tv 1936 Berlin Olympics - Defying the Master Race CSPAN January 27, 2021 8:54pm-9:38pm EST
despite some international concern about adolf littler and the radical government in 1936 olympic games were held in berlin, germany, in a online event hosted by the u.s. holocaust memorial museum to scholars of the period discuss it loose propaganda goals for the event, and how black and jewish american athletes competed and earned many medals despite racism in germany and at home. >> this summer, the coronavirus has forced the postponement of the planned olympic games. a conversation about the 1936 olympics held in nazi, berlin. there are so many compelling stories, ranging from the personal experience of athletes, to the german government campaigning to camouflage its
policies, please join me in welcoming today's guest. first damian thomas who is -- high damian, good morning. >> good morning, thank you for having me. i'm excited to participate in this conversation. >> glad to have you on. maybe sometime we will be in person, rather than through a box on the screen. our other guest is my former colleague, doctor daniel greene, he's the president of the -- library in chicago, and he served as the curator of a special exhibition, americans in the holocaust. he also conducted research about the 1936 olympics here in our museum in bc and we are bringing him back to share some of that knowledge. how are things in chicago? >> things are all right. hanging in there. >> as much as anywhere. >> we ask you our viewers --
will get to as many of them alive over the course of the show as we are =%i also if you experience any course of the show, don't worry about, it don't stress, it will be available to you on demand immediately. so how did germany come to host the olympics in 1936? it predates the nazi area -- era. in 1930, won germany was awarded the right to host the olympic games, which was a powerful signal. a return to good standing in the international community following the first world war. in 1933, nazi party leader, adolf hitler was appointed chancellor, and his government quickly transform germany's fragile democracy into dictatorship that persecuted jews and thousands of others, based on a racist ideology and which so-called areas were superior. leaders and average people here in the united states were
becoming increasingly alarmed at germany's turn towards a violent police state. this made them weary of competing in the berlin games. against this backdrop, i would like to start with you, damien. can you tell us a little bit about the debate over whether the united states should participate in the berlin games? >> i think you are absolutely right. this became a serious point of contention, americans from the international -- sorry excuse, me the international olympic committee, the mature athletic union debated this, and they debated it vigorously, even taking trips to germany to see things for themselves. one of the leading figures in american sports was a supporter of the ideas of american participation, and in a very close vote, the american delegation decided to continue to support the olympics, and to participate. >> and it wasn't just sports
organizations who were weighing in this debate. jewish organizations, the naacp, the national association for the advancement of colored people, many people and many groups of the symbolism there. right? >> definitely. i think it was widely debated and discussed. the naacp certainly had strong feelings about this issue. >> as i understand, it they initially supported a boycott of participating. but once it was decided that they would send a delegation they were supportive of the athletes. is that? right >> that's true. so danny, let's put a little bit more of a personal case on this because this isn't just about abstract wars or organizations making a stand, but it is about athletes, young athletes, many of whom have trained their tireless for this moment. can you share a little bit?
>> absolutely. many of them were in college at the time. they were college students, many college presidents had actually come out and supported a boycott of the games as well in 1935. one athlete story stands out, a hurdler named milton green. he was a senior at harvard at the time. here you see green running the hundred ten meter high hurdles. he had times during the race that would have qualified him for the olympics. and along with another jewish athlete, named norman contours, green and contours, they meet with greens family rabbi, a man named harry levy at a temple in boston. and the rabbi talked to these young men and he knew it would send a real, strong message about fear play, and about standing up to discrimination if you see boy caught the games, so milton green and colors
boycott the games. they are two of the only american athletes to decide that they will boycott the games at the time. that is a big ask. a college athlete who has been training for something for the whole lives to say i'm going to sit this one out. you have to think about in 1936, what did americans know about what's going on and nazi germany? they knew there were persecution, discrimination against jews, but they lived in a society in the united states with discrimination against jews, and of course against african america as well, in jim crow america. so, they make the greatest decision to stand up and play the games. >> despite the intensity of that personal sacrifice, and for me, the wrenching disappointment they felt, legion talk publicly about this decision.
it was kind of a personal thing. >> that's right, they don't speak out about the games once they decide not to participate. >> i want to wish a good morning or good afternoon, depending on where you are, to our viewers who are watching. i use museum speak all the time. sunday, we will have visitors in our buildings again. viewers were watching from around the world, thank you for joining us from greensboro, north carolina. good morning to you new jersey, florida, harrisburg, pennsylvania, san francisco, and internationally, glad to have you with us, watching from são paulo, brazil, cairo, egypt, good morning to you in el salvador, peru, and in stockholm, sweden. i will ask you to post your questions in the comments section so damian and danny can answer them. damian, danny gave us a sense of how it played out for a couple of college students, who could relate on a very personal level as jews.
how did african american athletes grappled a question of whether to compete or boycott? >> a difficult question, because for african americans, the olympics and sports have been a primary vehicle for which african americans sought to fight against racial discrimination, by embodying the ideal of the amateur athlete. they saw themselves as challenging notions of race and racial oppression. some of them are also concerned whether they would face discrimination in germany. so, they had legitimate concerns and, words but all of them saw this as an opportunity to compete at the highest levels of sport, and to use their success as a way to speak to african americans ability. at the time in america, there was a notion that intellectual
capacity and athletic ability went hand in hand. it was sort of epitomized in the phrase healthy mind, healthy body. so, african americans used sports to say, look at what we can do when we are given a chance to compete on equal terms, so for african americans, there's success that had much wider meaning. because of the oppression that they faced in the united states, they saw it as their duty to represent to the best of america. the best of black america at the olympic games. >> to recognized that black americans weren't the same as americans. i'm acutely aware waking up this morning, seeing the news from kenosha, it's not a topic or struggle entirely in the past. i'm thinking about these athletes in a 35, 36 are experiencing pervasive and legalized discrimination at
home, and they will go and represent their country. we i wanted to ask you,, had african american athletes were presented games in the past, or is it something new? >> african americans have been involved in the olympic games since the beginning of the modern olympics. first african americans who were at the 1904 olympic games, so there had been a long history of african americans being involved, but 1936 was special, because this was a year where we had a critical mass, 18 african americans who competed in the games. this was a watershed moment in many ways. >> an extremely visible in a way that had not been before. in fact, in the end, 49 nations, the largest contingent ever send teams to berlin, which the
nazis we are thrilled about. it legitimized their place, not only in the eyes of the world, but domestic consumption. for their population at home to say, look, we are respected. we are included. danny, in that vein, the germans knew the world was watching. how did they prepare for the international attention that the olympics would bring to their city and nation? >> the germans had a chance to show off from the games in 1936. it's a return for germany back into the community of nations after world war one. not even 20 years in the rearview mirror in 1936. one of the things germany does to prepare for the games as they hide over signs of discrimination. anti jewish science, posted publicly, persecution of jews publicly, all those signs were removed from berlin, for two weeks, in august, in 1936.
we there are roma living in the streets in berlin who are rounded up by nazi germany, and removed to concentration camps outside of berlin. visitors don't see overt signs of discrimination against jews, or roma, or others. there is just a great deal of pageantry at the games. we are going to see some video that now. you see nazi flags everywhere hanging on the brandenburg gate, nazi flags. the germans, and state the torch relay run, we know so well. this torch relay run begins in athens, and ends in berlin. what are the germans communicating there, that they are the literal inheritors of greek civilization, germany is the new grease, the center of civilization. you see hitler walking into the stadium at the beginning of the
games in august of 1936. so, the germans bring a lot of prompt and pageantry to the games, and a lot of what they bring is still with us today, when we watch the olympic games. he awe they communicate to the world that they're back in the nations, and they cast doubt, and even some american journalists who go over there, reports that they don't see signs of a overt discrimination, even though we've been hearing about that for three years that the nazis have been in power. >> this sanitized version of nazi germany actually dupes a lot of people, or at least it's given a spotlight. we have one more image, i want to mention it's something i've studied and written about, the torch, you know, it's not just the [inaudible] it also adds a kind of false
evidence, the idea that the aryan mid, there is some kind of aged people rooted in an older culture. it's a way of amplifying that we quite vividly, and in person. we >> th to see the nazi flags on that brandenburg gn&asm#=q=1"át nazi flags next to the olympic flags we, for a fair, play international. of course, that's not at all would nazis stand for, but they're able to mesh those ideals in august, or at least to duke visitors, as we've said. >> so, damion, the symbolism of these games particularly fraught was also quite strong and vivid for african americans. we have an editorial cartoon that i'd like us to take a look at. could you please unpack it for our viewers who may not understand all the symbols and it? when we're looking at here? >> this was an editorial cartoon which was featured in
the leading african american newspaper at the time, an incredibly wide circulation. it was said that for every paper that they sold, seven people read it. so, they were waiting to share this message, this idea african americans that 18 african americans who participated in the games sort of represent an america, represent an american ideal, and being champions, not just american athletic prowess, and success, but also representing african americans as an leading citizens in the u.s., certainly the embodiment of these amateur ideals, of gentleman and ladylike ability. so this group of 18 known as the black, eagles and their
names are listed here on these banners or placards that they are holding. tell us stories of. them who are they? heard they come from? how did they perform in berlin? >> the most famous of the group is jesse, who won four metals, became one of the most recognized and important african american symbols of success and accomplishment. this image was of jesse owens we see right now is important because we have memorialized this moment in the national museum. we have a statue of jesse owens that is drawn from this particular image, because it really does speak to african americans athletic ability, but it also speaks to the you are watching american larger lessons we learned in sports history tv, every weekend on of hardware, discipline, persevering through adversity.
so we want to make sure that we were honoring -- struggle for greater rights and freedoms. there is john, who is from the university of pittsburgh and eight middle distance runner who essentially came out of nowhere to win gold in the 800 meter race. he also went on to become a tuskegee -- he became a pilot for world war ii. that's really important because at the time we have a fire pilot. it's one of the most prestigious jobs you can have. as african americans trying to tie their war service to the fight against racism in the united states, guys like john would trick who want the
olympics was a symbol of black american achievement. what also assembled during the war given his ability to occupy this very prestigious and demanding job as eight to soggy airman. >> unless people look back and think that they're part of a general fight i want to remind you that it's an instance military segregated at the time. the reason why you have a unit like the tuskegee airmen is because african american pilots were not allowed to integrate into other units. how did other athletes like a win and -- how did they perform when they reached the arena in berlin? >> they succeeded beyond measure and we're essential to the success of the u.s. teen. >> we see here jesse out winds.
he won four gold medals. he became one of the celebrated athletes the limp ex. here he is with the olympic laurel on his head. with his team fast showing off his medals. woodruff also took a gold medal in the 800 meter race. and i was really struck by the climb and how unlikely and how many odds these young athletes. they were very young. had to overcome. owens was the youngest -- impoverished former. john was the grandson of enslaved people, the first in his family to finish high school. really it was college that brought them to sports. my right damien? i think he was only 21. >> he was. he was 21. he was a coach tune just like to see was a college student, a student at ohio state.
it is also important to remember that they were competing in the north which provided african americans with more opportunities to compete at the highest levels of amateur sports. so certainly these are two men who came from humble beginnings to become important symbols of america and african american ambition and success. >> go ahead danny. >> they are stars at their own schools but they also face segregation at the schools, also, these young men and women who compete, reflect in powerful ways what it meant to go to germany wearing a uniform that said u.s. aid when they don't have anywhere near full equality at the usa. there is hope for a promise of
equality, but the athletes, more i think many of the athletes were really aware of that contrast between the promise, and the reality. >> i'd like to ask people again to pose your questions. we are also going to be sharing some links if you would like to explore more of the state of the united states during this time. also about the olympics. one question that comes up a lot damien, and that i would like you to address, is it true that hitler snubbed jesse owens and refused to shake his hand? is that a myth or is it real? >> yes and no. it is certainly true that hitler did not shake jesse holland's hand. what had happened was that during the first day of competition hitler had went down and greeted and shook the hands of german athletes who
won medals. the international olympic committee went to him and said if you are going to shake the hands of german athletes we would like you to shake the hands of every athlete who wins a medal. and hitler decided that moving forward he wouldn't she the hands of any of the athletes. and jesse owens when he came to the u.s. he had a lot of opportunities to capitalize on his athletic success. when the story began to circulate that -- and just see a winds used it for his benefit and he began to give lectures at dinners, and things like that, and i was often one of the most requested stories about how he had been snubbed by jesse owens. so it just became part of the myth of his experience in
germany. >> so it wasn't a personal repudiation. he just wasn't shaking anybody's hand after that. >> let's hear directly from his own voice and in his own words, john woodruff, about what it meant to him to win in that particular olympic games. >> it made me feel good, because what we did, we destroyed his natural race theory. he had this master race theory, that the superior race, only the pure germans could do certain things in this world. that was what he was advocating. but we destroyed his theory? whenever we start winning those gold medals. law >> what's your reaction to
that damien? >> i sympathize with woodruff's position, but i think i would disagree with that because what happens after the 36th alum bucks. we have to remember that germany won the most medals in the 36 olympics. and they used their success to suggest that they were the superior race. you think about leni -- amazing documentary about the olympics is this celebration of german excellence, and athletic prowess, and tying them back to the ancient democracies in greece. so while in america we often sort of emphasize the success of jesse owens and other americans as sort of repudiating those kinds of
ideas, the germans certainly did not see it that way. >> even more than, that the german propaganda can very easily explain away why african american athletes dominate at the games, which they do. the nazi racist propaganda starts to argue that african americans are faster or can jump higher because they are more animalistic. so their victory, they certainly don't change any opinions and nazi germany, and unfortunately they don't change a lot of opinions and the united states as well. >> i think that is a important point to remember as well, which is the one happens with success of these athletes and african americans becoming more dominant in the sports world is the meaning of sports begins to change. as i mentioned earlier, you had
this idea of how the mind, healthy body. the idea that athletic ability and intellectual capacity go hand in hand. that is why sports are so intricately linked to our american educational system. however, when african americans began to dominate and excel in sports, the meaning of sports changes. rather than those two things begin to see9 they were related. one of the things that propels the success of african americans in sports is the idea that if you are athletic superior, you must be intellectual inferior. so, it's articulated in such a way that african americans, despite their success, become described as less than white americans and others.
>> that's where the stereotypes and the racism morph, and a lot written about, especially the black male body. the idea they can't possibly be this level achievement, it's something almost brutal about them, right? we do have a really interesting perspective here. frank cohen, a holocaust survivor volunteers at our museum in d.c. shared his personal recollection, when he was 11 years, old he was listening to the olympic games on the radio, before tv, and he, wrote and i quote, we cheered the black athletes, particularly jesse owens. by then, we are aligned with our parents, an opposition of german nationalism, and were not sorry when the german athletes lost. for 11-year-old frank, a jewish kid that summer on a farm, he felt glad, some of what john woodruff was describing. danny, we have a question from
of you are asking did any jewish athletes compete in the berlin olympics? >> u.s. athletes did compete in the berlin, olympic games but in small numbers. one jewish athlete in the winter games which are held in february of 1936 in germany, and one jewish athlete in the summer games, and it's been speculated that germans included one jewish athlete on each team to be able to say, look, we are not discriminating against jewish athletes. the jewish athletes who competed in the summer games, she is a fence or. she was a dominant fence, or had won a gold medal of the 1928 games, add competed in los angeles in 1932, and stayed in l.a., rather than returning to germany. in part, concerned for her own safety once the nazis took power, in 1933. she has one jewish parent, and she wins a silver medal at the
1936 games, in fencing. she is remembered most for her moment on the podium. here she is on the right of this photo, she had features that the nazis would've described as, quote, aryan features. blond haired woman, and she's giving the nazi salute. on the podium. a jewish woman, which was expected of all german athletes, and there's a lot of speculation about why she did this. some people say she needed to protect her family members who were still in germany. she was worried, especially for her, brothers who were still living in germany. so, that's possible. others say she did it to try and rehabilitate her own image, in germany. we will never now, but it's a troubling moment to see her giving the nazi salute at that time, it's the last olympics that she competes it, and she
actually returns to the united states after the olympics returns to california. it doesn't go back to germany until the early 19 fifties, and she does as a relatively young woman in the 19 fifties. >> questions for both damion and danny in the comments sections. we have questions i'd like to combine, a person name susan asking whether the college students you mentioned earlier boycotted participation, if they participated four years later, or ever at all, and we can combine them. suzanne from pittsburgh, and berry from new york asked about marty lichtman, and athletes we haven't yet mentioned, but we were planning to do their stories. let's do that now, if we could. >> to the first question, known competes for years later. there are no olympic games from world war ii, set olympics in 1940, no olympics in 1944.
we have a gap between 1936 and 1948. so, if you are a 22-year-old athlete, in 1936, by 90 40, eight you are in your mid thirties and out of your prime. the people who hoped i will compete in four years never had that opportunity. marty lichtman and sam are to american jewish athletes, sprinters, blackmon is on the, left a freshman at syracuse, and in 1936, sam is a runner at the university of michigan. they go over on the olympic team, these two jewish athletes to participate in the four by 100 meter relay, one of the last track and field events, and just before the race happens, they were told by the american coach, team chrome, well it will be replaced on the relay team by jesse owens and another african american sprinter, ralph metcalf, to
arguably the two fastest men on the team, faster than the two to be sure. marty glick man, i had the chance to meet and talk with marty a few times before he passed away. he attributed this to antisemitism, and to not want the american olympic committee not wanting to show up hitler anymore than they had by having jewish athletes win medals at the game. with their time, they probably would have been running with that team, with owens and metcalf, it's a dominant race. the americans win the gold medal. we don't know, we won't know for sure why they were replaced. he was quite outspoken about, it throughout much of his life, sam said very little about this after the games, all them though he wasn't as sure it was
antisemitism among the american committee that led to the removal, or replacement of these two runners at the last minute. it ultimately allows jesse owens to win his fourth gold medal at the, game he went over to run three races, and runs for, or competed and four events. and winning four gold medals. >> damian, we have a similar story in the case of the two african american women athletes at berlin. could you tell us about these two women, please? >> sure, they were members of the 1952 team. and should've had an opportunity to compete in los angeles, but they didn't get a chance to compete, despite excelling and their events. in 1936, those two women were put on the olympic team again,
tidye pickett who became the first african american hurdler to completed the games which you competed in the 80 meter hurdles. she hit one of the hurdles, in one of the earlier races, broke her foot, and wasn't able to make it to the line. louise stokes was on the team, but didn't get a chance to compete in her running race. it was also important because they we're caught up in both the racial dynamics, but also the gender dynamics of the 1936 olympic games. so, these two women became the first of many african american women who would go on to dominate women's track and field by the early 19 fifties. so, their sacrifices and dedication helped paved the way
for a later generation. >> we have a couple of viewer questions for you, damion. if you are named drc, sending greetings from chicago. a place all of us have connections, to so thank, you drc. she's asking if you could share some discrimination and challenges americas black athletes faced after they returned home from berlin. where they received as heroes? >> sure. if you think about the story of jesse owens at the time, the greatest track and field performance in history. immediately after the games, the american olympic committee went on a tour of europe, and they had the athletes competing after two or three days, so it was a grinding performance, and they were trying to raise money to offset the expenses, a participating in the olympics. jesse who was worn out, retired,
decided to go home. he was actually barred from competing in track and field, it's an amazing story to think about. he spent much of the 1940s in what you would call spectacles. he would race horses as a way to raise money and travel with the harlem globe-trotters, performance, he would run over hurdles as a form of entertainment. and he really struggled to find a economic footing and to benefit from his athletic prowess in the ways that many of his white colleagues didn't struggle. many of them came back to a segregated america, and had to fight for equality. as i said before, we were starting to see that in the case of john, who joined the
military. that was quite common for athletes as well. >> i'm reminded of a fairly disturbing a busload -- when he returned to college he was actually prevented from competing any track meet in minneapolis because of racism. he reflected, i quote, here i am, eight olympic athlete and i couldn't come because i had to stay home because of discrimination. things had not changed. >> some athletes, just because of the chicago shout-out we should say that we haven't talked about metcalf who is a player at arquette who wins multiple medals, he continues to persevere in the fight against racism and becomes a councilman in chicago. >> thank. you truly it complex and fascinating figure and we can put some lengths about that in the comments. we have just a few minutes left, so i would like to ask another
question of each of you. a viewer is asking whether you see a connection between this post 1936 change, and the high representation of african americans and contemporary sports. what are your thoughts on that? we >> in some ways i would like to challenge that. i don't think african americans are highly represented in for its. african americans are not the majority of people competing in sports in certainly the constitute the b and basketball. but when we think about the broad spectrum of the sports arena, african americans still represent a significant minority. and i think a love of it doesn't just have to do with the fact that african americans are somehow genetically
superior, or better athletes. it's about opportunity. many of the other sports have very high barriers to competition. they are quite expensive to play in. what we see is that african americans are concentrated in the sports where there is low entry, or in some ways subsidized entry. if you think about the weight sports or amateur sports are organized, you don't really get recruited based on your hustle teams performance. but it is at the club level. for example, amateur athletic union basketball is really important. teams travel all over the country. but the best teams are subsidized by shoe companies and things like that. however, we don't see that seam system in baseball which is also based on traveling in teams, things like that. the barrier to entry, the high
cost often means that you don't get a number of african americans involved. >> damian, you really just hinted at what's are very, very complex threads woven together about social mobility and sport, and the way that they function. danny, in closing, a reviewers have been debating in the comments section americas and americans choices to participate in the 26 games. one, viewer, pam said it was a bad choice, it helped make the cruel national regime look -- to the world. she felt that african american athletes showed the legitimacy of the nazi ideal and embraced it. as a historian how do you -- to shape and nazi germany? >> they are a moment of great trump for nazi germany. a moment of international triumphs where they have
convinced the world that they belong in the community of nations. more than that. that they are the most advanced of those nations. it's troubling. i'm sympathetic with the viewers comments. it's troubling that there's not a more sustained international protest against nazi germany. it is tempting to wonder what would happen if there were widespread boycotts by many nations. germany may have been deeply embarrassed by that. but i don't think as a historian, it is always hard to play with cantor factual's, but i don't think as a historian that that would have stopped hitler's ambitions. and in fact, right after the games, we see germany start to continue to re-arm, in violation with the verdict site treaty which ended in world war i. we see them start to make plans to encroach on territory, and
that will continue, tragically, with the beginning of world war two, just three years after the olympics. that leads to the holocaust, and the death of millions of jews, and millions of others throughout the era. >> on that somber note, i would like to thank you. danny thank you damien very much for a really provocative conversation. i am glad you were here. >> thank you.
weeknights this month we're featuring american history tv programs as a preview of what's available every weekend on c-span 3. thursday, americas colonial and founding period. we begin at the university of delaware, professor -- teaches a class about how colonial history is remembered through historic sites and monuments, and sometimes contested. he argues that our sumptuous about colonial america are influenced by material and popular culture including paintings depicting american history in the capital and