1936 Berlin, Germany

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

To outdo the Los Angeles games of 1932, the Nazis built a new 100,000-seat track and field stadium, six gymnasiums, and many other smaller arenas. They also installed a closed-circuit television system, radio network that reached 41 countries, and many other forms of expensive high-tech electronic equipment. Filmmaker Leni Riefenstahl, a favorite of Adolf Hitler, was commissioned by the German Olympic Committee to film the Games for $7 million. Her film, entitled Olympia, pioneered many of the techniques now common in the filming of sports.

Hitler saw the Games as an opportunity to promote his government and ideals of racial supremacy, and did not want Jews or Blacks to be allowed to participate in the Games. However, when threatened a boycott of the Games by other nations, he relented and allowed Blacks and Jews to participate, and added one token participant to the German team—a German woman, Helene Mayer, who had a Jewish father. 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.

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 outlays 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).

Highlights of the Berlin Olympics

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 200 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.

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, Indianswere 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. 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.

Controversy at the Berlin Olympics

Despite not coming from fascist countries, French 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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.