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"Hitler’s Secret Weapon: Propaganda through Athletics"

Book Essay on:
Richard D. Mandell, The Nazi Olympics
(New York: MacMillan, 1971), 316 pages.
UCSB: GV722 1936 .M3

by Adan Saucedo
March 14, 2008

for Prof. Marcuse's lecture course
The Holocaust in German History
UC Santa Barbara, Winter 2008

About the Author
& Abstract
and Links
$24 & searchable
at amazon

About Adan Saucedo

I am a senior history major who has been studying 20th century U.S. history. I have never studied the Holocaust until I transferred here to UCSB. Now, I have taken three courses that cover the Holocaust and I enjoyed them all very much. I chose Mandell’s book because I am a big sports fan and because the 1936 Olympic Games played a major role in Hitler’s propaganda of Aryan superiority, antisemitism, and expansionism.

Abstract (back to top)

The 1936 Summer Games will forever be known as the Nazi Olympics. The Berlin Games were an enormous spectacle of Nazi propaganda set out by Adolf Hitler. Joseph Goebbels, Germany’s Minister of Propaganda, cleverly utilized the Games in every way possible. From swarming the streets of Berlin with swastika flags to constructing the world’s largest stadium at that time, Germany instituted the idea of Nazism to its guest and displayed an amazing hospitality in order blind them from the truth; territorial gain and antisemitism. Mandell pays close attention to sport and the role it takes in politics and society. The three main themes in this book are the Nazis’ attempt to connect the old and new Olympic Games, the Olympic movement during the thirties, and the modern concept of athletics. My thesis emphasizes Hitler’s attempt to showcase his Third Reich to the world by using propaganda, and by doing so, how he managed to deceive his Olympic guests and the world that Germany was peaceful.

Essay (back to top)

Hitler’s Secret Weapon: Propaganda through Athletics

The 1936 Olympic Games will forever be known as the Nazi Olympics. The games took place in Berlin and were heavily sponsored by the Hitler regime. As a result, Hitler utilized the international platform the Olympic Games offered to showcase his National Socialist Third Reich. When Adolf Hitler was elected Chancellor of Germany in 1933, he progressively pushed his agenda of territorial expansion and antisemitism. The Nazi dictator used the Summer Olympics to conceal his militaristic and racist ideas (Jewish Virtual Library). However, the 1936 games would have been a landmark event in the history of sport, with several records being broken and Jesse Owens winning four Gold medals, regardless of the political intent it had (Kruger, 1). With Richard D. Mandell's book The Nazi Olympics and other sources, I will show how Hitler utilized propaganda in the 1936 Berlin Games, the effects it had, and how the 1936 Olympics are viewed today. By heavily using propaganda, under the direction of Joseph Goebbels, Minister of Propaganda, Hitler was able to show the world his Reich’s upcoming superiority and ‘rightful’ place amongst world leaders, and managed to skillfully deceive his Olympic guests and the world with an image of a tolerant and peaceful Germany.

The 1936 Olympic Games were scheduled to be held at Berlin before Hitler came to power. On May 13, 1931, headed by Count Henri Baillet-Latour, the International Olympic Committee (IOC) awarded Berlin the 1936 Summer Olympic Games (Mandell, 86). Berlin was chosen as the site of the Games over Barcelona (Mandell, 86), because the IOC wanted to show Germany’s return to the international community after its devastating defeat in the Great War (Jewish Virtual Library). Hitler was never known to be a ‘sports fan’, nor did he care about the outcomes of sporting events. In fact, Hitler did not wish to see proud “Aryans” sharing the same field with racial inferiors; moreover, Hitler told his chief architect, Albert Speer, that in the future there will be only “Aryan Games” (Kruger, 1). Hitler did not endorse the Games until Joseph Goebbels, Minister of Public Enlightenment and Propaganda, understood the propaganda potential of the Olympic Games. However, Goebbels knew that in order for propaganda to be successful, it had to win the heart of the people (Kruger, 20). Hitler changed his views of sports, and adopted Goebbels’ view of the Olympic Games (Mandell, 235). As a result, the German government attached sport as part of its intent to propel and strengthen the ‘Aryan race,’ to have political control over its citizens, and most importantly, to prepare German youth for war (Jewish Virtual Library).

In accordance with the revival of the importance of German athletics, many Jewish athletes were banned from participating in sporting events and clubs (Kruger, 43). After Hitler came into power in 1933, many laws were passed against German Jews. For example, the Nuremburg Laws restricted several civil liberties from the Jews; in other words, “constituted the basic legalization of Nazi hatred of the Jew” (Lipstadt, 42). Before the establishment of these racial laws, there had been approximately 40,000 Jews associated with about 250 sporting clubs (Mandell, 60). Daniel Prenn, one of Germany’s top-ranked tennis players, was taken out from the German Lawn Tennis Association because “non-Aryans cannot play in representative matches or in official league contests” (Mandell, 62-63).

Before the summer Games in Berlin, Germany also hosted the 1936 Winter Olympics in Garmisch-Partenkirchen. The winter Games were in many ways a sample of what was to be expected in summer at Berlin. The 1936 Winter Games had the largest audience at the time, and all the participants and visitors of the games were well received. Fearing that Jewish athletes would not be treated fair and ‘equal,’ the IOC considered moving the games to either Rome or Tokyo; however, the IOC were conciliated by German promises of a ‘fair’ competition for all athletes (Potts, New York Times Upfront). Accommodating to the IOC’s insistence of “fair play” (USHMC, pamphlet), the Jewish hockey player Rudi Ball was invited back from exile to play for the German team (Mandell, 100). In many aspects, the winter Games was considered a success, for it convinced its foreign visitors that Germany was administratively capable, sincere and a gracious host (Mandell, 105). Furthermore, Hitler used this time of peace that the winter Games provided as an opportunity for further rearmament and territorial gain. On March 16, 1935, Hitler ignored the rules the Treaty of Versailles instituted, and commenced a program of rearmament (Mandell, 106). As a result, Hitler’s newly rearmed military mobilized to the demilitarized zone known as the Rhineland (Mandell, 107). Causing much tension between surrounding countries, especially France, Hitler spoke ‘sincerely’ of his intention to remilitarize the Rhineland and offered nothing but peace (Mandell, 107). The Rhineland crisis gave Hitler much self-confidence, since the countries under the League of Nations did not do much to stop him (Mandell, 110).

Before the summer Games took place, many countries were teetering over whether or not to boycott the 1936 Berlin Games. Regardless if the boycott would have taken place, the organizers of the Games were prepared by all means to put on purely German Games in case of a major international boycott (Kruger, 1). However, that was not the case, for a major international boycott never took place. Many western democracies, particularly the United States, questioned the morality of showing support of the Olympic Games by participating. Hitler’s greatest threat of hosting the Games was the United States, for they were the world’s largest democracy and had a strong Jewish minority; in other words, without U.S. participation, the Games would not have been considered a ‘truly’ world event (Kruger, 13). Avery Brundage, president of the American Olympic Committee (AOC), accepted an invitation to Berlin to make a formal investigation (Schaffer, 53). At first, Brundage went to Berlin with the thought of the Games being moved from Germany. Brundage was astonished by the order, prosperity, and joy most tourists experienced in Germany during that period in time (Mandell, 73). Furthermore, the Nazis assured Brundage that about 23 Jewish athletes were invited to try out for the Games (Povich, The Washington Post). In a pamphlet titled “Fair Play for American Athletes,” Brundage stated that politics and religion should not be allowed to interfere with sport (Schaffer, 53). Brundage concluded that Germany was truly in the spirit of “Olympism,” and with that, the AOC voted to participate in the Berlin Games (Mandell, 73).

Despite of the AOC’s decision to participate in the games, there were still many people who had mixed feelings about going Germany. Most African American newspapers did not favor the notion of boycotting the 1936 Games, for they saw the Games as an opportunity for Blacks to gain prosperity. Many African Americans thought of the U.S. as being a hypocrite for judging the Germans for their racist actions, as illustrated by ThePhiladelphia Tribune in 1935, when it editorialized that the U.S. “conveniently forgets the things that sit on its own doorstep” (Green, The Philadelphia Tribune). Throughout the world, signs of support for the boycott were sprouting. Countries like Great Britain, France, Czechoslovakia, and Sweden were openly displaying boycott efforts (Jewish Virtual Library). Nevertheless, the U.S. accepted the invitation to the Games, and other countries soon followed along.

With the boycotting issue out of the way, the XI th Olympiad was about to commence, and Hitler finally had his chance to show the world his Third Reich. Propaganda was seen everywhere throughout Berlin and its surrounding areas. In preparation for the Games, Goebbels highly advised Hitler to pause his anti-Semitic campaign. Hitler agreed with Goebbels and a “clean-up” was ordered, which resulted in all antisemitic signs coming down (Mandell, 142). However, there were a few instances when journalists, and/or tourists came across slogans reading, “Jews are our misfortune” (Mandell, 143). Instead of antisemitic signs being displayed, flags played a huge role in the Nazi Olympics. 1936 street scene with flagsAs seen on the photograph on the left, the streets of Berlin were covered mainly by swastika flags and a significant amount of flags with the Olympic rings (USHMM). However, Jews were not allowed to display the swastika flag, but were ordered to display flags that signified “peaceful internationalism” (Mandell, 142). 1936 Olympic bellThe Olympic Bell displayed during the Games had a major significance. The Bell’s purpose was to focus on the world’s youth. In a speech given by Hans von Tschammer und Osten, the Reich’s Sport Leader, the mighty tones of the bell “shall not merely summon the youth of the world but shall remind us constantly of those who gave their lives for the fatherland” (Mandell, 128). As seen on the right, the Bell has the Reich’s adopted national symbol of the eagle, known as the Hoheitszeichen, grasping the Olympic Rings with a message on the bottom, “Ich rufe die Jugend der Welt” (I summon the youth of the world) (Wenzel). Furthermore, nothing became more significant than Carl Diem’s Olympic Torch run. In fact, the running of the torch from Greece to the Olympic host is still practiced in today’s Olympics. The idea was to carry a torch from ancient Olympia to the Olympic Stadium at Berlin. Although the ancient Greeks never practiced the ‘carrying of the torch,’ Diem’s idea had purely propaganda intentions. The torch was intended to tie Germany’s roots back to ancient Greece. Theodor Lewald, president of Germany’s Olympic Committee, stated that the torch, “…creates a real and spiritual bond between our German fatherland and the sacred places of Greece founded nearly 4,000 years ago by Nordic immigrants” (Mandell, 151). What was most significant about the Olympic Torch run was the final torch bearer, for all the attention was focused on him. Schilgen, a Berliner, was the ideal ‘Aryan’, for he was slim and tall, with golden hair and perfect features (Mandell, 136).

Overall, the Games were a major success for Germany in many aspects. Besides the fact that Germany won the most medals in the1936 Olympics, Germany showed the world its ‘Aryan’ dominance during the Games. However, minority athletes like Jesse Owens undermined Hitler’s message of Aryan superiority amongst other races, for Owens was a Black man who dominated the Games. Owens appearing on the winner’s podium as a gold medalist four times threatened Nazi ideology (Schaffer, 9). However, actions done by the American track & field team showed support for Hitler’s ideals. On the day of the 4x100-meter relay race, American coach Dean Cromwell made a controversial move when he replaced the only two Jewish members on the team. Marty Glickman and Sam Stoller were replaced by Jesse Owens and Ralph Metcalfe (Glickman, 25). Although both Owens and Metcalfe pleaded with Coach Cromwell to allow Glickman and Stoller to race, Cromwell insisted that he wanted his fastest runners on the field, even though the Americans were heavily favored to win the race (Glickman, 25). Aside from winning the most medals, Germany displayed great hospitality and organization that ultimately won the admiration of many of its visitors.

Today, the Olympic Games are considered by many people as an athletic event, made up of many countries, that demonstrates to the world international peace and harmony. In the late 19 th century, Baron Pierre de Coubertin, a noble Frenchmen, had the idea of the Olympics, but it took him a long time to plan and lay out his idea. In 1892, Coubertin proposed the establishment of the Olympic Games; on the basis of “conforming to the conditions of modern life,” and that it should be a great and beneficial project (Mandell, 20). The true concept of the modern Olympic Games that Coubertin created was to foster international peace by allowing countries to compete with one another, to illustrate their countries’ athletic abilities, and nationalism (Kruger, 6). Unfortunately, Adolf Hitler took advantage of the grand stage the Olympic Games offered in order to illustrate to the world his Third Reich. Hitler simply used the Olympics as a propaganda device, and turned the Olympics into the biggest spectacle ever known (Green, Philadelphia Tribune). Hitler was truly “conforming to the conditions of modern life”, as Coubertin ‘liked’, by getting Germany ready for territorial expansion and cleansing Germany from non-Aryans. Nonetheless, whatever the intentions and motives Hitler had to utilize the Olympic Games for his personal gain are neither here nor there. What was truly significant was the compliance of the countries that participated in the 1936 games, which can be seen as signs of appeasement towards Hitler, even though he had not shown his full evilness (Kruger, 15).

Bibliography and Links (back to top)(links last checked 3/21/08)

Book Review

  • Adelman, Melvin L., Journal of Social History, Vol. 6, No. 1 (Autumn, 1972), pp. 113-115
    Melvin Adelman’s review of The Nazi Olympics really sums up what Mandell had to say about the 1936 Olympics. Adelman focuses on how successful the Nazis were, not just in the Games, but how they were able to generate mass support and foreign approval.

Related Books and Articles

  • Glickman, Marty. The Fastest Kid on the Block: The Marty Glickman Story. [Syracuse, N.Y.]: Syracuse University Press, 1996. 201 pages. Call Number: GV1061. 15.G55 A3 1996
    This book about Marty Glickman, who is also the author, is a book about his life before, during, and after the 1936 Olympic Games. Glickman was a world class athlete that was denied participation of the 1936 Games because of the fact that he was Jewish. After the Games, Glickman found a career as a play-by-play sports announcer.
  • Green, Anthony. “Holocaust Museum Spotlights 1936 Olympics”. The Philadelphia Tribune. August 9, 1996. <http://www.highbeam.com/> [Membership needed]
    This article from The Philadelphia Tribune is about the 1996 Olympic Games and the 60 th anniversary of the 1936 Games. It focuses on the racial factor the 1936 Games played, in particularly about African American athletes and the obstacles they had to over come.
  • Jewish Virtual Library. The Nazi Olympics. <http://www.jewishvirtuallibrary.org/jsource/Holocaust/olympics.html>
    This website is a great site for all aspects of Jewish history. Moreover, it covers the different aspects of the 1936 Berlin Games from how Germany was first awarded the Games till the aftermath of the Games.
  • Kruger, Arnd and William Murray. The Nazi Olympics: Sport, Politics, and Appeasement in the 1930s. Urbana: University of Illinois Press, c2003. 260 pages. UCSB Main Library GV722 1936 .N39 2003
    This book is a survey of the different political debates that developed in 11 countries that participated in both the 1936 winter and summer Games. This book also gives an insight beyond the deliberations and discussions of athletes, officials, and politicians had throughout the games.
  • Lipstadt, Deborah E. Beyond Belief: The American Press and the Coming of the Holocaust, 1933-1945. New York: Free Press, c1986. 370 pages. Call Number: Main Library DS135.G33 L57 1986
    In this book, Lipstadt provides information about the Holocaust and how the general public reacted to these events. This book also examines how American opinions formed in relation to the Holocaust, which resulted in the U.S.’s late involvement in the war.
  • Potts, Courtney. “1936: The ‘Nazi Olympics’: Three Years before World War II, Adolf Hitler turned the Berlin Games into a Tense Spectacle Designed to Showcase ‘Aryan Superiority’. New Your Times Upfront. May 8, 2006. <http://www.highbeam.com/> [Membership needed]>
    This article by the New York Times Upfront gives a brief insight to the 1936 Berlin Games. From Hitler’s rise to power to the institution of the Nuremburg Laws, this article gives a bite of behind the scenes of Hitler’s ultimate plan of antisemitism and expansionalism. It also covers what happened after the Games.
  • Povich, Shirley. “Berlin, 1936: At the Olympics, Achievements of the Brave in a Year of Cowardice”. The Washington Post. July 6, 1996. <http://www.highbeam.com/> [Membership needed]>
    The title of this article by The Washington Post says it all. In the year where records were being set and broken, when a single athlete won four gold medals, and with the largest audience in attendance, the 1936 Berlin Games was made into a spectacle for Hitler’s propaganda. This article mainly focuses on the years leading up to the Olympic Games.
  • Schaffer, Kay and Sidonie Smith. The Olympics at the Millennium: Power, Politics, and the Games. New Brunswick, N.J.: Rutgers University Press, c2000. 318 pages. Call Number: GV721.5 .O425 2000.
    This book is based on a collection of essays that explore the different moments in Olympic history. Through these essays, one is able to see how the Olympic Games gave changed throughout the 20 th century and the different struggles nations, groups of people, or individuals had to go through and overcome.
  • United States Holocaust Memorial Council. The Nazi Olympics Berlin, 1936. S.I.: s.n., 1997?. Call Number: Government Information Center, U.S. -- Y 3.H 74:2 N 23/2
    This pamphlet summarizes the 1936 Olympics in Germany. It has information of the years leading up to the Berlin Games, briefly covers the winter Games in Garmisch-Partenkirchen and the reoccupation of the Rhineland, Nazi propaganda, and stories of individual athletes.
  • United States Holocaust Memorial Museum. (Photograph). “Nazi Olympics, Berlin 1936”. United States Holocaust Memorial Museum Web site. <http://www.ushmm.org/wlc/media_ph.php>
    This site has much Holocaust related material. In this photograph in particular, it shows a Berlin street swarming with swastika flags and with a few flags displaying the Olympic rings.
  • Wenzel, Esther M. (Photograph). “Memories of the 1936 Olympic Games in Berlin”. I, Witness to History. (c)1996, 2000. Retrieved February 13, 2008. <http://iwitnesstohistory.org/ResidentPages/Wenzel/36%20olympics/Olympic_bell.jpg>
    In this site, it just simply has an image of the Olympic Bell that was used in the 1936 Berlin Games.

External Links

  • Mackenzie, Michael, “From Athens to Berlin: The 1936 Berlin Olympics and Leni Riefenstahl’s Olympia” (created winter, 2003), <http://criticalinquiry.uchicago.edu/issues/v29/v29n2.mackenzie.html>.
    This is a great site that focuses on one of Germany’s greatest film makers Leni Riefenstahl. Best known for making documentaries, Riefenstahl’s Olympia was a great sport’s coverage of the 1936 Summer Games. However, although Riefenstahl created many breakthroughs in the film industry, some of her films are considered by many as controversial, for they served as a propaganda tool for the Nazis.
  • <http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/1936_Summer_Olympics>
    This page sums up the 1936 Summer Olympics in a fashionable manner with various highlights, winners and losers, quotes, and most importantly the influence the Nazis had on both in Germany and it foreign visitors.

Additional Books

  • Mezger, Gabi. The Jesse Owens Story. Logan, Iowa: Perfection Learning, c1997.
    This is a great book that gives the perspective of a minority athlete in the 1936 Berlin Games. Jesse Owens dealt with discrimination in the Track and Field team in Ohio State, but still managed to break six records. Although Owens had knowledge of what was going on in Germany, he still had the desire to win and trained every day. As a result, Owens won four gold medals, the most in Olympic history at that time.
  • Anderson, Dave. The Story of the Olympics. New York: Beech Tree Book, 1996.
    This is a great book that talks about both ancient and modern Olympic Games. This book traces the origins of the Olympics back to 776 B.C.E. to the present, and compares and contrast the similar events both eras had, for example, gymnastics, track and field, and speed skating.

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Any student tempted to use this paper for an assignment in another course or school should be aware of the serious consequences for plagiarism. Here is what I write in my syllabi:

Plagiarism—presenting someone else's work as your own, or deliberately failing to credit or attribute the work of others on whom you draw (including materials found on the web)—is a serious academic offense, punishable by dismissal from the university. It hurts the one who commits it most of all, by cheating them out of an education. I report offenses to the Office of the Dean of Students for disciplinary action.

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