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10 Resources: 80th Anniversary of the Olympics in Berlin

With the 2016 Summer Olympics beginning in August, it seems an opportune time to revisit the historic Olympic games of 1936. Eighty years ago this summer, with Berlin hosting, Adolf Hitler’s Nazi dictatorship sought to promote the illusion of a new, strong, and united Germany while masking the regime’s antisemitic and racist policies.

Jesse Owens 1936 Olympics four gold medals

Jesse Owens at the 1936 Olympics

In protesting Germany’s treatment of Jewish athletes, people in Europe and the United States called for the first ever boycott of the Olympic games. Although it failed, the threat to boycott set an important precedent for future campaigns in calling attention to contemporary human rights abuses in Olympic host countries.

We offer the resources below to consider the importance of the 1936 Olympic Games within larger historic and contemporary contexts.

Lessons and Resources

  1. Lesson 3: Nazi Germany provides context and background about the Weimar Republic’s fragile democracy between 1918 and 1933. Examine the historical events that led to the breakdown of that democracy and the unfolding of anti-Jewish policies.
  2. 1936 Olympics: Race, Politics & Civil Rights” provides an opportunity for students to examine the role of racism during the 1936 Olympics in Berlin. They are introduced to the Nazi racial policies that were in place, and the personal stories of athletes who were affected by them, including African-American Olympian and track star Jesse Owens.
  3. Yad Vashem Video Toolbox: Jews and Sports presents the story of Gretel Bergmann (Margaret Lambert), an accomplished Jewish German athlete, and the challenges and hardships Jewish athletes faced under the Nazi regime. The toolbox provides approaches for using sports to teach the Holocaust as an historical event and as a human story.

Clips of Testimony

Hear from witnesses who experienced the 1936 Olympics.

  1. Margaret Lambert recalls her experience as a Jewish athlete on the German Olympic team in 1936.
  2. Agnes Adachi remembers attending the Olympic games in Berlin and describes what it was like to watch Jesse Owens compete and win the gold medal.
  3. Hugo Beckerman recalls how, in preparation for the start of the 1936 Olympics in Berlin, the Nazis decided to minimize the presence of antisemitism in the city.

Photographs

Yad Vashem Photo Archive

Yad Vashem Photo Archive

Introduce these images and consider how they each add to our knowledge and understanding of the 1936 Olympics.

  1. Italian delegation at the opening ceremony of the Olympic games. August 1936. Berlin, Germany.
  2. Local crowd during the Olympic games. August 1936. Berlin, Germany.
  3. Crowd cheers Hitler on his way to the opening ceremony of the Olympic games. August 1936. Berlin, Germany.

Books

  1. The Nazi Olympics, Berlin 1936 by Susan D. Bachrach, profiles the organizers, politicians, and the athletes, including those who boycotted the games, those who were banned, and those who competed in these infamous Olympics.