Nazi Propaganda and the 1936 Olympics

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Nazi Propaganda and the 1936 Olympics

The 1936 Olympics was Germany’s chance to show the world they were a stable and peaceful nation. Germany had been awarded the right to host the Games in 1931 before the Third Reich had come to power. When Hitler assumed power in 1933 he quickly realized the great potential for Nazi propaganda. Not only did he want to show the world that Germany was now respectable, but also that the Aryan race was superior. Herman Goebbels, the Minister of Propaganda, was a master at organizing large scale events. The XIth Olympiad in Berlin was the perfect stage. Although negro athletes, especially Jesse Owens, disproved Hitler’s belief of Aryan superiority, the Olympic Games were a success for Hitler in terms of propaganda.

On May 13th, 1931, the International Olympic Committee (IOC) announced it had selected Germany to host the 1936 Olympics. The Winter Games would be held in Garmisch-Partenkirchen and the Summer Games would be in Berlin. Just over a decade after the end of World War I the IOC showed it was ready to welcome Germany back into the international scene. What they did not know at the time of their decision was that the radical right wing Nazi party would be in power at the time of the Olympics. In hindsight the Nazi’s provided an excellent stage for Olympic competition, but the IOC surely would not have granted Germany the Olympics had they foreseen Hitler’s rise. Two German sports leaders were instrumental in securing the 1936 Games for Germany: Dr. Theodor Lewald and Carl Diem. Germany was meant to hold the Olympics in 1916 but World War I caused the cancellation of the Games. Lewald and Diem were both involved in the planning for those Games and used their connections to influence IOC members to select Germany for 1936.[1] These connections gave Germany the necessary votes needed to be granted the rights to host the Olympic Games over Barcelona. Soon after the Nazi’s gained power and Goebbels was appointed Minister of Propaganda, Lewald approached him and told him of the propaganda potential of the Games.[2]

The Nazi opinion on sport centered around strenghtening the Aryan race. It focused on the health and strength of the Germans as a whole rather than on individual performance.[3] These fit men could later be used as soldiers in a strong German army. His apathy for competition, especially against racial inferiors, initially left Hitler without much interest for the Olympic Games. In fact Nazi ideals were almost a polar opposite to what the Olympics was meant to represent. One believed in militant expansionism and a single master race while the other represented fair competition and international unity.[4] It was not long before the Nazi’s realized they could use this image to their advantage. Goebbels explained to Hitler that this was their chance to show the world the “new Germany.” Germany had been receiving bad press in foreign papers since the Third Reich came to power. Hitler realized he could use the Olympics’ image of goodwill to help achieve his goals of ill will. Hitler’s aim was to Aryanize the German population and expand their living space in the east and west. To accomplish this goal the Nazi’s ran a police state and persecuted all opponents. This was not only in the political spectrum. The Nazi’s persecuted Jews, Gypsies, homosexuals, asocials, and others. This persecution trailed all the way down to athletics. In April 1933, all German athletic organizations became Aryan only. This policy caused Germany to lose some of its most talented athletes. Champion boxer Erich Seelig was removed from the German Boxing Association because he was Jewish. Top-ranked tennis star Daniel Prenn, and elite high jumper Gretel Bergmann were also barred.[5] Expelled athletes created their own clubs but they were in no way as well-funded as their German counterparts. This deepened the segregation and...
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