and a Jew), matched the German women's record--five feet, three inches. On June 13 she received a letter from the German Olympic Committee. Criticizing her recent high-jumping performances for being too erratic, it informed her that she had not been chosen to be a member of her country's Olympic track and field team

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The Summer Olympic Games in Berlin begin with the traditional torch lighting.
Photo: UPI/Corbis-Bettmann

1936: The Nazis
 pg. 97 
The Holocaust Chronicle
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