From the Archive: Hitler’s other Olympics

Rudolf Hess, International Olympics Committee President Henri de Baillet-Latour and Adolf Hitler at the opening ceremony of the 1936 Winter Olympics (Wikimedia Commons)

Rudolf Hess, International Olympic Committee President Henri de Baillet-Latour and Adolf Hitler at the opening ceremony of the 1936 Winter Olympics (Wikimedia Commons)

Much has been made of this year’s Winter Olympics being hosted by Russia, a country with a less-than-ideal human rights record. But the Sochi games are hardly the first to spark controversy over the character of the host government.

One of the most famous examples is Nazi Germany’s hosting of the 1936 Summer Olympics in Berlin, often described as a pivotal moment for the Nazis’ global propaganda efforts.

Less remembered is the fact that Germany also hosted the Winter Olympics that year in the town of Garmisch-Partenkirchen — the final time that consecutive winter and summer games were both held in the same country.

While other media outlets in February 1936 may have concerned themselves with the skiing and figure skating competitions at Garmisch-Partenkirchen, JTA’s coverage focused, not surprisingly, on the treatment there of Germany’s increasingly persecuted Jewish population.

In November 1935, JTA reported that Hitler had assured Count Henri de Baillet-Latour, president of the International Olympic Committee, that all “Jews Not Wanted” signs would be removed from the Bavarian town in time for the games. Shortly before the Games, a JTA article with the headline “Germans Warned Against Molesting Jews at Olympics,” noted that authorities had privately instructed German athletes and visitors “to refrain from all anti-Jewish manifestations and comments until after the games have ended in order to avoid ‘offending the Spanish athletes, whose features are ‘non-Aryan’ looking.’”

Despite the worsening situation for German Jews, one Jewish hockey player — Rudi Ball — actually competed on the German team at Garmisch-Partenkirchen. Ball, JTA noted a few weeks before the games, was a “self-exile” in Paris and Milan and had joined the German team “at the invitation of the Reich sports leader, Captain Hans von Tschammer Osten.” In a separate article, JTA reported it had “learned reliably” that Ball “is playing against his will, having yielded to ‘persuasion’ by Nazi sports authorities.”

While JTA did not report on his performance, according to Wikipedia, Ball, who also played on the German team in the 1932 Olympics, scored two goals during the games, but then was injured, after which Germany took fifth place in the tournament.

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